This was a monster of a book but it was very true to its title. Bruce Shelley goes through all of the time periods of the church and puts it in terms that were easy to understand and in many cases there was never a dull moment. In fact, you would never guess by the size of the book, but at times, it seemed to me that he was skimming the service of many of the event, giving me just enough of a taste to want to cry out for more. The most powerful thing I learned that seemed to be an all-too-common theme is the constant temptation of the church to want to gain political power in order to control people from the outside-in, instead of doing the harder task of loving and serving people until God changes them from the inside-out. From Constantinople, to Rome, to Geneva, to New England and, dare I say, to the present, we see Christians gain political control believing that they now have the power to establish the kingdom of God here on earth. But in every case throughout all of history, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely. It is surprising to me that the early Christians who remember suffering persecution to the point of hiding in catacombs, now became the ones doing the persecution; or that great reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther, who broke away from a church system that became corrupt and began inspiring people to look to the Bible for themselves, would then turn around and condemn to death people who come to different conclusions than them; or that places like England and Ireland would become countries of intense persecution between Catholics and Protestants.
So I guess my question is this: if all of these lessons in history are there for us to learn from, why is it that it almost seems we are on the verge of repeating the very same mistakes over and over again. The Reformers broke away from a church that allowed itself to become corrupt with power robbing people blind to fund their building projects. Have you seen any of these "Super Walmart" size churches going up all around? I would dare to guess just how much of their budget is actually a part of their empire-building as opposed to real ministry needs within their community.
As a college student in the late 80's I remember being sickened with what was considered evangelical television back then. It was full of charlatans, fakes and frauds yet they drew in the thoughtless masses because they put out a "christian pop-culture" that their mindless audiences ate up. And it really hasn't changed much since then. Now we have a Republican party that has essentially seduced the evangelicals of our country into thinking political power will solve all of our problems YET AGAIN! Read history! It doesn't work. It will not work. It will never work until Christ himself sits on the throne. Even then I have to believe that he will be proned to rolling his eyes at us idiots every once in a while wondering if he still has the free pass to smite us in the desert and start over again. It is time for the church in America to rise above politics and act as a unified body of Christ bringing the best of traditional and progressive thinking to the table and honestly debating the issues and seeking God through it all. And by all means, serving the poor, lost and persecuted. It is time for us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we seem like narrow-minded jerks to most of the people out there. Our actions should win people over to Christ, not repulse people away from Him (not Him really, more like us. Or as Bon Jovi would say, " We give God a bad name."). It is time we stop thinking that church history pauses at the end of the New Testament and then picks up with us! The absolute height of arrogance! We need to learn from the giants who came before us, in all of their ugliness and beauty, from every time period that came before us. We need to listen to their voices cry out so that we learn from their failures and flaws and see how God still used them anyhow. Since we are surrounded by such a great, great, great host of witnesses . . .