Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Growing Papal Influence Within Emerging churches of Christ – Apostasy Redux?

How the “Tail of Tradition” is Wagging the “Theological Dog” in a Growing Number of Congregations Among Us

Benedictine Papal Coat of Arms rendering courtesy of Wikepedia.com

All over our fair city one is finding advertisements for many “holy week” observances. Here, and elsewhere, congregations claiming to be churches of Christ are advertising “holy week” observances such as  “Good Friday” and / or “Easter” worship services.  We must, therefore, ask the question; “Are these celebrations biblical?”  Did Jesus and His Apostles command such celebrations?  Did the Apostles celebrate these things themselves?  Did they even infer that such celebrations were allowed?  The answer is a resounding, NO!

From Matthew to Revelation we find nary a trace of anything called “Holy Week.”  To add such celebrations to the Holy Scripture would be presumptuous, arrogant and wrong.  How, then, did the several observances of “Holy Week” come into being?  The so-called “Holy Week” has six components:

·         Ash Wednesday
·         Lent
·         Palm Sunday
·         Maundy Thursday
·         Good Friday
·         Easter Sunday

What do all of these celebrations have in common?  They are all Roman Catholic in origin and have “meanings” that are allegorically assigned.   Allegorical interpretive methods were adopted by the apostate church beginning in the 2nd century based most notably upon the teachings of the so-called “church father,” Origen.  Origen taught that all Scripture has multiple meanings and each individual can interpret the Scripture based upon their own individual experiences, understandings and stories.  The RCC then began to assign “meanings” to Scripture erroneously (in error.)  Strangely, even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that these celebrations were unknown in the first century:

…there seems much to suggest that the Church in the Apostolic Age designed to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ, not by an annual, but by a weekly celebration.[1]

Before you take umbrage at your writer, the claim that Origen’s Platonic philosophy[2] is the foundation of “tradition over revelation,” please note that such is not my claim but the claim of Pope Benedict XVI himself!  Here is what the self-proclaimed “vicar of Christ” said about Origen just five years ago this month:

In our meditations on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we will get to know one of the most outstanding. Origen of Alexandria is one of the key people for the development of Christian thought. He draws on the teachings he inherited from Clement of Alexandria, whom we reflected upon last Wednesday, and brings them forward in a totally innovative way, creating an irreversible turn in Christian thought.  He was a true teacher; this is how his students nostalgically remembered him: not only as a brilliant theologian, but as an exemplary witness of the doctrine he taught.  In substance, he grounded theology in the explanations of the Scriptures; or we could also say that his theology is the perfect symbiosis between theology and exegesis. In truth, the characterizing mark of Origen's doctrine seems to reside in his incessant invitation to pass from the letter to the spirit of the Scriptures, to progress in the knowledge of God.  And this "allegoristic" approach, wrote von Balthasar, coincides precisely "with the development of Christian dogma carried out by the teachings of the doctors of the Church," who -- in one way or another -- accepted the "lesson" of Origen. In this way, Tradition and the magisterium, foundation and guarantee of theological research, reach the point of being "Scripture in act."[3]

Just what does the pope mean when he uses the phrase “Scripture in act?”  He means that, based upon Origen, church tradition in practice…over time…becomes “revelation.”  In other words, church tradition practiced over time TRUMPS Scripture!  Thus, even though NONE of these “holy week” observances are commanded, exampled or inferred in the Word of God…they are “Scripture in act” due to their centuries old practice by papal directive…according to the pope. 

Here is a short history of these allegorical additions to God’s complete Will…“the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”  -  Jude 3 (KJV):

1)    1) ASH WEDNESDAY – Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40 days of Lent.  The name comes from the practice of taking the ashes from the previous years burnt palm leaves form “Palm Sunday” and spreading them on the foreheads of parishioners in the form of a cross.  This is said to be representative of “mourning and repentance.”  This supposedly prepares the adherents for the 40 days of Lent following. Historically, Ash Wednesday was first celebrated annually beginning around the year 960.

2)      2) LENT – The word “Lent” is from the old English word lencten which means to “lengthen” and was used to describe the longer days of the spring season.  The time span of “Lent” was totally allegorical and imaginative.  It was based upon the fact that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness as He prepared for His temptation.  Other allegorical assignments were also made:

The duration of the season of Lent is based on the ancient church custom of requiring catechumens to undergo a forty-day period of doctrinal instruction and fasting before being baptized on the evening before Easter This probationary period was called the quarantine (from the Latin word for forty). [4]

The annual celebration of Lent dates to the mid 5th century and is noted by several church historians of that time; Leo, Socrates and Jerome.

3)      PALM SUNDAY – Palm Sunday was never celebrated in the apostolic era and apparently not annually celebrated until the 6th century at the very earliest.[5]

4)      MAUNDY THURSDAY – Thursday is the traditional day of the Lord’s Supper.  “Maunday” comes from the Latin term mandatum novum, meaning new commandment.  It is also known as “Holy Thursday” or “Green Thursday.”

Zelený čtvrtek (Green Thursday) is how the Czechs and Moravians refer to Maundy Thursday. One explanation is that in many places, before the thirteenth century, green vestments were used for the Mass that day. Another is that this is a reference to "the Green Ones," the penitents who, being re-admitted to the Church, wore sprigs of green herbs to express their joy.[6] 

5)      GOOD FRIDAY – The annual celebration of both Good Friday and Easter date to, at the earliest, the 2nd century A.D.  Though unknown in the 1st century, these two festivals were the earliest of practiced “Holy Week” observances from a historical standpoint.

6)      EASTER – The word “Easter” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word, eostre.  The word generally came to refer to the “spring season.”  It has clear pagan overtones since the word was the name for the so-called goddess of spring:

This mythical figure is said to have been the goddess of the sunrise and the spring. She is the Teutonic goddess of the dawn. The direction of the sunrise, East, is named for her. In Norse mythology, the name is spelled Eostare. Another considered the Norse/Saxon goddess of spring is Ostara. Eastre is believed to be an ancient word for spring.[7]


Any and all “Holy Week” celebrations are at best extra-biblical and at worst un-biblical.  They are all allegorical, presumptuous and self centered.  They were created by men for men and do not glorify God in any way, shape, matter or form.  We were called, not to “Holy Week” but to holy living!  We celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ EVERY Lord’s Day during the Lord’s Supper and not during an annual celebration of so-called “Holy Week.” 

With all due love and respect for our erring brethren, the embrace of Roman Catholic “holy week” (or significant parts thereof) tradition constitutes a theological un-equal yoking with un-believers.  Sadly, a large number of churches of Christ are now heeding the words of Pope Benedict XVI more than the words of God’s Holy Word by accepting, instead, the magisterium.  For a biblical perspective on how God wants us to remember the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, read I Corinthians 11. 23 – 34.  Let us go back to the Bible and avoid an apostasy redux.

– Russ McCullough – 8 April 2012

NOTE: An "Emerging church of Christ" is a congregation focusing on it's own "theological evolution" rather than eternal and static truth.  For more information on the "emerging church," read Brian McLaren's 
A Generous Orthodoxy.

[1] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm
[2] Plato understood Homer allegorically and so Origen taught that God’s Word could be understood allegorically as well.  An allegory is a fictional illustration of a point of fiction.  Such allegories have multiple meanings and multiple interpretations – after all, it’s only fiction!
[3] Origene: il mondo, Cristo e la Chiesa," tr. it., Milano 1972, p. 43. (Benedict XVI. Homily On Origen of Alexandria. Vatican City. Zenit - April 25, 2007).  [RM NOTE: According to the Catholic Encyclopedia On Line, Magesterium & Tradition is defined thusly: “The word refers sometimes to the thing (doctrine, account, or custom) transmitted from one generation to another sometimes to the organ or mode of the transmission.”]