The Road to Ruin

The early church had so much success and momentum that they should logically have evangelized everyone from Turkey to Tokyo by A.D. 600.

Many historians say the problem was that believers felt disillusioned when Christ didn’t return right away. Well, we now have nineteen centuries of “disillusionment,” and we’re the biggest religion in the world.

What really went haywire? The church got so big and popular that it could erect its own buildings. Unfortunately, this solved a long-standing problem that should have been left standing: Whenever a healthy house-church got too big for its living room, it had to splitinto two living rooms. New leadership was thus always being sucked upward through the ranks.

But when church buildings began to sprout across the Empire, congregations no longer had to face the awkward anguish of who got to stay with the favorite elders and who had to split off with the nobodies. Everybody stayed with everybody. Heavenly!

Trouble is, sharing and intimacy were tricky in a crowd of 500. And the big crowds put a premium on eloquence. So the stuttering new converts started to stay in their shells. Anonymity replaced fellowship. Communication during meetings began to be dominated by the few who could read and had access to books: In the end, that meant the priests. The laity, citizens of a long-crumbling Roman empire, were turned into spiritual eunuchs and lost the strength the empire needed so desperately at that time. By 476, Rome fell for the final time, and the church led the way into the Dark Ages.

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