Paradigm Shifts of Church History

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This essay is to discuss the six paradigm’s shifts as highlighted by Bosch. The six paradigms are; primitive Christianity; the patristic period; the Middle Ages; the Reformation; the Enlightenment; and the Ecumenical era[1].

Bosch’s title for the book is ‘Transforming Mission’. As described by Bosch in his foreword he talks about the title as ambiguous. “Transforming” can be an adjective used to describe “mission”. Mission can be understood as not the enterprise that transforms reality, but something that is itself being transformed. Let’s now look at the first paradigm shift.

1. Primitive Christianity
“....go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."[2] The great commission has to be taken into account with the rest of Matthew’s gospel where we see the “road” of mission to the gentiles is open. The Mission of Jesus was to breakdown boundaries and to include all, even those who were seen as enemies. God invites all and it is those who respond that are accepted. Early Christian mission was focused only on the Jews. Mission to the gentiles came as a spin-off mission. Early Christian mission involved the person of Jesus and it was political and revolutionary. The revolutionary aspect was seen in the new relationships it brought among Jews, Greek, free, slave, rich, poor, women etc. The early church had to seal their witness (martyria) with their blood; “Martyrdom and Mission” says Hans von Campenhaussen “belonged together”. [3]

2. The Patristic Period (The Eastern Church)
Mission in the Patristic (first fathers) period is thoroughly church centered which means that the church is the aim; the fulfillment of the Gospel, rather than the instrument or means of mission[4]. In Orthodox thinking, mission is the place of liturgy (public worship). A witnessing community is a community of worshippers. Also Orthodox mission is founded on the love of God as seen in John 3:16. The church began to progress too, the apostles and itinerant preachers were replaced by bishops and deacons and later too was the monastic movement (which was the practice of renouncing worldly pursuits to fully devote one's self to spiritual work). Mission to the non-Roman Asia spread mainly by the Nestorian monastic orders (who emphasized the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus). In 1054 the great schism took place between the Eastern and Western church. This was the beginning of the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Constantine moved the headquarters of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople and the church began to compromise with the state politically. The church became secularised and Salvation was a gradual progress that leads to the divine.

3. The Medieval Roman Catholic Period
"Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”[5] Where the early church took its missionary text from John 3:16 talking about the love of God, the Roman Catholic Church had the focus of ‘compelling them to come in’. They argued that there was no salvation outside the formal membership of the RC Church. The Roman Empire had become linked to the RC Church. The Catholic Church became extremely influential over the State and loyalty to the state meant being loyal to the church. Islam became increasingly popular in the East leading to the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Pope Alexander VI divided the colonized world into two for mission purposes. One was under the King of Spain and the other under the King of Portugal. The mission of the church was linked to the mission of the state. They sent Missionaries to the colonized territories. Europe was broadly seen as Christian and therefore no real need for evangelism. The monastic movement may have been the reason was so much authentic Christianity evolved in Europe’s ‘dark ages’....
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