Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The DaVinci Code and the Emergent Church

Thanks to Erik for pointing this out.

Emergent church guru Brian McLaren had this to say about Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code:

So you think The DaVinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?

McLaren: For all the flaws of Brown's book, I think what he's doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that's true. It's my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith in America today has to realize that the Religious Right has polluted the air. The name "Jesus" and the word "Christianity" are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that's distorted and false.

I also think that the whole issue of male domination is huge and that Brown's suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has been is very attractive. Brown's book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organized religion, and it is exposing organized religion's grasping for power. Again, there's something in that that people resonate with in the age of pedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus I resonate with their concerns as well.

You can read the entire interview here:

I think the problem (or a problem) is that many people read (and will soon see) The DaVinci Code and assume that Brown has somehow uncovered a scandalous part of church history. In fact, his scholarship ranges between shoddy and non-existent, and is full of distortions and outright lies.

And that matters. McLaren doesn't really address those issues in his interview. Brown purports to tell history in fictional form. But the "history" bears little resemblance to objective truth. And he hides behind the guise of fiction, as if that excuses him. What if somebody wrote a fictionalized account of WWII that was full of Nazi propaganda, and that proposed that the Holocaust never happened? And what if the people who read that book were too ignorant of history to realize that the premises of the book weren't true? That's the equivalent of what has happened with The DaVinci Code.

That said, McLaren is of course entirely correct in stating that many people are fed up with organized, institutional Christianity. So am I many days, particularly when I watch my faith co-opted to support a political philosophy that I believe is totally antithetical to what Christianity has taught and believed for 2,000 years. It sucks, and I don't blame people for being turned off by the unholy alliance of Big Church, Big Business, and Big Government.

But there's got to be a better way to promote the discussion that McLaren desires (me too) than to base it on The DaVinci Code. It's starting from entirely wrong premises. How can it possibly go anywhere productive?

16 comments:

zena said...

i agree with him that the term "christianity" brings those ideas into focus...as do the terms "church" "gospel" and most other christianese, christianoid words.

i disagree that people respond that way when talking about "jesus". they tend to immediately link jesus to those things, but as followers of jesus, we need to make a clear distinction between the two. following jesus doesn't equal christianity. there's a pretty wonderful sermon at the arvada vineyard site called "was jesus a christian?" i reccomend it and also challenge us to start dropping certain terms from our vocabulary.

~z

Andy Whitman said...

There is a part of me that agrees with you, Zena, that one of the best and most important things we can do is to break the link between "Jesus" and "Christianity." God knows, and so does everybody else, that "Christianity" has been linked with some of the most heinous activities in human history. And some of the best, and most noble, I might add.

But there is a part of me that has no idea what that would even look like, and that doubts if it's even possible, let alone desirable. I think in many peoples' minds, the opposite of "Christianity" is "tolerance." There is a deep-seated desire in most people to hold on to autonomy; literally "self law." And Jesus may be all about about love, but he is not at all about self law. In fact, he asks people to die to themselves, to take up their cross (in my mind this equates to embracing a self-sacrificial lifestyle that is more concerned about God and others than self), and to follow him. Most people simply don't want to hear that. It cuts against the grain of the Kingdom of Me. And it is supposed to. I'm not sure that most people really do want to hear about Jesus. He asks too much. Some days I feel like, even as his follower and son, he asks too much.

There are also certain things that one must believe about Jesus; things that he himself taught, and things that his disciples taught: that he was fully divine, and fully human, that he was crucified, paying the penalty for our sins, and literally rose the dead after two days in a tomb, that he is God in the same way that the Father is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God, and yet a distinct person of the godhead, etc. All of these things are neatly encapsulated in various early church creeds. But then we have to start using words like "Church" and "Christianity" again.

We can't avoid it. It's part and parcel of what we believe. And I also think it's important to emphasize that we are not making this up as we go. We are part of the communion of saints, the unbroken witness of those who testify to the lordship of Jesus Christ, that stretches back two thousand years. We stand within that tradition. We are not inventing a new religion, nor are we holding on to the mistakes of an old religion (and there have been many), but nevertheless we stand within that tradition.

We can try to minimize the cultural baggage, and we should. But as soon as one claims to be a follower of Jesus, inevitable questins arise. What does that look like? How does one think? Welcome to Church and Christianity.

Brother-in-law Bill said...

I have several comments.

McLaren takes the opportunity to blame yet something else on the Religious Right. While I don't regard myself as a member of that group, I think they are a convenient patsy, much as President Bush is, for those who have an ax to grind. I'm old enough to remember a time when Religious Right was not a term people used, and in those days there were other excuses to not be a Christian or a follower of Jesus: all Christians are hypocrites, all Christians are stupid, Christians are weak (well, you get the idea). So, we've learned why McLaren wouldn't be a Christian (except that he already is).

The DaVinci Code was an extremely entertaining thriller. It passed the page-turner test with flying colors. I am sure the movie will be equally entertaining. However, as theology, it's absolutely laughable. The fact that so many people think that what's being presented is anything new speaks volumes about American (and probably international) theological illiteracy. Was it Lewis or Chesterton who said (to paraphrase badly) that those who do not believe in Christ are not people who believe nothing, but rather they tend to believe anything and everything. This is an example.

As far as big government or big business or the Right or the Left claiming an alliance with Christianity, claiming to speak for Jesus, the blame lies with all of us who claim to be Christians, and then use the Christian message to bolster our political and/or economic views. For most of my serious Christian life (going on 30 years) I have sought in vain for an authentic Christian point of view in the arena of politics and economics. Invariably, what I have found are arguments for why Jesus would be a leftist (Jim Wallis et al) or a right winger (Pat Robertson et al). Inevitably, people want Jesus to bless their views, rather than letting Jesus inform and mold their views.

With regard to the exchange between Zena and Andy, I have to endorse Andy's viewpoint. I don't know if that means I disagree with Zena, because I don't know enough from what she said to fully understand what her viewpoint is. I am, however, reminded of the early years of my Christian life, when I was involved in an "on fire New Testament Church." We were serious Christians, not like all those fogies in the institutional churches. And I remember that every time any issue came up, we had to reinvent the wheel. Eventually, it occurred to me that the wheels we were reinventing were in many cases really old wheels. While there is a virtue in re-examining settled issues occasionally, I don't know that ignorance of their settled nature is a virtue. And so began my pilgrimage which ended up in the Presbyterian Church, a church that is not perfect, but has no illusions that it is.

I'll get off my soapbox. This comment is already much longer than I intended.

Andy W. Anderson, Ph.D Candidate said...

Couldn't agree with you more Andy, and I myself find daily that I have to decide between holding my tongue when I hear someone tossing out BS about Christianity (i.e. a thinly veiled hate speech promoting an agenda) because there's nothing non-christians like more than seeing christians disagreeing with one another so they have another reason to call it all hypocrisy, and openly criticizing hypcritical points of view because they do damage to any message I might wish to spread in the future. I think that one of the only figures that really manages to stand out as a positive figure anymore is Jesus (Paul isn't exactly a loveable figure most of the time) but it almost seems in this modern world that associating Jesus with "Christianity" as it's seen by the mainstream, does damage to his reputation among non christians, and (as they love to point out to you to feel intellectually superior) Jesus was Jewish anyway.

Sigh, what to do what to do. I guess perhaps the disembodied voice of Lennon at that 9$ a pop seance was right

"Peace, just peace" and might I add, love?

Andy A.

Crosis101 said...

Christianity means one thing. Being Christ-like. It means being a follower of the Christ. People have decided it means other things, hypocrite, and the like. They have decided that Christianity is somehoe this beast that cannot be fed, that feeds on the poor, and the disenfrancised, that makes a mockery of hope, and crushes souls in its unending quest for power.
But Christianity isn't that. Christianity is an ideal, it is a message of hope in a dark time ((and ALL times are dark times, we live in a world of Sin after all)).
If we allow the word of Christianity to be besmerched, it is out downfall, not the downfall of Christ.
We should be out there saying things like "You know, I am a Christian, and I don't Hate you 'cause you're Gay." or "I am a Christian, and I don't hate you because you don't believe in my faith."
We, as Christians should be self correcting. we shouldn't be worried about how people will look at us because we know something different, we know something other people don't know. We know we are fallen. We know we are fallen, we have admitted to ourselves, and to God we are fallen, and we have asked forgiveness for our fallen nature.
My grandfather ((a judge in the great state of ohio)) used to say, "When people see a pile of [crap] no one thinks anything of it, but put a can on top of that pile, and everyone stops to throw a rock at it." What he was saying, was when someone decides to stop living in a pile of crap and crawls out, everyone one else wants them to be back in the pile.
By our mere admission that we were crappy, and our quest to move from crappiness towards what Jesus taught we expose people to what they are doing wrong in their own lives. They look at themselves and feel shame. So what to do? Should they change themselves? No...no it's much easier to convince the oher people that they are wrong.
As for other opinions people have about any wrong doing Christianity has ever purpotrated, well unfortunatly Christans are Fallen Humans just like the rest of us. My only comment about that is, every religion has wadged war in the name of itself. Every Religion. And before someone thinks that the Bhuddists haven't, they have, in China and Japan. We are all Children of God, and we all harbor a sinful nature in our hearts, just some of us realise it.

zena said...

it is interesting to hear a follower of jesus say when asked if they are a christian, "i don't even know what that means anymore." i don't agree that christianity means one thing. words are fluid and change based on their environment and time. sure, you could give the dictionary definition just like i do when people use the word retarded, but most of the time you need to do something else to make a actual difference.


i think it's a little like taking off the life preserver for followers of jesus to throw out a word like 'christian.' "Dear God! What will I identify with?!" there's a nakedness there. but it's a good place to be. what does it mean that i identify as "christian?" did i attend christian school? are my parents christians? do i go to church? do i have my heaven ticket in my back pocket? it makes us have to think about what we are living in order to share it to someone that does not hear 'christ-like' when they hear the word christian. and isn't it about them?

it is indeed 2000 years old and we have a cloud of witnesses that testify to his lordship and we don't make it up as we go along...but he does. i don't think i'm talking about reinventing the wheel. the conversations about the church and christianity will happen, but i don't know, maybe it's going to look like something else in the days to come. dallas willard says that we live in a time when not everyone who says they are christian knows jesus. doesn't that change the playing field?

if the "church" fears terms changing enough maybe they're going to miss important things jesus may be doing in our days.

~z

Fred Kohn said...

I almost blogged this interview myself.

I think anything that brings attention to Jesus on the level that The Davinci Code has is a great thing. I remember all the hoopla about Jesus Christ Superstar- how horrible it was that it didn't depict the resurrection and blah blah blah. And yet tons and tons of people managed to get saved through it anyhow.

What MacLaren is tapping into is that people are still willing and anxious to talk about Jesus. The problem with the talking is that words like "Christianity" have been nicely preloaded for us by the weight of history with all of this "stuff." And yet, as Andy says, what choice do we have but to use such words? What good does it do to complain about Babel?

Jeff Broderick said...

PLEASE listen because this is very important.In the world of Christianity there is a huge movement being made. It is called the Emerging or Emergent Church movement. This movement is the biggest movement ever in Christianity. What is really happening is written in the book of Revelations. For any that want to see a Biblical Prophecy unfolding. Go read Revelations I think it is Chapter 13. It speaks of the One World Religion, as well as a One World Government, and Bank System as well.

My friends the Emergent Church Movement is the begining of this prophecy being fulfilled. Let me explain why it makes since, and who I would have to say appears to be Huge players in this, and maybe even the Anti-christ himself.

The Emergent Church has also been seen under the term Modern Church, or Seeker Sensitive Church is also a big name it calls itself. What this movement has been doing is disguising itself as Christianity. However what it has really done is, watered down the Gospel, built itself upon tolerance, preaches peace joy love and happiness. It is also now moving into much more dangerous areas. It is now starting to teach that contemplative prayer or silencing. It is begining to introduce Universalism throughout it. Universalism and Christianity are a contradiction to one another. Now do not get me wrong, Peace, Love Joy and Happiness are true legit fruits of the spirit BUT They are a RESULT of having a true conversion and being born again. It is not that those feelings make a RESULT of being saved, as they like to preach. Within the Emergent Church there are key component that are missing. The Biggest is the Gospel. These Churches they do not speak of words such as; Judgement, Righteousness, Eternal Torment, Hell, Repentance, The 10 Commandments. How can you preach the Gospel without these things? The other thing you will see within the Emergent Church is that they do not preach from the Bible. They instead tell stories, and every now and then will quote a verse that ties into their cute story. You see they use psychology and self esteem preaching so you leave there going "WOW that place is wonderful, it is so spirit filled", or you would say exactly what they were designed to make you say. "WOW I did not know church could be so cool, man it was like we were not even at a church". Well I will tell you there is a simple reason why watching an Emergent Service does not feel like being in church. The reason is because IT IS NOT being in church. My friends do not be fooled.

Now Key Players. First let me tell you how close to this subject I am. Some of you may recall a thread a while back that I showed you the Church i was going to. Well this Church is one of the biggest players in this Movement. It is Willow Creek Community Church, head Pastor and a Leader of this movement is Bill Hybels. I was a member there for years and was even a youth pastor there. Many are and will be blinded, I thank God for showing me the truth. Ok soem other Key players would be Brian Mclaren, Joel Olsteen, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Robert Schuller and many other well known pastors. Now for the Biggie, this is the one that (well i am not saying he is, so do not Tag me on this), but some big signs that he could be the Anti-christ is Bono of U2. Yes when you are done laughing I will tell you do your research before scoffing at this comment. Bono is a very influential person all over the world. He has met with all the most powerful leaders and they have all befriended him. He preaches Universalism which says "All roads lead to God" and will be the One World Religion the Bible speaks of. At his last concert he held up a sign that said COEXIST: The C was a half crescent moon for the sign of Islam, the X was the star of David for the Jewish symbol and the T was the cross for Christianity. He began chanting MUHAMMED, JEW, JESUS ALL TRUE. and he began chanting over and over while thousands began joining in. Now is this just Bono showing off or is it deeper, while I looked into it and found out, that he is not only going to be one of the Lead speakers at The World Leadership conference that is hosted by Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church, but he is also been named as the President of the new World Bank, and now a winner of Nobel Peace Prize. Well he sure would fit the bill. The Anti-christ is going to diguise himself behind , Peace...Joy...Love...and Tolerance. It is going to look good and will Appeal as the Bible says to people, but my friends do not be decieved.

To any Christians that maybe at or were saved at an Emergent Church. I just want to say 2 things. First I was right there with you at the biggest one on the country for years. Now I was not saved there, because I was saved very young before ever experiencing a seeker sensitive church. But I do know many that are truly saved and that is the only church they had been to. So I am not saying you can not be saved there, because God can save you anywhere, it does not matter where you are. What I am saying is that their message is not Biblical, this is NOT "Our Best Life Now" our best life is the one to come. The Bible does not speak the Health, Wealth, Prosperity that this Movement teaches it speaks of hard times, and trials, persecution. We Have 400,000 missionaires in Africa right now, locked up in a freight car being tortured and executed, we have another 200,000 in Korea in what is being called a concentration camp.

My friends the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not to be taken lightly and peace, joy, love and happiness, is not the theme of it. This is what our brothers and sisters are dieing for, do not be decieved.

Amen!!

Andy Whitman said...

Zena, I agree with you that the label "Christian" carries a lot of baggage for a lot of people. And I think a perfectly legitimate response to the question "Are you a Christian?" is "It depends on what you mean." For a lot of people it means "Red State, Bush supporter, politics circumscribed by abortion and homosexual rights and prayer in school, and wrap yourself in the American flag." And if somebody asks me if I'm that kind of a "Christian" then I'm going to say "No."

People have been appropriating the "Christian" label to support all manner of dubious views since the time the label was invented. But the fact that the label has been co-opted by others for their own ends doesn't preclude the fact that it still means *something.* There is content to it, regardless of the label we apply. And that's what I'm getting at. Maybe we need a new label. Or maybe we should do away with the labels entirely. But when we claim to be a follower of Jesus, then it seems to me that there should be general agreement about the two principal parts of that claim: a) Who is this Jesus? and b) What does it mean to be his follower?

That inevitably gets us into doctrine. It has to. Because if it doesn't, then we have no recourse but to say that Adolf Hitler and the current Grand Poobah of the Ku Klux Klan are also followers of Jesus, because after all, they claimed to be, and on what basis can we say that they are not?

I believe that we do have a basis for rejecting such claims. But it has to do with doctrine and practise -- what people believe, and how they live out those beliefs. To be a follower of Jesus means to accept a whole worldview. It affects our values, our priorities, the way we spend our time and our money, everything. I know you know this. But I'm just pointing out that we can't simply adopt a laissez-faire attitude about what people claim to believe and how they actually live their lives. We all fall short. Certainly I fall short. But I think we can generally agree on what those things are that should characterize the Christian life. I'd like to start with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Ouch. Sometimes it's so difficult to move the doctrine from the head to the heart. But that's what it's about, too.

mg said...

jeff broderick,

get your facts straight. bono is not the president of the world bank nor has he won a nobel peace prize.

i read the same thing on relevant's website, but bono clearly stated in ALL of their concerts: "jesus, jew, mohammed IT'S true....all sons of abraham." check out the vertigo dvd for proof. he wasn't preaching universalism. he was talking about the atrocities and absurdity of religious war.

he didn't chant this over and over and thousands didn't join in. wherever you picked up your "bono hatemail" needs to be reexamined. if there is someone that i believe is desperately trying to live his life for the kingdom and using his celebrity as a resource to do so, it's bono. no one else has brought hope to a continent that was being flushed down the toilet as bono has.

(plus there's no way bono is the antichrist. too many people hate his music.)

mg said...

for all those interested, i did a little investigating on our 'friend' jeff broderick...

my guess is that he did a yahoo or google search on 'emergent church' and found andy's blog. he obviously has a bone of contention with the emergent church, so he posts his propaganda here and other pages. here is his own blog: http://emergingtruth.blogspot.com/ which only has the same exact comment as posted here.

i don't know what his beef is with willow creek, but i personally have heard nothing but good things about willow creek and wanted to personally state that here. my wife experienced a life change going to a conference there.

also, to clarify my bono/u2 comments, and point out further flaws in our "friend's" statements...bono wasn't holding a 'coexist' sign, it was a coexist headband that he wore. he also did the 'coexist' routine at every show (not just the last concert) during the song 'sunday bloody sunday' which originally was written in response u2 had seen of their own religious war happening in ireland, but is completely appropriate and applicable to current modern day religious wars, weather it be 9/11 terrorist attacks or whatever.

christians have been enormously responsible for some of the worst religious wars in history (remember the crusades?) and the idea of coexistence is one that everyone needs to hear, know and implement in their lives. not entering into religious war for the sake of religion. who would jesus bomb after all?

anyways, thats about it.
love and peace (or else)

Andy Whitman said...

Mike, I wasn't going to comment on the Perils of the Emergent Church comment (it's difficult to even know where to begin), but I'll just chime in to say that I agree with you.

nikkip said...

yep. i didn't even think it was worth our time to comment on this man's confused rantings.

Crosis101 said...

Hmmmm Well as former sound guru, and lighting guy for Hawthron Hills Community Church ((an outreach church)), and having attended Willow Creek on several occasions while living in Chicago, I can say without a doubt, Willow Creek is the most gargantuan Church I have been to in the world. ((and yes I have been outside the country ;->))Other than that I found their messages to be based in the Bible.

As for what do people think when they hear the word Christian, again, Ican't control what they think before they meet me, but I should be able to influence what they think AFTER they meet me. That's what we need to do. Be a possitve influence, not be ashamed. "Hide my light under a bushel? NO! I'm gonna let it shine!" Words from a Christian Children's song, but relevent to the discussion. We have to be the light. What's harder to do, say "I am a Christian, and here's why?" or "Well yeah I am a follower of Jesus, but I don;t like to say Christian, cause I feel it has a negative connotation..." blah blah blah. You tell me.

As to "Not everyone Who Says they are a Christian, knows Jesus" to that I can only say "Really?" I mean come on, that's been going on since, what? Right after the Ressurection? Romans said they were Christians that was 2000 years ago. I don't think everyone who said there were a Christian EVER followed Christ.

As for the "Chruch" fearing the changing of terms, the Church doesn't, I do. I don;t want to get in this Nomenclature war, because that would be far more hurtful than anything else. You talk about what is a Christian, but is saying Christian more confusing than saying "I am a Babtist, I am a Lutheran, I am an Eastern Orthodox Catholic"? Do most people even know what the difference is?

As for who is and isn't a Christian... jesus said to the Murderer hung on the Cross next to him, "I tell you the truth, you will be with me in my Father's Kingdom tonight." If Jesus forgave a Murderer ON THE CROSS, who are we to judge who is or isn't a Christian? Hitler could very well be in Heaven. I know we all like to think he isn't, but he could be, nothing in our Faith precludes it. It's the Holy GIFT of grace. We can do nothing to deserve it.

As to the last thing, remember how I said we have to self correct. Do some research on the Crusades. They were wars of Defense against an aggressor Nation. The Moors were invading Europe. Along with other threats to Europe and Christianity itself. Oh and Vladd the Impaler was a Defender of the Faith, he kept a vastly suprior force out of what is now Romania.

e said...

mike (and others)-- thanks for defending Bono :) thanks too for pointing out jeff's inconsistencies and blatant misconstruals.

secondly, shameless self promotion: http://1treehill.blogspot.com/2006/05/davinci-and-mclaren-and-church.html

thirdly, nothing that i'm saying in that post is meant to disparage the emergent church, protestantism, whatever. it's just supposed to make us think. that's it. so take that with you on your trip over to the original source of this discussion. my big black blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Dan Brown's Debt to Protestantism

by Glen Chancy

No endorsement implied. Dan Brown makes a lot of astounding claims in his best seller The Da Vinci Code. Most people are familiar with them such as Brown's assertions that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that his death on the cross was faked, and that the divinity of Christ was invented by Constantine and the bishops at the church council in Nicea. These claims are shocking, untrue, and have been decidedly refuted by multiple authors. A Sunday school teacher in my own parish has compiled a nice list of resources debunking these claims. He is, of course, only one of many to do so.

However, despite all the well-meaning attempts to debunk the Code, its influence is clearly being felt. A poll, conducted for CanWest News Service in the days leading up to Easter 2006, indicated 17% of Canadians and 13% of Americans believe author Dan Brown's basic premises. The message is getting through, and it is getting a reception in many quarters, even before the movie has been able to make its contribution. While a lot of time and energy has been spent proving that the claims made by Brown in his novel are untrue, much less thought has gone into analyzing why his incredible version of events has found such resonance.

While Brown makes many claims about various topics in Christian history, the root of them all is, as the author says, that "almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false." In other words, the teachings that Jesus Christ left on Earth were systematically misrepresented and distorted to serve the interests of a fallen, very worldly bunch of men who were seeking power, wealth, and prestige. It was these men who crafted the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and who formulated false dogmas to cement its influence by creating an orthodoxy to which others were forced to adhere.

One reason why this idea of Brown's, that we have been collectively lied to about the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, has found such resonance might be because of its similarity to established radical Protestant doctrine. If that is the case, then Brown has actually some of the most conservative Protestants around to thank for his massive literary success.

*Radical History*

The term 'Radical Reformation' is not well known to most Americans, but it is immensely important. The term refers to the diverse amalgamation of various movements comprised of individuals and groups that rejected both the Roman Catholic tradition and the Protestant alternatives to it. These groups claimed to be following the path of true apostolic Christianity. It is difficult to generalize too much about the groups that comprised these movements, given their diversity. Some of them were fairly subdued, while others rejected the Trinity, embraced polygamy, and did a great deal of other things that are rarely associated with Christian behavior. Some common elements, however, can be identified. Among these are a rejection of the sacraments, an indifference to Christian history and tradition, a rejection of Theology in favor of personal piety, a rejection of any form of hierarchy, and a simplified, non-liturgical worship style.

The spiritual heirs of the 'Radical Reformation' include the Evangelical Protestant Churches such as the Baptists and the Pentecostals. These groups are, of course, extremely important in the United States and even globally. All told there are some 75 million Evangelicals in the United States, and an additional 325 million or more worldwide. While the modern radical Protestant churches have largely toned down some of the more eccentric beliefs and behavior of their forebears of the 16th and 17th centuries, they are still characterized by many of the distinctive practices of the Radical Reformers such as democratic church governance, an informal worship style centered around a sermon, a rejection of all sacramental Theology, an emphasis on piety over systematic Theology, and 'Believer's Baptism' of those old enough to think rationally.

And, of course, almost all of these spiritual descendants of the radicals profess that they are worshipping in the mode of the original Christian Church. Common to them is the belief that by the time the Council of Nicea was organized in 325 A.D., the orthodox Christian Church had fallen into grievous error.

The following is a pretty standard radical Protestant discussion of what happened in the early 4th Century:

"Now a few more points about Constantine. When he conquered Maxientus and became emperor in 313 A.D. he issued a statement of toleration and temporarily stopped the persecution which had been so severe under Diocletian and Decius. But by 314 he had appointed imperial commissioners to settle questions of orthodoxy in the churches. Naturally he wanted to include the separate churches under his influence, and he issued his edict against the Donatist churches in 320 A.D. By 315 he had begun to call himself the external bishop of the church and changed its constitution to conform to that of the state. In 319 he relieved the clergy of the duty to pay taxes and eventually provided state pensions for the bishops. This shows the gradual growth of the state church or sacral society system and how it subjugated the churches. Constantine also introduced splendor into the liturgy and architecture of the Roman church including such things as paintings and images and statues, so that the churches came to resemble pagan temples."

The corrupt bishops went along with Constantine, so this line of thought goes, and radically changed the Christian faith. Thus, it is from this time that many Evangelicals date the decline and collapse of the Christian Church on Earth until the true faith was resurrected during the Protestant reformation. Some Protestants claim that the true faith never departed, but was kept alive by various heretical groups who were persecuted by the evil Roman Catholic Church. More on that will be discussed later.

However, radical Protestants are noted for, among other things, their lack of liturgical worship, their denial of sacraments, and their mode of church governance which is democratic and non-hierarchical. That presents a historical problem, since it is quite obvious to any researcher that the Christian Church was already liturgical, sacramental, and hierarchical well before Constantine ever arrived on the scene.

That fact has led many radical Protestants to push the date for when the Church lapsed into sin and error farther back in time:

"In fact, the religion of great numbers, in the third century, was a compound of Judaism and Paganism, with a slight seasoning of Christianity. Gaudy ceremonials were delighted in, and the strange power which had been ascribed to magical influences was transferred to the ordinances of the Gospel. The immersion in water, the eating of the bread, and the drinking of the wine, were associated in their minds, as producing causes, with spiritual transformations and blessings. The bodily act was substituted for the mental, and 'faith was made void.' We do not affirm that every professing Christian was enveloped in this darkness; but it is too evident that the views of the majority were confused, and that, under the leadership of such men as Cyprian, the churches were fast drifting into dangerous notions."

But even pushing the date for lapse into sin and error back into the 3rd Century is not really sufficient. Based on the writings that have survived to us from Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and others, it is quite clear that the orthodox Christian Church had such non-Protestant elements as hierarchy, liturgy, and sacraments as far back as the end of the First Century.

This has led to several different responses from Evangelicals and other radical Protestants. The first is to simply ignore all this. That is easy since most Evangelicals are ahistorical in any case. Another response is to push the date of 'apostasy' even farther back to accommodate the fact that inconvenient ideas are expressed in First Century documents such as Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians or the Epistles of Ignatius. Thinkers who subscribe to this line of reasoning believe that the Church was on its way downhill before the Apostolic Age was even closed.

Another response has been to merely claim that those Christians who believed like and worshipped like modern Evangelicals simply didn't leave writings or other evidence that has survived until today. This is a true 'leap of faith,' believing that such groups had to exist, despite our inability to actually find them. It is also more evidence of a 'conspiracy theory,' since the often unspoken subtext of this belief is that the ancient Evangelical writings had to have existed, but were suppressed by the evil Roman Church.

Finally, the last response is that often associated with 'Landmark Baptists.' This is the belief that the true church of Jesus did survive on Earth through the various groups, such as the Novatians and Donatists, who were condemned by the 'official' church as heretics. These groups maintained the true faith, under severe persecution, and often lived and worshipped in secret. In this belief system, all of these disparate groups are believed to have been essentially 'baptist.'

Various Pentecostal groups, who usually arose from within Baptist denominations, have also grabbed hold of this theory. This is the belief I was taught, as a boy in a Pentecostal denomination. More than one Sunday school teacher told me that a 'remnant' of Christianity survived through the Dark Ages prior to Martin Luther and the Reformation. We weren't really told who this remnant was or what it might have looked like, but we were assured of its existence. The fact of its existence explained how we, a Pentecostal denomination less than 100 years old, could in fact trace our lineage back to the First Century.

*What about The Da Vinci Code?*

This is all fine, but what has any of it got to do with the Da Vinci Code phenomenon? Well, a lot actually. As I said at the beginning, the basic premise of Dan Brown's thinking is that the truth of Jesus Christ was distorted and impregnated with false doctrines by men for their own advantage. This is, in fact, the standard teaching of literally hundreds of millions of radical Protestants, and it is their teaching which has opened the door to acceptance for Dan Brown's ideas.

I know, I know. Protestants such as the Baptists and Pentecostals are at the forefront of denouncing the Code and exploding its various myths. How could they possibly have tilled the soil into which the Dan Brown's seeds of doubt were sown? They did this in several ways.

As stated earlier, the standard teaching of radical reformers is that the church was fallen into error by the fourth century, and, according to many, was probably in error as far back as the end of the Apostolic Age. This means that the Christian Church which compiled the scriptures, which defined the precise doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and which formed the basis of Western Civilization was, in fact, near apostate and unreliable.

The radical Protestants believe that this Church managed to get some things right. The radicals, as a whole, accept that the divinity of Christ was taught in the early church, that the Trinity as defined in the Nicene Creed is true, and almost all accept the canon of the New Testament as received by the Christian Church pre-Constantine. But they also, as shown earlier, believe that this very Church was thoroughly infiltrated by pagan influences, and was led by men of dubious character who were all to willing to seek advantage for themselves through accommodation to the world.

By calling into question the reliability of the early church, the radical Protestants opened Pandora's Box hundreds of years before Dan Brown was born. If the early church was so riddled with error and superstition then how can we possibly trust anything that it produced?

Are the New Testament books accepted into the canon the authentic teachings of Christ, or were they merely the ones acceptable to bigoted, neo-pagans who were running the show as bishops? Is the doctrine of the Trinity, found nowhere in scripture, true to Christian traditional teaching or was Arius right? Or, was Montanus right when he claimed that his visions were equal to the scriptures around AD 150? Or perhaps Sabellius had it right when he claimed that God assumed various modes and the later Trinitarian formula was actually rank heresy?

How does one tell the truth teller from the heretical liar if you accept, as a matter of faith, that the visible, orthodox Christian Church was in decadent error? If the orthodox Church had ceased to be the true Church sometime in the 2nd or 3rd Centuries, and was instead an all-too human institution, then how is anyone going to be sure what is right belief and what is not?

Is it really so far-fetched then, to extend this belief just a little more to encompass the idea that the corrupt Christian Church could have changed even more about the faith and done so even earlier? By calling the witness of the early Church and her bishops into doubt, the radical Protestants prepared the way for Dan Brown's success. The doubts were already there, as literally hundreds of millions of Christians believe that the Church was hijacked and corrupted almost from its beginning. When one already embraces so many doubts about Christian history and Christian origins, a few more are easy enough to cozy up to.

But, besides interjecting doubts about the veracity of the early church, many radical Protestants have prepared the way for the Code in another way as well. Radical Protestants have the same overwhelming pre-occupation with an overpowering, omni prescient Papacy as does Dan Brown. As shown in the quotes above, radical Protestants refer to the orthodox church of the first few centuries AD as the 'Roman Catholic Church,' and impart to the Bishop of Rome powers at that stage which he would not develop for hundreds of years, and then only in the West. Dan Brown does the same thing with his references to the 'Vatican' during a century in which no such structure even existed. The Bishop of Rome in the early Christian centuries couldn't dictate doctrinal innovations to anyone, but that does not stop the radical Protestants and Dan Brown from ascribing to him just that infamy.

Growing up in a Pentecostal denomination, we were taught to blame the Pope for everything from introducing the idea of the 'Real Presence' in the Eucharist to introduction of a hierarchy. Whatever we didn't like was pinned on Constantine, the Pope, or both. Never mind the fact that the Eastern Church was never under that kind of control from a single source. We would never let facts get in the way of our anti-papal feelings.

Given that this belief system is regnant in so many Protestant Churches, is it any wonder that Dan Brown's anti-papal assertions seem plausible to some? After all, if they are like me, Dan Brown's ideas are merely a difference of degree, not kind, from what we learned in Sunday school.

In addition, one more radical Protestant teaching helped set the stage for the Code. Dan Brown states that the truth of the Christian religion was known to a small band known as the Priory of Zion. Many radical Protestants believe, as I did as a young man, almost exactly the same thing, only the 'remnant' which preserved the true faith was known by different names ('Novatian,' 'Donatist,' 'Waldens,' etc.) throughout history.

To radical Protestants, or those influenced by their teaching, the idea that the true Christian faith was betrayed by the 'official' church and kept alive by a small, conspiratorial band is hardly far-fetched. It is, in fact, an integral part of the radical Protestant faith for untold millions of believers. All that really separates such Protestants and Dan Brown are disagreements over which articles of the faith the ancient, apostate church got wrong, and who was the 'righteous remnant' (provided it existed) that forms a link between the Apostles and the Protestants of today. This teaching of the radical Protestants has so seeped into the world's consciousness that we find even Catholics and Orthodox influenced by it. It is little wonder, given this situation, that so many people have embraced Brown's theses.

The Baptists and other Evangelicals doing battle with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code are standing on a foundation of sand. While their efforts should be applauded, it can not be overlooked that their own doctrinal assertions helped put us in the middle of this controversy to begin with. If so many of the teachings of Christ were abandoned or twisted by an unfaithful church so early in history, then how could one ever separate the truth from the lies?

To adequately refute the Code it is necessary to believe that the teachings of Jesus Christ were given to the Apostles and were held by the Church as a deposit of faith that was neither altered nor abandoned. To do otherwise is to admit the possibility that perhaps nothing we know of the faith is true.

Since the radical Protestants, such as the Evangelicals, are not able to stand on the firm foundation of the historic Christian faith, it falls to the Orthodox and Roman Catholics to firmly and effectively defend against the heresies of The Da Vinci Code. It is tempting to want to reach out and join hands with our Evangelical brethren in this endeavor, but we must not lose sight of the role that they played in getting us to where we are today. To ignore their heresies while focusing only on Dan Brown is to focus only on a symptom, rather than treating the underlying disease.
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Glen Chancy is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Political Science, and a certificate in Eastern European Studies. A former University lecturer in Poland, he currently holds an MBA in Finance and works in Orlando, Florida as a business analyst for an international software developer. He attends the Greek Orthodox Church in Orlando, Florida./

Posted: 24-May-06
Article link: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/ChancyDaVinci.php