I recently finished a terrific book by John Dickson called Bullies and Saints. He presents the topic as “An honest look at the good and evil of Christian history.” Anyone who’s studied this subject knows there’s plenty of both. As an Anglican from Australia, Dickson has a good perspective in which to present the material.
Dickson talks about the early church (before Constantine) introducing a melody that is often obscured throughout the later history of the Church. This is a valuable metaphor, as indeed we can acknowledge when the song has changed but also acknowledge when it starts to sound familiar again. He refers to the first three centuries sounding like “One long harmonious performance of Christ’s original melody.”
Dickson presents the ‘melody’ as a love for enemies and the belief that all people are made in the image of God. I heartily agree the best versions of the Church have these characteristics and the worst do not. As Dickson argues, “Christ’s melody remains beautiful—dare I say unique. And when Christians perform it, they leave an indelible mark on the world.”
I appreciate that the book doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of Church history. It’s a reminder that those of us committed to the melody of Christ have a responsibility to hold the church accountable. And as history has shown, the Church doesn’t always get it right. In fact, it can sometimes get it spectacularly wrong. Yet despite this, the book still leaves you with hope for what can be. As Dickson suggests, “Bullies are common. Saints are not.” Therefore, we have can have much gratitude for the saints (generically speaking) produced by the Church despite the bullies.
The book covers a lot of ground and can produce a bit of whiplash at times. One of the unique observations is that “Sometimes the darkest and brightest moments of church history happen at the same time.” I’ve found that most Christians are woefully ignorant of those who carried the faith before us, and this book provides a fantastic way to remedy that.
May we continue to play the original Jesus melody today.
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