The first perspective on Church history I wish to discuss is the view that all Christians were pretty much in grave error for over a millennium. I have in mind certain Protestant groups that are vitriolically anti-Catholic (and anti-Orthodox if Orthodoxy is brought up). I also have in mind hardcore liberal Christians who hold disdain for traditional Christian ethics. It is a view that requires cynicism, as one has to be pretty cynical about God’s revelation to the human race throughout history. Apparently, He stopped making people into new creations in Christ for over 1,000 years. Of all the people who spent their lives in fasting, prayer, and reading the scriptures, none of them were sincere enough for God to enlighten them with true Christianity- one’s specific Protestant doctrines which one believes are absolutely necessary.
This historical narrative teaches that the original, true faith that Christ taught was lost, but then reobtained by humanity centuries later. One criticism I have is that if the true faith really was lost and then found by someone after centuries, the event would be like Pentecost in the book of Acts. That person would have been like the Holy Apostles, working miracles and such. Yet none of the Reformers were holy people. Interesting thinkers, yes, but is it not strange that they were not anointed with charismatic gifts? When St. Peter walked the streets, people were healed when his shadow passed over them. When St. Stephen was martyred, his face appeared to be like that of an angel. People touched St. Paul with rags and then brought these rags to heal the sick (relics). People prophesied and St. Paul mentions speaking angelic tongues. And if these things are not incredible enough, the Book of Acts records St. Philip being carried up into the heavens after evangelizing the Ethiopian. Is not the Reformation, and the modern liberal reformation, oddly dry compared to this? Certain people who took note of this started another reformation for these charismatic gifts to manifest. For the most part, the attempts of the Pentecostals have either been unimpressive, or the spiritual power behind them gives one a disturbingly dark feeling.
One thing no one denies is that Medieval Catholicism had serious errors in its doctrines and practices. No one today believes that the blood in the Eucharist should be withheld from the laity, as was mandated then. Hardly anyone today believes that the liturgy and the Scriptures must be in Latin, as was mandated. I doubt anyone today seriously holds to the crazy medieval doctrine of the treasury of merits- that Christ and the saints had amassed a surplus of merits and the Pope could transmit these merits to people’s spiritual accounts at his arbitration. For example, granting 10,000 years off of purgatory for visiting a particular relic. The first perspective of Church history responds to this by saying that no one in this time had the true Christian faith, but it was found again by certain reformers.
The second perspective I want to mention acknowledges the historical cynicism of the first perspective and approaches the historical Christians with greater humility. Its response to historical problems is to lower the bar of the definition of what acceptable Christian faith is. The Christians of the past had problems with their beliefs and how they practiced their faith, but we probably do too, and that’s ok. Different Christian confessions, past and present, have their blind spots and strong points. Catholics have consistency, Baptists are great at Bible studies, Anglicans have some beautiful music, and so on. The sad part is that when it gets down to important and specific doctrines and practices of the Christian faith, those who adhere to the second perspective sort of consent that getting all these important things right is probably impossible. It is a more humble cynicism than that of the first perspective, but it is still sadly cynical.