The worst airline crash in history happened when a 747 failed to get off the ground. Instead, it hit another jumbo jet and exploded in a cataclysm of ruin. The full tanks of jet fuel were the final, lethal touch for most of those who survived the impact. The runway became a nightmare landscape of death and fire. The Canary Islands are still remembered for this tremendous crash of the planes that never made it off the runway. 1
There was an even more consequential crash long ago. Like this one, it spread death, fire, and ruin wherever it touched. Unlike this one it was the crash of a once mighty movement of individuals, not of gigantic airplanes. The ruin of the jumbo jets was very public, irretrievable, and final. They couldn't be repaired and put back into service. They were so much scrap when the fires were out, and so many painful memories of lives suddenly, senselessly ended.
The crash of the original movement begun by Yahshua, the Messiah, and His apostles was no less cataclysmic, and for those who witnessed it, the tragedy was no less final. The engines of self-denying, sacrificial love had flamed out. That "airplane" would not fly again in their lifetime. Someday, somehow, it would have to be restored to the spiritual greatness it had attained before the crash.
It would have been much better then if the survivors had gone home and left the scene of the wreckage behind. But they didn't, and something different and strange happened to the twisted and charred pieces of the movement. It was as if the various pieces of the wreckage, disconnected from one another as they were, mysteriously took on a life of their own. But it was a life alien to the life of the movement that had once begun to soar.
Gone were the days when each person's voice mattered. No more could God speak through the least, but only the greatest. Or perhaps these eloquent, learned men had another motive than that of the first passengers. The new "faith" delivered to the new "saints" was doctrine and ritual. 2
If anyone could have seen their true condition - seen into the spiritual realm - they would have seen the flaming wreckage strewn over the historical landscape. They would have discerned that persuasive speakers were preaching a new and deadly message. Lots of the old words were kept, but it didn't produce a radical life of caring and sharing. It was a mysticism that separated the material from the "spiritual" realm -- what mattered was not the external expression, but only the "inner man." Faith was divorced from the works of love it had once produced.
It was a much more popular message, although its implications soon became clear: everyone had to accept their lot in life, not expecting anyone to sacrifice his riches to lift his brother out of poverty. Their physical circumstances didn't really matter. If many people's needs went unmet while others had an abundance, why, that was evidently "the will of God." Didn't it say somewhere that "the poor were rich in faith"?
The startling contrast between the way of the believers and the way of the world around them faded. The church opened her doors to rich and poor, moral and immoral, but unlike the first days, they remained rich and poor, moral and immoral. 3 The only startling contrast left was the contrast to the way the church had begun. 4 Being different from the world brought suspicion upon you, which was becoming a more and more dangerous thing to do.
The one they had first called "Master" had said amazing words about laying down the sword and not fighting the kingdoms of this world with the weapons of this world. By the fourth century, love was defined as taking up the sword. In no time they filled the ranks of the military and the halls of government. They spread fire and death wherever "love" called them to go. They even spread their "faith" in this way. 5 Dying in such causes became a way to eternal happiness. 6 So powerful was their new persuasion that those who still read what the Master actually said and wanted to be true to Him were persecuted for "disobeying" Him. Those who didn't live by the sword would now die by the sword.