Not Traditional, Original

The Vision of OriginalChristianity.Net

The vision of OriginalChristianity.Net is to look at the beliefs and practices of the the original Christians.  The reason why this is important is that over the millennium Christianity has developed numerous factions that all claim that that they are the true continuation of original Christianity.  I heard exactly that when I visited a Greek Orthodox Church, I have read it in Roman Catholic literature, it is in the bulletin of a local non-denominational church in my area.  They make these claims despite the fact that they have disagreed, even violently at times.  For other articles on this topic, see A Major Objection to the Restoration Movement Is That Christianity Has Not Changed Substantially Over Time, and Another Claim of Original Christianity in Practice Today,

Throughout this website are numerous articles written on the numerous divisions in the Church that we have today, how a lot of these doctrines developed that are behind all these divisions, and some key points on how original Christianity differed from today.  It is important to look at all these things because they are part of Christianity now and play a big part, perhaps more as obstacles, in the faith of the individual believer.

But the key point of this website is to be able to envision what original Christianity, and in particular the time of Jesus and the apostles and disciples that he touched was really like. There was an incredible spirituality. With the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and afterward the sending of the Holy Spirit we see the most incredible movement of God on earth since creation.

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This was a time of power, miracles, healing, and deliverance, not only by Jesus, but by those he touched, his apostles and disciples. People saw God in action through these men. They saw the word of God living, because they lived it together. There was incredible community and sharing. There was incredible believing. There was great faith.

It was a time of simple doctrine.  There were no official doctrines on infant baptism or believer’s baptism. There was no doctrine that prophecy and the other gifts and manifestations of the spirit had ceased. There were baptisms being carried out, and the last supper repeated as a memorial, but there were no “sacraments”, somehow mysteriously conveying grace by ritualistic practices. There were no autonomous churches disputing which form of church government was doctrinally correct, which end times theology was correct, or arguments over whether or not there was eternal security.

There was no argument over the status of the Bible, because there was no Bible. Jesus had referenced the law and the prophets, including the Psalms, as the word of God. And only those books with the addition of the words of Jesus were considered the word of God. There were no written Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There were no epistles of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, John, and Jude. So there was no argument over doctrines derived from them like eternal security, justification by grace, predestination, or even the Trinity.

Philosophy was rejected as an unwise practice of the Greeks that actually tore down faith more than it built, so discussion of faith wasn’t an analytical exercise in the nuances of the meanings of words, but rather simple directives, and powerful stories and analogies that emphasize the important meanings to be focused on while ignoring the myriad details that can lead people astray.

What existed was the good news that Jesus the Messiah had come, that he had fulfilled the law, had sent the Holy Spirit, and now many believers were walking in great faith and power. What existed was great praise, great faith, and great love of God.

All of this is not to say that this was an easy time. There were persecutions, challenges, and trials, as both the Jews and the Romans saw this burgeoning Christianity as a threat. But this just served to bring the Christians closer together, and more united in their faith.

Original Christianity was a time of great unity, simple doctrine, great believing, with many believers walking in the love of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

So as you read these articles that discuss all of the divisions, and developments, both good and bad throughout the millennia of history of Christianity, it is important to maintain the focus of the simple vision of original Christianity.  Pray, praise the Lord, walk in the power of the spirit, love God and love your neighbor, and rejoice in what Christ has done. Join together with any Christian who is doing the same.  And in the process perhaps we can bring some of what made original Christianity so great back to life.

© copyright 2012 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

Welcome to Original Christianity.Net

It appears that universally, in the church, we Christians marvel at both at Jesus’ miracles and the wisdom in his parables. We especially are in awe of his life, his incredible birth, his short but incredibly powerful ministry, his passion, death, and resurrection. We love him for those. We are also moved by the depth of the wisdom and inspiration of books like the Psalms and Proverbs. Almost universally, although most would say all true Christians, acknowledge him as Lord, and strive to follow his leadership as we walk in a dark world filled with daily challenges, including overcoming evil.

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In fact, there are some universal, and some almost universal, elements in Christianity. Universally held elements of Christianity include this deep awe of Christ, and likewise, for the bible. The bible, or at least for some, sections of the bible, such as the parables of Christ in the gospels, the powerful poetry of the Psalms, and the wisdom in Proverbs are universally held in the deepest regard. Almost universally held elements include the belief in Christ as the only begotten son of the Father, physically born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, who died for out sins, and was raised from the dead and is presently seated at the right hand of God. Christians look forward to spending eternity with the Lord. Even more, there is common ground as churches promote worship, baptism, and communion with some similarity.

But beyond some basics like these, there is far less agreement on the tenets of Christianity. In fact, there is an elephant in the Church, an elephant of disagreement resulting in tens of thousands of sects, disagreeing on many doctrines.

The disagreements have been legion, often bloody, and always confusing. Christians have killed other Christians for defying the rule of infant baptism and proclaiming “believer’s baptism”. Many Christians have declared other Christians apostate because of their view of the Bible, whether it is inerrant, infallible, or at least partially of human origin.

And even if they agree on the status of the Bible, they don’t agree on what it says on these issues. For example, there is disagreement over basic principles of interpretation like whether the overriding principle is based on the covenants of God versus which dispensation we are in.

There are Christians that call other Christians apostate (traitorous) because they believe that the gifts of the spirit, i.e., prophecy and speaking in tongues, etc. still exist, and vice versa. These days there are sharp divides over homosexuality, abortion, the Word of Faith movement, the emergent Church movement, and the role of women in the church.

Even if Christians don’t call others apostate, they still disagree to the point of not fellowshipping over issues like: dietary laws (whether they need to be followed), drinking alcohol, end times (Eschatology), eternal security, evolution vs. literal seven days of creation, giving vs. tithing, predestination, psychology: the acceptability of Christian counseling, sacraments as conveyers of grace or not, the “in the name of Jesus” debate, and pacifism vs. the concept of a just war, and other issues.

Then there is the ecumenical concept of Christian “orthodoxy” that suggests that none of the issues so far discussed really matter even there are huge divisions over them. The only issue that really matters in “orthodoxy” is whether one accepts the doctrine of the Trinity, that Jesus the man is really God and a person in a triune godhead with two other persons, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is promoted as the absolutely most important concept in Christianity even though this emphasis is totally missing for the first centuries of the church.

And let alone that the very doctrine of the Trinity has been disputed over the centuries with more Christians killing other Christians over this issue than any other. It appears that for some that as long as a church accepts the doctrine of the Trinity it doesn’t matter if it teaches that homosexuality is normal or apostate, and/or abortion is choice or murder, and/or baptism should be infant baptism or believer’s baptism, and/or there are two “ordinances” or seven sacraments, and so forth, and so on.

This mess is a huge blemish on the body of Christ. Some of these issues may be legitimate, but to have so many “orthodox” churches teaching so many disparate doctrines flies right in the face of Paul’s charge for believers to have the same mind:

Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all say the same thing, and there be no divisions among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10 LITV)

If, as Paul teaches, we corporately are the body of Christ, then does the current collective body of competing Christian theologies accurately reflect the mind of Christ. Certainly, no one can think so.

But, before the present time with our tens of thousands of Christian denominations, and before the Reformation that shifted the focus of Christianity from the decisions of church councils and the Pope to the Bible as the principle source of guidance, and before the great schism about a thousand years ago, even before there were arguments over the nature of Christ, the Trinity and whether Mary was the mother of God in the beginning of the age of Christendom (fourth century), even before there was a Catholic church (110 A.D.) there was original primitive Christianity.

While some of the focus of Christianity remains, much has changed over the millennia. The question is whether all or even any of the different traditions that have developed are correct, or the original believers were the ones that actually got it the most right. The place to start is by looking at the beliefs and practices of original, primitive Christianity, and seriously consider embracing them again even though some of them may be radically different from what you or I hold today.

In the days of original, primitive Christianity:

(In the listings below hyperlinks offer more information on the point being made.)

Elements usually still held today:

Elements still held today by some:

Elements held today by few, if any believers:

Elements that are divisive today but didn’t appear to exist then:

The most current blogs (articles) are below. The articles can touch on a large number of topics including ancient history, the original language of the bible, grammar and logic, dividing doctrines besides the basics of Christianity, what Jesus taught, and development (movements) in Christianity throughout the centuries. For an organized listing of the blogs (articles) to get an overview and better understanding of the contents on this web site, go to the table of contents. There is more information on design of this website on this page; look on the right sidebar under Original Christianity and click “Why? Click to Read More…”

01.6.0 Church Sects during the Antonine Era

There have always been divisions in the church.  This article talks about sects that abounded in the mid second century and some of the fallout.

According to Encyclopedia Brittania, the Antonine Era is the period of years between 132 and 180 AD when “the Roman emperors Antoninus Pius (reigned AD 138–161) and his adopted son and heir, Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161–180)… The period of the first two Antonine emperors (138–180) was one of great internal peace and prosperity, when the sense of security and the reconciliation of peoples was at their greatest throughout the Roman Empire. ”[i]

According to Eusebius, by this time “Like brilliant lamps the churches were now shining throughout the world, and faith in our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ ..”[ii]

Now that’s awesome.  A hundred years after the original church Christianity had spread throughtout the world.  But Eusebius’ comment goes on to lament that “when the devil who hates what is good, as the enemy of the truth, ever more hostile to the man’s salvation, turned all his devices against the church.  Formerly, he had used persecutions from without as his weapon against her, but now he was excluded from this he used wicked men and sorcerers for his purpose”[iii]

Since he is referring to the Antonine era persecutions from the Roman Empire weren’t in play.  But Eusebius viewed the splitting of the church into sects as the work of “wicked men and sorcerers.”  The sorcerers were the Gnostic leaders.  Gnosticism has its root in Judaism but came to the fore during the second century.  Gnosticism says that there is a “mystical, supernatural wisdom by which the initiates were brought to a true understanding of the universe, and were saved from the evil world of matter.  It had a fundamental doctrine of salvation.”[iv]

Celsius, a contemporary of Eusebius, wrote that he saw “Christians divided between the ‘the great church’ which ‘had the same God as the Jews’ and whose beliefs remained very similar, and a multitude of sects, such as Marcionists, Gnostics, followers of Martha, Marcellina, and the Harpocratians who follow Salome’.[v]

The sects mentioned above were considered heretics.  For example, Marcion believed in Jesus as the Savior and Paul as his apostle.  However he didn’t believe in the old testament or the God of Israel.  Marcellina had an unusual tack: that Jesus was an admirable figure but one that could be surpassed.

These sects were very contentious with each other.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: “Eusebius regarded the Antonine era as the period of breakthrough when Christianity shook off its Jewish millenarianism preached by men of “limited intelligence,” such as Papias, and began to enter its true Gentile inheritance”[vi]

That alone signifies that Eusebius recognized a departure of “the great church” which he espoused and original Christianity.  Eusebius saw this as a good thing, but the whole thing looks to me to smack of snobbery.  Eusebius, an educated man in the philosophy of the times, appears to me to be looking down on the practical nature of Christianity given to the common man, and appears to celebrate the second century church’s embrace of Hellenization of the church with all of the implications that involves.  I think that is side of effect of the divisions of the time and a clever ploy of the adversary to infiltrate and change the core values of the church itself.

The simple, practical nature of the original church is being dismissed here by Eusebius and others representing the later church and Hellenization of the church is taking over.

[i] https://www.britannica.com/event/Antonines

[ii] Eusebius, HE, IV.7.1

[iii] ibid

[iv] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959, p. 52

[v] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984, p. 194

[vi] Ibid.

15.1.5 Medieval Enlightenment Works To Show the Basis for the Sacrament of Penance to be Faulty

As discussed in an earlier post, 15.0.1 At the Heart of the Reformation was the Call to Return to the Practices of Early Christianity, one of the things happening in the 15th century were comparisons of Greek texts to Latin Vulgate translations.  Here is an example:

In the year 1440, a humanist scholar named Lorenzo Valla examined an ancient document, supposedly fourth century, supposedly given by the Emperor Constantine to the Roman Pope of the time giving the Pope lordship over the western half of the Roman Empire.  The scholar was able to determine that the document was a forgery because it was written using eighth century Latin. Valla also wrote Annotations on the New Testament where he used his knowledge of Greek and Latin to show that there were errors in the currently used Latin Vulgate translation.[i]  Later Erasmus of Rotterdam found these Annotations and he used them to produce a Greek edition of the New Testament.  It was put alongside Erasmus’s own translation of the Latin Vulgate.

Erasmus’s motivation for doing this was the reform of the Catholic Church and, initially, he was even thanked for his work. But the work proved detrimental to Catholic theology.  The Latin Vulgate says that Matthew 4:17 translates as “do penance”.   This verse is part of their basis for establishing the sacrament of penance. Their interpretation is that do penance means to confess to a priest in the sacrament of confession and perform what acts of contrition he prescribes.  However Erasmus did not translate the verse the same. Rather, he translated it initially as “be penitent”, and then later as “change your mind”. This is a radical change from the theological statement that the Roman Catholic Church claimed this verse in Matthew to be. Rather than establishing a sacrament called Confession or Penance, the verse is really calling for people to change their thinking about their actions.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mat 4:17 ESV)

This verse is clearly a call for people to change their thinking themselves, not a call to go visit a priest to confess sins.

[i] The Unquenchable Flame, Discovering The Heart of the Reformation, B&H academic, Nashville Tennessee, 2009, P. 33

15.0.1 At the Heart of the Reformation was the Call to Return to the Practices of Early Christianity

The beginning of the 16th century was one of the worst times in Christianity. Corruption was everywhere from the pope down. “The decline and corruption of the papacy was well-known. After its residence at Avignon, where had it had served as a tool of French interest, the papacy had further weakened by the Great Schism, which divided Western Europe in its allegiance to two – and even three – popes.”[i]

The Conciliar Movement was a  movement formed by the Catholic Church itself to reform itself in the 14th and 15th centuries.  But it had a basic problem with corruption itself in that a number of the bishops sitting on those councils were profiting from the corruption themselves. Oh, the conciliar movement sounded good, there were reformers rallying against the pluralism, the profiting and greed from the buying and selling of everything from bishop’s offices to indulgences all the while that many of the same bishops were the perpetrators of these misdeeds.

Even many of the parish priests had bought their positions. So even if they did have some noble aspiration to minister to the people, how could they be trusted?

Clerical celibacy was fully law in this day and time, but there were many bishops and local priests alike with mistresses, illegitimate children living in places that were far from what the vow of poverty would suggest.

This same time period also marked the end of the “dark ages”.  The Byzantine Empire had collapsed. Europe at this time was in the feudal system, but that was coming to an end. The aristocracy, including church leaders (for many church leaders were huge landowners) was putting increasing burdens on the masses who served on these feudal lands.  “The ostentatiousness of prelates, their power as landowners, and their support of increasing inequality were seen by many as betrayal of the poor, and eventually as a sign that the antichrist had gained possession of the church. The ferment brewing in such quarters periodically broke out in peasant revolts, apocalyptic visions, and calls for a new order.”[ii]

Look at that statement again, the church wasn’t being viewed as the representative of the Savior, but as the representative of the enemy of the Savior! And the people were fed up.  There were revolts and rebellions.

The printing press was in full production. And with it information was moving faster than ever to new places.  New worlds were being discovered. People were traveling from the Far East and to the Far West.  And the previously sheltered community of Western Europe was being exposed to influences from the East where differences in Greek manuscripts were beginning to show against the Latin vulgate texts and questions were arising as to the veracity of church teachings.

A quick look at how the Roman Catholic Church operated in this medieval time appears to me to look more like a magic show than true Christianity. Consider this. Most of the people were illiterate and deemed incapable of understanding the intricacies of the faith. There was no Bible for people to read but in the architecture of the churches the builders cleverly placed the pantheon of statues that included the Saints, Jesus, and Mary, the theotokos, the mother of God.  Those cleverly situated statues replaced the Bible as each Saint and statue had its legend and stories that were passed from mouth to mouth. There were relics of saints and the relics of the cross. It was said that there were so many relics of the cross bandying about that there was no way that one human could have lifted a cross of that size. The relics had power, or so many believed. And then there was the greatest magic of all in the center of that Catholic ritual called the “mass”, where miraculously with the words “Hoc est corpus meum”, “this is my body”, bread and wine were transformed into body and blood of the most powerful being. To many it represented unbelievable power.   “Thus when parishioners heard ‘hocus-pocus’ who knows whose mistake it was?[iii]  It had strong similarities to a magic show.

The mass itself was said in Latin, while even some of those celebrating mass didn’t really understand the language let alone anybody in the church.  And that miracle of the Mass where the body is created out of bread was only tasted once a year by of the average parishioner while the blood from the wine never was.

But the times were certainly changing. And the hope for many was that since in the preceding centuries the church had adapted practices that were contrary to original Christian teaching that a return to the sources of Christianity these practices would be done away with.

The sources that many saw as the way to the get back to the original teachings were the bible and the patristic teachings, the writings of the fathers.

At the heart of the Reformation was a rallying cry that the church had strayed off course and that the way back required a look back.  That look back was through looking at the bible and the early writings.

Just how off track the church was no one knew at this point. Martin Luther started by focusing on primarily on indulgences with the perspective that the Roman Catholic Church could be reformed, corrected back into the state of the true, original church. From there, other issues came to the forefront as reformers began comparing Medieval Christian Theology with early Christianity.

[i] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 1985, p. 6

[ii] Ibid, p. 9

[iii] The Unquenchable Flame, Discovering The Heart of the Reformation, B&H Academic, Nashville Tennessee, 2009, P. 19

Biblical references are from the ASV version unless otherwise noted.
Posts and articles © copyright Mark W Smith 2007 - 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mark W Smith and OriginalChristianity.Net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. You can reach Mark by emailing Mark at OriginalChristianity.net.

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