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.
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:
- The receiving and leading of the holy spirit, including the manifestations, was paramount. Many displayed the manifestations of the Spirit including prophecy, however, false prophecy was to be recognized and rejected. (Matt 7:15-19,2Pet 2:1)
- Believers did more than go to church together, they often worked, ate and lived together, bonded together in fellowship by faith.
- Followers were thrilled by the growth of the word of God (Jesus Christ) as signs, miracles and wonders followed the preaching by the disciples.(Acts 2:43,4:30, 5:12,8:6,14:3,15:12)
- Any kind of sin including sexual sin (any kind of sex outside of the marriage of a man and a woman) was taken as following the flesh instead of the spirit, therefore, there was no acceptance of adultery, fornication, and homosexuality.
- Ministers were allowed to be married as raising a family was considered valuable training in learning to lead a flock of believers.(1 Tim 3:2-4)
- There was no rigid literal interpretation of many sections taken by some to be literal today. For example, the existing references by the early church fathers to the days in Genesis chapter one use the reference “for a day is to the Lord as a thousand years” showing their understanding of that section to be symbolic and not literal.
Elements held today by few, if any believers:
- Jesus proclaimed only the law and the prophets as the word of God, and no more.
- Other than the words of Jesus, and the law and the prophets, no writings were considered the word of God. Regarding the Old Testament there is no writing that shows that books outside of the law and the prophets (which include the psalms written by David, a prophet) were considered the word of God. As far as the Christian authors go, Clement and other early church writers did not identify the New Testament as scripture, except for the words of Christ. These writers uniquely identified the words of Christ as such (essentially equating the Lord’s words as scripture), and made no reference to Scripture in referring to what was later called New Testament verses and concepts. On the other hand, they did call references to the law and the prophets scripture.
- The Gospels were called memoirs and were the written witness accounts of some of the Apostles and their close disciples.
- People with the gift ministries (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists) were the spiritual leaders of the Church (as opposed to Bishops.) (Acts 13:1, 15:32)
Elements that are divisive today but didn’t appear to exist then:
- Bishops had not replaced apostles and prophets as arbiters of Christian doctrine. There was no Catholic Church under a central hierarchy of bishops with supreme authority. Disciples went to remote lands and started independent churches. (See The Leading of Original Christianity Was Done By Apostles and Other Gift Ministries through the Spirit, Not by Bishops As We Have Now.) Ignatius in 110 A.D. first wrote about a Catholic church with Bishops in total authority over all believers setting church laws that all must follow.
- Neither the deity of Christ, neither the Trinity, nor the belief of Mary as the Mother of God were taught or promoted.
- There were no divisive disputes over issues like the mode of baptism, number of ordinances or sacraments, pacifism, requirement of tithing, role of women in the church, dietary laws, predestination, eternal security, end times theology, and many of the dividing doctrinal issues over the centuries.
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…”
Communication breakdowns happen everywhere in life: at home, at work, even on vacation. One of the reasons for this is that what someone says and what the other person hears a lot of times are different. Part of it is because who we think we are is different than the person talking to us thinks we are, and consequently, reads things into what we say based upon their different interpretation of us.
Another part of this communication breakdown is that we only “know in part”. At any given time, with our limited human faculties, even enhanced by supercomputer technologies at times we simply cannot know everything involved. At best we try to determine what the relevant things are with a particular issue but even that is subject to our own personal biases and limited experience.
Three Blind Men and an Elephant
There is a parable that is repeated in churches in every place I’ve lived as well as that I’ve heard on TV. It is the story of three blind men and elephant. It goes something like this, although there are varying numbers of men describing various parts of the animal in the different versions that I’ve heard.
Three blind men are walking and they run across this elephant and the first one says the second, “What is this?” The second answers, “Well, it’s round and thick and goes up and down, it must be a tree.” He was touching the leg. The third one jumps in, “No, it’s flexible and strong, it must be a rope.” He was touching the tail. The first one responds, “You are both wrong, it’s flat and smooth, and it feels muddy, someone must’ve put a wall across the road.” He was touching the side of the elephant.
Finally, the sighted man comes along, and corrects them all. He simply tells them, “you all are touching the same thing; you are all touching an elephant!” Of course, the blind men are amazed.
The point of the parable is that all the blind men, of course, made reasonable deductions based on their experiences, but, of course, all the men were wrong. It was only the man that had the perspective of the entire object that had it right.
Of course, we want to think that we are the man with the sight. But no one on earth has the complete picture. Every one of us down here is partially blind:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1Cor 13:12
This verse says that there will come a glorious day when we will no longer walking in the darkly lit paths of this world, but we will be living in a reality where we will genuinely know fully and completely. The expression used is to know as we are known.
So while we have the hope that at that great future time we are going to have this enhanced perception to really understand what is going on, the reality is that now, here on Earth, we simply can’t understand what’s going on that well.
Know as we are known?
Dalton Kehoe is a senior Scholar of Communications at York University as well a senior partner is a consulting firm dedicated to improving communication in organizations. Professor Kehoe teaches a class called “Effective Communication Skills”[i] and dedicates a significant part of the class to helping students understand what goes on in them in order for communication to happen effectively, and why so much of our communication is ineffective.
Professor Kehoe points out that most conversation is nonverbal even to the point where occasionally we have conversations that have no words in them at all. In fact, I am sure you can remember a lot of nonverbal communications you have had when someone gave you a look that you completely understood without a word.
Meanings of Words
Second, there is a problem with words. The problem is that they have multiple meanings often, and unless you are very careful you will miss the right meaning. For examples, look at the words “charge”, “set”, “make”, “stand”, and “read” in the dictionary. Each of these common words has numerous meanings. Or, look at the word “rock”. If I say “he was rocking” do I mean that he was using a rocking chair, singing in a rock band, doing a great job or something else?
Professor Kehoe points out that meanings of words can vary greatly from person to person. In fact, he quotes David Berlo:
“Meanings are in people, not in words.” David Berlo
This saying refers to the fact that words really mean what each individual person takes it to mean in communication. This is important to realize because so often we think that the words we are saying are clear, not understanding that the person looking at us may have different meanings for some of the words that we are saying.
Reality is that words mean different things to different people at times. How can this be? The color “red” must be the same for everyone, isn’t it? Let’s use that example. Frank and Mary are married. Frank tells Mary that he’d like red to be the color of their new car. Because they’re both so busy and they both agree what model they want Mary trusts Frank just to go pick out the car. He drives up in the car, and instant disapproval flashes onto Mary’s face. Frank says, “What’s wrong?” Mary says, “When you said red I didn’t realize you were going to get something that bright. I thought you meant the red like the wine red on your father’s car.” Frank says, “No, I always wanted a bright red car. This is candy apple red. I love it, don’t you?” See the point?
The above example just uses a color. Think about the differences that people have when they try to communicate things like the love, trust, faith, and spirit.
When someone talks about love they may be defining love as more of a feeling whereas another person may be defining it as a commitment to another person, and a third person may be defining it as the the parental instinct to care for her young children.
From this we can see that just saying a word does not necessarily communicate what you think it means, it communicates more what the other person defines the word to be. If we don’t know what that other person defines that word to be we could be expressing something totally different from what we intended, despite our best intentions.
The Six People in a Conversation
Professor Kehoe talks about how what we previously may have considered to be a simple two person communication is in reality interaction of six different people. How can that be? Because the truth is that you have a perception of who you are (one), who you are is different from whom you project yourself to be (two), and is also different from the other person’s perception of who you are (three). Then there is the other person’s understanding of themselves (four), which is different from who they project themselves to be (five), which can be radically different from whom you perceive them to be (six).
For example, let’s look at a couple who is struggling in their relationship. Harry thinks of himself as a loving, caring guy who is also often just a little tired and needs to get more rest (one). What Harry projects because of his “little” tiredness is a cranky guy (two). Because one of the things that is uppermost in her mind is the remembrance of Harry having been out of work for 18 months only a few years ago Kelly perceives Harry as a cranky guy who is too selfish about his own needs and is also lazy (three). Kelly perceives herself to be a loving and caring person with a great need to be recognized for her ideas (four). What Kelly projects because of her need for recognition is someone that’s pushy (five). Harry perceives Kelly as someone that is only concerned for their own agenda, and won’t listen(6).
When Harry and Kelly have a conversation all of these perceptions are in play besides all the verbal and nonverbal cues they give at the time, and add to that their relationship history. Both people think of themselves as good, hard-working, well-intentioned people. Both have real issues with the other person. Each person’s history; every communication, every event, every relationship, everything in their lives has brought them to the point to where they are now and is a factor in their communication.
This illustrates the difference between how each of us in a single relationship perceives ourselves versus how we are known to the other person in the relationship.
The Scope of the Problem Worldwide
Now, multiply those differences in perception by the number of people who have any idea, however remote, about Harry or Kelly. Because the sum of all those perceptions is how Harry or Kelly is known.
How We Are Known Is Way More Than Our Reputation
Reputation is defined as the common way that people think about someone or something. Because it is so difficult to really know someone you just met a common thing to do is to seek out other people who know this person and get a sense of their reputation. If 100 people know somebody, and the general opinion is that he’s a good guy, it’s a safer bet. Likewise if someone has a reputation for being a crook, we all want to take advantage of that knowledge.
But, of course, the problem is that reputations are not always reliable either. Bernie Madoff had a great reputation, which he manipulated into building the huge Ponzi scheme that robbed so many people.
On the other hand there are good people who wind up being scapegoats or whose reputations aren’t good because of misunderstanding or even malicious gossip. Or perhaps they did do something wrong years ago and they matured but people have never given them a chance after that. Maybe it is a combination of these factors.
How we are known, then, is way more than just our reputation. A better example than the reputation of Bernie Madoff is the version determined by the detectives who investigated Bernie Madoff. After an exhaustive search of Bernie’s history and dealings they had a much better idea of who Bernie really was.
But even that body of work is still not what it means in the verse above. How we are known is not a summary, it is an exhaustive compilation of all there is to know.
The Caveat in Communication
In talking about effective communication Professor Kehoe taught one more very important observation: People punctuate the flow of talk to serve themselves. Others do it. We do it. We emphasize the facts that present us the way we want to be seen and de-emphacize or omit the facts that don’t present us the way we want. Even people who think they are “perfectly honest” do it.
The Speed of Judgment
Another important factor Professor Kehoe points out is the alarming reality that people make snap judgments in communication as a rule. When people are talking to each other at a good clip there simply isn’t time to weigh everything involved with every statement and so people make decisions, judgments, conclusions all too quickly. You can see this at work when somebody gets a bad reputation because of the “rumor mill.” One person talks to another and says some negative thing about a person and the receiver of that communication really doesn’t have time to investigated fully but makes a snap judgment that that person being talking about is “bad” or not to be trusted. Then the second person communicates to a third, and then a fourth, and so forth and somebody has a bad reputation basically because of snap judgments based on communications that were not well thought out.
Hopefully there are several things that we can glean from this lesson. First, we have a great hope. We have all hope of walking in an eternity with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And in that eternity we also have a relationship with others where there are no misunderstandings.
Secondly, we can take heed of the wisdom of how we do not know as we are known and use it to modify our response to others. This can help us become closer to people and communicate effectively and lovingly. We can seek to see the six different people involved in every conversation and relationship. We can look to see how much differently we project ourselves from who we really are. We can look to see how people perceive us differently from whom we really are. We can look to see how differently people perceive themselves to be and how they project themselves and how differently that is from what we held as our perception of them.
To answer before listening– that is folly and shame. Prov 18:13 NIV
We need to listen when people speak, and listen to the whole person, not just the person we have perceived them to be or the person they might negatively be projecting.
In the here and now it is important that we realize that communication is a process of exchanges and adjustments to our perceptions as we get closer to learning who the other person is and the other person doing the same. Either person not willing to do this for whatever reason is blocking the process. This process is done differently by everyone.
Even if the other person is not willing, you can improve yourself and your life by recognizing what is going on and learning who you and others really are and how that differs from whom is projected and how we all are perceived. We can start by watching how we talk about ourselves and stop manipulating the details to present us in a better light. On the other side, we can stop being too down on ourselves when that is appropriate too.
I have heard people say they are suspicious about the accuracy of traditions that are passed down by word-of-mouth. Anyone familiar with the “telephone” game knows that in any given crowd if one person passes a sentence to another person and so forth, that the resulting sentence by the 10th or 20th person sometimes bears no resemblance to the original. By this reasoning a lot of people have discounted ancient oral traditions as being unreliable.
The passing of oral tradition, in reality however, usually came with stringent safeguards. Nicholas Wade, in his book, The Faith Instinct, says,
“there are two reasons why some hunter gatherer religions may still reflect the ancient forms.
One is that many preliterate or primitive peoples place great importance on carrying out rites exactly as their forebears did. The justification of their rituals is that this is how they have always been performed. So religious practice is handed on with as much fidelity as possible. Among the Klamath and Modoc Indians of the northwest coast of America, certain myths may be recited only in the presence of three people who know the story, and can check the rendition for accuracy, and the myths may not be told by children less they garble them. These rules are reported to keep the myths intact over many generations.”[i]
(It is important to note the word myth as used here means “traditional story, account, or history” as opposed to the other meaning of myth which is “a false belief”.)
This is very insightful. Kids aren’t even allowed to recite the traditional accounts. When the accounts are recited by adults a number of others have to be present to ensure the accuracy the recital. This looks like pretty good security. This practice is not new; it is ages old.
I find this very reassuring. Sure, unchecked retelling of events is going to get garbled as it passes from person to person, but I always thought it was foolish to think that people didn’t realize this and put safeguards in place to ensure accuracy.
Wades insights about how modern tribes ensure accuracy shows that oral traditions can be reliably transmitted.
[i] The Faith Instinct, Nicholas Wade, The Penguin Press, London, p. 99
In the first century there wasn’t any New Testament. There weren’t any gospels, epistles, or book of Revelation. For gosh sakes, the original believers still went to Temple. But they lived together, ate together, and fellowshipped together around a simple faith based on what they had seen in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now churches and ministries have statements of faith that are sometimes pages long. But in the first century it was such a simpler time. Now there are verses that some point to as the original creeds in the New Testament. One creed in the book of 1 Corinthians is this:
For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ASV)
Its simple, elegant really.
Christian radio is a ministry that reaches out to all Christians and so by nature it has to stick with the basics of the faith common to us all. And there is a song on the radio that I think epitomizes the real Christian creed that carries forth to this day. It is the refrain for the song We Believe by the newsboys, and it goes like this:
We believe in God the Father
We believe in Jesus Christ
We believe in the Holy Spirit
And He’s given us new life
We believe in the crucifixion
We believe that He conquered death
We believe in the resurrection
And He’s comin’ back again, we believe
Two thousand years later that is still what we all believe. Amen, brothers and sisters, that is what we believe.