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Not Traditional, Original

21.1.2 One Benefit of All These Divisions in the Christian Church

The focus of this website is looking at original Christianity and how it has progressed from then until now into a myriad number of denominations.  One tenet of original Christianity is unity of mind and judgment.  In fact, there is one verse that may be quoted more than any other on this site:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.  (1Co 1:10 ESV)

Paul is writing in the time of original Christianity, and there were already divisions then, just not the huge amount of them that there is today.  And the point is and always has been that the best state for all Christians is one body united with one mind and judgement.

So, a question might be; is there any benefit to having all this division?

When I was a very young kid I had this naïve thought.  I thought that what we needed was a government based on God, a Christian government, if you will.  I spoke that rash thought and was assaulted with history lessons of all the disasters caused by all the theocracies in the world.  More specifically, in the USA, this country was founded, in part, to free itself of governments that were rife with the integration of the Christian church and state. 

England, the sovereign nation over the colonies, specifically, was a monarchy with a Christian state religion.  In the early 17th century the Puritans disagreed with the state of Christianity in England and pushed to “purify” the religion to biblical norms, hence the name Puritans.  They pushed to remove things like the cross, the priest’s vestments, and perhaps even the altar from the church.   And they argued that the episcopacy, the rule of the church by bishops was not biblical, and therefore not a divine right, and many Puritans argued for a Presbyterian form of church government, as presbyters are found in the New Testament.[i]

In fact, it was the intent of James 1st of England to use the church to increase his power which he thought was his right as king.  He is said to say, “Without bishops, there is no king.”[ii] Like many places in the Western world, Christian doctrine was a matter of government policy. So which forms of Christianity were to be allowed was a matter of Government interest.   For James, Anabaptists were to be persecuted, Catholics treated as traitors, and anything Calvinist was seen as friendly.  The Puritans were basically Calvinists so at this time they fared well in England.

But things were not great for all puritans.  One of the issues brought up by the Puritans was whether the church should be separate from the state.  The Puritans pushing for separation were called separatists.  The problem was that separating from the Church of England was considered treasonous.

Some of these separatists migrated to Holland, and then to the new world on the Mayflower.  And they certainly brought the concept of separating church and state functionality with them.

After James came King Charles 1.  Charles’ wife was Catholic and Charles swung to the Catholic side which meant poorer times for the Puritans as well as other Protestant factions.

In the middle of these times, actually 1618-1648, came the 30 Years War, a terrible waste of life and limb that was started by rivalry between the Protestants and the Catholics.  While other issues came to bear in the dispute, this started as Christians fighting Christians over doctrine.

Furthermore, religious wars were so commonplace in European history that the Encyclopedia Britannica has a section called The Wars of Religion.[iii]  Look at the article to see things like “cuius regio, eius religio” (whose realm, his religion) applied as the resolution to some of these conflicts, which basically meant that whoever was the ruler got to dictate the beliefs of the people.  Also in the article are examples of religious support for groups in order to get political or military advantages, like the “Catholic king Henry II of France, supported the Lutheran cause in the second Schmalkaldic War in 1552 to secure French bases in Lorraine”.[iv] France had religious wars that ran off and on from 1562 to 1598, in all religious and political interests were intertwined.  The end result of a conflict might be that a ruler would change faiths as did Henry II accepting Catholicism.

The problem with national religions is that they are run by secular leaders with the apparent mindset that they have the God-given right to tell people what to believe, whether it be Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or no-religion in communist or fascist countries.  Within the Catholic-Christian European landscape, with the emergence of the Reformation, as new denominations grew the chances grew for political upheaval and war. But the point of the reformation or even just of Christianity, the spread of the word of God in the message of salvation brought by Jesus Christ was not the point of these political maneuverings; it was the pursuit of political power that seems to be the base of all these religious wars.

If this looks like a terrible picture that’s the point!  A major portion of this misery happened because of Government control of the churches in different countries.  At that time there were an increasing number of denominations but nothing like we have today.

Fast forward to now with our tens of thousands of denominations and “non-denominational” groups.  At the same time the decision for even having a national religion in a lot of these countries have been changed to “no”.  The Church of England remains the state church of England, but the United Kingdom as a whole has no official religion as is the case with Spain, France, Germany and a number of the countries involved in the religious wars of Europe.

Interestingly, Italy only stopped having Roman Catholicism as its national religion in 1984.[v] It has taken many centuries but now in the 21st century, the Vatican’s power and control have finally waned to where it can’t control countries and their populations politically or otherwise like it once did.

With so many churches with varying beliefs in extant today it is much harder to coerce one denomination over another.  In other words, all these divisions have made it easier for Christians to be able to worship without interference in a lot of places.

However, we know that there are still a number of countries where Government policy dictates which faiths are acceptable.  (And we are not talking here just about Christianity.  For example, we know that Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Kuwait are Muslim countries.  Bhutan and Sri Lanka are Buddhist countries.  In all those places the government has a say in what is acceptable as far as faith[vi]

We also know that there are governments who persecute certain religions, Christianity not being the least of them.  We must never cease from praying for those countries, that the believers there are blessed and protected, and that the countries themselves change to allow religious freedom.

But, for a lot of us, especially in the western world, the abundance of Christian Groups works against one group being powerful enough to persecute those who disagree with their tenets.  That is one benefit of having all these divisions, freedom of religion is more available now.

Praise the Lord that some of us, at least, are free to pursue God without being forced to cower before authorities.  Praise the Lord for the freedom of religion where it exists, and we pray for the spread of the word of God in those areas where it does not currently exist.

And I pray in the name of Jesus Christ that the need for a lot of divisions continues to lessen and that the number of divisions decreases so that the whole body of Christ grows to that model of having one mind and one judgment.


[i] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Vol 2, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 1985, p. 150-151

[ii] Ibid, p. 152

[iii] Encyclopedia Brittanica, The Wars of Religion at https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Europe/The-Wars-of-Religion

[iv] Ibid

[v] The New York Times as found at https://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/19/world/italy-abolishes-state-religion-in-vatican-pact.html

[vi] Which Countries Have State Religions, Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3710663/Barro_WhichCountries.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

June 5th, 2019 Posted by | Movements | no comments

01.50 Marcion the Heretic is the One who Names the Old and New Testaments And Starts the Process to Canonize a List of Acceptable Scriptures, The First Creed

As the old saying goes, Marcion was the son of a preacher man.  Actually, his father was Bishop at Sinope.  But Marcion’s upbringing in the Church did not lead him to accept the orthodoxy of the times.  He was a wealthy shipowner and merchant who evidently pondered the religion of his father with the religions he saw in the places he traveled to. He made friends with a Syrian named Cerdo who apparently was a follower of the Gnostic Simon Magus.

Marcion didn’t like Jews, and he saw evil in materialism. He was convinced the world was evil, and he blamed the God of the Old Testament for that. That is indicative of Gnostic influence. 

Marcion started preaching with success. He was a master church planter. The church excommunicated him for his views. Marcion differentiated between the God of the Old Testament and the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Marcion concluded, in simple terms, that the Old Testament was bad, and the New Testament was good.

To Marcion, the God of the Old Testament was cruel. One reason he was cruel is that he selected one people above all the rest.  He set his chosen people to massacre other peoples.  The penalty for some sins was death.  In contrast to that, the Father of Jesus was inclusive, he made Christianity available to everyone. This showed a loving God, full of compassion and mercy.

Marcion concluded that Jesus couldn’t have been born of the genealogies that came out of the Old Testament and that evil god. So he simply appeared as a grown man!

This all may sound definitely off to many of you, but Marcion founded a church that lasted for centuries.  He was a persuasive preacher and church builder.  One reason was that he taught that there was no judgment; all would be saved.

Now, since the Old Testament was bad those books couldn’t be included in the list of books to be read in the churches. That’s why Marcion had to label Old Testament books and New Testament books to recognize which were the good ones to him and his followers. Apparently, our divisions of Old and New Testaments come from Marcion.

Marcion was perhaps the first to make a list of New Testament books. To Marcion, Jesus was the Son of God, and the Apostle Paul was his chief spokesman. So Marcion’s list consisted just of the epistles of Paul and the gospel of Luke.  The rest of the books in what we call the New Testament had too much of the Old Testament in them to support Marcion’s view of scripture.

Of course, the mainline Christian churches had to respond to Marcion’s list (as well as his church).  Orthodox churches began to compile their own lists, and uniformly, they included the Hebrew Scriptures.  As lists were developed it was common to include more than one gospel because it became common knowledge that no one gospel had the complete story. Other writings were gradually added to various lists compiled by different people.

Gnostic groups also began compiling Scripture lists of their own, but they also claimed books like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth of the Valentinian and other Gnostic writings.

So there was a debate growing among various groups as to which list contained the list of true Scriptures. Orthodox churches, as they made contact, compared lists and slowly began building a consensus that led centuries later to the Canon of Scripture that gave us the 66 books in the Protestant Bible.

And as far as the response to the teachings of these heretical groups, there were several things done. One was the formations of the Apostle’s Creed.  This is also thought to be done in Rome circa 150 AD.[i]  It was an affirmation of orthodoxy against heresy.  The Apostles Creed is something of a misnomer in that it implies and some mistakenly believe that the Apostles wrote the creed.  On the contrary, the creed was what mid-2nd century church leaders believed that the Apostles would affirm.

Here is that original creed (notice it is different than modern versions that I have seen) formulated into a trio of questions to be presented to a candidate for baptism:

Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?

Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost and of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended unto heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh? [ii]

You can see that this creed is directed against the Gnostics and Marcionites in the use of the word “Almighty”. The word is usually translated “all ruling” and so it rules out the multiple gods of Marcion’s preaching.

Additionally, the creed specifies that Jesus was born, not just living a spiritual existence. This speaks against the heretical influences of Jesus just existing spiritually.  It specifies Pontius Pilate to give a historical reference point showing that he lived a physical life in the real world.

Also in response to Marcion and others, several early teachers in the church, including Iranaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen of Alexandria wrote refutations against the heresies.  But in so doing the writings caused a change in perspective.  Before the writings of Paul and those in the decades following the writings were more simple and concrete.  Now the teachers had to expound on Christian doctrine and show the failings of the heresies.  That is certainly a godly enterprise, But, also in that process, some of these refutations made claims that original Christianity would not such as Christians find truth in philosophy as well as the Bible, i.e. there is more than one source for truth.  New claims also included that Christianity is a systematic theology with multiple levels of meanings, not just the simple sayings of uneducated men like in the first century, and it is a compatible and comparable philosophy to philosophers like Plato’s writings.


[i] The Story Of Christianity, Volume 1, The Early Church To The Dawn Of The Reformation, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, 2010, p. 73-77

[ii] Ibid, p. 77

THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984 p. 212-217

May 31st, 2019 Posted by | Heresies, Movements | no comments

Gnosticism

Gnosticism is the name given to a category of heretical beliefs in early Christianity and even before.  This was not a uniform body of believers with a uniform body of beliefs.  In fact, there were Gnostic “Jews” with their sets of beliefs before there were Gnostic “Christians” with their sets of beliefs.  And within the Gnostic community were numerous secret sects, all with their own baptism rite, password, sacred meal, even “final instructions to the dying”, etc.[i]

Gnostic comes from the Greek word Gnosis which means knowledge and this word is used in the Bible:

to give knowledge (gnosis) of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, (Luk 1:77 ESV)

Gnosticism refers to a secret knowledge that participants believe that they have been given either in oral traditions or in gospels and epistles as well as sources from numerous ancient religions including philosophies.  This secret knowledge made them superior to Christians that did not have them. The considered themselves the elite of the Christian world.  Only people of true understanding could obtain this knowledge.  This secret knowledge[ii] gave them salvation as well as power.

Gnostics had a skewed view of this life compared to Christians. They believed that humans are spirits trapped in bodies. They considered the spirit as exiled in this physical realm of evil. In fact, the creation of the universe was a colossal error. Even still, because the world was created by a spiritual being, it had to contain the “spark of the divine.” 

Basically, the spirits exiled in the physical bodies were really asleep. In order to wake up the spirit a messenger needed to be sent to wake up the spirit.  The messenger brings the secret knowledge to do this.  In Christian Gnosticism that messenger was Christ.[iii]

Until 1945 all we had were refutations against Gnostics to ascertain what their beliefs were.  But in 1945 thirteen ancient books containing over fifty texts were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt.  Now, you can read some of these Gnostic writings for yourself.[iv]

One Gnostic gospel is the gospel of Thomas. Look at this opening line that talks about this very idea of special secret knowledge:

 These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.

  • And he said, “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.” (Gospel of Thomas, opening, verse 1)[v]

Verse one says that this secret knowledge will save you.

Look at just a few lines of “secrets” in this document:

“This ignorance of the Father brought about terror and fear. And terror became dense like a fog, that no one was able to see. Because of this, error became strong.”[vi]

They are talking about the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ here.  Boy, is that the opposite of Christianity or what?

“That is the gospel of him whom they seek, which he has revealed to the perfect through the mercies of the Father as the hidden mystery, Jesus the Christ. Through him he enlightened those who were in darkness because of forgetfulness. He enlightened them and gave them a path. And that path is the truth which he taught them. For this reason error was angry with him, so it persecuted him. It was distressed by him, so it made him powerless. He was nailed to a cross…”[vii]

This section talks about how the “perfect” are enlightened. It also talks about Jesus Christ as a “hidden mystery”. It talks about error as a spiritual power that made Christ powerless and nailed to a Cross.  Yet he is the agent of enlightenment.

Gnostics viewed Christ as the messenger to bring the secrets that made them who they were.  In contrast, in orthodox Christianity that the Father was going to send the Messiah is the thread that runs through the law and the prophets.  It wasn’t a secret.  And Christian salvation is available to all, not just the elite.  Christ is the agent of anyone who asks for him to provide salvation, righteousness, justification and the wisdom and power of the spirit.

The Gospel of Truth of Valentinus is another Gnostic gospel is by Valentinus.  Valentinus is credited as the “father” of Gnostic Christianity because of his impact. Amazingly, he was almost selected as bishop of Rome.[viii]  Imagine where the Roman Catholic church would have gone had he been named their leader!   As a powerful leader Valentinus trained others in this systematic theology to the point that, even though persecuted by the Catholic Church, Gnosticism lasted until the seventh century.

Here are a few lines from the text.  This line talks about Christ being the sent one with the knowledge from the thought and mind of the Father:

“The gospel of truth is joy to those who have received from the Father of truth the gift of knowing him by the power of the Logos, who has come from the Pleroma and who is in the thought and the mind of the Father; he it is who is called ‘the Savior,’”[ix]

The Pleroma in the bible (Col 1:9) means fullness as in the fullness of the God’s power and dominion.  It is used similarly in Gnosticism, the fullness of all that God is and has created.  However, the Gnostic definition  uses terms that are Platonic in origin with the concepts of the cosmos and the demiurge, an artisan god who crafted and maintains the universe.

Another significant Gnostic document is The Teachings of Silvanus.  This document shows Gnosticism as a systematic theology.  It is rational and motivational offering the listener an opportunity for salvation.

Look at the opening line:

“Abolish every childish time of life, acquire for yourself strength of mind and soul, and intensify the struggle against every folly of the passions of love and base wickedness, and love of praise, and fondness of contention, and tiresome jealousy and wrath, and anger and the desire of avarice. Guard your (pl.) camp and weapons and spears. Arm yourself and all the soldiers, which are the words, and the commanders, which are the counsels, and your mind as a guiding principle.”[x]

It sounds like the start of a good, rousing sermon to me.  It sounds like scripture.  It has terminology similar to the other churches. It sounds like wise advice and it offers things like:

“And if you do these things, O my son, you will be victorious over all your enemies, and they will not be able to wage war against you, neither will they be able to resist, nor will they be able to get in your way. For if you find these, you will despise them as deniers of truth. They will speak to you, cajoling you and enticing (you), not because they are afraid of you, but because they are afraid of those who dwell within you, namely, the guardians of the divinity and the teaching.”[xi]

It has mention of the Father God, the divine Son, and all kinds of Christian terminology.  But it’s not the faith Jesus came to provide.  Look at this Gnostic verse:

“So, there is no other one hidden except God alone. But he is revealed to everyone, and yet he is very hidden. He is revealed because God knows all. And if they do not wish to affirm it, they will be corrected by their heart. Now he is hidden because no one perceives the things of God. For it is incomprehensible and unfathomable to know the counsel of God.”[xii]

This is speaking in riddles.  God is hidden but he is revealed.  This says it is impossible to perceive the things of God.  God is revealed to everyone but the counsel of God is incomprehensible and unfathomable.  Compare that to Psalm 73:

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped…
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Psa 73:1-2, 23-24 ESV)


This is an example of simple, direct reasoning in the Old and New Testaments.  No secret knowledge required for God to hold our hand and lead us with his counsel.

Because of the persuasive nature of this heretical cult, believers responded to deal with it. The second-century believers developed the concept of orthodoxy (right teaching). Christian writers wrote refutations against the heresies. In the process, the simple, direct, more concrete writing of original Christianity slowly changed, and we will deal with that as it develops.


[i] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984 p. 200

[ii] The Story Of Christianity, Volume 1, The Early Church To The Dawn Of The Reformation, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, 2010, p. 70

[iii] The Story Of Christianity, Volume 1, p. 72

[iv] The Nag Hammadi Library available at http://gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html

[v] The Gospel of Thomas available online at https://www.marquette.edu/maqom/Gospel%20of%20Thomas%20Lambdin.pdf

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

[viii] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, p. 207

[ix] The Gospel of Truth, available at http://gnosis.org/naghamm/got.html

[x] The Teachings of Silvanus, available online at http://gnosis.org/naghamm/silvanus.html

[xi] IBID

[xii]

May 31st, 2019 Posted by | Heresies | no comments