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 | Divisions, 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

02.0 Rome had a Policy of Amalgamating Religions and Clement of Alexandria Believed and Taught that the Philosophers were sent to Greece just as the Prophets were sent to Israel to Satisfy that Policy

Even though he is named the Clement of Alexandria, Clement was actually probably from Athens.  He was not raised in a Christian household, and the method of his conversion is not known. What is known is that he set out on a life quest to find a Christian teacher who could school him in his faith. After traveling far and wide Clement came across Pantaenus in Alexandria.  Pantaenus ran a school in Alexandria. Clement rose in the ranks of that school from pupil to instructor to take over the direction of the school after Pantaenus died[i]. That would have been circa 200 AD.

For all intents and purposes, Alexandria, at that time, was the center of the intellectual world.  Scholars and philosophers from around the world met there to discuss ideas. 

One of the chief complaints about Christians in the cultural centers of the world at that time was that Christians were primarily a bunch of what might be called now a bunch of backwoods hillbillies.  While there were a few higher ranking Christians, for the most part Christians were not the educated and elite of the world.  Christianity was definitely more discussed by the kitchen staff than by people of rank and power.

Clement took it as a personal mission to change that.  Clement made use of Plato and other philosophers as if they were the equivalent of the prophets of Israel. He certainly had good intentions. He wanted to show that Christian doctrine and Plato’s philosophy were compatible. Moreover Clement believed that there was only one truth, and it didn’t matter whether that truth was in the Bible or in the philosophy book.

All of this fell in line with the doctrine of the Empire for religious syncretism[ii].  One of the primary goals that the Roman Empire consistently strove toward as it absorbed people and cultures was to amalgamate their religions into the ever-growing body of Roman religions and philosophies. The Romans reasoned that if the new people saw that Rome accepted their gods and there were a lot of other good religions also in the Empire then that made for a much more peaceful and subdued population throughout the empire.

Besides trying to avoid the terrible persecutions of Christians that sprang up here and there from time to time, Clement of Alexandria was just being a good Roman citizen.  He thought that if he could show the intellectual elite that Christianity was not just superstition and silliness that he might gain more freedom for Christians.

To show that there was more depth that just what was written, Clement taught the it was important to go beyond the literal meaning of Scripture. Scripture doesn’t just say what it means and mean what it says. There are multiple levels, according to Clement of Alexandria. And going into these multiple levels allows you to find parallels between the philosophers, especially Plato, and Scripture.  For example, Clement taught that the Plato’s Ineffable One was God, revealed in the Logos. 

In his approach Clement went beyond showing that some of Christianity might be compatible with Philosophy, he presented his arguments with the goal that Christians should find the truth in Philosophy as another compatible source of Truth.

This is a markedly different path than that of original Christianity, and it is only a century or so after original Christianity.

[i] THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY, Vol 1, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, Revised and Updated 2010, p. 86-87

[ii] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984, p.275

May 28th, 2019 Posted by | Movements | no comments

03.8.2 The Sanitizing of the Writings of the Church Fathers

The writing of the early church fathers is a wonderful resource in learning what early Christians believed and how different elements of the church including doctrines and rites developed.  However, the problem with reading the early church fathers is that the Roman Catholic Church burned writings they didn’t agree with.  The process was simple. They labeled what didn’t agree with their doctrine as heresy and labeled the writers as heretics.  The result: heretics lost their financial standing in the world or worse (death) and their writings were burned.

And we lost valuable resources and insights.

This was no small effort.  The first law causing this cleansing came in 382, by Theodosius, a Christian Emporer.  Slaves could even earn their freedom by ratting out their “heretical” masters!  The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges it.

Here’s proof, an excerpt from the New Advent Encyclopedia, a Catholic media:

Heretical teachers were forbidden to propagate their doctrines publicly or privately; to hold public disputations; to ordain bishopspresbyters, or any other clergy; to hold religious meetings; to build conventicles or to avail themselves of money bequeathed to them for that purpose. Slaves were allowed to inform against their heretical masters and to purchase their freedom by coming over to the Church. The children of heretical parents were denied their patrimony and inheritance unless they returned to the Catholic Church. The books of heretics were ordered to be burned.” ( Vide “Codex Theodosianus”, lib. XVI, tit. 5, “De Haereticis”.)[i]

Theodosius is said to be the first who pronounced heresy a capital crime; this law was passed in 382 AD against the Encratites, the Saccophori, the Hydroparastatae, and the Manichaeans.

This policy was in force for many centuries.

For this reason, reading what remains of the writings of the early church does not reflect the totality of the early Christian experience.

There are clues to what some “heretical” writers wrote in the apologist’s writings that wrote against a particular heresy.  However, what was written against a “heresy” is probably biased as well as possibly misconstrued.

I write this post with sadness as I feel a great sense of loss as to what some of the lost writings might have told us.  I grieve for those believers.

An example of lost writings being relevant today are the writings of Sabellius in the early third century and the Oneness Pentecostal movement today.  Sabellianism, also called Modal Monarchianism, holds that the Father is God, the Christ is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  They are all the same God in different modes, but there is one God.  They are not different persons, they are different modes or operations of one God.

To some, this is splitting hairs on explaining how the father, his son, and the holy spirit work, but to Trinitarian apologists, this is literally blasphemy even worthy of death.

The Roman Church outlawed this line of reasoning but it has continued to be believed by many professing Christians at the risk of even death.  An example is  Michael Servetus who was given the death sentence not only by the Inquisitors but even Calvin lobbied for his execution.[ii]

How would Jesus have treated these people, even assuming their views were wrong or heretical?  Do you remember the story of Jesus being captured before his passion?

And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luk 22:49-51 ESV)

Can anyone see our Lord commanding the death of anyone let alone men like Sabellius or Servatus?   I think not!

Fortunately, Calvin’s condemnation of Servatus started a Protestant controversy against the death penalty for heresy, but it just goes to show how much the evil influence of ungodly Roman Catholic doctrines was brought with the Reformers into the Reformation.  And what a tragedy it was and still is that many popular early Christian writers were attacked and even killed and their writings destroyed.

For your information, there are millions[iii] of Oneness Pentecostals that rigorously believe in basically what Sabellius taught back in the third century.

What is amazing to me is that Calvin, a Protestant, lobbied for the execution of Servetus because Calvin was a heretic to the Roman Catholics because he was a Protestant.  The protestant doctrine of sola scriptura among other things was declared a heresy.  If the sanitizing practice set in Law by Theodosius was still in practice every non-Catholic follower would be persecuted or killed and their writings burned.  Where would we be then?

Our Lord healed the ear of Malchus who came at him with the sword and a disciple cut off the ear.  Would he then turn around and kill a heretic? The thought of Christians killing Christians over doctrinal disagreements is horrific, as is the sanitizing of the record of the historical writings

[i] New Advent Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07256b.htm

[ii] Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Michael-Servetus

[iii] https://theologicalmatters.com/2014/06/19/the-assemblies-of-god-the-worldwide-growth-of-pentecostalism/

December 29th, 2018 Posted by | Movements | no comments   Trajan’s Response to Pliny as an example of the Roman View on Christianity

The Roman response to Christianity varied from severe  persecution to an attitude of “Don’t ask … don’t look for them.”  This latter attitude was initiated by the Emperor Trajan.  Before we discuss Trajan it needs to be noted that the Roman Empire was a huge place, and obviously, people couldn’t travel nor communicate at the speed at which they can now. So while persecutions may have been very visible in Rome and major Roman cities Romans in fringe areas were very possibly very accepting of Christians. Persecution really varied from place to place and time to time.

Bithynia was an area on the modern shore of what is now Turkey. And in 111 Pliny the Younger was appointed its governor. Pliny was neither a despot nor a pagan fanatic. He appears to have been a fair man, an educated man who simply wanted to do a good job as a Roman governor. And as soon as he was appointed governor he noticed a problem. There were so many Christians in the area that the temples were being underused and the sellers of animals for sacrifices were hurting for business. Pliny began investigating, and started bringing Christians before him for examination.

One of the policies of Roman conquest was that it did not try to change everything in the places that it conquered. Rather, it was relatively tolerant of the beliefs and systems of its conquered peoples. Its approach was to build the Roman cities in the newly conquered lands as well as to introduce Roman customs and laws that it believed would foster a peace Empire wide.  As part of its policy on tolerance Roman citizens had to be accepting of Roman religion and thus worship all the gods. You could worship your God as long as you worshiped Roman gods.

When Pliny brought Christians before him he demanded that they follow these practices: “they pray to the gods, burn incense before the image of the Emperor, and curse Christ – things he had heard true Christians would never do. Once they met these requirements he simply let them go.”[i]

When confronted many did recant. However, many did not. Pliny felt that he had a large problem as there were a lot of Christians in his jurisdiction. If the Christians were Roman citizens they were sent to Rome. But of those that were not he had them executed as the law required.

However, with this being a continuing problem, and with Pliny considering himself fair and just, he sought to find out just what crimes these Christians were really committing, besides just being really stubborn about not worshiping Roman gods. He found out that they gathered before dawn to sing hymns. He found that they took oaths not to commit thefts, adultery or other sins. He found that they had been meeting for a common meal but had discontinued those when authorities had outlawed those meetings. What he didn’t find were real crimes.

Pliny actually tortured two female ministers to grill them on what their activities really were, looking for treason, sedition, i.e., real crimes.  Not surprisingly, he found out they weren’t really committing any crimes other than not worshiping all the gods. So he suspended operations and wrote to the Emperor Trajan.

Trajan was Emperor from 98 to 117. But his response to Pliny’s request lasted well into the middle of  third century.

Trajan’s response was simple and quick. “When it comes to the punishment of Christians, there is no general rule that is equally valid in all circumstances. On the one hand, the nature of their crime is such that the state should not waste time seeking them out. On the other hand, if they are accused and refuse to recant, they should be punished. Those who are willing to worship the gods should be pardoned without further inquiries. Finally, anonymous accusations should be disregarded, for they are of bad legal precedent and are unworthy of this age.”[ii]

This was a political response. It acknowledged that Christians were not committing crimes against citizens, or of the state for that matter, other than not worshiping Roman gods. But the problem was no one could be allowed to flaunt the law. By being required to worship Roman gods, and refusing to do so, they were showing contempt for the law. By not burning incense to the Emperor they were showing contempt for the Roman concept of who the Emperor was.

Knowing this policy of Roman law regarding their faith required Christians to expend considerable effort, first of all, not to offend possible accusers.  If no one accused you, you could live your whole life freely worshipping the Lord as you saw fit.  But a lot of activities had to be hidden from possible accusers.

Secondly, Christians needed to develop a strategy for educating Roman society in general as to their true nature.  The strategy they developed was to write apologies. Today apology takes the meaning of saying “I’m sorry”. But the word apology actually comes from the Greek word apologia meaning defense.  The second and third centuries especially produced numerous Christian apologists defending their faith, and in so doing also changed the way the Christians thought about their faith.  In defending the faith Apologists had to explain Christianity in terms that Roman Society would understand.  Comparisons had to be made, for example, to other religions and philosophies,  to show what was considered offensive in Christianity was actually found in religions and philosophies that already existed and were accepted in the empire.  This, however, opened it own cans of worms as using existing religions and philosophies introduced concepts and terms that were outside the realm of what the participants of original Christianity discussed.

Also at issue was the attitude of Roman aristocracy against the kinds of people who were Christians at that time. While it is true there were a few higher ranking Romans, business people, and so forth the majority of Christians were from the lower classes, and were considered a crude ignorant lot. In fact, because of that, Christianity itself was considered a foolish, crude religion practiced by a bunch of barbarians.

As a result apologists and the early church fathers often got involved in discussions to show the superiority of Christianity to the religions whose gods they had to worship or be executed.  But the discussions worked in some places to integrate Christianity both with pagan cultures and practices and with Greek philosophies.

Yet something needed to happen for believers striving to live their Christian faith for Christ in the environment where simply being Christian could get them executed under a long standing Roman policy.

[i] The Story of Christianity, Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne,  HarperCollins, New York, 2010 p.50

[ii] ibid

October 31st, 2018 Posted by | Movements | no comments