Original, Primitive, Christianity Was Neither the Liberal Christianity nor the Conservative Christianity of Today

With at least tens of thousands of the denominations ranging from ultra conservative to ultra liberal there are tens of thousands of viewpoints of what Christianity is. The Roman Catholics pride themselves in being the original, the main source of Christianity throughout the ages. But, of course, the eastern orthodox denominations dispute that. And since the Reformation we have seen movement after movement of believers redefining Christianity.

My goal with this site has been to take a good, hard look at what original, primitive Christianity was really like. After being raised in the Roman Catholic tradition I went toward the more conservative, fundamental sides of the faith. But in attempting to resolve, at least in my own mind, a lot of these debates over the many doctrinal issues, I found some fundamental elements, including biblical inerrancy, being challenged. In order to really understand something sometimes you have to go back to the beginning and look at how it began to see if where it is now is where it should be. That is at the heart of this site: to take a good, long, honest look at what original Christianity is like and compare it to what is out there today.

Of course, some things have survived intact. The resurrected Christ is still the focus of Christianity for most Christians today. People worship, pray, and fellowship together. Communion is shared, people are baptized in various ways just like it was two thousand years ago. But, beyond that, today’s Christianity is a spectrum of beliefs with two poles: conservatism, and liberalism.

The conservative camp is made up primarily of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists of whom the fundamentalist camp is probably the most “conservative.”
The fundamentalist camp supports a literal view of the bible that is to be believed word for word, albeit in its original form, as authored by God himself. In fact, the fundamentalist movement began with “five fundamentals” named by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and includes biblical inerrancy as stated above, “the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14), the doctrine of substitutionary atonement by God’s grace and through human faith (Hebrews 9), the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28), the authenticity of Christ’s miracles (or, alternatively, his pre-millennial second coming.”[1] Fundamentalists, for example, believe in a literal six day creation period. They typically believe abortion is murder, sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is a sin, and if you don’t work you shouldn’t eat. It is important to say “typically” because not all conservatives practice abstinence, or would condemn a woman who got an abortion because the pregnancy threatened her life. Conservatives would not deny disability payments to needy folks or a helping hand to single mothers

Liberal Christianity is another umbrella term referring to different camps that have some commonality. Liberal Christianity is seen as starting with the rationalist approach using literary criticism to evaluate the bible as one would evaluate any other ancient writing. For example, consider “William Ellery Channing (1780–1842), pioneering liberal theologian in the USA, who criticized the doctrine of the Trinity and the strength of scriptural authority, in favor of more rationalistic and historical-critical beliefs.”[2]
Again it is important not to label everyone in this camp to believe and practice the same thing. While some liberal Christians adhere to many similar beliefs as their conservative counterparts, some promote beliefs more controversial than the historical critical interpretation of the bible such as the acceptance of homosexual ministers, abortion as a choice, the bible purely as a human document or metaphysical only in its interpretation, and universal salvation. Liberals are more inclined to be involved with civil rights, social justice, and the economic welfare, of all. Liberals are more inclined to promote women in ministry.

So, as far as the Conservative camp goes, did the original Christians teach the inerrancy of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible? No, they did not. There is no indication that any of the New Testament books had “Scripture” status in the first century. There is every indication that a number of the books were disputed as even being authentic. Did original Christians teach the literal interpretation of the days of creation? No, there is no evidence that they did, it is accepted that most teachers of that time believed the days were “thousand year days” as is talked about in 2 Peter 3:8. Did they teach the deity of Christ and the Trinity? No, they did not. Did the original Christian promote in depth analysis of what is now called New Testament writings to get deeper meaning? No, original Christians were admonished to avoid wresting with scriptures and words. Were women excluded from ministry? No, the examples like Priscilla, Lydia, and Junias in the bible point to women involvement in ministry at least at the local level. And, were original Christians uninvolved in welfare programs? No, they were involved in welfare programs, as they themselves administered their own program as seen in Acts chapter 6.

What about the Liberal camp, did the believers accept homosexuality, whether in practitioners or ministers? No, sexual purity was of a standard that no sex outside of heterosexual marriage was acceptable. Were the writings only considered allegorical or metaphysical? No, while it was generally understood that writings such as the gospels were full of parables it was also understood that where facts are given they are considered factual. For example, the gospels are historical narratives of a real man named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago and went to actual places like Capernaum and Jerusalem in fulfilling the law and the prophets. Acts is full of actual records where some of the original believers ministered and what happened there. Furthermore, it was considered that the doctrine taught in the gospels and epistles was the sound doctrine of Christ and the Apostles. That is why they were considered for canonization in the fourth century. Was abortion acceptable in original Christianity? No, there is no indication that it was, and every indication that exists says that it was unacceptable. Was universal salvation accepted teaching? No, every indication says that original, primitive Christians believed that Christ was the only path to salvation.

The more I study original, primitive Christianity the more I am convinced that neither the conservatives nor liberals have the accurate picture of Christian doctrine. Yet, amazingly, the message of Christ has not only survived, it has grown incredibly and its followers number in massive numbers. Somehow God is mightily at work here.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist_Christianity
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Christianity

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