DEMYSTIFYING EARLY CHRISTIANITY

THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

Political posturing goes way back. It’s been a part of the human experience since the beginning of recorded history. Probably further. In fact, I’m willing to bet dollars to pesos early tribal leaders became politically savvy before we even had cuneiform.

Look, I would love to separate this political trend from the global religions altogether but it’s simply impossible to do so. In many cases political leaders have looked to religious leaders as a way to levy political power. The Books of the Law of Moses and Zionist’s come to mind; law being the operative word there. Courts of sharia law popping up and often undermining the laws of the land being another. Buddhist nationalism taking hold in Myanmar. Constantine and Christianity. Etc. Etc. The funny thing is, these sort of political agendas tend to fly in the faces of the sages whose teachings get overturned in the process. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” becomes “love your neighbor unless he prays to a heathen god, then love him with a rock to the face.” So forth and so on.

HOW THE CHURCH BECAME THE CHURCH

Some 1,700 years ago the Bible as we know it today did not exist. There was no coherent doctrine with a clear and concise way to lead the people of the Christian faith. Even the term Christos was more of a derogatory thing used by “pagans” who wanted to mock the followers of the newly crucified and risen Palestinian known as Yahushua. Sprinkle in two Jewish revolts against Rome and a politically savvy emperor named Constantine hatches a brilliant plan to subdue the region. He employed a historian by the name of Eusebius Pamphili to translate Jewish texts and the four gospels we now have into Latin. This collection of works sanctioned by Rome became the basic framework for the Vetus Latina, or what would eventually be called the Bible.

Of course, a whole team of scribes had to be hired and put to work before the Vulgate actually became a thing. This is my first point of contention with the whole process.

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”

-Acts 4:32

Yet somehow, several hundred years later we have people being paid by the state to decide on a doctrine to be followed by Christians? Make no mistake about it the Roman Empire sanctioned the Holy Roman Catholic Church and every other Christian institution was banned. What’s more terrifying is a lot of these institutions were labeled heretics and burned at the stake by the same Church who claimed a doctrine of peace and love.

Centuries of sanctioned murder of heretics later and we all agree on the Nicene Creed and recite it faithfully every Sunday. We know almost nothing about Cathars, Bogomils, Hussites, Valentinians, or the like as they were stamped out while the Church continued to insist on its spiritual authority as the representative of God on earth.

Personally, I wish I had been at Nicaea. There were fist fights, heated debates, actual arguments over what Christ taught and a lot of really interesting things I would have enjoyed. Agreeing to disagree and remaining friends has been a cornerstone of my walk with God. It would have been an excellent learning experience to partake in. Of course, someone would be clicking keys on a computer badmouthing my decisions centuries later but it is what it is.

Yes, we enforced the Nicene Creed through violence for over a thousand years and used the terror of hell and purgatory to keep peasants in line until the doctrine became canon. Divine heresies that sparked reformation hysteria leading to inquisitions killed thousands. Then we Europeans took this off brand faith overseas. Entire indigenous populations were converted to Christianity while Spaniards stripped their lands of resources and robbed them of their culture. It’s a bloody history that the world may never let us forget.

Maybe we shouldn’t either. To be flawed and foolish is what makes our species so interesting to begin with. We have the choice to do whatever we please. We can love God with all that we are and love our neighbors or watch the world burn. It’s completely up to us to decide. It’s our gift and curse.

MODERN DISCOVERIES REIGNITE THE FLAME

Here we are at the end of 2021. Two major archaeological discoveries have been with us for over half of a century now. The Dead Sea Scrolls have given us an intimate look at the Essenes and Jewish culture at the time and answered a few questions on the Septuagint in the process. Toss the Nag Hammadi codices in the mix and we now have a working understanding of what defined Gnosticism beyond the likes of Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Tertullian quoting why they’re heretics.

It’s a wonderful time to be alive. We get to look at the decisions made by the early church leaders while studying early Christian sects. We get to decipher old scrolls and decide for ourselves what does and doesn’t jive with Christs teachings. We now have copies of manuscripts directly linked to disciples of Christ to cross reference the Apostle Paul’s work with. Paul being a Roman spy turned Apostle who didn’t tend to get along with the actual followers of Christ who were still living being a good reason to do so. I’ve heard compelling arguments for both the rejection and acceptance of his doctrines all the same.

Am I saying we should throw the baby out with the bathwater? Absolutely not. All I’m saying is we now have a rare opportunity to really examine the thinking of the day. We can unearth the connections between Greek Mystery Schools and the early Jewish sects in a very prolific way. We can also look at how the early founders of the Holy Roman Catholic Church viewed these groups with a fantastic clarity we’ve never had before.

Besides, what’s that old adage-

“Where three or more are gathered in my name, there an argument will start”

-Matthew 18:20

-Something like that.

All modern minded piety to the side the takeaway is simple. We now have the opportunity to understand the roots of Christianity. I say we explore the Dead Sea Scrolls-pre Christian Judaism- and the Nag Hammadi codices- the gnostic scriptures- thoroughly and really cross examine some of the decisions made by our early church leaders. If anything we’ll understand why those difficult decisions were made.

Just food for thought.

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