I want to lay out a few things before we start.
First, I will not be getting into theology, except where it is necessary to explain what is being covered. This is not a theological series, it is a study of Christian history.
Next, I will not use the term heresy. Heresy is the view of one denomination of another, and vice-versa. ex: the Fourth Ecumenical Council made the Oriental Orthodox Church heretical from the view of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches; conversely, the EO and RC Churches are seen as heretical to the OOC. I will simply present both sides of the argument, and, where appropriate, identify modern examples.
Finally, I will not, necessarily, cover the minutia of each disagreement, unless there is a point to be made, I will stick with the major issues that caused rifts.
That said, let’s start with some background.
Christianity is defined as:
of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
We first encounter the term Christian to describe followers of Christ ~48 AD when Barnabas and Paul travel to Antioch. Prior to this the popular term was Nazarenes from
Matt 2:23 (RSV) And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
The early followers did not think of themselves as being a religion separate from Judaism, but rather that they were Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah (Greek: Christos) following what they termed The Way (John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”) . Gentiles (non-Jews) who came to believe in the teachings of Jesus were considered converts to Judaism. In fact, there was an argument among the members of The Way as to just how far of a conversion should be done (Acts 15:5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.”), prior to this Gentiles converting to Judaism were required to undergo circumcision and adhere to all tenets of Judaism. James, Peter, and Paul called together leaders of The Way to the first council of the church to it dealt with this important matter. The council determined that Greek converts only had limited responsibilities under The Law
Acts 15:19-20 (RSV) Therefore my (James) judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols, from unchastity, from what is strangled and from (consuming) blood.
I find it interesting how many modern churches still try to make their members adhere to (select) laws of Moses, such as the Ten Commandments, when James and the council did not make any such requirements. If adherence is taught then adherence to all 613 laws must be required or they are guilty of doing the as the Pharisees – obeying only those laws which they felt suited them.
Matthew 23:23 (RSV) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others”.
The center of Christianity was Jerusalem, and would have remained so had Rome not forced a change. In 68 AD Nero ordered general Vespasian to end the uprising in Jerusalem. After Nero’s death in 68 AD (and three quick successors) Vespasian became emperor (69 AD) and ordered general Titus to bring things to an end. Christians fled Jerusalem for safety in other parts of the Empire (and beyond). After the sacking of Jerusalem only Roman soldiers, administrators, and those needed to support the Romans were allowed to remain in Jerusalem. During the next few decades Rome allowed people to return until other Jewish revolts in 117 and 135 AD resulted in a ban against Christian and Jews in the area. This lasted until 138 AD when Christians were again allowed into the city and Marcus becomes bishop (the first non-Jewish bishop of the Jerusalem church). Consider how different things might be today if the church’s headquarters had remained in Jerusalem, and in Jewish control.
Next post we look into the dispersion of Christianity.