How did the church BEGIN?
We should begin our search by noting that historians and theologians alike agree that primitive Christianity began as a sect within Judaism. At the time, however, Judaism itself did not consist of a uniform set of beliefs. Rather, there were several major religious parties such as the Sadducees and the Pharisees, both mentioned in the New Testament, and the Essenes, whose teachings were later unearthed by the Qumran discoveries. These three groups existed simultaneously in the land of Palestine. Although the Sadducees were the descendants of the priests and controlled the Temple, the Pharisees had the greatest influence among the Jewish people.
When were they
first called CHRISTIANS?
The term CHRISTIAN to designate someone who believes Jesus is the Messiah is first used in Syrian Antioch. The Bible doesn't state whether the term originated from those in or outside the church. The word CHRISTIAN occurs only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1Peter 4:16).
Jews living in other parts of the Roman Empire were influenced by Gnostic philosophies. Gnostic ideas were introduced in the Mediterranean lands in the first century B.C. Because of the Gnostic appeal to reason and secret knowledge, Hellenistic Jews felt they could accept these new ideas without being disloyal to the law of Moses. Thus, a variety of religious ideas and doctrines was freely circulating within Judaism.
When Christ began His ministry, He had to combat many of these false teachings. As pointed out by Charles Guignebert, a well-known Roman Catholic scholar, Jesus emphasized loyalty to God and His law and clarified how that loyalty was to be expressed. But He did NOT overthrow the law given at Mount Sinai.
In Guignebert's words,
"He did not come bearing a new religion, nor even a new rite ...Nor did he aim at changing either its creed or its Law or its worship. The central point of His teaching was the Messianic idea, which was common property to nearly all his compatriots as much as to him, and only his conception of it was his own" (Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity, Charles Guignebert, p. 44).
Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that "salvation is of the Jews." He dispatched His disciples to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He boldly proclaimed that He came to magnify the Law. Since the religious parties could not accuse Him of breaking the higher laws of God, they focused on his rejection of the traditions of the elders and his claims of being the Son of God. They had to manufacture evidence before they could condemn Him to death.
Did the early church consist ONLY of Jewish converts?
After Christ's resurrection His disciples continued to remain within the fold of Judaism. The small community of believers was later called a sect by the Jews (Acts 24:5, 28:22), but it was still purely Jewish. Although their teachings were highly unpopular, day after day Christians went to the Temple to worship and to preach the Gospel (Acts 2:46-47, 3:1, 5:20).
The Jews in power seem to have tolerated their teachings until Christians began to attract large numbers of converts, including priests. The Temple officers, who were Sadducees, wanted to kill the apostles not for their abrogation of Judaism but because they were stirring people up over the death of Christ.
According to Hans Conzelmann,
"The first Christians are Jews without exception. For them this is not simply a fact, but a part of their conscious conviction. For them their faith is not a new religion which leads them away from the Jewish religion" (History of Primitive Christianity, Hans Conzelmann, p. 37).
Rather, the Christians are both ethnic and spiritual Jews. Jesus is the Messiah, and the church is the true Israel.
"Since the Christians still know themselves to be Jews, they appear to have continued to participate in the Jewish worship in the temple and the synagogue. But this participation now has acquired a new sense. It documents the fact that the Christians hold to their membership in the chosen people and confess the God of Israel" (History of Primitive Christianity, p. 49).
The early church did not reject Judaism. They continued as its faithful supporters despite persecution from the Jews.
Some of the early followers of Jesus also lived outside of Palestine. The first conversions after the resurrection included Jews who were from far-flung areas of the Roman Empire (Acts 2). Christian communities of Greek-speaking Jews were soon established.
What did the early church BELIEVE?
What did these early Christians believe? Did they immediately begin to worship on Sunday, the supposed day of Jesus' resurrection, in place of the seventh day Sabbath?
Our only contemporaneous account is the book of Acts, which presents church history in barest outline form. In the book From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation, an essay by Max B. Turner discusses several relevant points on this question.
According to Turner, eight accounts of events that happened on the Sabbath can be found in Acts, but there is only one mention of an event that happened on Sunday. Acts describes Christian teachings, fellowship, temple worship, and growth of the Church, but nowhere is there evidence that the apostles instituted Sunday as the Christian day of worship. This is a rather startling admission from a scholar who supports Sunday as the Christian day of rest!
Christ's message was soon taken outside the realm of Jewish believers. After it was revealed to Peter that the Gentiles were to receive the Gospel, Peter, Paul, and other apostles began to preach the message to people who were not of Israelite descent. Note, however, that Paul and Barnabas typically gained Gentile converts who were already observing the Sabbath (Acts 14:1, 17:1-4).
A new controversy then arose. Were the Gentiles to enter, the new community of Israel through the ancient rite of circumcision? Were they to practice ritual observances?
A council in Jerusalem decided the matter. The Gentiles were to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols, from fornication, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from blood. These were the four proscriptions found in Leviticus 17-18 which had applied to non-Jews living in Israel. Physical circumcision was not a requirement for those who wished to enter spiritual Israel, the Church.
The judgment of the apostles is stated in Acts 15:21, then repeated in verse 29 and Acts 21:25. These decrees were intended to smooth relations between Christian Jews and Gentiles and to make it possible for a mixed community of believers to remain in harmony.
The account in Acts shows that Paul and the Jerusalem apostles were in agreement over the Gentile mission. Later, James and the elders in Jerusalem asked Paul to take charge of four men who were going through purification rites to complete vows. Their purpose in doing so was to stop rumors that Paul disbelieved the law (Acts 21:21-26). James and the elders are presented in Acts as a mediating group between Jews who were zealous of the law and Gentile believers.
What caused the FIRST dramatic change in the church?
By this time, the early church age was rapidly drawing to a close. Historical events would shatter the mother church at Jerusalem, and Christianity would begin to take on a new character. By 70 A.D., James (the brother of Jesus), Peter, and Paul would all be dead. Jerusalem would be in total ruins. As the only living apostle, John was to be found in exile far from Palestine.
Following the death of James, Simon, who was a cousin of Jesus, had been unanimously chosen to be James' successor. Then, as the destruction of Jerusalem loomed frighteningly near, the entire Church fled to the nearby town of Pella.
After the Roman army razed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Christians returned to help rebuild the city. Two church historians, Eusebius and Epiphanius, tell us that the Church there remained under the control of converted Jews. The Church continued to exist peacefully in Jerusalem until the time of emperor Hadrian, with the kinsmen of Jesus playing an important role in it.
During the second Jewish war in 135 A.D. (known as the Bar Kochba revolt), however, Jewish Christians were persecuted by the leader of the Jewish revolt. All racial Jews were subsequently expelled from Jerusalem by the Roman government. Thereafter, the church in Jerusalem was ruled by Gentiles, and other cities began to gain prominence as centers of Christian teachings.
It was about this time that Jewish Christianity became "stamped as heretical" (History of Primitive Christianity, Hans Conzelman, p. 134). Although these Christians held fast to the teachings of the apostles, they were seen as retaining a narrow and false legalism.
The weakening of the mother church in Jerusalem meant that there was no longer any one to decide on questions of doctrine. There was no apostle or prophet. The issue of which church could lay claim to having a true "apostolic succession" became a very important one.
How was the church governed?
At the beginning of the second century, most of the larger churches in major cities were autonomously ruled by local bishops, who had replaced the council of elders mentioned in Acts. Some of the more important bishops were from the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, as well as from Rome, which also had a long history of Christian fellowship. No single bishop had preeminence during the first two centuries of Christianity.
Nonetheless, the church at Rome was beginning to be held in high regard by the second century because of its supposed association with two apostles, Peter and Paul, its many converts, and its wealth.
The Roman historian Suetonius tells us that in 50 A.D. emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. The expulsion was due to their rioting over "the instigation of Chrestus." Historians consider this reference as an erroneous transcription of the name of Christ. The early Church in Rome was further decimated by Nero in 64 A.D. The influence of Jewish Christians had come to an end in the chief city of the empire.
What were the FIRST changes to early church teachings?
Without the spiritual leadership of Jerusalem, the change in early Christian beliefs was a fairly rapid one, arising predominantly in areas outside of Palestine.
"The ritual development of Christianity advances step by step . . . It began with very simple practices, all taken from Judaism: baptism, the breaking of bread, the imposition of hands, prayer and fasting. Then a meaning more and more profound and mysterious was assigned to them. They were amplified, and gestures familiar to the pagans added . . . It is sometimes very difficult to tell. exactly from which pagan rite a particular Christian rite is derived, but it remains certain that the spirit of pagan ritualism became by degrees impressed upon Christianity, to such an extent that at last the whole of it might be found distributed through its ceremonies" (Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity, p. 121).
For example, around 110 A.D. Gnostic followers of Basiledes began to celebrate a festival commemorating Christ's baptism on January 6 or 10. This festival was later worked into the Christian festal calendar as Epiphany, despite the fact that it was also the date of a pagan feast celebrating the birth and growth of light.
In the early second century vague references to observing the "Lord's Day" on Sunday began to appear. Then the voices for Sunday worship grew more strident. Ignatius of Asia Minor and Barnabas of Alexandria both condemned Sabbath-keeping. Although considered Gnostic heresy, Marcion's anti-Sabbath views were widely promulgated throughout the churches. By 150 A.D., Justin Martyr clearly indicated that the day of the sun was the day of rest for Christians. Sunday worship had become a widely accepted practice among these people who professed to follow Christ.
Paganism began to be grafted into every aspect of Christian life. In Roman cemeteries, for instance, the figure of a young man carrying a sheep on his shoulder was a common theme of funerary art. A much later Christian tradition identified this figure as Christ the Good Shepherd (Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, p. 81). Another typical portrayal of Christ as the Shepherd was obviously modeled on a statue of Mercury carrying a goat. The earliest known mosaic of our Lord (240 A.D.) shows him with a disk or nimbus at the back of his head. Yet this was also a common pictorial representation of the sun!
By the end of the second century the Mass had taken shape:
"Based partly on the Judaic Temple service, partly on Greek mystery rituals of purification, vicarious sacrifice, and participation through communion in the death-overcoming powers of the deity, the Mass grew slowly into a rich congeries of prayers, psalms, readings, sermon, antiphonal recitations, and, above all, that symbolic atoning sacrifice of the `Lamb of God'..." (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 599).
Overcome by the society around it, the religion that was now known as Christianity threatened to fragment into scores of uninspired and misguided creeds. One writer counted 80 heresies circulating among these so-called Christians. Wave upon wave of new doctrine and heresy inundated the churches.
When and how did church authority consolidate?
The second and third centuries marked a time when the church became "catholic" (in the sense of what was universally accepted) in doctrine and solidified its power and authority. Beset by groups which claimed to represent Christ and the teachings of the early church, the bishops in leading cities sought to protect their flocks by hammering out, a uniform dogma.
The controversy over when Passover was to be celebrated is a compelling example of how doctrines became catholic. Although the book of Acts describes Christians observing annual High Days such as Pentecost and the Day of Atonement (see Acts 2:1, 27:9), the bulk of the churches which professed to be Christian had rejected nearly every Old Testament holy day. Passover was the last to be retained according to the Jewish practice.
At this time, all referred to the day as the Pascha. It was not, until centuries later that the day became known as Easter. (Note: The King James Version of Acts 12:4 incorrectly uses the word Easter for the Greek word "Pascha." Other translations render it "Passover." )
The churches of Asia Minor, particularly those mentioned in Revelation 2-3, continued to follow the New Testament observance of the 14th of Nisan. Melito, a bishop of Sardis, traveled to Rome to discuss the Passover and other topics with Anicetus, bishop of Rome. Although they did not agree, neither was willing to let a quarrel arise between them. Melito continued to follow the practice left by the apostle John, while Anicetus felt obligated to follow the practice established by the four presbyters before him.
Several more rounds of sharp dissension took place in what has become known historically as the Quartodeciman controversy. A new element in negotiating the dispute was interjected when the emperor Constantine made peace with Christians. He called the council of Nicea, which finally settled the questions regarding the Passover by decreeing that it was to be celebrated only on Sunday.
This edict was not well received by the Christians who kept the Passover. A group known as the Audiani made a separation in the church and were consequently banished by Constantine. In 341 Quartodecimans in general were condemned as heretics. Later laws by Theodosius I and Theodosius II subjected them to severe penalties and even capital punishment for their religious beliefs.
Which Roman Emperor helped FINALIZE the consolidation of Christianity?
The final consolidation of catholic Christianity as a force in the Roman empire can actually be attributed to Roman Emperor Constantine. Up to that time, believers had been sporadically persecuted by Roman emperors. In fact, during the second century, practicing Christianity in any form could be a capital offense. Intense persecution was especially common in Asia Minor during the late third and early fourth centuries.
After allegedly seeing a cross in battle, Constantine (also known as Constantine I or Constantine the Great) abruptly ended religious persecution. In 313 A.D. his Edict of Milan legalized Christianity and ended Rome's persecution of Christians. For the first time, a Roman emperor recognized catholic Christianity as an official state religion. In 321 A.D. Constantine passed a law making Sunday the official day of rest in the Roman empire. He also established the celebration of Christ's birthday on December 25, traditionally the feast of the sun god.
Under Constantine's protective wing, catholic Christianity experienced a period of mass conversion of pagans. This flood of pagans had a great impact on the catholic system of worship. New customs brought over from paganism included:
"devotion to relics, the use of the kiss as a sign of reverence for holy objects, the practice of kneeling, the use of candles and incense, and an increased use of ceremonies patterned on those used in the imperial court" (The Catholic Church, Barrie Ruth Straus, p. 36).
Worship of angels, martyrs, and Mary also began to arise during the fourth century as new converts transferred to them some of the reverence they had felt for pagan deities. The converts believe that they could offer prayer to any of these personages, who would then make intercession for them. By the end of the fourth century, the catholic believers were not the bride of Christ as they claimed to be, but a fallen woman!
Was SUN WORSHIP brought into the church?
The changes in the church over the first four centuries were bound by the subtle yet common thread of incorporating the symbols and imagery of sun worship into the worship of the true God. Though Christ was never referred to as a "sun" in the New Testament, the early church writers adapted the comparison in order to appeal to pagans. Tertullian, for example, urged pagans to worship the true Light and Sun, while strongly refuting the charge that Christians were sun worshippers.
By 150 A.D. professing Christians were praying toward the east. Clement of Alexandria claimed this was done because the birth of light came from the East and because some ancient temples existed there. The Apostolic Constitutions, an early document on church customs, stated that the church building and the congregation were to face the East.
Why was sun worship so intriguing and influential a concept? To understand, we need to look at a cult that enjoyed an immense popularity in the Roman empire. Mithraism, the worship of Mithra the god of light, was brought to the empire by Roman soldiers. The first day of the week was held sacred to Mithra, and his followers celebrated his birth on December 25.
Around 150 A.D. Justin Martyr recognized the similarity between Christianity and Mithraism but maintained that these sun worshippers had imitated Christianity. Yet Mithraism was introduced in the Roman empire in the early part of the first century A.D., and converts to this cult spread throughout the civilized world just as quickly as did converts to Christianity. A number of the Roman emperors were followers of Mithra, with the cult of the Sol Invictus (the invincible sun) dominant in Rome and other parts of the empire from the second century A.D. Mithraism was a rival of Christianity, with the competition most intense during the third century.
What is historically interesting about Mithraism is that nearly every physical remnant of this religion was destroyed by Christians. After Constantine made Christianity a state religion, Mithraism was doomed. Christian mobs soon sacked and burned Mithraic temples and slew the priests. Intent on obliterating an ancient rival, church authorities turned a blind eye to the very same type of persecution that they had once endured. Believers went to great lengths to show their hatred of this cult.
The alluring sights and sounds of ancient rituals were blended with Jewish monotheism and Greek philosophical thought. With its emphasis on brotherhood, probably no more appealing religion than Christianity has ever been presented to mankind. Yet it was never established by Christ!
How WIDESPREAD was Judaism in the Roman Empire?
Jews were widely dispersed throughout the Roman Empire during the early church period. Because Judaism had a long history as a religion, the Romans allowed the Jews to continue their practices. Julius Caesar granted them the right to observe the Sabbath and to meet in synagogues, exemption from military service, and the freedom to follow their own laws.
Outside of Palestine, Jews were allowed to exist as independent communities of resident aliens within larger cities. They were subject to their own political structure as well as to that of the Roman Empire.
In New Testament times, probably as many as 5 to 7 million Jews lived in the Roman Empire, with roughly a million in Egypt, another million in Syria, and close to one million in Palestine. At least 10,000 Jews lived in Rome; Jewish colonies also existed in the large trading centers of Asia Minor. As Josephus remarked,
"There is not a community in the entire world which does not have a portion of our people."
Judaism had long been viewed favorably by pagan writers; Jews were thought to be a race of philosophers, much like the Brahmins of India.
"Throughout the Roman Empire various practices of Judaism found favor with large segments of the populace. In Rome many gentiles observed the Sabbath, the fasts, and the food laws; in Alexandria many gentiles observed the Jewish holidays; in Asia Minor many gentiles attended synagogue on the Sabbath" (From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Shave J.D. Cohen, p. 55).
The Gentiles who venerated Judaism were no doubt the people whom Acts called those who "feared God" (Acts 13:16, 26; 16:14; 17;4, 17;18:7). They were not converts to Judaism, but they were appreciative of its doctrines. The major obstacle to their conversion was circumcision, which was looked upon as self-mutilation by Romans.
It has been argued by some scholars that one of the reasons that Jews wrote in Greek was to attract Gentile believers. While Judaism had no official missionary work, individual Jews actively sought converts. Christ hinted at this effort when He said:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:15, NKJV throughout).
Judaism continued to gain converts and remained a viable religious movement within the Roman empire until the end of the fourth century.
Why did the early church begin to REJECT its Jewish roots?
As they continued to reject the Judaic roots of their religion, catholic Christians increasingly viewed Jews as a problem. The conflict between Judaism and catholic belief became sharper from the second century onward. Instead of accepting their common heritage, the church fathers sought ways to reinterpret the Scriptures and to show the superiority of their new religious movement.
Some of them saw the destruction of the Temple as proof that God had rejected the Jews. Justin Martyr scornfully mocked the Jewish sacrificial system. The heretic Marcion claimed that the God of the Old Testament was evil and that only Paul's doctrines of love represented true Christianity. Although he was noted for his keeping of the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, Mileto of Sardis denounced the Jews as Messiah-killers and criminals. The invective against Judaism was continued by Origen, Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Cyprian, Ambrose, and other misguided men.
Tertullian in particular wanted to
"dissociate the Christian message from its Jewish trappings in order to give it a truly Latin expression" (The Origins of Latin Christianity, Jean Danielou, p. 139).
He was not content to confine himself to Judaism, however. He also attacked Jewish Christianity not only in its heterodox forms, but as it existed in the Christian church during his lifetime. His reaction against the Judeo-Christian element became more pronounced in each of his writings, which influenced a new generation of church leaders.
Ironically, the major criticism leveled at the emerging catholic church was its rejection of Judaism. Around 180 A.D., the Greek philosopher Celsus charged that Christians had deserted the Jewish law and had rejected the points that were mostly clearly set forth -- the keeping of the Sabbath, the festivals, and the dietary laws. The fact that church fathers were writing rebuttals 80 years later shows the impact that Ceisus had.
In 388 A.D. the Jewish synagogue at Callinicum on the Euphrates River was destroyed at the instigation of the local bishop. Theodosius decided to make the incident a test case and ordered it rebuilt at Christian expense. The bishop Ambrose hotly opposed the decision, and Theodosius withdrew his orders. This event marked an
"important stage in the construction of a society in which only orthodox Christianity exercised full rights" (History of Christianity, Paul Johnson, p. 104-105).
Did the teachings of Jesus still EXIST after the first century?
An even greater embarrassment to the catholic church was the continued existence of Jewish-Christian congregations which Tertullian wanted to extirpate. In their efforts to disavow the influence of Judaism, catholics soon viewed these Christians as heretical.
"Yet what was Christian heresy? And for that matter, what was the Church? Most of our knowledge of early Christian history comes from the writings of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century. Eusebius was in many ways a conscientious historian, and he had access to multitudes of sources which have since disappeared ...He wanted to show that the church he represented had always constituted the mainstream of Christianity, both in organization and faith. The truth is very different . . . A dominant orthodox Church, with a recognizable ecclesiastical structure, emerged only very gradually" (History of Christianity, Paul Johnson, p. 43).
The apostle Jude, the brother of Christ, urged Christians at the end of the first century: to:
"Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to CONTEND EARNESTLY for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)
Jude's epistle is regarded by some modern scholars as one of the literary remains of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, written after the fall of Jerusalem. What is significant is that the primitive Church was already being threatened from within. True Christians were forced to begin to defend the faith against men who called themselves brothers in Christ.
Christianity did not follow a smooth evolutionary path after the mother Church in Jerusalem was scattered. It divided and split. Over time a group of people who called themselves catholics agreed to accept certain doctrines which were NOT the ones on which the early church was founded but ones which had been allegorized and reconfigured to their ideas and values.
By the end of the second century, the way of life transmitted by the early Christian community in Jerusalem was in grave danger. A few historians believe that it actually perished. Historical information about the groups that followed the apostolic traditions, unfortunately, is sketchy and comes almost exclusively from the writings of the church fathers. Under Theodosius and a later emperor named Valentinian, all writings hostile to the catholic church, including Christian works deemed heretical, were burned.
Jewish Christians who maintained the apostolic legacy were not accepted by Jews nor professing Christians. They were occasionally viewed as a political threat by authorities. Several Roman emperors examined their leaders, who were the descendants of Jesus' family, to see if they were a potential menace to the empire. From 90 A.D. the Jews banned them from the synagogues, and from the middle of the second century catholic churchmen strongly condemned their beliefs as unworthy of Christ.
Who PRESERVED the original teachings of the church?
Evidence suggests that the group known historically as the Nazarenes represented the Jewish-Christianity taught by the apostles and the early church. The term "Nazarene" is first mentioned in Acts 24:5 where it is used to refer to true Christians. Later Jewish writings also referred to Christians as Nazarenes. Two catholic writers, Epiphanius and Jerome, stated that the Nazarenes of their day dwelt in Berea, Pella, and in other cities in the hill country of Judea and Syria. Julius Africanus corroborates that Jewish Christian leaders included offspring from Jesus' family. These Christians had a complete gospel of Matthew in Aramaic, as well as commentaries on the Old Testament, which Jerome himself used. They followed the law of Moses along with the teachings of Christ.
In the 430s A.D. the Christian Council of Laodicea ruled in detail against Christian observance of the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday), their acceptance of unleavened bread from Jews, and their keeping of Jewish (Holy Day) festivals (Pagans and Christians, Robin Lane Fox, p. 482). The truth left by the apostolic Church was not easily extinguished.
Did this truth perish after the fourth century? The answer is NO! As the catholic church moved into the Middle Ages, what was called 'Judaizing' never ceased to exist.
"In the decrees of the Church councils, the term gained currency from the time of the Council of Laodicea in the fourth century onward. It was used by Christian ecclesiastics like Agobard, who charged Christians at Lyons (in the ninth century) with Jewish inclinations and habits.
"In the historical literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the term 'Judaizer' won frequent place, and came to designate either individuals or groups, who, as in Lombardy, adopted a Jewish outlook on life, and Jewish forms of ceremony and conduct. It was employed to designate certain heretical groups which challenged papal authority. Papal bulls during these centuries when heresies flourished are filled with references to Judaizers and 'Re-Judaizers,' the latter term being applied to Jewish converts to Christianity who later returned to their original faith" (Jewish Influence on Christian Reform Movements, Louis Newman, pages 1-3).
Do Christians cling to outdated MYTHS and PRACTICES?
In this age of intellectual enlightenment, it is amazing that the modern Christian clings to outdated myths and practices. Religion is the one area of life that a Christian should consider of supreme importance is based on fallacy. One television evangelist has even gone so far as to admit that a certain holiday is pagan in origin, yet he claims it for Jesus just the same.
Is that what Jesus Christ wants? Christ placed a great deal of emphasis on knowing the truth:
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32).
He also said,
"God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24).
Jesus was referring to "spiritual" truth, not truth based on historical evidence. Centuries after Jesus' statement, however, we are faced with a unique dilemma. To understand spiritual truth, the modern Christian must understand historical truth. It is difficult to separate Christian theology from Christian history, because they had an enormous impact on each other. Modern Christianity was shaped by key events and trends in history, as well as by the long process of doctrinal development.
If you believe you are a Christian, it's time to ask yourself some hard questions. Do your beliefs agree with those of the early church, or have they been accommodated to the society around you? If your church has, not been built on the foundation of Christ and the apostles as described in the New Testament, your faith may be a hollow shell -- a relic of ancient religions far removed from the God of the Bible.
May God guide you to truthfully answer these questions!