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Chapter 21

How His Truth Started and then became Distorted

Immediately following the official killing of Jesus, the Light-bearer to his people, is the account of the resurrection. It is so familiar to all that it will not be dealt with here. Our concern is primarily the life of the Master, and this for the value of his great life message to the world. Almost immediately after his going, departures from his own message of truth, and thereby distortions, began. These were made more or less innocently at the time, because his immediate followers were confronted with such absorbing occurrences and experiences.

His great concern, greater than life itself, was the giving and the spreading of his great truth that would give his people freedom in a larger life: his gospel of the Kingdom of God. As it came so clearly to him he gave it freely and untrammelled; hence the overlords of his, the Jewish, religion, fearing for themselves and the institution through the spreading of his truth, and growing through their bigotry to hate him personally, killed him. The common people, his own people, who heard him gladly and followed him so eagerly, unquestionably deplored this; but they could not help themsclves.

In delivering his truth and getting it established in the world he did not depend upon numbers; he did not depend upon an organisation. He probably never thought of one, for he gave no instructions or direction along that line to his few followers. His observation of such organisation, in the ecclesiastical group that killed him, possibly gave him warning against this. Anyway, we know that he made no effort to establish any organisation, or, as we say, a Church.

A Church came into being later but was so far as we know neither directed nor sanctioned by him. It is a help for us not to forget that Jesus was a Jew. His mother was a Jewess and his father was a Jew. John the Baptist, his cousin, whom he esteemed and whose work he valued so highly, was a Jew. All of his twelve disciples, as far as we know, were Jews. Practically all of his followers before and for some time after his death were Jews. The seventy to whom he gave his simple directions to go forth and to spread his gospel of the Kingdom of God were Jews. They and the twelve, or later the eleven, following his example, carried his message either to groups out in the open, or to the congregations asscmbled in the synagogucs, humhle or mere pretentious as they found them.

At first there was but very little difference between the beliefs of these groups and the message of his followers, as they carried it to the Jewish communities already established — the congregations of the synagogue. That the Messiah had already come was the message at first. The aim and purpose was to prepare as many souls as possible to believe in the risen Jesus; and to prepare them for the ‘second coming’ which they uniformly believed would be in a very short time. The great majority, however, preferred to remain true to their Jewish traditions. So in this way a new sect of Judaism, the followers of the Nazarene, arose in Jerusalem and in Galilee. It was not a new religion.

Then outside, Hellenised Jews, who had had a larger contact with and outlook upon life, began to be attracted to the new sect. The addition of these and a few Gentiles here and there and the burning zeal of fresh leaders, combined to make a noticeable growth in this new Jewish sect.

They began then to seek members outside the Jewish fold. One of the first missionaries to preach to people outside Jewry was Philip, a Hellenised Jew. Driven from Jerusalem by persecutors of the sect of the Nazarenes, he carried thcir mc-saage up sad down the country. He established himself at Caesarea to the north and made it the centre of his work for many years.

A second apostle and missionary to accept Gentiles into the fellowship of the Nazarene was Peter, who began but a short time after the death of Jesus to preach the risen Jesus and his early return, right in Jerusalem itself.

Then came Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, at one time persecutor of the Nazarenes, now converted, whose ardent enthusiasm in spreading the gospel of the new sect made him known as the ‘great missionary. His great ambition to carry the new gospel outside Jewry to the Gentiles caused him to become known especially as the apostle to the Gentiles. His ardent and long-continued work prevented the new gospel, as it developed and spread, from becoming merely a new, even if influential, Jewish sect.

It was at Arltioch, a Syrian city, that the gospel of the second coming was preached with such fervour and drew so many non-Jews that its adherents broke away from the synagogue and became quite independent, with a religion of their own. They called themselves Christians. They were the first to be so known. We see here both the Greek and the Hebrew connection. Their term, Christian, came from the Greek word, Christos, equivalent to the Hebrew word, Messiah, and means, ‘Anointed One.’

The accounts of those exceedingly interesting and at times adventurous missionary journeys of Paul, with his companion Barnabas, refer often to their carrying on their work in and through the Jewish synagogues which they found already established almost everywhere they went. Others then began to spread the gospel of the new sect of the Christians.

We are told that before either Paul or Peter went to Rome there was a little Christian centre already established there. It is interesting to follow the facts then, to learn that the early Christian Church, the Church of the disciples, was never founded as such, but grew in this natural way out of and had its first home in the Jewish synagogue.

When Jesus gave his instructions to the twelve and later to the seventy, as he sent them out to spread his gospel of the Kingdom of God and to heal those who needed help, he did not, so far as we know, tell them to form any organisation, or even to go to any already formed.

The carpenter teacher of Galilee was a layman, never a churchman. His was a larger, a universal, consciousness and purpose; therefore his greater power and influence. He became a churchman only through appropriation on the part of others. It was not so pronounced in the few earlier years, however, so far as distortions of his own message were concerned. The simple statement of belief or creed of these early Christians was: faith in God the Father, and His Son Christ Jesus, and love of the brethren.

They were mostly simple folk imbued by a strong community spirit, and held things in common. There was equality of rank in their meetmgs. Later the office of Elder arose in the individual congregation, and that of Bishop in connection with groups of congregations. Through the zeal of the apostles and missionaries the new faith began before long to spread rapidly. The Roman authorities took alarm and began to persecute as we have already seen.

But Rome was even then declining and the people were getting so little from their own religion that many of the well-to-do and influenial sought the new religion. At first it was embraced primarily by the poor and humble people. As it came under the Gentile, and especially the Greek and Roman, influence it became rapidly more speculative in its form, and more intricate in its organisation. There remained but little of the simple but vital teachings of the prophet of Galilec as he gave them. The metaphysical disputants, in their efforts to define and explain and build an organisation, pushed these so completely aside that they became as good as lost. As time passed, the Roman organisation grew so influential that in the early part of the fourth century the Emperor Constantine, seeing that he might use it in a political way in entrenching himself against his enemies, made it the official religion of the empire. All persecutions then ceased. This was in 324.




Already their metaphysical speculations and formulations had brought about dissensions and divisions, which gave promise of disrupting the organisation. Con-stantine, to secure unity again for his political support and safety, called, in 325, the first great council, at Nicea, at which, after a great deal of bitter wrangling and fighting, the Nicene Creed was formulated.

There was never any unanimity of opinion, but finally one of the two bitterly contending factions won. This conclave was to determine primarily the nature, and more particularly the inner nature, of God by vote; also the real relation to Him of the Son. After many stormy sessions, of which the less said now perhaps the better — as for example when Arius, the chief and noted leader of one of the two factions, got up to speak, Nicholas of Myra struck him a blow in the face — the votes were finally counted and what was to be known as the Doctrine of the Trinity emerged.

The decision was that God was three persons, fully distinct but not separate: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - but one God. No one has ever understood it; and it has been the source of endless wranglings and divisions ever since. It was so empty of value, possibly so inconsequential in his mind, that the ‘Son’ never concerned himself with it. It shows, however, what theorising speculation will do.

Later when ambitious ecclesiastics of Constantinople and Rome effected the great schism which divided Christendom into two bodies, the Greek and Latin Churches, it was caused by disagreement in connection with one word, the Latin word filiogue, meaning ‘and the Son.’ To this day they are still apart. The ecclesiastics in their rivalry and hatred wrangle, and the people suffer. They take the prophet of Galilee from the cross and speculate and try to explain and relate him; an enigma takes form — their formulation — and in the process his own great life teaching is emasculated and denied to the world, at least through the creeds of the high towering system that they build. One of our most authoritative historians of religion and the Church, dealing with this first conclave of Nicea and then with several others that followed to the year 45I, writes:

‘Over three hundred bishops, and many hundreds of priests, deacons, and acolytes, gathered at Nicea. They were for the most part zealous believers, or disbelievers, in the doctrine of Arius. For the first time the Mediterranean world saw vividly displayed that bastard form of faith, dogmatic conviction, which Europe was fated to inherit from Greece, and to suffer from for so many centuries. One frenzied sect was ready to go to the stake for their belief that God the Father and God the Son were Homoousioi, and the other for the belief that they were Homoiousioi. Even now, in nearly two thousand years, the world has hardly yet discovered that they were only attempting to measure the most unfathomable of facts with formulas and criticisms adapted to no higher purposes than those of a deplorably decadent school of grammarians. Let us dispose in a few words of what the Church did establish as its creed by the operation of its early councils, so as to leave as soon as possible a subject so humiliating to human intelligence. . . .

‘But why dwell on these dogmatic dissensions when the fundamental point, after all, was that the peasant of Galilee, whose speech was Aramaic, whose mind was so simple and direct, would never have recognised in these subtleties, these frantic death struggles of the moribund Greek intellect, the teaching which he attempted to set before mankind. All we need dwell on these creeds for is to see in them a certain landmark, the end of certain well-dcfined phase. With thcm, the formative period of Chritianity closes, and the religion has become rigidly consti-tutionalised.’*

We are dealing with these matters very briefly, and leaving them now as quickly as possible for a specific purpose; and we are dealing with them entirely from an historical standpoint, for practically all forms of religion in Christendom today — Greek, Roman, and Protestant — have had their common origin. A few devout people, in their concern lest any changes be made, speak of our ‘great historic creeds.’ There is no such thing, at least to which the word great can be rightly applied, except great in obscurantism.

The question that must be faced today is: Do we want this system of Christianity handed down to us by these speculative ecclesiastics of a totally different age — a system brought about by their attempts to explain and then formulate a system about the Christ of Galilee; or do we want those vital life-giving teachings, the religion of the Christ of Galilee, which he, perceiving so uniquely and clearly, laboured so devotedly to convey and leave in the life of the world?

In the minds of the thinking young men and women of today there is no question. Upon them will depend the future continuation of what we term Christianity. It is a decision that can now be neither dodged nor delayed.


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