Christian thought–what was once known as theology–has evolved over the centuries. Ever since the State takeover of the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), Christian thought has incrementally removed itself from the original teachings of Jesus Christ.
The first century A.D. preserved the oral wisdom of Jesus in writing. Those writings continued over the next two centuries. The Primitive Church faithfully preserved Christic traditions. Unfortunately, they were not the chosen favorite of the State. Emperor Constantine’s Council created orthodoxy as opposed to heterodoxy.
Adherents of the Primitive Church were thenceforth branded as heretics. Their writings were systematically destroyed. Later generations were dependent on their enemies to explain what they taught. Would you trust your enemy to faithfully represent your beliefs and practices? Of course not!
There have been several more crisis points in the history of Christian Theology. The Great Schism of 1054 A.D. saw the Eastern Church split from the West. Now known as the Orthodox Church, it continues to preserve traditions in place a thousand years ago. Their traditions, however, are still 700 years away from the Primitive Church.
When the Roman priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door of Wittenberg, the so-called Great Reformation was well underway. Rather than reform the Roman Church it created another schism. The Protestant Church was exorcised for its protests. Although claiming to return to Primative teachings, it took with it many of the religious practices of the time.
The Protestant Church opened the door for further schisms. Different denominations were created. I grew up under the Baptist banner. Baptists, continuing the ancient tradition of schisms, have created an array of traditions. The American Civil War preserved cultural differences between the South and North. The Southern Baptist Convention remains powerful to this day producing 3 U.S. Presidents:
- William Jefferson Clinton;
- Jimmy Carter; and
- Harry S. Truman.
The North did put their own Baptist in the White House: Warren Harding.
Baptists are a haven for Fundamentalists. Any layman could answer “the call” and become a minister. Whether or not he received training was irrelevant. “The blind leading the blind” enabled extreme teachings.
I was a leader in one of those Fundamentalist Baptist sects.
Born and reared under this strain of Christian Thought, I embraced its principles of individual soul liberty and truth being rooted in the scriptures. I began reading the bible at 8 years old. It took me 4 years to finish it and I have repeated that exercise scores of times.
In my teen years I got my hands on the writings of Primitive Church teachers. Much of what I absorbed raised questions when compared to Christian Thought. After divinity training I was lost in the work of the ministry. Any study seemed to be preparation for the 5,000 times I taught or spoke. During the three decades of Baptist ministry, there was a niggling in the back of my heart:
The problem of John’s writings in the New Testament.
Whereas the Catholic and Orthodox Churches emphasize the Gospels over the rest of scripture, the Protestants and Baptists elevated Paul’s writings as the filter to read the Gospels. The niggle in my heart was the fact that John wrote his Gospel and Apocalypse decades after the others.
My theological and divinity training suggested John later wrote to combat Gnosticism. The problem was when I read John’s writings, I see the preservation of what has been labeled Gnosticism. His high Christology; his emphasis on the Word; his revelation in the spirit of the Book of Enoch; it was hard for me to fully comprehend my denominational teaching.
And then again, should I trust the opponents to faithfully represent what Gnostics teach?
“I trow not” (Jesus, Luke 17:9).
I am not claiming to be a gnostic!
I am reclaiming my heart belief that the Primitive Church faithfully preserved the oral teachings of Jesus.
And I am now filtering Paul’s writings through John’s.