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Christian History or Hysterics, I am Decidedly Undecided

As I work my way through the beginning of the 'Christian History: An Overview' course, I have discovered another distasteful topic that is provoking me to meditative reflection, revulsion, and revelation. The general concepts introduced in the course are familiar tropes that remind me of decades of church attendance, preaching, and teaching. As a good student, I am allowing myself time to explore more detail, follow white rabbits, and ask questions. As such, the mundane and innocuous textbook phrase or instructor comment, which was ho-hum in times past, now becomes the tiny spark lighting the short brain-bomb fuse. What set me off this time? A quote by my video instructor discussing 'Judaizing Christians.' That is a kinder, gentler title for what we might call today's Messianic Jew.

"The most problematic theological issue, however, centered on Christology. How did they [early Jewish Christians] understand the very nature of Christ? They all, on the one hand, affirmed that Jesus was the Messiah, but here are the caveats: Many of them denied the divinity of Christ. Many denied His preexistence. Instead, they revered Jesus as a prophet, like Moses. Some believed that Jesus had become the Messiah at His baptism. Others believed that He became the Messiah at His resurrection. Many of them were very, very hesitant about Paul. In fact, many of them thought Paul was a heretic."

Frank A. James III, CH101 Introducing Church History I: Obscurity to Christendom, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

I suspect you read that quote and think, "So what? Everybody knows that is what happened to the poor Gentile believers." I said the same thing to myself, but likely for a different reason. I, too, said, "So what?" (As in, 'Who cares!') Did it not take the so-called 'Church Fathers' several hundred years to develop a toddler's understanding of these ideas and concepts? And can we honestly say there was agreement in Africa, the East, and the West?

Is there a consensus on these topics today?

Of all the available conflicts to concentrate on, James chose to focus on meat sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality, two items precisely focused on the worship of other gods and loyalty to Yahweh (Acts 15). Consider Hebrews 6, which does not include the 'deity of Christ' in the list of ‘elementary doctrines.' I suspect the impatience of Gentile Christians pushed changes too quickly and too arrogantly among the Jews.

Take a moment and consider how a Jew would react when a genealogically gentile believer with a pagan heritage instructs a Hebrew about the Ancient Hebrew Holy Oracles entrusted to the Jews (Rom 3:2). Lack of understanding of the Jewish scriptures by Gentiles likely accelerated the disunity (1 Tim 1:6-7) ‘To the Jew first’ did not mean to give them one generational chance and then give up during the next two millennia. (I wish I could say things have improved.)

Perhaps, had the Church concentrated its efforts on the Children of Abraham, caring for the poor, oppressed, and widows, she would have caused the kind of jealousy Paul wanted in Israel. Didn’t Paul ask his readers to emulate him? (Like raising money for those suffering in Jerusalem) But that is the Church’s historical behavior: bless those who agree and disown, disavow, disgrace, and disable all others. Paul said, 'To the Jew first,' and we built billion-dollar (modern-day value) cathedrals while our Abrahamic brothers and sisters languished in a new exile. I don't think Paul had 'To the Jew first' in mind when we brought the swords of the cold shoulder and steel.

And the Jews considered Paul a heretic? Two thousand years after Paul, we still have Christians writing torturous and glorious words about Paul. I suspect a Jew in Paul’s day calling Paul a heretic would have been a good day for Paul! Surveying the NT, Paul welcomed it by making his first stop in each city a synagogue. At what point did the Church decide that Paul's lifetime was enough time to reach out to the Jew, and at his death, we were given permission to give up? Perhaps I lack the sophistication to understand.

Given how Christians historically loved other disagreeable Christians and Jews to death, we might consider how Jews were wise to separate themselves from Churches. When Jews improperly loving the Systematic, Theologically-defined Christian Messiah leads to the loss of Jewish life, the wise move for the Jew, seemingly, is to wait for the arrival of a Jewish Messiah who loves you. Oh, wait…didn’t that already happen?

And like any well-intentioned self-fulfilling prophecy, we look back and say, 'Well, the Jews rejected Jesus.' Of course, they did. The 'Jesus' in the hands and feet of gentile believers rejected their siblings. The version of Jesus we live out is nowhere near the Jesus of John 17. Now, without any biblical support, mind you, I half expect Jesus to return and apologize to the Jews, and the Jews say to Jesus, 'We tried to warn you about the pagan Gentiles.'

Unfortunately, the early church did not inherit the Ancient Near Eastern practice of hospitality, where brothers and sisters could strongly disagree and still Sabbath with one another. Perhaps the Hebrew Bible does have something to teach a Christian.


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