In Was Church God’s idea? we read a comment by Mark Winter on which he laments the obviously regrettable fact that ‘what we read in the Bible in the accounts of the Acts, the Epistles, and early Christian writing is in stark contrast to what we see today.’ (1) Actually, Mark Winter is just a tiny drop from the ever overflowing ocean of those Bible-readers, scholars and freethinkers who down the centuries have been protesting about the apparently questionable post-biblical practices surrounding the supposed religion of Jesus. In fact, the reason why we have so many varied Christian groups today all answers to this very prospect that there really is a problem in Christianity. More often when we feel the churches of our raising are utterly out of the line we tend to desert them to stand there alone with what we believe is the truth. Some would go to the extent of forming break-away churches which naturally are not in so many ways different from the mother church save that very aspect which influenced the division. When Protestantism started only a selection of certain practices, teachings and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church which seemed distasting to those men of Reformation like Luther and Calvin were questioned and subsequently cruelly abandoned. But the Protestants still retained others which one way or another might still have remained questionable to any other person unlike them. They might have even introduced the ones that are quite unchristian. In my opinion Protestantism, in its attempt to give us the genuine religion of Jesus, is in this way very fragile. It is at best nothing but another means of showing us that there is really a problem in the religion of Jesus. Let’s face it, Protestant churches did not begin as a way of teaching us God but as an emotionally charged revolution against what the church of those days taught. The Protestant teachers were really men of flesh and blood like you and me with differences against the prevailing beliefs of their times like it might be the case with me and you today. Nothing really privileges them to be viewed as the men who gave us a genuine Christianity. They were really not God’s sends. They did not come saying, “here is what God told me in dreams, vision etc” but rather their approach was based somewhat on departure from what they thought the Bible says. Indeed, I myself as well may still fail to take what they maintained as really the truth. That is why there continued to be further divisions even afterwards. In principle, both the Roman Catholic and Protestantism have failed to hand us the genuine religion of Jesus and we must continue searching.
Now seeing that the tendency to feel discontented within Christianity is the one that is doomed to continue forever, the subject I want to deal with here is basically the question of how we should properly envisage a Christianity that is effectively representative of that of the first Christians once we feel discontented with the Christianities in which we have been raised. Basically, what I want to pinpoint as the cause of this problem (the problem that for around 1900 years Christians have been failing to come to agreement about the correct practice of their religion) is that when people envisage their Christianities today, they tend to think within the periphery of a particular brand of early Christianity which is the predecessor of all known Christianities practiced publicly today. For some reasons, they wouldn’t really be taking into account (not to mention some progressive ideas we can intercept in the New Testament) all the attitudes about Christianity known in the earlier centuries to see if they can lead us to the truth. No, what people seem to believe is that only one of those earlier Christianities is the right one. What I want to submit is that this very scandalous practice is the real source of all problems now surrounding the religion of Jesus.
It is a matter of fact that the type of Christianity that is now publicly practiced more especially by all known existing Christian churches today would have gone identified as orthodox Christianity in the second, third and fourth centuries AD. (Orthodoxy here should not be confused with the current Eastern Orthodox Church.) Before the establishment of this brand of Christianity in the fourth century by some Roman monarchs to exist as a sole and unrivaled entity, there were other forms of Christianity very much opposed to orthodoxy in all respects only to later disappear from the public sphere. What we know from our history books is that, in terms of practice and attitude, immediately after the disappearance of the first Christians in death early Christianity was actually heterogeneous. These other brands of this religion were well known to have substantially differed with orthodoxy in terms of approach. Though, not unlike their orthodox opponents, each as well claimed to be the truer brand. Marcionism, Donatists and many versions of Gnostic Christians are among those groups now known to have been in tight theological competition with orthodoxy in the early post-biblical age and we should keep in mind that there might have been others now not known. (2) When responding to the Catholic claim that they succeed the apostles, the Valentinian Gnostics would argue; “we too have received by succession.” (3) Valentinus himself is allegedly the hearer of Theudas who in turn was the student of the apostle Paul. (4) Marcion, initially a bishop in Sinope, was later to be excommunicated by the Church fathers due to his unwelcome theology within the orthodox circles. (5)
Though, in the run of time and more especially after the entry into the church disputes by the Roman monarchs, more importantly Constantine, these alternative Christianities sadly happened to be forced out of public practice. Much has been said about how the way these Christianities left public sphere was apparently biased to the Christianity that now exists. In our contemporary times, what we have been duped into believing is that all the other myriad of Christianities were heretical. If you might have read some carefully written books on history of Christianity, you might have as well noticed that they quite correctly identify orthodox authorities as the ones who influenced the public perception of everyone unlike them as heretics. In effect all of these other groups also viewed orthodoxy as heretical. This therefore leaves the question of who really were the correct practitioners of Christianity wide open. It is possible that orthodoxy, not unlike all others, might as well have been a bad approach of the religion of Jesus. In fact, given the scandalous history of how this Christianity that is popular today was promoted, we can’t help but start to think that perhaps orthodoxy is really not our proper way to Jesus. Perchance the correct practice of the religion of Jesus was within one or many other earlier Christianities that were banned from public practice.
Nevertheless, I am not intending to deeply go into the unending comments on the unmeritorious circumstances surrounding the banning of other Christianities. That is a subject for another day. At the moment I want to draw the conclusion that nineteen hundred years of trying to rediscover Christianity under the influence of the orthodox ideals but with failure must really be long enough that it is warranted to question the validity of this approach. We just really need to stop being orthodox once we develop the zeal to be Christians. Orthodoxy has just failed us. It is normal to chance style once a method one has been employing to achieve something continues to fail. What we have been doing is to again and again and again apply the same formula that does not work to resolve a problem and occasionally failing but without giving up. But given that there have been other approaches–arguably dismissed unfairly long ago and now not attempted–we are now behaving unreasonably in our motives to not give up. We really ought to give up on orthodoxy and turn to alternatives.
My view is that we ought to also scrutinize, quite publicly and actively, all other earlier approaches of Christianity to see how far they can take us in our understanding of Christianity as it is now clear that the contemporary system is on its own not working. My view is, the true approach of Christianity is not within orthodoxy alone and the genuine Christians are not those in the public sphere. The genuine Christians are certainly those underground believers now unknown to the world.
1. Winter, Marc (2012-04-01). Was Church God's Idea? (Kindle Locations 36-37). Xulon Press. Kindle Edition.