Really Early “Protestants”   Leave a comment

The early Christians relied on direct witnesses to the events in Jerusalem surrounding the birth, ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of the writers of the New Testament either knew Jesus or knew someone who knew Jesus well. Even Paul qualified, since he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. In one of his letters, he told people who had doubts about the resurrection of Jesus to go talk to some of the witnesses, who were well-known in the 1st century Christian community. Although there were believers who apparently doubted Paul’s authority, Peter did not and affirmed that authority in his own letters. Christians considered direct witness to be the best determination of what was truly “Christian”.

When the apostles began to die out, those who had known the apostles personally were seen as the best witnesses to their teachings. The New Testament as we know it was not widely available, though textual critics believe there was a codex in circulation with most of the books we’re familiar with by AD 160.

We know from Paul and John’s writings in the New Testament that there were heresies about in the early church. The earliest heresy was the Judiazers, who believed that Gentiles must hold to the Jewish dietary and cultural laws in order to be Christians. This was settled by the Jerusalem Council in AD 49, but it was by no means dead, prompting Paul to write the letter to the churches of Galatia.

Some groups deemed “heretics” by the Roman Catholic Church may well have been neo-protestants, but there were some whose beliefs were clearly nothing like what the New Testament Christians believed.

The largest heresy was the Gnostics – who believed that flesh was evil and spirit was good, so the god who created the earth was also seen as evil. But Jesus was the spiritual being who brought salvation, so he could not be the son of the God  of the Old Testament, but somehow was indwelt by a higher power. Docetism and Marcionism developed from that dualism. Jesus could not be thought of as truly a man. He just appeared as a man, but the highest good could not truly be united with sinful matter. Therefore, he didn’t die and was not buried. The Christ spirit must have left the man Jesus before his death or the death was simply a shame. There was a “good” God as well, but he didn’t create the world, but sent Jesus to liberate us from our bondage to matter.

The Gnostics were true heretics and the apostle John seemed to have been dealing with proto-Gnostics in his epistles from Ephesus.

Maybe in reaction to Gnosticism, the Monarchists held that God was God, but Jesus was a man indwelt by God’s spirit. Like the Gnostics, this heresy had several derivations that are sometimes viewed as separate heresies – modalism(Sabellianism), and unitarianism. Yes, there were and remain heresies and some still exist today.

In contrast, the Montanists may have been the first protestant movement. As the catholic church became more regimented, there arose in Phrygia (Asia Minor) a group that emphasized new revelation and condemned the orthodox church as lax and cerebral. Tertullian (my favorite of the Patristic writers) became a Montanist possibly because of his opposition to the church at Rome extending its authority beyond the environs of the city of Rome. Tertullian was a powerful defender of the faith and his writings align with what I know of the New Testament, so I have a hard time naming him a heretic.

Hippolytus was a presbyter (lay-leader) of the church at Rome who attacked the bishop Zephyrinus as a modalist (believing in the compartmentalizing of God). He later accused Zephyrinus’ Callstus of extending absolution to adulterers. He formed a second church at Rome. Eventually he was sent to the Roman mines along with the current bishop of Rome, Pontian. They reconciled and were martyred together. Were they heretics or simply men of conscience who had the audacity to stand up against the authorities of the church?

Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage who, following a severe persecution under emperor Decius, conflicted with the “confessors” who were readmitting the “lapsed” into the church. These were folks who had denied Christ under persecution. This was (and continues to be) considered an unpardonable sin, though Baptists (my own polity) accept that a non-Christian can deny Christ and letter accept Christ as savior and be pardoned. Cyprian’s win really ushered in the Roman Catholic view for the future. Was he a heretic? Were the “confessors” the heretics? I’ll note that Cyprian, born to a rich pagan family, became a bishop within months of converting to Christianity (AD 249), making me think it was a political move, but I don’t know the man’s heart.

Novatian and Cornelius got into a fight over which of them was the bishop of Rome (AD 251). Following a time of persecution, Novatian denied readmittance of those who had denied their faith. He and his “confessors” broke the church of Rome in two and induced Cyprian to write “On the Unity of the Catholic Church”, from which came many of the ideas of traditional Roman Catholicism such as no salvation exists outside the Church. The Novatian “kathari” withdrew from the “catholic” system, rebaptized their followers and refused to submit to what they considered to be a corrupted Church. Were they heretics or just standing on principle?

My point here is show that there were divisions already happening in the Christian church before the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. The early church dealt with it by examining the doctrine of these “heretics” and showing where they did not match with what the apostles were teaching. Where the Church went astray, I believe, is when it began to name as heretic anyone who called out immorality among church men or drift from New Testament beliefs. The insistence that the Roman Catholic Church, no matter how far it drifted from New Testament teachings, was the sole door to heaven was bound to — someday — lead to problems.

What's Your Opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Writer vs the World

In search of beauty, inspired by literature.

Inside My Mind

Words from my brain

Happiness Between Tails by da-AL

Tales of Writing + Books + Compassion + Culture + Wagging Tails

Fairfax and Glew

Vigilante Justice

The Wolf's Den

Overthink Everything

SaltandNovels

Sprinkling wonder into writing

Remmington Reads

A book enthusiast bringing you all things bookish

MiddleMe

Becoming Unstuck

Magical BookLush

A New Dimension to Explore!! A reason to Love and A promise to fight the wrong is hidden in Books. Come, Let's Explore it!!!

Jacquie Biggar-USA Today Best-selling author

Read. Write. Love. 💕💕💕

Not Very Deep Thoughts

Short Fiction and Other Things

Ediciones Promonet

Libros e eBooks educativos y de ficción

%d bloggers like this: