A Study of Christianity

These are my notes from a class I attended in 2014. I have long been seen by some Christians to be a heretic. There are many question marks throughout the notes – that’s my way of putting forward thoughts for open discussion.

The basis of Christianity consists of the Gospels, the Epistles and the Creeds.
Christianity is based on the teachings of Jesus – a relatively straight forward story! But then we get theology and a philosophical development started by Paul?
There were problems within 35 years – Acts 15 shows two factions and ‘no small dissension’.
Was it a new religion or a branch of Judaism? Or did it supersede Judaism?
Cornelius and the Roman centurion – Peter shown that nothing is unclean?

The basic message seems to be that mankind can be reconciled:
Jesus as the Second Adam – who did not disobey the Father and who made good what Adam had undone (that had apparently led to total separation)! The link with God was restored by the death and resurrection – i.e. reconciliation?
The resurrection of Jesus is said to be the crucial and fundamental article of the Christian faith.
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”.
Does a lack of belief in the resurrection point to not being a Christian?

What is the significance of freewill (a theological problem)? Did God foresee the fall?
What is Grace? How did sin come into the world? A need to explain evil? The rift made good?
Original sin – hereditary sin (in German) – disobedience – was it anything to do with sex?

The letters of Paul were accepted by the early 2nd century and the Four Gospels in the late 2nd century.

Christian theology can be seen as the victory of Greek philosophy over Hebrew/Jewish faith. An early African theologian, Tertullian: The ‘Athens’ of philosophy was corrupting the ‘Jerusalem’ of faith. (Greek was the language of the Eastern Mediterranean area).

Linguistic Anthropology – a link here to what has been very significant for me.

A persecuted religion. Heretical for the Jews. Unacceptable to the Roman pantheon – worshipping many gods. But it still continued to spread throughout the Mediterranean. The Roman persecution of Christians ended in AD 313 when Constantine the Great finally legalised it on February 27, 380 as the state church of the Roman Empire.

Five Patriarchs: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria.
But Rome was having two big problems:
It was becoming utterly corrupt – rotting from within; and The Great Migrations were taking place. The Goths (an East Germanic people, two of whose branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe – Wikipedia) sacked Rome in 410. Their bishop Ulfilas was an Arian.

The Bishops of Rome saw themselves almost as the successors to the emperors. The Apostolic Succession – a monarchical papacy:
The apostle Peter was pre-eminent among the apostles.
Peter ordained his successors as Bishops of Rome
All Bishops are the successors of the apostles.
At the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 the Pope was confirmed as primus inter pares (first among equals).

Elsewhere Christianity took off: Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and Eastern Europe.
With the collapse of Rome, Byzantium (= Constantinople) was seen as the centre of the Christian world.
There were many deviant beliefs and heretical movements – a need to get its own theology sorted.
Consider the tribal influences that still exist in Africa and S America!

Ecumenical councils: two important ones were convened at Nicaea – now Isnik in Turkey (in 325 and 382). The First Council of Nicaea was very important because it produced the Nicene Creed.

325: We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost?

Today: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son [Latin: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit]
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Two problems:
From the Virgin Mary – the virgin birth of Jesus = he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born while Mary was still a virgin (Matthew and Luke). ‘Virgin’s παρθένος (parthenos). Isaiah 7:14: ‘Behold, the almah is with child, and she shall bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel.’ That Hebrew word = a young woman of child-bearing age.
Paul makes no mention of it. One theologian has written that the doctrine of the virgin birth “rests on very slim historical foundations.” Was this an attempt by Matthew and Luke to counter Jewish slanders about Jesus’ illegitimate birth(?).
Filioque – the Latin churches added this in the 6th century, and it became the theological cause in the so-called Great East-West Schism in the 11th century.
By affirming that the Holy Spirit proceeds also “from the Son”, the council wanted to condemn Arianism which denied that Jesus was divine.
Eastern theologians objected on two grounds:
the Western Church had no right to change the text of an ecumenical creed unilaterally.
Filioque denies that the Father alone is the origin of both the Son and the Spirit.

Rise of Islam. Ever larger territories of the Christian world were being conquered. But even in the now Muslim World, the Church survived (Copts, Maronites).
“Muslim wedge” is driven into the church: a Greek and Orthodox East and Latin and Catholic West. The church was split along doctrinal, linguistic, political, and geographical lines.
Muslims reached as far as Vienna. The church was divided by politics and language.

The Council of Trent between 1545 and 1563– seen as one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most important ecumenical councils. Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, it has been described as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.

Many Anglican clergy take part in Eastern Mysticism.
A son of God or the Son of God? Is Jesus divine?
What is the original of the Holy Spirit sent out? Proceeds from Father and Son? Not part of (?)
Vicar = stand in for

The Orthodox Church
Recognises the seven ecumenical councils between 325 and 787.
Beliefs today must be consistent with the teaching of the Bible and with the liturgy.
Constantinople (the centre of the Orthodox Church) was conquered by the Muslim Turks in 1453.
From the 16th century onwards the Orthodox tradition was maintained through the liturgy.
There was no formal theological development/scholarship, and the church maintained itself by its worship.
Everything that various councils or theologians have decreed has to be both understood by the faithful and “ratified” by them. The various truths of Orthodoxy are not true until each worshipper makes them his or her own personal truth – the sacraments of the Church and the fellowship (koinonia) which the sacraments bring. The faithful will always be led by the Spirit to discover their own truth. (Even a low mass can take two hours).

Let us make man in our own image” (Gen 1:26). Mankind in Adam and Eve were called to find in God the natural development of their humanity. To be “in God” is the natural state of man. Man is free only when he is in communion with God; otherwise he is simply a slave to “the world,” over which he was destined to rule. Sin = a sign that he is victim of his desires.
We now lead lives which are less than fully human, the outcome of which is death.
Differences: (1) West – sin is an inherited guilt rather than (East) as a state of being deprived of freedom. (2) East – man is fully man when he participates in God; (West) man’s nature is autonomous and sin is viewed as ‘crime’. (3) West – justification, (East) deification (redemption?). (4) West – the church is mediator of God’s grace and an authority of correct doctrine – (East), the church is a communion in which God and man meet once again. A fully human life becomes possible.
And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) = the Spirit (1) co-operates with God (the Father) in the Creation and (2) is that aspect of God which restores mankind to his original natural state through Communion with Christ. Every Orthodox act of worship starts with a prayer addressed to the Spirit calling for it to descend on the congregation.
The Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary, descended on the disciples at Pentecost and will come again at the end of history. All the most important acts of God are achieved “by the Father in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.”
Theotokos = one who gave birth to God, Mother of God. Mary gave birth to Jesus only “according to the flesh” and so she gave birth to Jesus the MAN. Did she also give birth to Jesus as GOD?

What place the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt? The Nicene Creed was composed by a Copt – Athanasius the Bishop of Alexandria in the 4th century. The were involved with the start of monasticism – the Desert Fathers – living alone in caves in the desert.
“When you conquer Egypt , be kind to the Copts for they are our proteges and kith and kin”.
The Coptic language was still in use in the 15th century before being replaced by Arabic.
The Protestant Reformation (1521-1610) – The divide between Catholic and Reformed Churches

The three most important traditions to come out of the Protestant Reformation: Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist, Presbyterian, etc.), and Anglican.

The greatest Reformers were Luther, Calvin, Hus, Zwingli, Melancthon and Knox.

Martin Luther, a doctor of theology, taught that salvation is a gift of God and attainable only through faith in Jesus. St Paul : “Man shall live [eternally] by faith”. The Catholic Church was laying great emphasis on WORKS and these contributed to your own SALVATION.
He developed his theology of JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE [Latin: SOLA FIDE].
But politics were involved. Luther had significant supporters, but his enemies were the Emperor Charles V, France and the Italian Pope. >> Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648).

Calvinism is a system of Christian theology and an approach to Christian life. Best known for its doctrines of predestination and election.
“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4)
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30).

Presbyterianism was influenced by John Calvin and brought to Scotland by John Knox. In 1560 the Parliament of Scotland adopted the Scots Confession as the creed of the Kingdom of Scotland > replaced by the Westminster Confession of Faith. What is not commanded is forbidden.
Representative assemblies of elders and their theology < the community as a whole. The sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and the need for God’s grace through faith in Christ. Two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. At the centre of the church is the pulpit rather than the altar.

Anglicanism – on the Continent an emphasis on theology. In England, politics – especially the politics of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
The Church of England calls itself both catholic and reformed. Henry appointed himself as head of the Church of England – the Established Church in England. Fid def on our coins: fidei defensor.

A Middle East history lesson
Most people in the Middle East became familiar with our brand of Christianity at the end of a sword(the Crusades). Laws that outlawed Christianity were as a result of the Crusades – we shoved Christ down their throats with a blade!
Iran used to be a democracy? A Prime Minister who graduated in France – a lover of social democracy – All the oil belonged to BP. They wanted to nationalise it. Eisenhower and Churchill didn’t want that to happen – if we didn’t have access to that oil we wouldn’t continue to be powerful nations. A lie was concocted that this guy is really a communist – used CIA and British Intelligence to overthrow Iran – not known by American people for 26 years. How the Shah came to power (a despotic issue). A lot of people in the Middle East live under despots that we in America created! The Palestinian / Israeli situation was deliberately created so that we had a military presence next to the oil. Something that Bob believes but not going to try and prove it!
Some of these people are our enemies because we have not been honest about how our policies and behaviours have affected them. It doesn’t justify their violence but . . .
I can turn my cheek but it’s not right for me to make others turn theirs.
(Bob Greaves)

Comments can be posted below or directly on the appropriate Post on the Facebook Group “Outside the Goldfish Bowl”



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