NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© June 2019, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.
The World Situation When Jesus Was Born
- The Military Situation
- The Political Situation in Canaan
- The Hebrew Religious Situation
- Problems With The Gentile Religions
After The Crucifixion
The Pauline Branch Of Christianity
The Jerusalem Branch Of Christianity
The Council Of Nicaea
The Dark Ages
The Medieval Period
Communism And The Russian Revolution
Socialism And Secularism In The USA And Elsewhere
THE WORLD SITUATION WHEN JESUS WAS BORN
THE WORLD MILITARY SITUATION. At the time of the birth of Jesus, the dominant political and military power in the Middle East, all of Europe, and Northern Africa was the Roman Empire. The Roman Republic (509 – 27 BC) had just fallen apart and was replaced by a vicious socialist government.
We believe that military historians would say that its cruelty, brutality and success make Nazi Germany’s brutality and murder of about 12 million people look extremely tame!
The Roman horror lasted nearly 500 years. The Nazi horror lasted only about 10 years and affected a much smaller area of the world.
Everything the Romans did was extremely well-planned and well-executed. At the time of the birth of Jesus, they were an unstoppable and extremely wicked force on earth like nothing anyone had ever seen.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION OF THE HEBREW PEOPLE. At this time, the Romans were in firm control of the land of Canaan. This was the name of the land of the Hebrews.
The Romans had an “arrangement” with the Jewish religious leaders that they could remain in power, provided they carried out the will of Rome.
For example, the decision to crucify Jesus was not the decision of the Jewish authorities, no matter what it seemed like. In secret, everything was dictated by the Romans. The local leaders were expected to carry out the orders of the Romans or they were promptly murdered.
The Romans, not the Jewish leaders, really feared anyone who stirred up the people and gave them hopes of freedom or a better life. Jesus was one of those whom the Romans decided had to be killed because he was stirring up trouble.
We believe that the mission of Jesus was, in part, a divine plan to counteract and stop the devastation on earth caused by the Roman Empire. It took a while, but the mission succeeded – and without requiring an army. It was love against brutality, and love triumphed! For more details, read The Missions Of Abraham And Yeshua.
THE HEBREW RELIGION. The Hebrew religion, which had started 4000 years before the birth of Jesus, had deviated from its original form. For example, Kings 1 explains that the Jewish people were told that God is their king. They were not to have a human or earthly king!
However, they wanted an earthly or fleshy king because everyone else had one! Finally, this wish was granted, but it was an aberration.
The other problem was the growth in the complexity in the way the Jewish people were organized, and the complexity of rituals and rules that had grown up over the years.
Originally, the Hebrews were organized into 12 tribes, each with fairly clear responsibilities and roles. This is all spelled out in the Old Testament of the Bible. But this had been abandoned and in its place had grown up an authoritarian priesthood called the Pharisees.
We believe that another mission of Jesus was to correct this situation. He wanted to return his own people to their original laws and rules, and get rid of the incorrect newer priesthood that separated the people from contact with their God.
THE ROMAN RELIGIONS. Another world situation at the time Jesus was born was that the Roman religions were a mixed up mess of Greek mythology, cults, orgies, homosexuality, bestiality (sex with animals), and many cruel rituals including some human sacrifice.
We believe that another part of the mission of Jesus was to end all this horror. He wanted to teach the Bible and its moral and ethical code to ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, which includes the non-Hebrew people, also called the gentiles.
In addition to the moral principles of the Bible, we believe that teaching the Hebrew Kosher food laws to the entire world was very important to Jesus. Unfortunately, this has not been done as yet, today. Also, the kosher or cleanliness rules were changed somewhat and made too complex.
AFTER THE CRUCIFIXION
The story of the life of Jesus is described in the New Testament of the Bible. Let us skip ahead to what occurred afterwards because this is less well known.
After the crucifixion, which occurred around the year 33 AD, the followers of Jesus scattered. They had to flee or live in secret to save their lives. The Roman conquerors who ruled the land viewed them as a threat to their power.
Anyone they found who they thought was a follower of Jesus they promptly killed. There were no trials or inquiries of any kind. It was very brutal and only the most careful of people were able to conceal their true beliefs.
The followers of Jesus became split into two main groups. These were the Roman or Pauline group and the Jerusalem group.
In 1945, the Nag Hammadi scrolls or Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in Egypt. They document the fact that there were, in fact, two groups of early Christians. Below are a few details about the two groups.
THE PAULINE BRANCH OF CHRISTIANITY
This became the main group of Christians that most people know about. The group was centered in Rome, capital of the Roman Empire at the time.
Their leader was the apostle, Paul. He lived in prison in Rome until his murder around 62 to 64 AD.
At first, this branch of the Christian church was not the dominant one. This is most important to know. In fact, the more recently discovered Biblical texts say that Peter and Paul, the leaders of the Pauline branch, were not as high-ranking members of the inner circle of the followers of Jesus as was Yaakov or James, who headed the Jerusalem church. This is not well known or well-accepted.
THE JERUSALEM CHURCH
This group had its headquarters in Jerusalem. Its first leader was James, the brother of Jesus. This man is hardly mentioned in the standard gospels, yet he was an important figure in the inner circle that formed around Jesus. This is not the same man as the two apostles whose names were also James.
In 62 AD, James, the brother of Jesus, died. Symion, a cousin of Jesus, took over as leader of the Jerusalem Church.
The literature of the time amply documents the existence of the Jerusalem church. In some texts, the group is referred to as the Naasenes, Nazoreans or Nazarenes. We do not think this has anything to do with the present-day Church Of The Nazarenes.
This branch of the early Christian faith was mostly made up of people of Hebrew descent. Some worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem and many of them followed the practices of the Hebrew people of that time.
THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA
Nicholaos of Myra. A very important man who lived from about 290 AD until around 355 AD was Nicholaos of Myra.
He was a Hebrew rabbi who converted to the teachings of Jesus. He became a member of the Jerusalem Church of Jesus, as it was called at the time. He is important because he learned the teachings of both groups of early Christians.
He is also important because he attended the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This was the conference at which many decisions were made about the doctrines and rituals of the new Christian religion. Nicholaos was among the very few members of the Jerusalem group of followers invited to attend this very important conference. Also present were at least 30 members of the Pauline branch of the church. This meant the Pauline Christians always outvoted the Jerusalem group.
Nicholaos was upset that some of the original teachings of Jesus were left out of the new Christian religion. In their place, some of the rituals and myths of the old mithraistic and other old Roman religions were inserted. Also, some completely new doctrines were inserted that were not part of the original teachings of Jesus.
The council members said this was needed in order to attract as many Roman people as possible to the new religion.
Nicholaos, however, believed that the real teachings must be there. The name of Saint Nicholaos is purposely kept alive in the legend of Santa Claus, the German name for Saint Nicholaos. For more details, read, St. Nicholaos Of Myra.
The period of time between the first century AD and the 18th century in Europe is divided into the following periods:
The Dark Ages – about 1 AD to 400 AD
The Medieval Period – about 400 AD to about 1000 AD
The Renaissance – about 1000 AD to about 1500 AD
The Enlightenment – about 1500 AD to about 1800 AD
Let us briefly examine each period.
THE DARK AGES
This was the time of rule by the Roman Empire. It was a very difficult and brutal period of time for the people of Europe and indeed, throughout the Roman Empire.
At this time, the religion of the Roman empire was Mithraism, which was similar to the Greek Mythology. There were many Gods who fooled around with each other, murdered each other and it was a confused mess. All the people in the Roman Empire were forced to believe in this religion.
Rome had started out as a republic. However, around the time of Jesus, it ceased to be a republic and became a monstrous and brutal dictatorship ruled by the iron fist of an emperor.
CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY
An amazing event occurred between 313 and 400 AD. The entire Roman Empire, which covered most of Western and Eastern Europe, and Northern Africa, converted from a pagan religion with many gods to the Christian religion with one God. This was quite amazing and was helped along by the conversion of the Roman Emperors of the time.
Millions of people became Christians, essential by force. Earlier, Christians were killed by the Romans. Now, suddenly, anyone who did not worship Christ was killed by the Romans. This is how religion was handled during the Roman occupation of Europe.
The Christian religion of the time was still somewhat pagan, in that it was more about the personality of Jesus than it was about Christian doctrines. However, it was a much more wholesome and loving religion than the religion that preceded it.
THE MIDIEVAL PERIOD
By 400 AD, the entire Roman empire was forcefully converted to Christianity. This began the medieval period of the history of Europe. It was an improvement over the dark ages, but not that much. People were still treated brutally by the Roman occupiers. Women were routinely raped for minor crimes. Their husbands were instantly killed if they tried to stop it. Children were often killed if they screamed or cried and it was a terrible time for people.
By 700 AD, the power of the Roman empire declined. Rebellions broke out and soon the formerly Roman-controlled territories of Western and Eastern Europe broke apart into small kingdoms ruled by local warlords or kings and queens.
By the year 1000 AD or slightly earlier, most of Europe was freed from Roman slavery! The rebirth, or renaissance in French, now began.
The people were hungry for inspiration and learning.
The most learned and literate people were the religious monks and nuns who lived in monasteries and convents all over the European continent. Building monasteries and convents was one of the ideas of the Pauline group of Christians and it worked well. People in monasteries had to follow a lot of rules and had to learn Latin and read the new Christian Bible every day. It was a very rigorous lifestyle.
When the Romans were driven out of Europe, the monks and nuns began to tour the countryside. They taught the people about faith, hope, love, cleanliness, and other doctrines that were part of the new religion of Christianity.
They also taught the people how to build beautiful churches and cathedrals, how to set up congregations, and all that one needs to build a community of fellowship.
This is important because this knowledge was not allowed during Roman times. The Romans feared that the people would form armies that would rise up against their Roman rulers if they were allowed to organize themselves into communities.
The monks also brought religious music to the people, which greatly enriched their religious services. To this day, some of the most beautiful religious music comes from this time in history. It was a glorious time for Christianity, which contributed greatly to the restoration and the renaissance or rebirth of Europe.
The people developed local languages, all of which were based upon Latin, the old language of Rome. However, people did not want to speak Latin, a language of slavery, so they invented new languages. We know of these as Spanish, French, German, English, Portugese and others. These are sometimes called the romance languages.
This was the most glorious period of time in modern European history. It was the time when the writings of Adam Smith described a free market economy, for example. It was the time when John Locke wrote about a free society in which the people governed themselves without kings and queens around to oppress them and how this is the birthright of all human beings. These men were persecuted for their views, but they were not killed, as would have occurred in the earlier periods of European history.
The church also thrived and fed the enlightenment. Most of the ideas of the enlightenment came from the Bible.
Even though the Romans were gone, most people in Europe were forced to follow the religion of their new rulers, the kings and queens of each European nation. Some were very unhappy with this situation.
Many were killed for practicing Christianity improperly. The worst of these persecutions was the Spanish Inquisition of 1492.
However, it happened that in that year the voyage of Christopher Columbus discovered a new land to the west of Europe! They named the continent America in memory of another explorer, Americus Vespucci. He was an Italian ship captain who had landed his ship in America some years before.
America, they heard, was full of rich forests and lush plains full of gold, animals and plants. The kings of Europe soon started fighting over it because they all wanted the riches it contained. As a result, many ships left Europe filled with soldiers to conquer the land of America. This included today’s South, Central and North America.
Almost immediately, the persecuted groups of Christians, who were the more devout ones, signed up to become colonists in order to get away from the kings and queens of Europe who murdered them whenever they found them.
For the reasons stated above, the early colonists who came to what would be the United States were mainly religious Christians. This was less true of those who came to South America, Central America or Canada.
Those who came to what would become the United States looked to the Bible as they set up their new governments in America. For example, the principle of three separate branches of government – the executive, legislative and judicial branches – came from the Book Of Isaiah, where it says that God makes the laws, enforces and laws and judges the laws.
The religious faith of the early American colonists is evident in hundreds of ways in the organization of the nation. Historian David Barton specializes in explaining the religious origins of the United States. For details, we suggest his website: http://www.wallbuilders.com.
THE PROGRESSIVE ERA
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the so-called progressive era saw increasing attacks on Christian and Jewish beliefs throughout the world. These attacks have only grown stronger and more vicious in the past 50 years. World socialists and communists have infiltrated many church congregations. It is a challenging time for Christianity.
Church attendance declined in the twentieth century and this trend continues in the twenty-first century. Some Christian denominations have abandoned some of the key tenets of the Bible. Some endorse homosexual marriage, abortion on demand and other liberal and progressive ideas.
At the same time, there has been a growth in the evangelical Christian denominations around the world, particularly in South America.