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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Primitive Christianity

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: Given the two different views presented of what Jesus actually taught — "a simple religion... a religion of love; of charitable thoughts; of kind acts; of good deeds" which is Taber's view; or Chadwick's "Any Jewish church of our own time is nearer to the primitive Christian orthodoxy (of Jerusalem) than any form of modern Christianity", — I would tend towards Chadwick, and I would not term modern Judaism "a simple religion". That's a personal view, and it doesn't really matter. The overall thesis Taber presents is correct — that Christianity as it is practiced today (and as it was practiced in Taber's time) is very different from what the historical Jesus taught.

But can we know what a historical Jesus really taught? We have nothing at all from the time he was alive — all accounts were written years later — and every account had an agenda.

In closing the chapter, Taber looks optimistically to the possibility that Christianity will return to what Jesus taught. He was too much of an optimist. Since his time, there has been a proliferation of new Christian sects and denominations proclaiming "Back to the Bible" and every one of them getting further away from Jesus.

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PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY.

“The Christian religion has been tried for eighteen hundred years. The religion of Christ has yet to be tried.” — (Lessing.)

THE Christianity of Christ was a very simple religion. It was a religion of love; of charitable thoughts; of kind acts; of good deeds. It was founded on the “golden rule;” indeed, that was the sum of it. But from this simple religion has evolved, gradually, the repulsive religion of what is known as orthodox Christianity. From decade to decade, from generation to generation, from century to century, this evolving process has gone on ; each of these periods of time furnishing its quota of new dogmas, ceremonies and rites, until the Christianity of to-day has become as unlike the Christianity of Christ as are the gaudy decorations of the Pope of Rome unlike the plain garb of a Quaker.

Dr. Lewis G. Janes, in his book called A Story of Primitive Christianity, says: “The salvation of men in the teaching of Jesus, depended upon the acceptance of no dogmatic standard of truth, but solely upon righteous living… The popular Christian doctrine of a vicarious atonement and substituted righteousness has no place in the teachings of the Nazarene prophet… The conception of himself (Jesus,) or of another, as a Son of God, in any exclusive or supernatural sense; of a God coming upon earth in human form; would have been as abhorrent and unnatural to Jesus as it had ever been to his people (the Jews.) The trinitarian dogma is a belief as impossible to the true Israelite (as was Jesus) as any other form of polytheism or idolatry.”

As showing the advance in priest-made dogmas, even from one century to the next, Dr. Draper says: “Great is the difference between Christianity under Severus (born 146) and Christianity under Constantine (born 274.) Many of the doctrines which at the latter period were pre-eminent, in the former were unknown… As years passed on, the faith described by Tertulian (second century) was transferred into one more fashionable and debased.”

T. W. Doane, in Bible Myths, says: “The sublime and simple theology of the primitive Christian — was gradually corrupted and degraded by the introduction of a popular mythology.”

Rev. Edward Everett Hale, in North American Review, January, 1889, says: “I am very glad to have the attention of religious people brought back to the early literature which sets in new light the simple religion which was proclaimed by Jesus Christ; while it destroys the man-made theology of the last fifteen centuries.”

The Christian religion (not the religion of Christ) has been formulated by the several councils of the Christian Church. As a sample of these councils, we may take that of Nice 321 — more than half of the delegates to which council were arbitrarily dismissed from it, because their opinions were opposed to those of the Emperor Constantine. In it, like in most of the Church councils in after years, was exhibited a bitterness of feeling among the (remaining) delegates that made its proceedings most disgraceful. No political convention of modern times will compare, in uproar and tumult, deception and trickery, with these Church assemblies. Says Rev. Philip Shaff, D. D: “There were also gathered at the councils (of the Christian Church) ignorance, intrigue, party passion; arrayed as hostile armies for open combat.” The Christian religion being formulated under such circumstances, no wonder that it became, as it flowed down the centuries, as different from the religion of Christ, as is a mighty river, gathering impurities in its course, different from the pure and limpid waters of its original stream.”

Rev. R. Heber Newton says: “In the early centuries creed followed creed till we got tired of trying to keep track of them. The same thing took place in the Reformation period. Every nation spawned creeds. Let them open the Westminster Confession, the Thirty-nine articles, etc., and mark with a red pencil every faith on which Jesus Christ had spoken a word, and they would find that task an object lesson in the modern theology on fallen man — not a word on the atonement; future punishment, not a word; on hell scarcely a word, and so through the Reformation theology Will Christianity ever get back to Jesus Christ?”

“Christ’s teaching was one thrilling protest against ecclesiasticism. His life was one pathetic plea for religious freedom. He cut down doctrinism and dogmatism as a mower cuts down thistles. In his insistance on practical holiness, there was no room for chatter about creeds. This fervent young rabbi had no time to formulate a ‘shorter catechism.’” — (Elizabeth Stuart. Phelps, Forum, May, 1889.)

Rev. John W. Chadwick says: “That legend which went on growing, century after century, until the theological conception of Jesus Christ was as unlike the actual man who trod the earth of Galilee, as “Pollock’s course of time, is unlike the simple songs that came straight from the heart of Robert Bums. If you know of any two things more unlike, then you can make a contrast of your own and it will be better than mine; for the more unlike the things that you contrast, the better will they image forth the difference between the actual Jesus and the theological being who in about three centuries was substituted for Jesus… Any Jewish church of our own time is nearer to the primitive Christian orthodoxy (of Jerusalem) than any form of modern Christianity that vaunts its orthodoxy…Had there been no Paul, Christianity would have been only a Jewish sect… The conversion of the Roman Empire by Christianity was about equally the conversion of Christianity by the Roman Empire. The Empire became Christian; Christianity became Pagan.”

Alfred H. O’Donohue, late of Trinity College, Dublin, in his book, Theology and Mythology, says: “The doctrines that Jesus taught-the brotherhood of man and the condemnation of priestcraft — entitle him forever to the admiration and gratitude of his race… Christianity, as taught and understood by Jesus and his followers, has ceased to exist for sixteen hundred years. In modern Christianity hardly a trace of the religion of Jesus is discernible… If Jesus and his true life were taken from Christianity, it is doubtful if it would excite notice.

The doctrines of the incarnation, of the resurrection, of the atonement, of the immaculate conception, of the divinity of Christ, of the “procession” of the Holy Ghost, of the Trinity, of inspiration of gospels or epistles, of the infallibility of a man or of a church, were all unknown to the founder of Christianity. Christ did not make the Christianity of to-day and is no more responsible for it than he is for the religion of Buddha or Mohammed; indeed there is as much semblance between either of these two religions and that of Christ’s religion, as there is between the latter and the Christianity of to-day, which was manufactured by the “fathers” and by the clergy generally in the several centuries succeeding the time of Christ.  The Bible is not the work of Moses, of David, of Saul, the four evangelists, but of those ecclesiastics who made those writings to correspond with the declarations of the Church; making such alterations, omissions and interpolations as suited their purposes. “The Bible is the creation of the Church; not the Church the creation of the Bible… The Bible did not form the beliefs; the beliefs formed the Bible.”

The doctrines of the immaculate conception and resurrection of Christ were in process of development only towards the close of the second century; in the middle or latter part of which century most of the books of the New Testament appeared. The name “New Testament” was not given till the third century, and during this century these writings were declared to be inspired; prior to which time those who claimed the New Testament to be inspired were denounced as heretics.

The observance of Sunday as a rest-day was first proclaimed in 321, and as the “Sabbath,” in the seventeenth century.

The doctrine of the Trinity first appeared in the fourth century. That of “inherited guilt” was promulgated in the fifth century.

The name “Bible” was first applied to the books of the Old and New Testament, collectively, in the fifth century. The season of “Lent” was first recognized in the fifth century.

The “Christian Era ” was invented in the sixth century. It was not authoritatively determined upon what day the resurrection of Christ should be celebrated till the seventh century.

Transubstantiation became a dogma in the ninth century.

The celibacy of the clergy became a requisite in the eleventh century.

The dogma of the atonement also first appeared in the eleventh century.

The doctrine of eternal punishment for disbelievers in the Bible originated at the Council of Trent, 1545.

The infallibility of the Bible became a dogma of the Protestant Church in the sixteenth century.

The immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary (that she was born of Anne without original sin) became a dogma of the Romish Church in the nineteenth century.

Mosheim, in his Commentaries (p. 228) describes the Gnostics of the first century as those who pretend that they are able to communicate to mankind a correct knowledge of the Deity, the origin of the world, the nature of matter and the human soul. They were regarded as corrupters of the Christianity of Christ. The orthodox Christians of to-day hold the same pretentious and dogmatic relation to the pure religion of Christ that the Gnostics did in the first century and may be regarded, equally, as corrupters of true Christianity. The Agnostics of to-day far better represent the religion of Christ than do those assuming the name of Christian.”

“The Christianity of Christendom is fundamentally opposed to the Christianity of Christ. In attacking ecclesiasticism, I am really defending the prophet of Nazareth.” — (Alfred Momerie.)

“As the Church advanced in worldly power and position a temper of deliberate and audacious fraud set itself in action for the spread of certain doctrines.” — (Dr. Mozley.)

“No one can have attentively studied the subject without being struck by the absence of any such dogmas from the earlier records of the teachings of Jesus.  — (Supernatural Religion.)

“The pure Deism of the first century was changed by the Church of Rome into the incomprehensible dogma of the Trinity.” — (Gibbon’s Christianity)

The religion of Thomas Paine was very much nearer the religion of Jesus Christ than that of any of the orthodox clergy the world over. These self-righteous persons are either lamentably ignorant of Paine’s religion or lamentably deceptive and dishonest in denying that he had any religion. Would one who had no religion say (as did Thomas Paine,) “Do we want to contemplate the power, wisdom, munificence and mercy of God? We see them in the immensity of creation, in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed, in the abundance with which He fills the earth and in His not withholding this abundance even from the unthankful?”

Paine’s religion was the same as that of the late Rev. Henry W. Bellows, D. D., and were Paine living to-day he would be one of the strictest of the orthodox Christian Church, in its Unitarian branch. His creed and his religion, as expressed by himself, was, “I believe in one God only and hope for happiness in the world to come… The world is my country; to do good is my religion.” That is all there was of the religion of Christ.

In Moncure D. Conway’s most interesting life of Thomas Paine, the author says of that truly logical book — the Age of Reason — that Paine regarded it as a defense of true religion from its degradation by superstition or destruction by atheism, these, as he declares, being the purposes of his work.” Again Mr. Conways says, “So far as it is theological, the Age of Reason was meant to combat Infidelity.”

In writing to Samuel Adams, from France, Paine says;  “The people of France were running headlong into atheism, and I had the work (Age of Reason) translated into their own language to stop them in that career and fix them to the first article of every man’s creed, who has any creed at all — I believe in God.”

From the works of such eminent Christian writers as Rev. Samuel Davidson, D. D., Rev. Brooke Foss Westcott, D.D., Drs. Oort, Kuenen and Hooykas, and other investigators into the Christianity of Christ and the subsequent engrafting thereon of what the Church has made the Christianity of the centuries succeeding that of Christ, can be found such information as would amaze those who think that the Christianity of to-day is the same as that taught by its founder. Orthodox Christianity was utterly unknown to him. From the works of the writers alluded to can be shown facts which are rarely, if ever, presented by any of the orthodox clergy. It can be shown that no one knows who are the writers of the books of the Bible, or when such books were written, or what they were in the original.

There are no autograph writings of the books of either the Old or New Testament. Consequently there can be no evidence of any correct translation.

The priesthood have made these books to read just what it was their interest they should read. As to Christ himself, the records supposed to be furnished by persons of the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are the only records of Christ’s life. These records differ materially. Among other differences is one of eleven years as to the time of Christ’s birth. They were not written till a century and a half after Christ’s death.

“The confused and irreconcilable accounts in the gospels of the life and death of Christ were manifestly written to supply a want of the Church in the second century.” — (Waite.)

It is now ascertained that probably no persons of the names of those to whom are attributed the records of Christ’s life, wrote those records ; consequently they are anonymous writings, and therefore the whole of the life and ministry of Christ has no authoritative name to satisfy us of its truthfulness. If such a person as Christ ever lived, he was doubtless a gentle-hearted, loving being, who was actuated by a desire to do all he could toward lightening the burdens, alleviating the sufferings and cheering the hearts of his fellowmen; having his sympathies with the poor, the weak and the lowly; always the enemy of injustice and tyranny. As illustrating how different this gentle character is sometimes presented to us, we quote from Luke xix: 27, which makes the kind and loving Jesus to say: “Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay before me,“ — words so utterly inconsistent with his nature could scarcely be imagined. No one who believes in the “meek and lowly” Jesus could possibly believe but that that quotation was the work of some ecclesiastical forger.

Col. R. G. Ingersoll has said: “For the man Jesus, who loved his fellowmen, I have the most profound respect; but for Christianity, as taught in orthodox creeds, I have the most supreme contempt.”

“Nothing can be more incredible than the account given of the birth of Jesus in the canonical gospels of Matthew and Luke. Nothing can be more revolting.” — (Rev. J. W. Chadwick.)

The further we have come down the centuries from the time of Christ, the further we appear to have departed from the religion of Christ. It is perhaps more true to-day than during any of the eighteen centuries that are past that the Christian religion, as represented by the orthodox Church, is Christian only in name.

In the Arena for July, 1890, is an article by Rev. Carlos Martyn, D. D., entitled “Churchianity (or so-called Christianity) vs. Christianity,” which illustrates this thought. Dr. Martyn says: “It (Churchianity) is like counterfeit coin — current, but false... It puts the emphasis on belief, when it should put it on conduct. It builds cathedrals not men. Religion is transformed from a principle into an institution. We look for Christ and find a church… Phariseeism is resurrected and baptized with a Christian name.”

There appears, however, at the present time, a revolt in all our churches against the dogmas which have so long stood between the Church and the religion of Christ. Christians themselves are beginning to think these dogmas incompatible with the enlightened age in which we live, and that they should be “relegated to the limbo into which are flung the cast-off garments of vagabond theories.”

Many are earnestly and anxiously asking the question of Rev. Dr. Heber Newton — “Will Christianity ever get back to Jesus Christ?”

Efforts in that direction are making most successful progress.

The Christian Register of Boston says: “We are at the beginning of a movement in religion more extensive than any recorded in history. Compared with it the Protestant reformation is a small episode. The movement is wider than any one religion and deeper than any one can measure. Five hundred years from now it will be seen that just before the twentieth century, the creeds of all nations and churches began to break up, and that throughout the world there was a rush of religious feeling which carried these fragments of creeds away.”

The “signs of the times” were never more favorable than now for a change from the effete theology of ecclesiastical councils and the dogmatic creeds of nominal Christianity, to the Christianity of primitive times — the Christianity of Christ.

Next: Christianity Incongruent >

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