This is the first part in an ongoing series exploring Orthodox Christianity from the POV of that of a convert to Orthodox Christianity.
THE DEVOLUTION OF CHRISTIANITY
Divisions, Denominations, and Differences
Part 1: Christianity and Judaism: The First Division
Christianity is not a new religion, as popular secular opinion holds, which unfortunately includes the opinions of many self-led theologians, nor is it an offshoot of the ancient Hebrew religion of Judaism. Christianity is the ancient Hebrew religion, and Judaism is an offshoot.
Have I got your attention now? Good.
Some of you are getting all puffed up, and demanding how I could say such a thing, and loading your theological cannon with a round of ‘Antisemite!’ accusations, but before you light it off, think about what I just said, and think about this little parable of mine.
Lets say you’re in a military unit, with an officer in command, and the officer orders you to “Follow me this way.” Some in the unit obey, but some refuse the order, wanting to sit tight right where they are, and the officer takes the obedient ones with him and leaves. Which group of soldiers are still part of the unit? The obedient ones, obviously, even if they’re in the minority; the rest are not only no longer part of the unit, but are deserters from it, and lose all the honor and status of being part of that unit. In fact, they are traitors, because, in refusing to continue to serve the cause they took an oath to upon their enlistment, through their inaction they are serving the enemy instead.
Who was the Captain of the ancient Hebrews? God was their Captain, the one they followed. They followed His orders onto the ark, out of Egypt, into the promised land, into battle after battle. And who is Christ? God, one Person of the Trinity, as any Christian will tell you (Anyone who tells you He’s anything less than God is not Christian.), who condescended to come to Earth clothed in humanity, to save his people from their sins. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Often referred to as ‘the Logos’ in the Greek language (the universal language at the time), meaning the Word, He came, in His own words, as the fulfillment of the law, the words of God divinely-inscribed on the fragments of stone tablet carried within the Ark of the Covenant. He was their God who came down and walked among them, as God walked with Adam in Eden, and the disciples and apostles – all or nearly all of which were Hebrews – ultimately accepted Him and followed Him as exactly that…but the majority of Jews, including almost all their religious leaders, their scribes and pharisees, refused to do so. To compound their error, their rebellion was not simply a passive one of refusing to move, like the imaginary soldiers in the story above, but one of open rebellion active treason in which they sought and eventually managed the assassination of their officer through pagan hands, before going on to persecute His followers for centuries (often, even today in the state of Israel), and to blacken His name and reputation (The Talmud claims that Mary was a harlot and Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier, a sorcerer, and is in Hell being boiled in hot excrement forever.) at every opportunity.
Despite their persecutions, and the later ones by various pagans, Christ’s followers continued and continue to obey His orders, because they are the ones who are still part of His unit, His army, His Church, and the deserters, traitors, and rebels – the apostates – have been left behind encamped in their own disobedience.
The Bible, including the teachings of Jesus Himself, through His parables, as well as the later writings of the Apostles, Paul in particular (when taken in context rather than using cherry-picked verses interpreted only through the lens of Evangelical Christian Zionist doctrine), make two things very clear.
(1) There is a New Covenant, and while the old one, broken in the worst possible ways by the Jewish religious leaders, was one of flesh and blood – ie., for the Jews – we are no longer under it because it was fulfilled in the coming of Christ as foretold by the prophets. Those who chose not to accept the fulfillment of the law have their branches broken out of the tree of life, or perhaps rather have broken their own branches out, casting themselves away through their apostate rebellion. Those who accept the New Covenant – Jew or Gentile, for the New Covenant, and the resulting Kingdom of God, is a thing of the Spirit, not flesh and blood – have moved beyond that, just as a graduate moves beyond his old teachers from school, as in, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.”
(2) Those who are in obedience to God and so follow Christ, whatever their background, are grafted into the tree of life in their pace, and are, literally, Israel: counted as the seed of Abraham and inheritors of all of the promises of God relating to him. It’s also worth noting, even though the New Covenant worship methods (particularly in the traditional ‘High Churches’) are based on the old Jewish ones (not surprising, since it’s the same religion), one didn’t have to physically become a Jew to be part of it – no circumcision, no dietary restrictions, etc. – and the false idea that they did has always been considered a heresy by the Church, officially referred to as Judaizing, ever since the issue was settled in the famous debate between Saint Peter, who was initially sympathetic to the idea, and Saint Paul, who was staunchly opposed to it, prevailed, and the doctrine was fixed. For 1800 years, until the century of heresy (to be addressed in a future post), it was universally accepted, and anytime it raised its pernicious head, which it did on a regular basis, it was slapped down as what it was: heresy.
As for the formulaic Judaism practiced by the several Jewish sects of the days of Christ (Pharisees, Saddusees, Essenes, Herodians, Zealots, etc.), it is dead and gone; it died spiritually at Pentecost, and physically in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the temple, ending the commanded sacrifices there that were a necessary and integral part of their belief; in fact, many Jewish groups themselves teach that the sheckhinah, the glory of the presence of God, departed with that destruction, because, without the temple at Jerusalem, they were literally incapable of practicing their traditional, Old Covenant faith.
The only Jewish sect to ultimately survive was the Pharisees, and Christ made it very obvious what He thought of them. These are the founders of the splinter religion of Judaism practiced today: a physical faith, based on ceremony, race, matrilineal bloodlines, and ethnic tradition rather than spirit; for instance, a Jew by birth who is an atheist can still be considered a good Jew if he does the prescribed Jewish things. In some ways, it could even be argued that one of the primary philosophical differences between Christianity and Judaism is that Christianity requires a denial of self, while Judaism is a reinforcement of self, and those two things are not compatible.
Next post: Constantinople and Rome: The Great Division