Religion & Beliefs

A (Brief) Jewish Guide to Christian History (Part I)

I’ve begun to notice that a lot of Jews don’t really know anything about Christianity. Which is not to say that we should, but I’m a little surprised that we can live in this “host” culture, be constantly surrounded by … Read More

By / April 27, 2007

I’ve begun to notice that a lot of Jews don’t really know anything about Christianity. Which is not to say that we should, but I’m a little surprised that we can live in this “host” culture, be constantly surrounded by Christians, spend our growing up years learning the words to “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” by osmosis… and still not know the basics.   

Oh, you think you do? Then tell me…  

What does “nondenominational really ” mean”?  Are all Methodists linked by one common umbrella organization?  Which is freakier, Church of God or Church of Christ?  Can you define (Christian) Orthodoxy?  

I’ll try to be brief and honest, and I apologize in advance for the fact that I’m going to oversimplify.  In fact I’ll probably offend someone a little.  Brevity and etiquette don’t often go together. So I suggest you use the links I’m offering too. 

For now (and for the sake of dividing these posts), I’m going to split all Christians into two categories:  Protestants (I’m including the Anglican Church here, though many would argue with me) and “the rest”. 

We’ll begin with “the rest” because they came first.

 It started with us, right?: Early Christianity 

Yeah, Christians all trace their roots back to Judaism, to Jesus. But “Christianity” didn’t really start out to be a “religion”.  After Jesus died, a bunch of Jews splintered off so they could talk about how awesome Jesus was… but there were a lot of little sects, and it took a long time for things to get streamlined.  Most of these people still thought of themselves as Jewish, and many Jewish Christians thought Jesus would be right back down to earth. 

It wasn’t until the apostle Paul (who studied with Gamaliel—remember, most of these dudes were Rabbis) started preaching to non-Jewish communities (and basically invented Christian mission) that “Christianity” began to solidify.  Paul brought these first Christians the critical mass they needed by suggesting that there was no need for gentiles to become Jews (and undergo adult circumcision) to become followers of Jesus.  This was all happening shortly following the death of Jesus, in the decades before the destruction of the second temple. 

Then these new Christians wandered around, wrote some stuff down, and waited for Jesus to come back.  This took hundreds of years.  A lot happened in that time, but we can skip ahead now, to 325, to the Council of Nicea. There, for the first time, a unified “Christian” doctrine was established.  It was determined that Jesus was “of the same substance” as God (which is, of course, an absolute theological wall for Jews and Christians).  So now we see the beginnings of “an organized religion.”

 

(tune in later for The Great Schism!!!   Ooooh!)