This morning I had an invigorating conversation with a friend of mine about the origins of Christianity. He's done some intense research on the transition from Jewish Christianity/James the Brother of Jesus to the Gentile Christianity/Paul the Apostle. There are scholars out there who have proposed alternative ways of reading the New Testament, using the writings of Josephus and fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls (and other documents). When other ancient texts are brought to bear on the New Testament characters and events, new interpretations emerge of how history may have unfolded. What if everything we have been taught is wrong?
For those of us secure in our faith, we dismiss this question easily. We believe what we have been taught is true, it is reliable and thus we have plenty of assurance. But there are obviously lots of people who aren't sure about the reliability of what they have been taught. And when investigations begin into ancient history, timelines get messy, stories contradict, and alternative perspectives emerge. How do you know what is the truth?
What happened in the centuries following Jesus prior to the ascension of Constantine to the throne of the Roman Empire and his endorsement of Christianity as it's official religion? How did Christianity change following that co-option by the Emperor? What do Protestants do with the "Catholic" and "Orthodox" centuries of church history? What do Evangelicals do with our fascination with the First Century church - what if the book of Acts and the Epistles aren't the only sources of reliable information?
Do any of these questions really matter in light of the real-life issues we all have to endure as the weeks swiftly accumulate into years? Don't we have better things to do with our lives than probe into archaic issues? Granted, these questions aren't for everybody to delve into. But they interest me. My friend has prompted some good questions, provoked a quest of sorts to dig and discover more about the origins of Christianity. What is the connection between Jesus and his brother James (the bishop of the Jerusalem Church)? What is the connection between James & Peter and Paul? What about the Church Fathers of the second and third century (100AD thru 300AD) - what were the variant views in existence and how is it that we decided what was "orthodox/correct" and what was heresy? Still today there are many, many, many divergent views of everything within Christianity (thus the existence of THOUSANDS of denominations, sects, and branches). This is not going to fade away anytime soon.
Maybe there is a new Christianity that is emerging; it is post-Evangelical, post-Anabaptist, post-Protestant, post-Catholic, post-Orthodox. It is a Christianity that is unfettered by the whims of Empire, it is able to hold together a mosaic of theologies, it is again the religion of the poor and working-class, it is refocused on a Jesus of Nazareth that is a Prophet (according to the Gospels) and the Christ (according to the Epistles). As we rediscover more details about the emergence of Christianity two-thousand years ago, we may be able to embrace what Christianity will become in the millenias ahead of us.