The Big Hustle
Have Christians been hustled on the most important of all doctrines: Who is God? and Who is the Messiah? We have, in fact, been had -- the politicians and theologians, in the centuries after the church of the apostles, set about to construct a new "Christianity" that is far removed from the "faith once delivered to the saints"!
by Kenneth Westby
Fraud and deception are air and water to those the Bible calls "evil doers." Since Eden humans have been hustled by underhanded operators who see advantage in leading people to believe lies instead of truth.
News, politics, theology, history, medicine, science -- all have their hustlers with agendas that don't include the simple truth. Some purveyors of myth and deception are themselves deceived and "true believers" in their cause; others cravenly manipulate facts, and construct falsehoods all for personal gain, fame, wealth or power -- or all of it.
After decades of work, I've been able to cut through many of the myths that soil contemporary Christianity. It has been an investigation akin to the story line of popular TV forensic crime shows. Many cherished Christian teachings and beliefs are foreign to the New Testament and Old Testament. They are not found in the preaching of Jesus or the teaching of his apostles. They don't belong in the Body of Christ (the Church) so where did these foreign pathogens enter Christianity?
Tracing these non-biblical doctrines and practices back to their genesis and the context of their genesis has been a revealing journey. As many of you know, our Nature of God/Nature of Christ seminars are an outgrowth of that research. Few people understand how Christianity forever changed after its three-century-war over Who Is Jesus? and Who Is God?
A recent book by religion scholar Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars, gives us the blow-by-blow account of the battles in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries AD. The book's subtitle: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years (Harper One, 2010, 328 pages).
It is fair to ask: Have Christians been hustled on the most important of all doctrines: Who is God? and Who is Jesus? I believe it can be demonstrated we have been had and Jenkins' subtitle has it right. The politicians and theologians in the centuries after the church of the apostles set about to construct a new Christian faith. It was a very messy and violent business which Jenkins documents in sad detail. Jesus Wars is not a hype-title but aptly describes how the Trinity and other doctrines came about via persecutions, beatings, and death to those who opposed the new "orthodox" teaching.
How could such a thing happen? Geography, culture, and religion all played a part in the great falling away. When the church took root among Gentile populations it was easy for hustlers to convince believers that the Old Testament and its God has been replaced by Jesus and that the Jews and Judaism represent enemies to Christianity. A variety of these hustlers was already visible to the writers of the New Testament. Jesus himself warned "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming..." (Luke 21:8).
The apostle John warns of "Many deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh have gone out into the world" (2 John 7). In John's time the Gnostics' wave of lies about the nature of God and Christ laid the groundwork for the Jesus Wars in the following centuries.
It is normal for followers to want to aggrandize their dead leaders over time by making them almost super-human. Maybe some of that was going on as theologians in the pagan Greek religious culture wanted to shed Jesus' humanity in favor of a god-man divinity. Greeks thought in such forms and this son of God could not just be a man. He had to be a god. He had to preexist. But how can his humanity and his god-ness be reconciled?
Mind you, the context of this thinking was in the pagan Gentile world and the theologians, though Christian, had already rejected the Old Testament and all things Jewish including the concept of a human Messiah. They had no Torah compass to guide their speculations. Beginning with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD the process of redefining God and Jesus began. It went on for two more centuries.
A mob of monks attacked the patriarch of Constantinople, Flavian, at a meeting of leading Fathers of the Christian church in Ephesus in 449. The monks yelled "Slaughter him!" and beat him so badly he died a few days later. His crime? He believed in a Christ in Two Natures and those who killed him advocated a one divine nature model, Monophysites they were called. Those who fought to preserve the human face of Jesus were pushed aside to irrelevance.
"From a modern point of view, we are baffled to see such extraordinary violence unleashed over what might appear to be a trivial philosophical row. Surely, we might think, these debates involved overfine distinctions quite as trivial as the proverbial disputes over the number of angels who could sit on the head of a pin. Just what could have caused such bitter hatred? In fact, the conflict involves a paradox that is quite central to the Christian faith. Christians must believe that God is wholly human and wholly divine, but it is easy for a believer to stray too far in one direction or the other.
"Either we might think of Christ purely as God, in which case he is no longer human, has no share in our human experience, and becomes a divinity in the sky like Zeus or Thor; or else, in contrast, we focus so much on his humanity that we underplay the divine element and deny the Incarnation. We could preach a Christ of two natures and two minds, literally a schizophrenic being. According to his enemies -- unfairly and inaccurately -- that was Flavian's sin, and brutal violence was the only appropriate response to his gross insult to the Son of God....
"Far from being philosophical niceties, the central themes in the religious debates really were critical to the definition of Christianity and to the ways in which the faith would develop over the coming centuries" (Jesus Wars, p. 2).
The ditches: A too high Christology removing Jesus from among humanity rendering him a "divine tourist"; A too low Christology that Jesus was just a good man, maybe even a prophet, but he died. The orthodox church went for the too high Christology that removed Christ so far from human reach it had to create a substitute in the form of the loving Mary, virgin, and mother. Mary became Theotokos, mother of God. Never mind that the concept of a thoroughly human Jesus is vivid throughout the New Testament.
If we have been deceived -- hustled -- about the true nature of Jesus, what else have we been led to believe that isn't true? Sticking with the field of theology, the list is long. Early church creeds such as the Athanasian creed which proclaimed Jesus to be "perfect God and perfect man" ended by declaring "this is the catholic faith which, except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved." These creeds had teeth in them and heretics were frequently put to death.
But none of it made sense. Jesus couldn't be 100% God and 100% man. That is a contradiction. Jesus died. God cannot die. Jesus was tempted. God, the scriptures says, cannot be tempted. And we could go on. Why couldn't the fourth and fifth century theologians and emperors just accept the biblical record that Jesus had a beginning in the womb of a woman, that he was 100 % like all other humans, yet specially appointed by God to be a savior. What is unique about Jesus, and hopeful for us, is that he was raised from the dead and given eternal life -- the firstborn of the dead. His Father, our Father, the One and only God raised him and then exalted Jesus to his side in heaven where Jesus rules in his Father's kingdom. Our hope is to follow Jesus' footsteps to eternal life and into God's presence. Jude, Jesus' younger brother, wrote this sober and passionate charge to fellow Christians:
"I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 3-4).
Jude questioned the motives of these deceivers, these religious hustlers, who would pervert the pure Gospel. They twisted the doctrines of God and Scripture to claim the standards of God's law were replaced by new standards of their version of "grace." Sins of immorality increased. And Jude said these hustlers denied something intrinsic to Jesus. What was it if not his very humanity? Jude knew better and so should we.
"Contending" for the true faith is not a passive, intellectual hobby. It is active, hard work. If everyone told the truth and all you heard and read was the pure truth you wouldn't have a difficult job finding the truth on a matter. But you know that is not the case. "Contending" is what I am doing here and what honest servants of God like you and I should be using our energy to do.
Assume carefully and prove all things -- especially the most important truths that affect your life now and life hereafter. Orthodox Christianity struck a devil's bargain with the Roman Empire and became forever changed...for the worse.
As the church drifted to the One Divine Nature theories it was dabbling with dangerous ideas. Jenkins notes:
"If Christ was really one with God, that would mean that God himself was carried in the Virgin's womb, was born, was destined to suffer and die. Historian Edward Gibbon rightly suggests the consequences of Nicea for doctrine: 'The faith of the Catholics trembled on the edge of a precipice where it was impossible to recede, dangerous to stand, dreadful to fall'" (Jesus Wars, p. 53).
The matter is not settled. The church needs to be freed from these destructive lies about God and Christ. I believe the scam is being exposed and the light of truth is chasing away centuries of darkness. It is a fight that must be waged until the Kingdom comes. It will then continue apace until the last lie is exposed and peace and truth reign."Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth" (Zechariah 8:3). How refreshing!
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