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Why I am not a Catholic nor Protestant Christian, Part 11: The Original Church

10/21/10

Why I am not a Catholic nor Protestant Christian, Part 11: The Original Church

It is a common myth among Christians of various denominations that their version of Christianity is the original. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church and it was often repeated that this church was the original church, that it was founded by Jesus and was the church of the Apostles, and that it has stayed the same essential entity since then, with the blessing of God as the one true church. The other churches, including Eastern Orthodoxy, the Anglican church, Presbyterians, Baptists, and all the other protestant denominations broke away from the original church and are thus not as close to God as Roman Catholics.

In my college years I began to have a lot more open communication with Christians from other denominations and I heard their side of the story. Actually, the Eastern Orthodox churches have a very similar story, where their church is the original one and that Roman Catholicism broke off and so did all of the other churches.

Several of the protestant denominations claim that their method of worship and their doctrines are the original version of Christianity and that Catholicism and Orthodoxy corrupted these original doctrines because they wanted power over the faithful. These protestant churches often refer to this idea of a “remnant church” that still believed and worshiped as Jesus wanted and according to the Bible despite the insistence of Catholic authorities that things be done their way.

The problem with all of this thinking is that the only church that can claim to be the original version of Christianity is the one that existed in Jesus' time. The simple fact of the matter is that from generation to generation, things inevitably change. The beliefs change, the style of worship changes. The culture changes and the political situations change and beliefs change with this. Even if things are written down, over time people have different ideas for what this means. There is no Christian church around today that can justifiably claim to be anything close to the “original church”.

And it is important to keep in mind that even if we can know what beliefs and style of worship the Christian churches had at the time of Jesus and shortly after his death, this would not mean anything significant because these people had false beliefs about Jesus being hugely significant to people's lives, which he is not. They probably believed in some interpretation of the Biblical scriptures, which may be different than the interpretations common among today's Christians, but the evidence strongly shows that the Bible is very wrong in many, many instances. So for one to be true to the original beliefs of Christians would only involve blind adherence to just another version of falsehood.

Now, as to the historical question of which Christian denomination broke off of which, there is an answer to this. Though the churches always did change from generation to generation, century to century, it is possible to look at the historical record to see which church entity has been around for longer. An entity, like a church or a company or a country, does change over time and probably does not necessarily even have any essential enduring attributes, but the continuum over time is what matters when identifying an enduring identity.

The historical record clearly shows that the contemporary Eastern Orthodox church has strong historical ties to the main Christian church from AD 400 to AD 1000. It was around the year AD 400 that Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire and the main seat of the Church was established in the new Roman capital of Constantinople.

There were several “popes”, each of which was the highest religious figure for a large geographic area. There was a pope in Constantinople (actually the word “patriarch” is also used) and others in Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. The popes had a council in which they would discuss the articles of faith and come to agreements. No one pope was above any other. Around the year AD 800, the Roman pope claimed to be the one supreme religious authority. This claim was never accepted by the other popes. It did shock the other popes of the council and strained some relations, but they were nonetheless able to continue working together in some capacity.

Eventually, around the year AD 1000, the Roman pope insisted that the other popes submit to his absolute authority. They refused and the Roman church formally broke away, an event known as the “Great Schism”. From the Roman churches point of view, they were right because their pope is the one supreme religious figure in the world. From the council of popes perspective, the Roman pope was having a power trip and there was no reason to continue dealing with him and his followers. The council of popes called their organization the “Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church”. The Roman church called itself the “Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”. As you can see, these two organizations have similar official names, often shortened to Eastern Orthodox for the former and Roman Catholic for the latter.

Now, centuries after the Great Schism, several protestant churches broke off of the Catholic church. They really don't have a legitimate claim to being the original church or doing things in the original way. Now, I'll say that the early versions of these protestant churches were certainly less corrupt than the Catholic church, but they were still fundamentally wrong in their assumption that the Bible is always correct and that Jesus was anything more than a human being.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is faith virtuous, or is it harmful? Let your voice be heard in the forum.
You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

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