What did the early Church do with converts?
In one sense Jesus had changed nothing. After all, hadn't he said:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)
Mostly, it wasn't actually a case of Jesus changing anything, it was more a case of realignment, of demonstrating the true meaning of the Torah, the Holy Scriptures, stripped of the interpretations added to them by teachers, however well-meaning.
Just as the Israelite settlers in Canaan had to turn from the pagan ways they were exposed to by the indigenous Canaanites, and the Jews of the Kingdom of Judah had to rid themselves from the same influences that had, ironically, been re-introduced by their own rulers, so the apostles had to filter out the human influences from the divine instruction.
These human influences went by the name of the Oral law. This was supposedly given to Moses at Sinai, at the same time as the written Torah, as a commentary on it. It was then passed down from person to person, never written down until long after the time of the apostles.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" (Mark 7:5-9)
As it was at the time of Isaiah, so it was at the time of Jesus ... and so it is now, too. Whether you are an orthodox Jew reading from the Talmud, or a Catholic priest with his Catechism, or an Anglican with his Book of Common Prayer, you are doing your religious duties with the help of a set of man-made traditions, even if they are inspired by or contain Holy Scripture within their pages.
The question to ask is whether the human additions are useful embellishments or disguised distractions. Do they draw you nearer to God and His purposes for your life, or further away? We will return to this question later.
The apostles and disciples had sat at Jesus' feet for three years, finished off by a 40 day concentrated crammer. Now the Master was gone and, for now, they were alone. It was as if Jesus had painted his thoughts, ideas and teachings on blank slates. Each of them had made a clean break with the past and all theology and doctrine would be as received at the feet of the Master.
If Jesus declared - which he did - that Hell was a place of eternal punishment, where there is gnashing of teeth and where the fire never goes out - then that's how it was. No question, no debate, no objections borne out of human reason or sense of fair play. Turn or burn may not have actually come from the mouth of Jesus, but the idea was his and his apostles accepted this without question.
He was similarly clear cut about many other things. For instance, he was extremely well placed to have a view about the creation of the universe, the World and mankind. Actually being there at the beginning tends to focus your outlook, after all!
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17).
So Jesus was both the means and reason for Creation. The very same person who had eaten, talked, laughed and cried with the apostles over the previous three and a bit years had witnessed the awesomeness of the beginning of beginnings. It is so hard to take that in, but it's true!
"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female." (Mark 10:5-6)
The beginning of Creation suggests that man appeared near at the start, say six days in, rather than after billions of years of chance mutations. Yes Jesus was not just the Creator, but also, by extension, a Creationist.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth)
A Lib Dem candidate who was due to stand in the upcoming election...