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Why didn’t the pagan seed from Greek thinking completely blot out the true message of the Gospel?
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The Two Churches
I have been greatly troubled as I delved deeper and deeper into Church history. In my earlier books, focussing on interactions between Christians and Jews, all I saw was the nastiness, of the expulsions and persecutions. In my latter books, focussing on the damage done by Greek thinking, again it was the bad stuff that came to the forefront, the corruptions and the disunity and the wars over doctrine. I couldn’t help but think, where was the true Christian witness during this troubled history? Where was the authentic Gospel message during the Dark Ages, or at other times when Christendom was stifling the life out of the faith? Where were the faithful remnant to keep the torch flickering?
The story so far was that, once upon a time, there was God’s authentic Church, founded by the apostles who had learned at the feet of Jesus himself. Then the apostles died and new ideas from Greece were allowed to mix with the pure doctrine of the Christian faith. Out of this tainted root came the established Western Church, the State Church of Augustine and Aquinas and the Catholics. When the Protestants appeared on the scene it was not from without, but from within; it was a reformation of the existing structures, not a spanking new broom sweeping clean. Yet out of all of this, the Gospel message has still reached us, despite the bumps and bangs of nearly 2,000 years of doctrinal turbulence.
My question is this, why didn’t the pagan seed from Greek thinking completely blot out the true message of the Gospel? We saw the consequences of faulty theology, through the crusades, the inquisition, the religious wars and the hatred and conflicts that characterised so much of Church history. Even the Protestants eventually succumbed to the subtle perversions of Greek philosophy, so how was the true Gospel preserved?
Then I dug deeper. It led me into some serious study and Holy Spirit nudges and a realisation that, since the days of the Church Fathers, there have in fact been two Church movements. I am not talking of Catholic vs. Protestant, or Roman Catholic vs. Greek Orthodox. It is far more clear cut, it is the Church tainted by Greek philosophy vs. the Church un-tainted by Greek philosophy. The first Church is basically the one with roots in the ancient Roman Empire and includes the Catholics and the vast majority of Protestant denominations. Although it is a Church compromised to a certain extent by Greek philosophy, it is not a Church that has been completely powerless as, through God’s grace, many have found true salvation within these religious structures.
But it’s the second Church, the one untainted by Greek philosophy, that interests me. If we can identify it, it would provide a direct link to the original Church of the first apostles, the Church of The Way. So, here the story begins ... with an apology!
But what a fascinating story emerges. They say that history tends to be written by the victors; you very rarely get the other point of view, that of the marginalised, the dissenting voices, the vanquished. In my earlier book, How the Church lost The Truth, I referred to the 2nd Century Christian, Montanus rather negatively as a “heretic who heard voices”. It appears that both he and his most exalted follower, Tertullian, attracted a bad press from the main-stream Christian historians, because they spoke against many of the excesses of the Church of their day, hence the claims of heresy. Also, “hearing voices”, seems to be a reaction against Montanus’ prophetic gift and his teaching on the Second Coming of Christ was most unpopular, as was his view that Easter should be dated according to the Jewish calendar. So perhaps he wasn’t quite as bad as I painted him. In my defence, I concluded that Tertullian was one of the good guys, as one who resisted the mixing of Greek philosophy with the Christian faith. “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” he once said.
A few words about Tertullian. He was a strong moralist, for him actions were as important as words. He also wrote a lot of words, a fiery writer well versed in the noble art of sarcasm and puns. He wrote on doctrine, but also on everyday stuff, like marriage, clothing and cosmetics, a sort of Martha Stewart meets Martin Luther. But when he became a Montanist he withdrew from the world and refused to compromise with its ways, preferring to make a stand against the culture of the day.
He takes our story forwards (though, actually backwards) through this quote:
"Regions in Britain that have never been penetrated by Roman arms have received the religion of Christ."
Tertullian tells us that Christianity had reached the British Isles before the Romans got there. The implication here is that Britain could have received the true faith, unadulterated by the Greek thinking that had polluted the Christian faith in Europe and the Middle East. So, where was this found and how did it get there?
This fascinating story will be told next week …
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