The Testimony of the Bible Concerning the Ideal of Christian Unity in Diversity
Christians Have Always Differed: Some Biblical Principles Regarding How Christians Should Accept Each Other as Brothers Despite Their Differing Rituals and Customs and Practices, Despite Their Different Expressions of Their Above Common Saving Faith
The several groups of different Catholic, different Orthodox, and different Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christians united in the above vast common saving faith have many different rituals, customs and practices, and all of them came to be out of a genuine desire to honor, serve and please the same God who revealed our great common Christian faith. Directly or indirectly they all express some aspect of our common fundamental faith or our common Divine Revelation in the Bible. It will be helpful for us all, as we strive to honor Jesus by seeking unity with each other as His Body still on Earth to remember that both different groups of Jewish Christians and different groups of Gentile Christians in the New Testament Church also had such differing customs and practices, and Saint Paul gave us the following Biblical principles regarding them which we must take to heart [which I have glossed in square brackets]:
“[Do not pass] judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man … eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything [or practices a certain Christian ritual or custom] must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything [or who does not practice that particular Christian ritual or custom] must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike … He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God [Each Christian united in the above common saving faith practices differing rituals and customs or celebrates different holy days “to the Lord and gives thanks to God”]. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? [Why do you judge or look down on other Christians for having different customs and rituals than you do?] For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat … Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another… Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [nor of any other specific Christian rituals or customs], but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way [through whichever different Christian rituals and customs] is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification [our very differences give us the ability to edify and enrich each other]. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food [do not destroy the unity of Christ’s Body the Church because of opposite customs concerning food or anything else] … May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth [worshiping God together with Christians of different customs] you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. ” (Romans 14:1-10,13,16-20, 15:5-7, emphases added)
The Biblical Roots of the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic (Greek for Universal) Communion of Different Eastern and Western Particular or “Sister” Churches Which Enriched Each Other with Their Differences and Together Clearly Articulated the Common Fundamentals of Christian Faith Against Many Heretics
This lengthy section presents many themes from my book The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’: Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians. It is important to Christian unity today to show that Christian unity in diversity among different but united Christian Rites or particular culturally-based Churches was the norm in the New Testament Church, and that the Old Testament actually deliberately prepared for this kind of Christian Church Communion. In the following chapter I will present a summary of what I call “Family Theology” and how it ties together the complete text of both Testaments and the Undivided Early Church history which followed the Biblical record of God’s Covenant Family throughout history.
The creedal elements of belief and the beliefs about right conduct (the moral code) of Christianity and Christianity’s basic Eucharistic (Greek for Thanksgiving) or Holy Communion worship around the Lord’s Table as He commanded make up the Apostolic Deposit of Faith. These principal elements of Christianity are what was passed on by the Apostles, ultimately to be expressed and celebrated in different ways by the different cultures renewed in Jesus so as to form the different Rites or Sister Churches of the Undivided Early Church. Each particular or “Sister” Church, each particular Rite of the one Universal (Greek katholikos, or Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ of the First Millennium, were different cultural responses to the Gospel and different culturally-based expressions of the Gospel, wherein each particular Church grew gradually deeper in theological insight into the Christian Revelation according to its particular different emphases, and shared its growth in understanding with the others for the enrichment of all. All of these different culturally-based forms of expressing the common, saving Christian faith were formally recognized as legitimate at the early Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of the Undivided Early Church. These Councils were called in response to major and popular heretical interpretations of the Bible which rocked the Early Church with controversy, and at these Councils orthodox Christian leaders from each Sister Church pooled their theological insights into Divine Revelation so as to together (under the direction of the Holy Spirit as in the Acts 15 Council) clarify precisely (against the heretical interpretations) what we now know as the above essential fundamental tenets of Christian faith on which today’s Catholic, Orthodox, and conservative/Evangelical Protestant churches are still agreed. These very same Councils at which the common fundamentals of Christian faith were precisely hammered out also recognized the Christian overseers (also called bishops or eparchs) of the five ancient cities which were the centers of the five first cultures to be renewed in Jesus as Patriarchs, and called the Church “provinces” under each overseer’s jurisdiction Patriarchates, as a way of officially recognizing that each Patriarchate, each particular or “Sister” Church, each Rite of the one Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ, had different but legitimate theological, ritual and customary expressions of the one saving, orthodox Christian faith which is still the (above) essential faith held by (Eastern and Western) Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and (Western) conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christian churches (and “Messianic Jewish” faith communities which combine the Jewish and Protestant Christian traditions) today. The original “Pentarchy” of five Christian Patriarchates centered around the cities of: Jerusalem, the historic center of the Jewish culture of the original Jewish Christians; Antioch, the center of the Syrian culture, the first Gentile culture introduced to Christianity by the original Jewish Christians (Acts 11:19-26); Alexandria, the center of the Egyptian culture; Rome, where Peter and Paul died, the center of the Roman culture; and Byzantium/Constantinople, which became the center of the Greek culture. These different particular or “Sister” Churches united in the one orthodox Universal or Catholic Church of Jesus Christ of the First Millennium have their roots in the New Testament itself (roots which even stretch back into the Old Testament), so it is important to understand the primitive Biblical origins of the different Rites and the principles concerning Church unity, worship and organization testified to in the Bible.
The Old Testament Specifically Led up to the Formation of the Christian Church as it Actually Existed in the Undivided Early Church: a Universal (Catholic) Communion of Different Nations (Civilizations, Cultures) Descended from Faithful Noah Renewed in Jesus Christ the Messiah (As Distinct Cultural “Rites” or “Sister Churches”)
For much more on the following, see my book The Bible’s “Big Picture”: Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians. The Early Church Fathers had said that “Abel was a Christian,” because they recognized that God ultimately had one Covenant Family of faithful humanity throughout history, which culminated in the Christian Church. The five different major Covenants in the Old Testament (each more detailed than the last, calling its members to a higher standard of love) were all part of this one ongoing Covenant Family of God by which God patiently raised His Covenant children to ever higher standards of love. The Covenants with Adam1 and Noah were universal, including all humanity descended from Adam and Noah, while the “Jewish” Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David were limited to the Jews but only for the universal purpose of “blessing all the nations,” preparing the Jews to lead the other fallen-away nations (which had lost the faith of their ancestor Noah) back to God, which they did once mature and renewed in their promised Messiah (all the original Christians were Jews fulfilling the purpose for which God had called the Jews ). God previously had sent the Israelite prophet Jonah to the Assyrian city of Nineveh not to convert it to Judaism (the latest Covenant of the time) but to exhort it to keep the Covenant with Noah, which prohibited the murder Nineveh had become infamous for, or be destroyed. They were saved from destruction by keeping the Noahic Covenant, not by joining the Mosaic Covenant, since the Israelites of the time were still immature and the time was not yet right for the Jews to be renewed in Messiah and empowered by the Holy Spirit to implement the next universal Covenant since Noah’s, the Christian Church, which was meant to gather back to God all the fallen-away or “Gentile” descendants of faithful Noah together with the “Jewish” line of Noah’s descendants which never fell away (or at least quickly repented and renewed the Covenant after they fell away).
This is why the Bible says in John 11:51-52 that “Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one”. All human beings are adopted children of God through the Covenants with Adam and Noah, but they were scattered through their unbelief and sin, except for the faithful line of the adopted Covenant Family, that line of faithful Sethites, Semites, Hebrews and Israelites known as the Jewish nation,2 and those Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah (Christ in Greek) would be restored to the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God which Adam “the son of God” (Luke 3:38) lost, and this Jewish nation renewed in Jesus “the New Adam” would minister the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit to all the scattered children of God from the Adamic and Noahic Covenants – to all human beings who will come – and those ministering Jews and the Gentiles who accepted Jesus through their ministry would be brought together and made one in Jesus Christ. One human family renewed in Jesus, one Body of Christ, the Christian Church. This was the loving family reality of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Christian Church, one worldwide Church made up of many different nations (civilizations, cultures) restored in Christ, the restored portions of those nations becoming the different Rites or “Sister Churches” which together made up the early Undivided Universal or Catholic Church of Jesus Christ . This universality or catholicity of the Undivided Early Church was so important to Early Christian identity that Early Christian writers constantly refer to the Church as the Catholic Church, which was the Catholic (Universal) Communion of different culturally-based Sister Churches united in orthodox Christian faith against many breakaway heretical or unorthodox Christian churches (most of which died out though a small few remain since ancient times)..
God had spent a great many centuries over the course of the Old Testament preparing Abraham’s descendants the Jewish people, with their distinct culture rooted strongly in the Old Testament Scriptures, to be ready to be renewed in Messiah Jesus, so that they could help bring about the blessing of all nations, all cultures, promised through Abraham’s descendants. “The fullness of time” for Jesus to come must be considered to be at least partially dependent upon the Jewish readiness for their Messiah. God’s Old Testament people Israel, though remaining imperfect, had matured tremendously over the course of the Old Testament and after the Babylonian exile the Jews (from the Tribe and Southern Kingdom of Judah who were all that was left of the Israelites) never again went back and forth between the LORD and idols as they had previously, but became known as a nation for being zealous for their God, and many martyrs proved that the Jews as a nation would now rather die than deny their God. Messiah would come to this prepared and more mature Jewish nation, and the portion of it who received Him would be the first Christians, further empowered by His Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s intention for calling Abraham’s descendants from among the other nations of humanity descended from Noah in the first place: they would lead the other nations around them, which were all “prodigal sons” of faithful Noah’s Covenant Family tree (see Genesis 9:1-17, 10), back to the Covenant Father their ancestors left long ago, and like the portion of the faithful Jewish nation renewed in Jesus the portions of the fallen-away Gentile nations who received Jesus would be also empowered by the Holy Spirit to go further into the world and make even more “prodigal son” nations come back into the ongoing Covenant Family of God, in the New Covenant Christian Church – ultimately as the different culturally-based Rites or Sister Churches of the First Millennium Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ, the oldest of which were formalized as Patriarchates or Church “provinces” in the same Early Ecumenical Councils which clarified and established the norms of orthodox Christian faith against the many different early Christian heretics.
Two Different Distinct but Legitimate Culturally-Based Rites or Sister Churches of the New Testament Christian Church Are Clearly Seen in Acts 15:1-16:5 and 21:17-26 – Jewish Rite Christianity and Gentile Rite Christianity (Which Would Later Become Distinct Syrian, Egyptian, Roman and Greek Gentile Rites of Christianity)
The Jewish culture as renewed in Jesus (the first culturally-based Rite of the Christian Church) was centered in Jerusalem where Jesus died and rose; the original Jewish Christians spread the Gospel to the nearby (Greek-speaking) Syrian culture centered in Antioch where the word “Christian” was first applied to the disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:19-26). The numbers of non-Jewish Christians increased and a controversy grew within the Church as to whether or not the new Gentile Christians had to follow all the customs and rituals of the original Jewish Christians which were rooted in their particularly Jewish culture (as transformed by Jesus), notably circumcision. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was called specifically to determine whether or not Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised like Jewish Christians were, which proves that all the original Jewish Christians were continuing to circumcise their children on the 8th day after birth as always (confirmed by Acts 16:1-5 and 21:17-26). The Jerusalem Council set the precedent for all the many later Early Church Councils which were called to settle later controversies within the Church through the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the ordained Church leaders gathered together. The Council in Acts 15 determined that Gentile (mostly Syrian at this point) Christians did not need to be culturally Jewish and did not need to practice their saving Christian faith in the same ways the original Jewish Christians did and continued to do. The freedom wrought in Christ was freedom to be the best human beings it was possible to be, whether Jewish or Syrian or Egyptian or Roman or Greek. Christianity did not mean Gentiles (non-Jews) had to cease to be members of their nation and culture and become culturally Jewish; though it did mean their expressions of their cultural identity had to be adjusted to conform to the norms of the Gospel, as indeed the Jewish culture, though strongly rooted in God’s Old Testament Word already, was not perfect and also needed to be adjusted to conform to the Gospel (though, having the essentials of Judeo-Christian morality and such already in place, the Jewish culture needed less cultural adjustment than the Gentile cultures). Jewish Christians had to give up specifically Jewish notions that circumcision (which was so important to the Old Covenant when Jews needed to be separated from the other nations until they were mature enough to testify to the nations without being corrupted by them) was a necessary part of New Covenant Christian Salvation; Gentiles had to give up the sexual immorality and idolatry which was approved of in their culture; other than giving such things up both Jews and Gentiles had freedom in Christ to be the best Jews, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Syrians they could possibly be.
At the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council the Original Jewish Rite Christians Determined with the Holy Spirit’s Guidance That Gentiles Did Not Need to Become Culturally Jewish as All the Original Christians Were in Order to Become Christian, but Only Needed to Adjust Their Cultural Practices to Conform to the Norms of the Christian Gospel, as the Jewish Christians Had Already Done (They Continued to Be Jewish Rite Christians after the Council but Did Not Require Gentiles to Adopt Their Jewish Cultural Expression of Christianity) – the Universal New Covenant Gave Freedom in Christ for All People to Become the Best Jews, Greeks, Romans, Syrians or Egyptians They Could Possibly be
Thus the Holy Spirit-led Council decided that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19), and thus the Gentiles who became Christian did not have to become culturally Jewish as all the original Christians were, they did not have to abandon their entire cultural identity and come to express and practice their Christian faith exactly as the original Jewish Christians did (which included many Old Covenant practices reinterpreted in terms of Christ’s fulfillment of them). Instead, the first-ever Church Council’s official letter to the Gentiles stated, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28 NKJV). It was only “necessary things” – some translations say “necessities” or “requirements” or “essentials” – which did not include most particulars of the current Jewish Christian devotional and worship customs and practices – which were required of Gentiles (mainly giving up sexual and idolatrous practices) in order for them to become Christian, in order for them to be reconciled to the ongoing Covenant Family of God which their ancestors had left at various times after the time of Noah’s Covenant, while the Jews were descended from those who had remained in the ongoing Covenant Family since Adam and Noah (despite their many failures, the Israelites and Jews [Israelites of the Tribe of Judah], unlike the fallen-away Gentile nations, had always later repented and renewed the Covenant).
The Universal Human Family Descended from Adam and Faithful Noah Is Restored in the Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus the New Adam – Within it the Original Jewish Rite of the Church Is the Faithful Descendants of Faithful Noah’s Covenant Family (The Jews) Restored to the Supernatural Adoption of the Indwelling Holy Spirit (Which Adam Had Lost), Gathered Together with the Gentile Rites of the Church Which Are Fallen-away Descendants of the Noahic Covenant Family (The Gentiles) Brought Back to God Through the Original Jewish Rite Christians’ Gospel Ministry
Melchizadek was a priest of the Noahic Covenant,3 before Abraham had any descendants who would become the Jews, and Messiah Jesus would be called a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110, Hebrews 5-7), because He was inaugurating the first universal Covenant (for all humanity) since Noah’s. All of Noah’s fallen-away descendants (the Gentile nations) were meant to be reincorporated into this New Covenant Family together with the Christian Jews, who were descended from the line of those since Noah who never fell away. This helps explain why the specifically Jewish cultural customs – while still being appropriate for Jewish Christians – were not required for Gentile Christians, since they were not joining the Covenant which was limited to Abraham’s physical descendants, they were joining the New universal Covenant which was meant to reestablish all humanity in one Covenant Family as it was at the time of Noah, before Abraham.
Most (Gentile) Christian Bible commentators have missed the fact that although the Acts 15 Council determined that Gentile Christians did not need to become Jewish and be circumcised, Jewish Christians continued to be Jewish and continued to be circumcised and continued to practice other elements of their Jewish culture and religious practice, reinterpreted in the light of Christ so as to conform to the norms of the Gospel (as Gentile Roman and Greek and Egyptian and Syrian Christians after the Council would continue to practice positive or neutral elements of their Gentile cultures, and they gradually developed their own various [Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Syrian] Gentile Christian religious practices which reflected such cultural elements). Thus Paul on the one hand repeatedly criticized those Jewish Christians who compromised the Gospel by claiming circumcision was necessary for Christian salvation; but on the other hand immediately after the Acts 15 Council and while on the very journey in which he delivered the news of the Council’s Holy Spirit-led decision that Gentile Rite Christians did not need to be circumcised, Paul had Timothy circumcised as a Jewish Rite Christian (Acts 16:1-5). Timothy was half-Greek and half-Jewish, and so after the Jerusalem Council’s decision he had a choice of whether to be a Gentile Rite Christian or a Jewish Rite Christian – both cultural forms of Christianity had been formally approved by Christ’s Holy-Spirit-led Apostles united in Council. Since Timothy had come to faith in Jesus through his believing Jewish mother not his Greek father, it is not surprising that he chose to become a Jewish Rite Christian, and thus Paul had Timothy circumcised as all the original, Jewish Christians were. Many (Gentile) Christian Bible commentaries suggest Paul had Timothy circumcised merely to gain the hearing of the unbelieving Jews Paul and Timothy wanted to convert, since circumcision or non-circumcision was irrelevant to Christian salvation but circumcision was important to unbelieving Jews. This is certainly part of the reason, but beyond this Acts 16:1-5 and 21:17-26 in fact prove that the ritual of circumcision (and other Jewish rituals) for Jewish but not for Gentile Christians was the norm which the original Jewish Christians continued to practice long after the Acts 15 Council determined that circumcision, though still culturally appropriate for Jews, was not necessary for Christian salvation and thus non-Jewish, Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised at all (Paul’s letters speak negatively of circumcision and the Jewish Law only in the context of “Judaizing” Jewish Christians who inappropriately insisted that circumcision was necessary for Christian salvation and insisted Gentile Christians must become Jewish).
Since Commanding Adam and Noah’s Descendants to “Fill the Earth” and Making Sure They Did So by Scattering Them at Babel, God Intended the Mutually-Enriching Universal (Catholic) Communion of Different Culturally-based Christian Rites or Sister Churches, Jewish and Gentile, Eastern and Western, Which Was the Reality of the Undivided Early Church, Because Only by Pooling Their Different Insights into Divine Revelation Coming from Their Different Cultural Perspectives at the Ecumenical (Worldwide) Councils Could the Infinite Truth of God Revealed in Jesus Christ Be Most Clearly Articulated in the Concise Fundamental Doctrines or Dogmas of Christianity
Not only did Paul have half-Jewish Timothy circumcised in Acts 16:1-5 while delivering the Council’s message that Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised, years later in Jerusalem (in Acts 21:17-26) Paul confirmed there was no truth to the rumors he told diaspora Jews (Jews who lived in Gentile areas) not to circumcise their children, which has confused many scholars who do not understand that God intended the mutually enriching Catholic (Universal) communion of different culturally-based “Sister Churches,” Jew and Gentile, Eastern and Western. Remember that God Himself at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) had ensured that humanity descended from faithful Noah would develop into different cultural groups (because of different language and geographic location), different cultural groups which, once renewed in Messiah Jesus, would have different perspectives upon the infinite truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, which would give them different insights into Divine Revelation which they would be able to pool together at the Early Ecumenical Councils so as to together come up with the most accurate and precise understanding of the Christian fundamentals, against many heretical challenges to the saving Christian faith. The very differences of human cultures are mutually enriching and part of God’s plan for His Church, which is, as Saint Augustine said, “the world, redeemed.” The culturally-based Rites of the Church are “the nations of the world, redeemed.”
The Two Distinct Legitimate Cultural Forms of Christianity in the New Testament Church Are Extremely Clear in Acts 21:17-26 – There Never Was a Uniformity of Christian Worship Practices and Customs but Always a Unity of Faith in a Great Diversity of Faith Expressions Rooted in Culture
The first distinction of different legitimate cultural forms (or “Rites”) of Christianity, recorded in the Bible, was the distinction between Jewish Rite Christianity and Gentile Rite Christianity, distinctions which are very clear in Acts 21:17-26. In this passage, many of the tens of thousands of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem4 were greatly concerned because they had heard incorrectly5 that Paul, “the Apostle to the Gentiles” was not only telling Gentiles they did not need to be circumcised nor to practice Jewish customs, as the Acts 15 Council in Jerusalem years earlier had determined, but also telling “all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs” (Acts 21:21). James, the Christian overseer/bishop of Jerusalem told Paul that he knew “there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law” (Acts 21:24). Jesus Himself had confirmed to His Jewish hearers that He had not come to abolish the Jewish Law and the Prophets, but to complete them (Matthew 5:17). One could be both Jewish and Christian, by conforming one’s Jewish cultural practices rooted in God’s Old Testament Word to the norms of the Christian Gospel. Thus Paul, himself a Jewish Christian though given the mission of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, had continued to practice Jewish customs and rituals himself, such as the Nazirite vow (involving the shaving of hair) which he undertook in Acts 18:18. James advised Paul to lay to rest these rumors circulating among unbelieving and Christian Jews alike by proving to all Jerusalem he was an observant Jew, by helping four Jewish Christians to complete their own Nazirite vow at the Temple by “join[ing] in their purification rites and pay[ing] their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law” (Acts 21:24). Paul did everything James advised and joined in the Jewish rituals of purification and went to the Jewish Temple the next day (verse 26). In this same passage which emphasizes that Paul was a Jewish Rite Christian as were the tens of thousands of Christians in Jerusalem, James, the Jewish Rite Christian overseer of Jerusalem who had hosted the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council, also reaffirmed (in verse 25) the Council’s teaching that Gentile Rite believers need not be circumcised but need only abandon certain Gentile cultural practices which were related to idolatry or sexual immorality (thus conforming their Gentile cultural practices to the norms of the Gospel as Jewish Christians had conformed their Jewish cultural practices to the norms of the Gospel, unless they were the Judaizing sort of Jewish Christians whom Paul repeatedly confronted in his letters). The fact that there were two distinct legitimate cultural forms of Christianity in the New Testament Church is very clear in this passage of Scripture.
Galatians 3:28 Says “There Is Neither Jew Nor Greek…Male Nor Female, for You Are All One in Christ Jesus” Even Though the Human Distinctions of Gender and Culture Obviously Remain, Not Because We Are Not Supposed to Be Distinct as Men and Women or Jews and Greeks, but Because All Humanity, with All its Wonderful Diversity in Gender and Culture, Is Meant to Belong in the One Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ, the One Body of Christ, Sharing a Mutually Enriching Unity in Diversity
Thus it was completely appropriate for Timothy (and all the original, Jewish Christians) to remain culturally Jewish, only renewed in Christ (Timothy even being circumcised as an adult by Paul in Acts 16:1-5), just as all the Gentiles remained culturally Gentile (Greek, Roman, Syrian, and so on) when they were renewed in Christ. Individual Christians did not cease to be Jews, Romans, Greeks, Syrians or Egyptians (any more than they ceased to be men and women); as baptized Christians they simply became the best Jews, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, or Egyptians (and men and women) that they could be. Their remaining distinctions of culture and race or social class or gender were no longer cause for unloving division or separation from each other, however: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, see also 1 Corinthians 1:24, 10:32, 12:13). All humanity, with all its wonderful diversity in gender and culture, is meant to belong in the one Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ, the one Body of Christ, sharing a mutually enriching unity in diversity. As the IVP Bible Background Commentary notes,
Modern Gentile Christians who oppose Jewish Christians’ keeping the law while these Gentile Christians observe church and cultural traditions of their own are out of keeping with the spirit of the New Testament, which calls people to forsake their sin, not positive or neutral elements of their culture. (The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr notes this controversy in his own day but clearly maintains the earlier Christian view that Jewish people could both practice the law and follow Jesus—Dialogue with Trypho 47.)
It is clear in the New Testament, especially in Acts, the New Testament’s main historical book, that Jewish Christians never thought of themselves as “ex-Jews.” In the New Testament Church there were both Jewish and Gentile Christians with different forms of Christian religious practice and customs rooted in their different Jewish or Gentile cultures. As Christianity spread, the different Gentile cultures which embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ gradually developed distinctly different Christian worship practices and customs rooted in their distinctly different Gentile cultures. These different Gentile cultural forms of Christianity – centered in Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Byzantium/Constantinople – along with the original Jerusalem Church (initially Jewish Rite, but later mostly Gentile after the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews), together formed the one Universal (Catholic) Christian Church which during the early centuries clearly articulated the saving, orthodox Christian faith against the many heretics together. There never was a uniformity of Christian worship practices and customs but always a unity of faith in a great diversity of faith expressions rooted in culture.
The Original Jewish Rite of the Church Heavily Influenced its First Four Gentile “Daughter” Rites (The Syrian, Egyptian, Roman, and Greek Cultures as Renewed in Jesus), Giving a Common Baseline to Christian Worship, and These Four Gentile Rites Heavily Influenced Their Own Later “Daughter” Rites Which Worshiped God with Their Own Distinct Cultural Flavor Which Still Resembled the Worship of Their “Mother Rite” Which Brought the Gospel of Jesus to Them
Within the New Testament itself there was the Jewish culture as renewed in Jesus (centered in Jerusalem) and the Gentile cultures (which the original Jewish Christians had evangelized) who were not dependent upon Jewish cultural expressions of Christianity but had started to develop their own celebration of Christian faith within their culture. In the early centuries four distinct Gentile cultures developed their distinct cultural expressions of Christianity (or Rites): the Syrian (centered in Antioch), the Roman (centered in Rome), the Egyptian (centered in Alexandria), and the Greek (centered in Byzantium/Constantinople). Each of these four original major Gentile Rites of the Christian Church were heavily influenced by the original Jewish Rite of Christianity which had brought Christ’s Gospel to them, and all of them have many similarities despite their differences which are rooted in the original Jewish Rite Christian worship which was based in the Jewish Passover Seder liturgy (which was the Jewish context of Jesus’ Last Supper) inserted into a Jewish Synagogue-style Bible-reading and prayer service. Many other Christian practices or elements of the original four Gentile Rites were borrowed from the original Jewish Rite Christianity, such as the Liturgy of the Hours6 based on the Jewish formal daily times of prayer which coincided with daily Temple sacrifices, and the mitre (special hat) worn by Christian overseers/bishops/eparchs which is based on Jewish priestly headgear.7 The first four Gentile Christian culturally-based Rites of Antioch (the earliest Gentile Rite), Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople sent missionaries into new territories who eventually successfully evangelized even more Gentile cultures, bringing the Gospel of Jesus to many cultures including those of Ethiopia, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Britain and even India (the Malabarese and Malankarese Rites which have a nearly 2000 year history of Christianity in India). Just like the first four Gentile Rites or “Sister” Churches or Patriarchates had borrowed much from the original Jewish Rite of the Christian Church which brought the Gospel of Jesus to them, though each of them also developed their own distinct cultural celebration of the Gospel, so their many later mission territories which gradually became new Rites, Sister Churches, or even formally recognized Patriarchates of their own also borrowed heavily from their “Mother Rite” which had brought Jesus to them, while also developing their own distinct cultural forms of Christianity. Thus my own Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church (also called the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church), as the Ukrainian “daughter” Church of the ancient Byzantine or Greek Patriarchate or “Sister” Church of the Undivided Early Catholic (Universal) Church which sent missionaries to Ukraine in the 10th Century, is distinctly Ukrainian yet also is recognizably Byzantine or Greek in its expressions of basic, Universal Christianity – and it retains many very basic Christian worship practices and customs which were originally borrowed by the Greeks from the original Jewish Rite of the Christian Church.
The Foundational Jewish Rite of Christianity Did Not Survive the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Scattering of the Jews, but Scattered Minority Jewish Rite Christians Were Gradually Absorbed into the Mass Ranks of Gentile Rite Christians; God Possibly Allowed this So That by Today the Descendants of the Majority of Jews Who Rejected Jesus Could Enter the Church the Exact Same Way the Gentiles Did: as Descendants of Faithful Noah’s Universal Covenant Once Fallen Away but Restored in Jesus Christ, with a Distinct Cultural Contribution to the Universal Church Which Was Not Meant to Dominate the Whole Church (As Foundational Jewish Rite Christianity Might Have Had it Survived, since the Gentile Rites Were Not Yet Fully Established)
It is sadly true that distinctly Jewish Rite Christianity, although it heavily influenced all of the later Gentile Rites, did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem by pagan Rome in the two Jewish Wars of 70 and 135 AD and the scattering of the Jews from their homeland. Since the majority of the scattered Jews, following their leaders who had rejected Jesus as Messiah, were not “Messianic” Jews or Jewish Christians, the numbers of scattered Jewish Rite Christians in any given area was very small. Not welcome among their unbelieving Jewish countrymen but welcome among the large Gentile Christian churches, they had no communities sizable enough to sustain distinctly Jewish Rite Christian worship and they were eventually absorbed into the mass ranks of Gentile Christians. However, in honor of the original, Jewish Church in Jerusalem, where Christianity began, the Early Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Catholic (Universal) Christian Church which clearly articulated and established Christian orthodoxy and which organized the Christian Church into Patriarchates (as a way of acknowledging the legitimacy of the different cultural Christian Sister Churches centered around a major city), still declared the overseer/bishop of Jerusalem a Patriarch, Jerusalem a Patriarchate, even though it was not the center of a major cultural expression of Christianity with a large territory and huge numbers of Christians, as were all the other four first Patriarchates of the Christian Church (the ones based in Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Byzantium/Constantinople).
Unfortunately, after the original Jewish Rite of Christianity, which had brought the Gospel of Jesus to the later Gentile Rites, was absorbed following the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews (Christian and otherwise) from their homeland, the Christian Church did not know exactly what to do with new culturally Jewish converts to Christianity who no longer had any place to worship Christ in particularly culturally Jewish ways (as Christ’s Jewish Apostles had worshiped). Although Gentile Christians originally had the very positive experience of Jews being their leaders who brought the Gospel of Jesus to them, afterwards Christians came to typically experience those who identified themselves as Jews and practiced their Jewish culture either as persecutors, heretics or Judaizers who insisted Gentiles must become Jewish to be saved, against the decision of the first Council of the (then entirely Jewish) Christian Church in Acts 15. From this negative experience of Jewish culture (as persecutors, heretics, or Judaizers) came the unfortunate later Christian policy of requiring Jewish converts to Christianity to renounce their entire Jewish culture, even though it was against the spirit of the Acts 15 Council in which the original Jewish Christian Church had decided in similar circumstances that they “should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” and thus would not require Gentiles to renounce their (pagan) culture entirely but only to adjust it according to the requirements of the Gospel.
The Gentile Christian experience of Jews sadly came to be mostly as unbelieving persecutors of Christians who in the early years not only persecuted them, but even told pagan Rome that Christianity was not a new sect of Judaism as it had originally been considered, which had given it protection as a sect of a religion legally recognized in the Roman Empire. Thus the Jewish persecutors’ repudiation of Christianity had helped bring the might of the whole pagan Roman Empire against Christians in its own centuries of persecution of Christians. After Rome turned against the unbelieving Jews as well and scattered them from Palestine because of how hard Jewish nationalism made it to govern, not only did the more established Judaism of the diaspora (outside Palestine) continue to oppose and persecute younger and more vulnerable Christianity, but the small recognizably culturally Jewish Christian communities which initially survived the scattering of the Jews tended to become heretics like the Ebionites or Judaizers like those Paul repeatedly opposed in his Scriptural letters. This seems to be because of a remaining Jewish nationalism in many Jewish Christians which failed to properly integrate into the universal Christian Church communion of different culturally-based Christian Rites or Sister Churches. After centuries of Jewish exclusivism they had a hard time adjusting to the fact the Universal Christian Church, the first Universal Covenant since Noah’s, was supposed to be the place wherein the different Gentile nations descended from faithful Noah which God had ensured would develop at Babel were reincorporated into the Covenant Family together with the Jewish nation (as renewed in Jesus) which was descended from those since Noah who had never fallen away, so that they could enrich each other with their different Jewish and Gentile cultural perspectives upon the infinite truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ – with the greatest First Millennium fruit of their combined insights being the clearly articulated fundamentals of Christianity which transformed the ancient world with God’s love.
Although greatly morally superior to the Gentile cultures and on the whole requiring much less “cultural adjustment” to be brought into conformity with the norms of the Christian Gospel, the Jewish culture was not perfect and had developed a particular flaw in the form of an extreme nationalism that found it difficult to share its identification as “God’s Chosen People” with non-Jews, as the Christian Gospel required them to since God’s purposes from the beginning were for all humanity and Abraham and his descendants the Jews had only been specially called by God as His instrument for bringing about the blessing of all humanity in the universal New Covenant Church wherein whoever would come of any nation – Jewish or Gentile – would now be “God’s Chosen People.” Those small Jewish Christian communities which temporarily survived the scattering of the Jews, like the Ebionites, failed to submit their Bible interpretation to Christ’s teaching and the Holy-Spirit-led judgements of the early Councils of the wider Universal Church, and thus became formally heretical, or they continued in the “Judaizing” tendencies of those Jewish Christians Paul frequently had to oppose for their insistence that Gentile Christians needed to become Jewish to be saved.
As indicated above, it seems to me that an unfortunate side-effect of the specific ways the Jews had isolated themselves from the other nations as God’s Chosen People while they indeed needed to be separate so as not to be corrupted by others until they were mature in faith enough as a nation, was that many of them had a difficult time being part of a once-again universal Covenant as in the time of Noah before Abraham and the Jews were called. The Gentile nations had fallen away from God’s Covenant Family of Noah’s time so long before that they could gratefully come into God’s New Covenant Family and humbly offer their cultural contribution to the Universal (Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ in which all the nations descended from faithful Noah were restored and renewed as Rites of the Universal New Covenant Church. The Jewish Christians, because they were from the faithful line of God’s Covenant People since Adam and Noah, indeed had a much greater initial contribution to make to the Universal Christian Church, one which is still seen in how all the Gentile expressions of Christianity are still heavily rooted in Jewish liturgy and worship, but their indeed great contribution as those who had kept the faith and waited for the Messiah for millennia and who led the Church originally resulted in some Jewish Christians not being humble about the privilege of belonging to Messiah’s Universal Church, and sadly continuing in their pre-Christian Jewish cultural arrogance about being God’s only Chosen People (failing to heed the earlier lesson of Jonah that God loved all humanity and would save those who lived by even the more primitive universal Noahic Covenant). The Jewish Christians were by necessity the founding Rite of Christianity, since God had taken many centuries specifically to prepare the Jews to produce and receive the Messiah and take Him to the Gentile nations which would develop their own Rites still rooted in the Jewish Rite of those God had prepared for so long. But it may be that God desired that the Jewish people enter the New Covenant Christian Church as a permanent Rite under the same humble conditions as the Gentile nations originally did, to counteract their fallen human temptation to pridefully think of themselves as better than Gentile Rite Christians and to misuse their status as the founding Rite of Christianity to inappropriately dominate the Gentile Rites which would take centuries to develop into stable forms with a unique contribution to the whole Universal Church. Thus it may be that God allowed that majority of Jews who did not accept Jesus as Messiah to suffer humiliation, including the loss of their status as a nation in their own territory for millennia. Thus it may be that in such circumstances God allowed the dying out of the scattered minority Jewish Christians whose temporarily surviving groups tended to be inordinately composed of those Jews who accepted Jesus but under their own Jewish nationalist terms and not those of the Body of Christ the Universal Church of Jewish and Gentile Rites, inordinately composed of those who wished the Jewish ways to inappropriately dominate the Universal Christian Church instead of appropriately inspiring, influencing and guiding the formation the Gentile Rites in the Universal (Catholic) Christian Communion.
Again, God had made universal Covenants with all humanity descended from Adam and Noah before He called Abraham and his descendants the Jews to the mission of “blessing all the nations.” As the guardians of the God’s more recent preparatory Covenants (with Abraham, Moses, and David) in the Old Testament, of course the Jewish People as renewed in their Messiah had the greatest initial contribution to make in the founding of the New Covenant Christian Church, a massive contribution that is still discernible today in the common rituals and customs of all the Gentile Rites which drew their inspiration from the Jewish Christians who brought the Gospel of Jesus to them. But God Himself, in the period of the earlier universal Covenants with Adam and Noah and their descendants (all humanity), had commanded humanity in both Covenants to “fill the earth,” and He had made sure they did so by scattering the nations which at Babel had attempted to “not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Through the different languages and geographic locations of different groups of people after Babel God ensured the development of many different nations and cultures of humanity who, once renewed in Christ and indwelt by His Holy Spirit, would be able to enrich each other’s contemplation of and celebration of the Christian Faith after God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. Only by together sharing their different cultural perspectives on the Infinite Divine Revelation of God in Jesus Christ at the Early Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils could they most clearly articulate the essential fundamentals of orthodox Christianity (and only together can we Christians continue to most effectively unpack the infinite richness of God’s Revelation). God intended the mutually-enriching Universal (Catholic) Communion of different Christian Rites or Sister Churches, Jewish and Gentile, Eastern and Western, which was the reality of the Undivided Early Church even though the distinctly Jewish cultural forms of worship died out after a couple centuries (though they lived on in how they greatly influenced the Gentile Rites and gave them their basic and common faith, prayers and order of service). Perhaps, due to the human weakness which affects us all, in the early centuries Jewish Rite Christianity, rooted in the most godly ancient culture but one still imperfect and too exclusive, could not overcome the prideful temptation to inappropriately dominate the Gentile Rites which were not yet established, and thus perhaps God allowed the Jewish People as a whole to fall away from the New Covenant Church which had been founded by Jewish believers in Jesus, just so that many centuries later the Jews could come back into the Christian Communion exactly as the Gentiles had entered it: gratefully, and humbly offering their significant cultural contributions to the Universal New Covenant Church as the descendants of a line of the ongoing Covenant Family since Adam that had once fallen away.
In summary of this section, it seems to me that perhaps God allowed the Jews to go to the place where the Gentiles were – they switched places, so that both could permanently enter the Universal New Covenant Christian Family on equal terms. Now every culture has fallen away from God’s one ongoing Covenant Family throughout history – and every culture has been invited back. The Gentiles fell away from the ongoing Covenant Family since Adam at various times after Noah – the Jews fell away after Christ. But both can be and are meant to be equal members of the Universal Christian Communion, with their distinctive strengths to enrich the whole Christian Church . Indeed, Jewish Christians have a great deal more interest in plumbing the depths of the riches of God’s inspired Word in the Old Testament, that Testament which is the immediate context of the New Testament, a context which is neglected by many Gentile Christians. The Church needs Jewish Christians, with their passion for the Old Testament and for the New in context of the Old, in order to most fully unpack the riches of the entire Word of God. Indeed, it is because of my personal experience with Jewish Christianity (which includes Protestant Messianic Judaism and the Association of Hebrew Catholics) that I have been able to unpack as much as I have in this book of the keys to restored Christian unity in diversity.
The Now-Established Gentile Churches must Accept the Jews Now Coming into the Christian Church in Larger Numbers than Ever the Same Way the Original Jewish Christians Originally Accepted the Gentiles Who Wanted to Be Christian: “We Should Not Make it Difficult for the [Jews] Who Are Turning to God [And His Messiah Jesus]” (Cf Acts 15:19): the Protestant Christian Movement of “Messianic Judaism” and the Catholic Christian “Association of Hebrew Catholics” Which May Become a Formal Hebrew or Jewish Rite of the Catholic Church Give Modern Jews a Place to Be Jewish and Christian as the Original Jewish Rite Christians Allowed Gentiles to Be Gentile and Christian
[This following section is more rough but in complete sentences and paragraphs]
Just like the original Jewish Christians accepted the Gentiles into the Church on such terms, the Jews coming into the Church today should be required to give up “no more than is necessary” of their own cultural practices; their existing religious expressions only need to be added to and adjusted so as to conform to the norms of the Gospel, which is not that difficult, since the Jewish ways are rooted in God’s earlier Covenants which prepared the way for the Gospel! I have often noted when visiting synagogues that most of the existing Jewish liturgies as they are would be valid forms of Christian worship if only the Jews recognized the Messiah they wait for as Jesus who has already come. Having to give up everything that is familiar to them and even their whole cultural identity in order to become Christian is not something the Gentiles were ever required to do by the original Jewish Rite Christians, and it is not something Gentile Rite Christians today can appropriately ask of Jews who wish to embrace Jesus the prophesied Messiah of Israel (originally Jacob) their blood ancestor.
The simple fact is that today there are more Jewish believers in Jesus than there have been since the original Jewish Rite Christians founded the Christian Church, and this is so only because through Protestant-based Messianic Judaism and the Catholic Association of Hebrew Catholics modern Jews have had a place within the Church to remain culturally Jewish while being Christian, just as the Gentile Christians have always had a place to be culturally Roman or Greek and so on while being Christian because of the Holy Spirit-led decision of the Acts 15 Council of the original entirely Jewish Christian Church. A Jewish Christian Church which, despite the common misconception which Acts 16:1-5 and 21:17-26 proves is absolutely wrong, did not cease to be Jewish after the Council but lovingly accepted Gentile Christian believers as their brothers as well.
There are many issues relating to this topic, and many applications of the above Scriptures to current Jewish-Christian relations, and many helpful guidelines regarding the eventual formal re-establishment of a distinctly Jewish Rite of Christianity which has already begun in both the Protestant and Catholic arms of the Church, which I discuss in more detail in Chapter 6 of the full version of my book The Bible’s “Big Picture.” For now I wish to point out the distinctions that the foundational Jewish Rite Christians practiced a Jewish cultural form of Christianity based in Second-Temple Era Biblical Judaism, a religious form which was approved by God in the Bible but which has formally ended with the establishment of the New Covenant Universal Christian Church and the permanent destruction of Second-Temple era Judaism’s Temple and priesthood, which have been superceded by the New Covenant Temple in the hearts of Christians and the common priesthood of the Christian faithful prophesied in the Old Testament and proclaimed in the New Testament8. Modern Judaism’s religious practice and cultural expression of its Jewish faith are distinctly different than that of Second-Temple era Biblical Judaism, though they borrow heavily from it, and they are younger than Christianity. Modern Judaism and today’s Jewish culture rooted in it has many wonderful things drawn from the Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament, and continues many valid cultural traditions from pre-Christian times, yet it is also a recodified version of Judaism developed by the anti-Christian rabbis of the Pharisaic school who were the only Jewish leaders to survive the Second Jewish War of 135 AD and the scattering of the Jews from their homeland. Thus, modern Jews becoming Christian need more “cultural adjustment” to conform their religious and cultural expressions to the norms of the Christian Gospel than did the original Second Temple era Jews who were the first Christians (though they still need much less cultural adjustment than did the ancient Roman and Greek and other Gentile Rites needed to make their cultural expressions of religious faith conform to the Gospel, since today’s Jewish culture is still very heavily rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures). Jewish Rite Christianity must be re-established on the same terms that Gentile Rite Christianity was brought into the Christian Church, as a branch of God’s ongoing Covenant Family since Adam and Noah which fell away and is now being restored, so that there is no temptation for new Jewish Christians to think (as some of the original but Judaizing ones did) that their Rite should run the whole Church just because they are physically descended from the faithful line since Adam and Noah. God’s purposes for His human race and human Church were universal from the beginning of Creation. Under these humble terms, Jewish Rite Christianity still must be re-established though, because, as Saint Paul noted, “if their rejection means the salvation of the world, what will their acceptance [of Jesus] mean but life from the dead?”
The above Biblical Analysis of the New Testament Church’s Jewish and Gentile Rites and How They Pertain to the Later Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity Is in Accord with the Post-Vatican II Catholic Church Document Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews Which Notes That When the Church “Ponders Her Own Mystery … She Encounters the Mystery of Israel” and That “The Very Return of Christians to the Sources and Origins of Their Faith, Grafted on to the Earlier Covenant, Helps the Search for Unity in Christ, the Cornerstone”
[Unfinished section – I wish to show the links between what I have written above and the following quotations from the post-Vatican II Catholic document Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews]
Christianity sprang from Judaism, taking from it certain essential elements of its faith and divine worship…
The existing links between the Christian liturgy and the Jewish liturgy will be borne in mind…
When commenting on biblical texts, emphasis will be laid on the continuity of our faith with that of the earlier Covenant, in the perspective of the promises, without minimizing those elements of Christianity which are original…
Jesus was born of the Jewish people, as were his Apostles and a large number of his first disciples. When he revealed himself as the Messiah and Son of God (cf. Mt. 16:16), the bearer of the new Gospel message, he did so at the fulfilment and perfection of the earlier Revelation. And, although his teaching had a profoundly new character, Christ nevertheless, in many instances, took his stand on the teaching of the Old Testament. The New Testament is profoundly marked by its relation to the Old. As the Second Vatican Council declared: “God, the inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (Dei Verbum, n. 16)…
The problem of Jewish-Christian relations concerns the Church as such, since it is when “pondering her own mystery” that she encounters the mystery of Israel. Therefore, even in areas where no Jewish communities exist, this remains an important problem. There is also an ecumenical aspect to the question: the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted on to the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone…
On 22 October, 1974, the Holy Father instituted for the universal Church this Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, joined to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. This special Commission, created to encourage and foster religious relations between Jews and Catholics—and to do so eventually in collaboration with other Christians…
…sound relations between Catholics and their Jewish brothers…
[Note that these quotations see the mystery of the Church intertwined with the mystery of Israel, they make much of the connections between Biblical Judaism and Christianity, and even see that there is an ecumenical dimension to studying the Jewish origin of the Church, “the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted on to the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone.” I believe my above historical analysis of the formation of the Unified yet Diverse Rites of the Undivided Early Church draws out the Ecumenical fruit of really understanding the Jewish origins of the Universal Christian Church.]
[end of unfinished section]
In Addition to Cultural Differences, the Different Apostles Left Different Personal Examples of Just How to Celebrate the Christian Faith Which Affected the Different Later Rites, and 1 Corinthians Chapter 1 Gives the Useful Principle of Unity (practiced by the Early Universal/Catholic Christian Communion) That All of These Different Ways of Expressing the One Christian Faith Belong to All Christians in the One Body of Christ the Church That Should Have “No Divisions” over Such Things
Jesus left no instructions of how to worship Him beyond “do this in remembrance of me.” So precisely how to “do this” basic Christian cult or worship act – with leavened or unleavened bread, what kind of wine, just what symbolic gestures or prayers or hymns to use, and so on, along with other religious customs – were matters of individual variation, later cultural variation which led to different Rites, and variation within Rites. It is likely this kind of individual variation which is behind the divisions Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1:10-15, 3:3-9. Those groups of Christians who quarreled amongst each other because they followed either Paul or Apollos or Peter were most likely following the particular customs or the precise ways of celebrating the Eucharist/Holy Communion that they had seen demonstrated by either Paul or Apollos or Peter, and they uncharitably criticized those who followed the example of a different Apostle than they did. Paul makes no mention of different beliefs among the quarrelers, and he approves of the different Apostles they follow, so they are most likely following different individual Apostolic examples of religious custom and worship practices. It is in fact very reasonable to assume that some of the differences between the ancient Rites are not just cultural but go back to which individual Apostle went to which area, and what personal example he gave as to precisely how to celebrate Holy Communion and other Sacraments. Tradition and history in fact tells us that Saint Mark (the Evangelist who gave us Mark’s Gospel) is associated with the Alexandrine Rite, Jerusalem followed the Liturgy of Saint James the martyred overseer of Jerusalem who hosted the Acts 15 Council, Saint Jude went to Edessa in Syria, Saint John (the Apostle and Evangelist) to Ephesus, Saint Matthew to Ethiopia (where a convert of Saint Philip’s came from and went back to – Acts 8:26-39), Saint Peter is particularly associated with the church in Antioch before he went to Rome where he was martyred, and the ancient Malabar and Malankarese Rites in India have an unsubstantiated tradition that Saint Thomas himself got as far as India to spread the gospel to their people. So different individual Apostolic examples of Christian worship – as well as different local cultural responses to the gospel truths – likely shaped the different Rites. But Paul makes clear that the only vital thing is the Deposit of Faith which each of the Apostles the quarrelers follow handed on to them, not whatever distinct practices and customs they also passed on by their personal example. The individual Apostles with their particular ways are “only servants, through whom you came to believe” (1 Corinthians 3:5), and there is no place for criticism of other Christians who follow different ways and worship customs. All those who follow any of the Apostles, with their different ways, are God’s one Church, “God’s building” (v.3:9). The only rule that ultimately matters is the Rule of Faith. This lays down the gospel principle to be followed regarding the various Rites which grew up around the preaching of the same Faith by different Apostles in different places: we are one Universal (Catholic) Church, and we cannot say “I follow Peter’s Roman Rite” or “I follow the Byzantine Rite” with any criticism of those who follow another way but keep the Rule of Faith which is the essence of Universal Christian (Catholic) Communion .9 Saint Paul condemns us if we do:
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? … You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe … So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 3:3-5,21-23)
I suggest that this passage of Scripture which specifically refers to the primitive differences between the primitive Church Christians who followed the different examples of different Apostles like Paul, Apollos or Cephas (Peter) directly applies to the later differences between the later Christians who followed different culturally-based Rites or Sister Churches of the Church like the Alexandrian, Byzantine or Roman (which were also each associated with different Apostles who started the churches in each area). The different cultural Sister Churches with their different ways are “only servants, though whom [their members] came to believe” (even the still-orthodox Protestant churches may be considered Roman “daughter Rites or churches” for this purpose, though ones which are not on the best speaking terms with their Roman “Mother Rite” they broke away from while still retaining many elements and approaches of distinctly Roman Rite Christianity). Thus just as Paul said “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas,” because all of these Apostles were legitimate servants of God and bearers of the message of Jesus despite their different approaches which were still valid, so in the Universal (Catholic) Christian Church “all things ours, whether Alexandrian, Byzantine, or Roman,” regardless of which Rite of the Church we were baptized into, because all of these Rites are legitimate bearers of the life-saving truth of Jesus despite their different approaches to the same Divine Revelation which are all valid, and all of these different approaches in fact illuminate each other so as to together give the Universal Church of Christ a clearer picture of the full truth of Jesus than any one Rite alone. The clearly articulated common fundamentals of Christianity themselves are the result of the First Millennium Universal (Catholic) Christians considering that “all things are ours” and sharing with each other their different and mutually enriching theological insights. Even despite the current formal divisions between Catholic, Orthodox, and (doctrinally conservative or orthodox) Protestant Christians, theological scholars from each of these groups frequently borrow good ideas and insights from each other already because we all know the same Jesus Christ whose nature and person is clearly expressed in our (above) vast common Christian faith .
[before concluding this chapter on the Bible’ testimony to the ideal of Christian unity in diversity, I may want to import from or at least refer to the section in Volume III Chapter 6 entitled “The Old Testament Prophecy of Messiah Ruling the Nations from Sea to Sea in a New Covenant Wherein Messiah’s People (From All Nations) Are like Beautiful Jewels in a Crown – as the Eastern and Western Catholic Rites (The Nations Renewed in Jesus) Are like Different Jewels in Jesus’ Crown, Which Is All the More Beautiful Because of Their Variety ,” because it deals with Biblical prophecies from the Books of Zechariah and Revelation which indicate that Messiah’s Church and Kingdom is supposed to be like the Undivided Church’s Communion of different nationally/culturally -based Sister Churches.]
Today’s Divided Christian Churches Which Are United Already in the above Vast Common Christian Faith Celebrated Through a Great Diversity of Rituals and Practices Are Already Much Closer to the Undivided Early Church’s Lived Ideal of Unity in Diversity than We Usually Realize; What Remains Is to Lovingly Seek to Truly Understand Each Other’s Different Perspectives on Our Few Substantial Current Disagreements, Towards Eventually Finding Mutually Agreed-On Solutions
We have considered above some of the Biblical reasons all Christians should consider substantial differences in worship and devotional rituals, customs and practices between Christians as not only normal but good and mutually enriching, and in fact part of the Undivided Early Church ideal of unity in diversity which we should strive to emulate “so that the world may believe.” I hope this will help all the many Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical Christians (and “Messianic Jews”) who are already united in the above vast common Christian faith to recognize just how close to the Undivided Early Church’s ideal we already are despite our current divisions, since we are already a collection of different “particular” churches who share a unity in tremendous common faith and common Divine Revelation which we express and celebrate in a great diversity of ways, like the Undivided Early Church. The Undivided Early Church did have a common formally unified structure and a fully common dogma (non-negotiable fundamental doctrine) which today’s divided churches still lack, but, being so much closer to the Early Church’s ideal than we usually realize already, in the long term we can surely overcome these deficiencies with the Holy Spirit of Unity’s aid as we listen to each other in Christian love and slowly work out our current misunderstandings and disagreements so as to find mutually agreed-on solutions to the few substantial doctrinal differences which currently divide us.
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To Chapter 4: Family Theology: The Family History Recorded in the Bible of God the Father of Love’s Ongoing Adopted Covenant Family since Adam (Gradually Raised Towards Maturity in Love Through a Series of Covenants) Leads up Deliberately and Specifically to the New Covenant Christian Church as it Actually Existed in the Undivided First Millennium Universal (Catholic) Christian Church’s Catholic (Universal) Family Communion of Orthodox Christian ‘Sister Churches’
1Some scholars miss the fact that God made a Covenant with Adam and his descendants because the word “Covenant” is not used directly. But all the elements of Covenant are there, including the vital “seven.” Seven is the number for Covenant Oath, and the word for swearing an oath in Hebrew literally means “to seven oneself.” The seventh Day of Creation is the primordial oath, the seventh day was made Holy (the Sabbath) because of this Covenant between God and humanity (the Hebrew word for humanity is adam – Adam represents all humanity, and all humanity is descended from Adam). The Seventh Day (Saturday) Sabbath which marks the Creation of the world and the Covenant made with Adam was continued in all the later Old Testament Covenants, demonstrating the continuity of the one ongoing Covenant Family, and it was later transformed in the New Covenant into an “Eighth Day” (Sunday) Sabbath celebration which superceded the “Seventh Day” Sabbath because it marked the beginning of the New Creation in the Resurrected and Glorified Body of Jesus (which happened on Sunday), and the New Covenant made with Jesus the New Adam. The Bible tells Christians to expect a future resurrection of our bodies which will be like Jesus’ resurrected and glorified body, and a “New Heavens and a New Earth,” but this New Creation began on Easter Sunday with the resurrection and glorification of Jesus’ physical body. Thus it is totally appropriate that Christians frequently apply Old Testament texts about keeping the Sabbath holy to the weekly Christian Sunday celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Sunday is the New Covenant Sabbath which marks the New Creation (and Covenant) as the Saturday Sabbath in the older Covenants marked the original Creation (and Covenant).
2The Jews are physically descended from Judah, son of Israel (originally named Jacob), father of the Israelites; Israel is descended from Eber, father of the Hebrews (including Jacob’s grandfather “Abraham the Hebrew” – see Genesis 14:13); Eber is descended from Shem, father of the Semites (Genesis 10:21-31); and Shem (son of Noah, the last faithful Sethite before the Flood), is descended from Seth, the faithful son of Adam, father of the Sethites (also called “the sons of God” – Genesis 6:2,4 – as they were once-faithful descendants of Adam “the son of God” – Luke 3:38. The godly Sethite line (its patriarchs listed in Genesis 5) began to intermarry (Genesis 6:2) with the Cainite line descended from Cain the world’s first murderer (its patriarchs listed in Genesis 4:17-24) and the Sethites being corrupted by the Cainites made the world become “full of violence,” (see Genesis 6:11-13) which motivated God to send the Flood). For more details see Chapter 5 of The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ (full version).
3Job also performs priestly functions, before the time of Abraham, thus his relationship with God is also under the terms of the Noahic Covenant.
4Acts 21:20 in the original Greek gives the number of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem as muriades. Although the English word “myriads” which is derived from muriades does not specify any quantity, the Greek word literally and specifically means “tens of thousands,” indicating that the number of Jewish Rite Christians who recognized Israel’s Messiah when He came was larger than most of us Gentile Christians tend to think, since distinctly Jewish Rite Christianity did not survive the two Jewish Wars with pagan Rome and the scattering of the Jews (Christian believers and others) from their homeland. After this the small minority of scattered original Jewish Rite Christians in any particular area were gradually absorbed into the mass ranks of Gentile Christians through intermarriage and the like.
5Likely from the unbelieving diaspora Jews who were visiting Jerusalem, who were familiar with Paul’s Gentile missions – the same kind who stirred up the riot against Paul shortly after this passage, in Acts 21:27.
6Also known as the Divine Office obligatorily prayed daily by Christian priests, monks and nuns, and voluntarily by lay Christians; sometimes simply known as formal daily Christian Prayer. The Latin Matins and Vespers are the major morning and evening “Hours.” The younger Protestant Churches retain vestiges of this practice in their daily devotional guides, such as Spurgeon’s classic Morning and Evening.
7The Eastern Gentile Rites of the Christian Church have mitres more directly similar to Jewish priestly headgear. The Western, Roman Rite bishop’s mitre developed a distinct shape (rounded at the sides but coming to a point at the top) but the fact that Roman Catholic priestly vestments include mitres at all originally comes from the Jewish headgear, as most of the other Roman Rite vestments are based in ancient Roman clothing (originally the priests did not stop wearing what they usually wore as the styles changed around them).
8Protestant Christians sometimes do not understand (and some Catholics have forgotten) that the ancient Christian Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) have an ordained ministerial priesthood which serves the Christian Community in particular roles within the Body of Christ (as eyes have different roles in a human body than feet but both are part of the body), but they still understand the common priesthood, that the whole Christian community is a priestly people, a “royal priesthood and holy nation,” and that the whole Christian community offers sacrifice to God as in Romans 12:1 (offering sacrifice being what makes a priest a priest). I understand the Eastern, Ruthenian Rite of the Catholic Church has a wonderful tradition that expresses this: the pastor and (ministerial) priest’s chair in located in the midst of the congregation, symbolizing that the pastor and (ministerial) priest is called out of the (priestly) community to officiate and preside over the worship of the community. The pastor who is a (ministerial) priest is ordained to be the presider or president of the worship and sacrifice offered by the whole Christian community, the gathered Body of Christ, the gathered “royal priesthood and holy nation.”
9Note that even at the Synod of Whitby, where the King of Northumbria decided which Rite would be followed in his Kingdom (Roman or Roman Celtic), it was not an issue of one Rite’s traditions being inherently better than the other. The Celtic Rite was a daughter Rite of the ancient Roman Patriarchate, and so the two Rites were actually not vastly different. But the King felt that unity of worship practice was important for political unity in his Kingdom. Most specifically, he, being Celtic, did not want to be celebrating Easter while his Roman Rite queen was still fasting for Lent, as the two Rites celebrated Easter at different times. He decided in favour of the Roman Rite in deference to Saint Peter. But still, apart from the Easter question and Roman organization, both worship traditions continued to function peacefully and complement each other.