About Groups Which Fell Away From The Ongoing Covenant Family
The Many Unfaithful Lines of the Covenant Family
All humanity is in Covenant Family relationship with God through at least the Adamic and Noahic Covenants. Jews and Arabs are in Covenant Family relationship with God through the Abrahamic Covenant as well, and Jews are in Covenant Family relationship with God through the Mosaic and Davidic Covenants as well (whether they are living by these Covenants or not, they belong to them, since these Covenants were made with Adam, Noah, Abraham and their descendants). However, all of these groups which are not in the current New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ are from fallen-away branches of the One ongoing Covenant Family of God in full good standing, no longer living under the Father’s roof in the “new house” He built for His children – The Church of Jew and Gentile restored in Christ. They are in greater or lesser degree estranged from the Covenant Father, although they may achieve salvation through faithfulness in love to the God who is love, under the simpler terms of these older covenants they belong to wherein God did not yet expect as high a standard of moral maturity in love and in which God did not expect His Covenant children to have as precise and clear intellectual doctrinal knowledge about Him (if “Abel was a Christian,” as the Early Church Fathers understood, he and all the Old Testament Saints were “Christians” who did not understand God as Trinity and so on, though they did have a loving Covenant Family relationship with the God they did not understand as well as Christians do). God is the judge of exactly what kind of relationship He has with each human being, and thus Romans 2:6-16 indicates the possibility of salvation outside of explicit Christian faith on the basis of people following the Covenant “law written on their hearts” even when they do not belong to the most recent Covenant – a possibility which is best understood as being on the basis of faithfulness in love to the older, less detailed Covenants which were certainly the means of salvation for the Old Testament Saints who lived when those Covenants were “the latest Covenant.” Remember that the Bible describes all of the individual Covenants as “everlasting,” so they all still participate in the one ongoing Covenant Family of God. We still see the Rainbow, the Sign of the Noahic Covenant, indicating this Covenant is still in force and has the potential to save those who live by it as Noah and Shem did. This principle is shown clearly in the Book of Jonah, wherein God sends the Israelite prophet Jonah to warn the wicked city of Nineveh to repent, and the Ninevites are saved from destruction not by joining the most recent Covenant which God had made with the Israelites, but by returning to living by the older Covenant with Noah which had prohibited the sin of murder which the Ninevites had since become infamous for. Jesus continues to teach this principle in His parable of “the Sheep and the Goats”(Matthew 25:31-46) wherein the nations (that is, the Gentiles, neither Christians nor the Jews Jesus is directly speaking to) are judged based on actions motivated by love (whereby they prove themselves truly related to the God who is love). Despite this Scriptural possibility of individual personal salvation outside of explicit Christian faith (especially for those who never had any opportunity to hear and respond to the Christian Gospel), Christians are still obligated to preach the Gospel to all nations seeking to make them explicitly disciples of Jesus (see Matthew 28:20), for the following reasons: To have the certainty of salvation if they persevere in love (Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13), and to have the restoration of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of supernatural adoption to help them persevere in love, and to have the fulness of power and joy in this life, the many fallen-away branches of the one ongoing Covenant Family need to come back into Covenant Family membership in good standing through joining the New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ.
This is exactly what large portions of the previously fallen-away branches of the older covenants did in the Early Church, these “Gentile” (non-Jewish) converts to Christianity becoming the original four Sister Churches or Rites which together with the original Jewish Christians made up the one Universal (that is, Catholic) Church of Jesus Christ. Each of these four original “Gentile” Christian Sister Churches in the Catholic Communion of Sister Churches has had many successful missions to those still fallen away branches of the Covenant Family, which became “daughter rites” of the original four Gentile Christian Sister Churches (regrafted back into the faithful “Olive Tree”).
Why the Original “Jewish Rite” of the Universal (Catholic) Christian Church Was Not Sustained in History and Why it is Appropriate That Jewish Rite Christianity Is Being Re-established Today
Unfortunately, the original “Jewish Rite” of the Universal (Catholic) Church, centered in Jerusalem where the Christian Church began, the original Jewish Christian Church descended physically from the faithful line of the Covenant family all the way back to Adam’s faithful descendants through Seth, was not historically sustained in a distinctly culturally Jewish Rite of the Universal (Catholic) Christian Church. This sad fact happened because there were numerically more Jews who did not accept Jesus as their Messiah than those who did, while there were numerically vast numbers of Gentiles who came into the Christian Church through the Gospel ministry of the original, Jewish Christians. After the pagan Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 135 AD and scattered the Jews (non-Christian Jews and minority Christian Jews) from their homeland until modern times (the 1948 re-establishment of the State of Israel), there were too few Jewish Rite Christians in any one area to form whole congregations. Thus, through intermarriage with Gentile Christians and such, the original Jewish Christians did not sustain a distinctly culturally Jewish Rite or Sister Church of the Catholic Church, while there were large numbers of Romans, Byzantine Greeks, Antiochene Syrians and such, and Egyptian Alexandrians – which became the large original Gentile Christian “Mother Rites.” The Jewish influence on Gentile Christianity was still (appropriately) very strong, however – many Christian devotional customs and worship practices and vestments and so on are based on pre-Christian Jewish worship. The Divine Liturgy (Eastern term) or Holy Mass (Western term) itself, the central act of Catholic Christian worship, is based on the Jewish Synagogue’s Bible-reading prayer service combined with the Jewish Passover Meal (which was the context of Jesus’ Last Supper). The ancient Gentile Churches such as the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox (and Catholic) Churches today still have a formal daily Christian prayer known as “The Liturgy of the Hours” which is based on the formal prayers of Biblical Judaism during the hours of the daily sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple, especially morning and evening sacrifices (even Protestant Christians have retained vestiges of this practice in their “daily devotional” readings and prayers including Spurgeon’s classic “Morning and Evening”). The pope himself wears a skull cap, called by the Jews a kipa (Hebrew) or yarmulka (Yiddish), because of the Jewish roots of the Christian Church (thus Pope John XXIII said “spiritually, we are all Jews,” and when he met with Jewish leaders in the Vatican he opened by saying, “Behold, I am Joseph your brother” – quoting Genesis 45:4 when Joseph reveals himself to his 11 long-estranged brothers).
Thankfully, there is today an “Association of Hebrew Catholics,” Catholic Christians of ethnically Jewish origin who there is talk of re-instituting as a “Jewish” or “Hebrew” Rite of the Catholic Church – which would restore the lost balance of the Christian Church as the Universal (Catholic) Church of both Jew and Gentile – those descended from the faithful line since Adam and those once broken away but restored. Protestant Christianity too has a growing movement of “Messianic Judaism” which seeks to re-establish the lost original Jewish cultural response to the Gospel of Jesus whose original members took the Gospel of Jesus to all of the other cultures such as the Romans and the Greeks. These movements in both Protestant and Catholic Gentile Christianity which allow Jews to remain culturally Jewish when they become Christian have resulted in far, far more Jewish conversions to Christianity than there have been since the 1st Century, for the simple and appropriate reason that these movements follow the Biblical principle laid down by the original Jewish Christians in the Acts 15 Council in which the first, Jewish Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, determined that Gentiles did not need to change their culture and become culturally Jewish when they became Christians but could remain culturally Syrian, Greek, Roman or whatever they were before they became Christians. Acts 15:1-16:5 and 21:17-26 prove that the original Jewish Christians remained culturally Jewish, and Christian, after the Acts 15 Council determined that one did not need to be Jewish to become Christian, because the Acts 15 Council established the principle that Christians “should not make it difficult for those turning to God” and thus whatever one’s cultural identity happened to be was good (remember God at Babel ensured the proliferation of human cultures for His own purposes within His New Covenant Church). The Council only required that people’s cultural practices had to be adjusted to conform to the norms of the Christian Gospel – thus Acts 15 only prohibited certain Gentile cultural practices relating to sexual immorality or idolatry, and thus Jews who become Christian today should only be required to reject the few specifically anti-Christian elements of their modern Jewish culture which developed since the time the majority of Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah.
(For much more detailed considerations of Jewish Christianity at the Christian Church’s foundation, through history, and today, see the full version of The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ and Volume I of So That The World May Believe entitled Rediscovering the Early Church’s Unity in Diversity – Today’s Divided Christians Who Share the Traditional Fundamental Beliefs of Orthodox Christianity Are Already Much Closer to the Undivided First Millennium Church’s Unity in Diversity than We Usually Realize.)
“Heretical” or Unorthodox Christian Churches Which deny Essentials of the Undivided Early Church’s Faith
Branches of the New Covenant Family can still fall away from faithfulness as they did in the Old Testament. “Heretic” or unorthodox Christian churches are fallen-away branches of the New Covenant Family of the Christian Church who deny fundamentals of Christian truth and need to be restored to the orthodox Christian faith. These groups include the “Lesser” Eastern Churches which rejected the Early Church Councils which established Christian orthodoxy; breakaway Protestant sects like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses; and those many “doctrinally liberal” Protestant Christians who are formally unorthodox (which is not all of them — “Liberal Protestant Christianity” today includes the numerical bulk of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations. It ranges from those who are essentially orthodox Christians but are not as certain about traditional Christian orthodoxy as they should be [questioning or doubting Christian fundamentals], all the way to clearly unorthodox or heretical Protestant Christians who deliberately deny traditional essential beliefs of orthodox Christianity).
Even Today’s Non-Catholic Christian Churches Can Be “Catholic at Heart” If They Still Hold to the Essential Fundamentals of Traditional Christian Orthodoxy Articulated and Established by the Undivided Early Catholic Church They Left in Later History (And Even While Formally Divided They Already Enrich the Ancient Catholic Communion Which Today Borrows Many Good Things from Them)
However, the above-listed unorthodox (“heretical”) Christian Churches are distinct from the many orthodox but non-Catholic Christian Churches which are not completely broken away but still “Catholic at heart,” embracing all the most important fundamentals of the faith of the Catholic Church they broke away from, Catholic truth which empowers them to still be used of God for the salvation of the world. These “Catholic at heart” Christian Churches include
1) the Eastern Orthodox Churches which are almost identical to the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church except for no longer fully accepting the Pope as the Head Pastor of the whole Church and thus are no longer within the ancient Catholic (Universal) Communion of Sister Churches. There is hope that these Churches may return to the Catholic Communion in our lifetime, as Catholic popes and Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchs since Vatican Council II in the 1960s have produced joint statements which indicate both sides are consciously working towards re-establishing the “full communion …which existed between them throughout the first millennium of the life of the Church.” The “Catholic at heart” Christian Churches also include
2) the “doctrinally conservative” Protestant Christian Churches (including Evangelicals, Pentecostals and the “Messianic Jews” who combine the Protestant Christian and Jewish traditions) which (for now) completely accept the fundamentals of orthodox, Catholic Christianity although they do not realize that their continued belief in the Protestant “Pillar Principle” of “the Bible Alone is authoritative” without the authoritative Bible interpretation of Catholic Sacred Tradition and the Catholic Magisterium (recognized as functions of the Church as truly the Body of Christ and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15), as the Bible itself proclaims) makes them very vulnerable to eventually becoming the “doctrinally liberal” Protestant Christian unorthodox heretics whom they now despise for rejecting Christian fundamentals – since it is the Catholic Magisterium of ordained overseers/bishops, patriarchs and pope (as a function of the Church as the Living Body of Christ), which Protestants reject, which historically established the traditional fundamentals of orthodox Christianity as the only proper interpretation of the Bible (among several popular alternate interpretations declared heretical by the Catholic Church), and it was even the Catholic Magisterium of bishops, patriarchs and pope who from 367-405 AD fixed the Canon of the New Testament itself (Protestants depend on the Catholic Church to even know their Bible with certainty)! Conservative/Evangelical Protestants’ firm adherence to traditional orthodox Christianity and the traditional Christian New Testament, both of which were established by the Early Catholic Church which settled the major early Christian controversies over these issues, means that without realizing it they stand within and continue to pass on the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how to properly interpret the Bible and they unconsciously act as if the Early Catholic Magisterium of Church Councils of overseer/bishops, patriarchs and popes had genuine authority (as the Living Body of Christ the Church animated and kept from error by the Holy Spirit as per Jesus’ promise) to settle major Christian disputes for all time, meaning such fundamentally orthodox Protestant Christians are Catholic at heart. Without realizing it they act just like Catholics where it matters most! It is the “doctrinally liberal” or unorthodox Protestant Christians who are truly “Protestant at heart,” refusing to consider as settled the major early controversies over Bible Canon and fundamental interpretation which were historically settled by the Magisterium of the Undivided Early Catholic Church on the basis of Catholic Sacred Tradition, both of which the 16th Century Protestant Reformation said had “no authority” over a Christian’s faith . Therefore, because they are Protestants, liberal Protestant Christians are frequently uncertain of even basic Christian orthodoxy, they are often unsure if Jesus is God (or they are sure He is not), and they are uncertain of just which books and passages of the traditional (Catholic) Christian Scriptures should be in their Protestant Bibles. Orthodox (not heretical) Christians used different New Testaments until the traditional 27-book New Testament Canon all orthodox (but not all liberal Protestant) Christians recognize today was established by the Catholic Magisterium in 367-405 AD. Saint Athanasius, the Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, first suggested the 27-book New Testament we know in 367 AD, arranged in different order. The local (not Ecumenical) Councils of Christian overseer/bishops at Hippo in 393 AD and at Carthage in 397 AD agreed with Patriarch Athanasius’ list, and arranged it in the order we know today, but said that this list needed to be confirmed by “the Church across the sea” in Rome. Pope Innocent I in Rome confirmed and ratified this New Testament Canon in 405 AD, and orthodox Christians have known this as the New Testament ever since then. The papacy was directly involved in the permanent establishment of the New Testament Canon as well as in the permanent establishment of traditional fundamental Christian orthodoxy (“Jesus is fully God and fully man” is from Pope Saint Leo the Great, who directed the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451 AD to adopt his clear and precise definition of fundamental Christian orthodoxy, after he authoritatively declared heretical the previous 449 AD Council which supported the Monophysite heresy which denied the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus). The Arian heretics in the 4th Century, who denied the true and full Divinity of Jesus, were the first Christians to suggest something like Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine (when they said they did not have to follow the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicea which defined that Jesus was Divine, “one in being with the Father,” because the Bible was not that specific), thus it is no surprise that many (liberal) Protestant Christians today are modern-day Arian heretics who follow something like the Bible interpretation of the Arian Christians who were only declared heretics by the Catholic Church Councils of overseer/bishops and popes on the basis of the Catholic Sacred Tradition passed down since Apostolic times of how to interpret the Bible. The 2nd Ecumenical Council of 381 AD, which reaffirmed the Divinity of Jesus and formally defined the Divinity of the Holy Spirit and therefore declared the Trinity to be an essential and non-negotiable Christian doctrine, was only called an Ecumenical (worldwide) Council at all, there being no Western Christian overseer/bishops at the Council, because Pope Saint Damasus in 382 AD declared the teaching of the 381 AD Eastern Council to have binding authority over the faith of all Christians (who previously had been disputing the doctrine of the Trinity). Again, the fact that orthodox Protestants are absolutely sure that the (traditional New Testament as fixed by the Catholic Church) must be interpreted so as to yield the (traditional and Catholic) central Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and so on means that they already acting like Catholics where it matters most and so they are already “Catholic at heart,” their churches already belong in heart to the ancient Undivided Catholic Communion of orthodox Christian Sister Churches (Eastern and Western) known collectively as the Catholic Church. Moreover, orthodox Protestants have a great many original but legitimate expressions of the vast amount of the Catholic faith they took with them when they left (especially worship hymns and songs) which are already borrowed by Catholics for the enrichment of the Catholic Communion. (For many more details concerning what makes fundamentally orthodox Protestants “Catholic at heart” while unorthodox Protestants are true Protestants following the mature form of Protestantism, see my book Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality. For many more historical details about the pope’s integral role in the early establishment of fundamental Christian orthodoxy and New Testament Canon, see my book So That The World May Believe, especially Volume II Appendix II and Volume III Chapter 5).
© 2007, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
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