A review into the many faces and beliefs of Christianity
by Grant Marshall
At the time of this writing, I have just arrived back from a wonderful trip with my wife from the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. Historically, the island has had many relationships with its neighbours, resulting in a rich cultural heritage. Since its liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the German and Italian presence during the 20th century, because of the world war II, have both left their mark. Today, both nations affect the touristic demographic significantly. However, what marks the island most of all is its rich religious legacy. Coincidentally the island is twinned with Glastonbury. Despite this religious link to our shores, it seems that the last couple of years have brought a dramatic drop in British tourists to the island.
In one conversation with our host, we were told that most visitors come for religious reasons. Ancient Greek mythology tells the story of the goddess Artemis as the one who resurfaced the sunken island. The story tells of her relationship with the goddess Selene who after convincing Artemis about her desire to see the island, resurrected, to speak with her brother Apollo, who in turn had words with Zeus, who eventually allowed the island to rise from its watery depths. The island was named ‘Letois,’ after the goddess Artemis.
Centuries along, the inhabitants became known as Patmians who considered themselves to be descendants of Sparta, Argo, and Epidaurus. In the writings of Christianity, Patmos is of course mentioned in the book of Revelation that accounts the vision of John the Apostle. John was considered to be the same John that Jesus, according to scripture, loved; the book is considered to have been written by his scribe Prochorus.
Patmos, at the time of John’s exile, during the time of the Emperor Titus Flavius Domitian 95AD, was a strategic island used by Rome as a port and merchant route to Ephesus. The Romans left the area following the fall of the empire and Christianity flourished. After the division of the Roman Empire in 284 AD, Christianity was officially recognized, and the Byzantine Empire flourished.
During this period the inhabitants of Patmos built the Grand Royal Basilica in honour of Saint John, and where the monastery stands today. The 6th to the 9th century AD saw the basilica destroyed by Arab raids. Its subsequent rebuilding was undertaken In 1085 following a meeting with the Reverend Father Christodoulos and a monk Arsenios Skinouris on Kos.
The construction of the monastery started in 1101, after the permission of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komninos the 1st, gave to Christodoulos the complete authority over the island of Patmos. The fame of the monastery grew, and a settlement started to expand around it. During the end of the 12th century, the island of Patmos was transformed into a large commercial centre.
In 1207, the Venetians conquered Patmos and the island became a semi-autonomous monastic state and gained great wealth and influence. In 1340, the Knights of Saint John, who had seized Rhodes, conquered the island of Patmos. So, there is a little background history into this beautiful island.
The point of this article, is, however, to draw attention to some history of our own faith. I want for a moment for you to be honest and consider how much about your personal faith or tradition you actually know. Most Christians are almost totally oblivious to it. If you have been to theological school you would be more aware but generally, most of us aren’t. Within the evangelical stream, many have been overcome by the methodology of its relevant approaches and simply go along with its well-meaning or well-being messages. Little is known of its protestant beginning at all.
In the Christian faith, there are millions of followers, but the problem is we do not all agree with each other. Our traditions and doctrines differ greatly. Let’s mention a few: Roman Catholic, Greek, Russian, Eastern, and Oriental Orthodox. We have the Protestant church and the many different denominations among it. What about your views for example of the LDS’s/Jehovah’s witnesses or the Mormon or the Amish, Hutterites or Mennonites. You might not agree with it but they consider themselves Christian as well and they too see much error within the other Christian streams. There are such diversities and disagreements amongst us all. Where would you put yourself among these? How much about these groups do you really know? If you have been a member of any one of these, how much do you know of its founding, its teachings and history? Were you born into your tradition or were you searching and found one that reflected your beliefs?
The traditions within the predominantly primary faiths of the Orthodox and Catholic, bring to the table a plethora of emotion and belief. Studying the history and tradition of these religions, I believe, shows us how mixed up and fractured we are as the church. In this article, let us consider the church on these grounds. Messianic thought focuses on what is termed the true or remnant church and some thought on these lines sees an even greater divide between organised religions. Our understanding must be that within these organised religions the remnant church exists. From these groups the extraction will take place by God; the sheep and the goats, the tares and the wheat will be sifted. The orthodox faiths differ in two main areas of theology: philosophical and spiritual thought. The two churches agree on this. Pope John Paul II considered these areas as the two lungs of Christianity, each bringing a different breath into the body. We can agree that such diversity embellishes the Christian church or only adds to its division. These are personal thoughts for us all. These two spheres of the church have contemplated these differences for well over a thousand years. But one thing for sure that has been significant in our personal observances and liturgies is the embedded traditions found in all of them. In the greater part, tradition and ritual has blurred our personal levels of revelation and understanding, and because of it, our own intimate relationship with God has suffered. This is one of the areas in which the primary faiths differ.
If we truly understand personal faith and the traditions that come along with the way we observe it, we must at the very least see how great is the chasm that we have with each other. Here are a few differences within the two major orthodox faiths for example, but first let us acknowledge that the orthodox church is Catholic but not Roman Catholic.
So what are some of the differences between Orthodox and Catholic?
• The Place of the Pope:
• For the Catholics, the Pope in Rome is the highest authority. The Vatican is the seat of Christianity.
• Pope is not recognized as supreme by the Orthodox.
• Use of Latin:
• Latin remained the language of the Catholic Church for long. It is only after the second Ecumenical Council that the Catholic Church started to use native language for mass services.
• Orthodox Church did not accept the Roman language Latin and preferred using native languages from the start.
• The Seat of Christianity:
• Western Church or the Catholics believe the Vatican in Rome to be the seat of Christianity.
• Constantinople or Istanbul is considered to be the seat of Christianity by Orthodox.
• Views about Mary:
• Catholics believe Mary to be one without original sin and hence appropriate to be the mother of the son of god.
• Orthodox Church feels that Mary was ordinary but was chosen to be the mother of Jesus as she had led a virtuous life.
• Catholics prefer statues.
• Orthodox believes in icons instead of statues.
• Catholics accept the Georgian calendar.
• Orthodox accepts the Julian calendar.
• Celibacy of Priests:
• Priests are not allowed to marry in Catholic Church.
• In Orthodox, marriage before ordination is allowed.
• Ideas about each other:
• Catholics consider Orthodox to be mystical in nature relying far too often on spiritual practices.
It is not accepted, because of the schism, Roman Catholics and Orthodox congregants cannot take communion together.
Having stated the short list above – maybe you could do some of your own research. I am aware also that most of us do not realise the depth to which we adhere to practices within our own traditions. We speak of unity and developing dialogue to combat the disunity among the assembly, but are not willing to give up the garments that identify us to our own particular brand. When we approach the subject of our differences in the hope of bringing us closer, we often respond with defending quite robustly our tradition to the point of being offended if our neighbour disagrees with us. But not only do we have to contend with the challenges within the various groups already, we have the addition of those who see themselves somewhat elitist within the Hebraic and Messianic movements. Feeling a deeper level of revelation regarding our Hebrew routes, proponents feel a closer bond to our Jewish cousins. Suddenly, even, a rift appears among these two groups. Some feel that they should draw nearer Jewish practices as a result. The learning of the Hebrew language prevails, and then the next stage of embracing all things Jewish and Israeli and dare I say, returning to Talmudic teachings.
This argument is far deeper than I am willing to approach in this article and deserves more time to it as part of our ongoing discourse. My point in this; a closer look at how deep the cut of our separation has become, needs more attention. Returning to Patmos, I am drawn to its rich diverse history again. I feel that somehow it must reflect a parallel into how the church has evolved. Many observers in Greek orthodoxy, for example, approach the faith through tradition without really feeling the need to develop a personal relationship with God. The observance of feasts and saint days is enough, and even among secular Greeks or the not so religious, this will do. Like most islands in the area, the mythology of Greece prevails. We have the invasions of the imperial conquests of Rome, Byzantine, Ottoman and latterly in the 20th century the Axis invasion during the war. It is therefore easy to see how a people can be overcome by the richness these cultures have brought to the land.
When we look at our Christian faith we see also similar invasions. Philosophical thought among the Greek and Latin theologies and the belief that a more spiritual approach from the orthodox view, has yet to bear any agreement. Even Vatican II and the reforms made through it have failed to nudge the two traditions together. The Orthodox tradition has yet to respond to Vatican II. We have also the divisions among evangelical and protestant churches to boot. It is all a very complex mix but what makes it so?
Could it be simply that our over complication of how we should worship; through various liturgies, feasts, fasting, dates, baptisms, our views on who is a saint and isn’t, remove our attention away from what God indeed requires from us in our dedication, commitment, and outworking? It is for certain that many within our various traditions are zealous and want that relationship with God. It’s like making an omelette without cracking the egg.
I believe without a doubt that a new but ancient form of worship is about to pour out over the devoted. It will abolish and cut the cord that binds us to all forms of religious observance and the idolatry embedded within it. We will look to God who has no image perceived by the human eye. We will worship through the Holy Spirit and not through the spirit of man. We will gather in the unity of the Spirit and not in the spirit of unity and we will observe a simpler way that does not burden us with religiosity and churchianity. This is what God desires after all, and this is what Yeshua turns our attention to. We have moved far from the way the Lord Yeshua taught us and yet we expect YHVH to bless us in everything that we do.
The book of Joshua begins with the admonishment of the Lord to obey the Law of Moses, the Torah. It says that God will be with them if they keep His commands. In our move to enter the place He has prepared, YHVH commands us to be bold and strong. But this is futile if the integrity of our fortress walls has been undermined. The church has many weak spots among its ancient stones and the enemy is picking his way through. In the days to come, and they are near, there will be those who take no such nonsense from him or from those who have perpetuated the argument among the ecclesia. They will be like David who saw the solution and resolved to do something about it when everyone else around was looking at the problem. In that day, many will join David’s band. They won’t stand for religion any longer and that will also include those among the Jewish faith. They won’t be perfect by any means, but their backs will be as strong as steel. These priestly warriors will go around turning over the poison pots and will not be concerned with what they are called but who they should be.
What is strange though, is that Christians have argued for centuries: even in the modern Messianic and Hebrew movements we see division. But the curious fact is that though arguments among those within the Christian faith may be doctrinal or over some tradition, those who are embracing the roots of our faith readily accept the teachings of the rabbis which are almost certainly based on Talmudic and mystic thought, and furthermore from teachers who are fundamentally pharisaical.
One thing we should consider, however, is how we respond to challenging questions of faith and our faith culture. How we answer, will depend on where we are at the time, because our position will give us a bias. This is a natural position to take, because we want to confirm our opinion to others. It’s called confirmation bias. We often use another type of bias in which we use data from particular groups to confirm our own personal analysis. We need therefore to present our thoughts objectively. Scripture tells us that we have been handed down lies from our forefathers. When the Lord restores Israel, the scriptures speak of a time when Israel will come running to the Lord declaring the errors they have partaken in:
17 For My eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from My face, and their guilt is not concealed from My eyes.
18And I will first repay them double their iniquity and their sin, because they have defiled My land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and they have filled My inheritance with their abominations.”
19 O LORD, my strength and my fortress,
my refuge in the day of distress,
the nations will come to You
from the ends of the earth, and they will say,
“Our fathers inherited nothing but lies,
worthless idols of no benefit at all.”
20 Can man make gods for himself?
Such are not gods!
21 “Therefore behold, I will inform them,
and this time I will make them know
My power and My might;
then they will know that My name is the LORD.
(6) All of us are like someone unclean, all our righteous deeds like menstrual rags; we wither, all of us, like leaves; and our misdeeds blow us away like the wind. 6 (7) No one calls on your name or bestirs himself to take hold of you, for you have hidden your face from us and caused our misdeeds to destroy us
As I bring this article to a close, I was shown by the Lord this image: the body is clothed in different garments. Trousers for the legs, shirt for the upper body, hat for the head, socks and shoes for the feet, gloves for the hands. All those garments are fitted to the individual parts of the body. You can’t put gloves on feet or wear shoes on hands; it would look absolutely ridiculous if every item of clothing exchanged their function. In this respect, there is a division process. However, when we wear all the items together, we become fully clothed and complete.
The garments of the bride are significant and refer to her cleansing and preparatory process. Her clothing must always be kept pristine and constantly checked by those who are preparing her. What we are seeing in fact, is a process that takes millennia. Imagine a garment being stitched together over this period. The constant handling of it would cause significant damage to its precious fabric.
The garment of the church has undergone significant damage too, but the constant disagreements over time have done precious little to preserve its integrity. This passage in Ephesians serves as an admonishment to her priestly servants to maintain her health and wellbeing:
21 Submit to one another (this is a universal command to all believers) out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Saviour.
24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her
26 to sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
27 and to present her to Himself as a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.
28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29 Indeed, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.
30For we are members of His body.
31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
32 This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
As Paul says, this mystery is profound. The mystery alludes to the divine unity found in the relationship of marriage. This plan is referred to in the book of Ephesians chapter 3. When we look closely at this, we see that consent and agreement through a lifelong covenant prevails. The husband agrees to look after his wife and is concerned about her appearance and wellbeing; the wife in turn consents to her husband doing this. The dynamic of unity once undermined, attacks the integrity of the house. In this age when so many believers are finding themselves separated or on the outskirts of the church because of the journey of their personal faith and how they choose to show their belief, often choosing to forsake the traditions of the church, it would do each of us good if we could stop and look at the various parts of the garment and see where we fit on the body instead of judging and trying to make each part the same.
1 Corinthians 12:
18 But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design.
19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?
20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.”
22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts we consider less honourable, we treat with greater honour. And our unpresentable parts are treated with special modesty,
24 whereas our presentable parts have no such need.
But God has composed the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
In conclusion, on our part, let us strive and celebrate and discern the spiritual (that which is holy) diversity found within the body but refrain from being too quick in consuming what might be a not too savoury meal.
There is, therefore, a neglect that has come over the brethren. It is that we have forsaken the charge of scripture to shepherd the church and have grown accustomed to the leaven within it.
The deeper issue, I believe, is this: since the removal of the human beings from the garden, specifically from the presence of God, the eating from the tree of knowledge placed within the heart of man a yearning to know God again; to know Him as they once did. As the knowledge of created things increased, the knowledge of the creator was sought, in this pursuit of Him. However, complexity arose through the various thoughts of man creating argument and division. This is a divine dynamic that stems from that original discourse in the garden. God is complex and unfathomable and so too must be our understanding of Him. That is the train of thought. However, God is a paradox to human thought. For example: Water is one of the simplest elements on earth. Yet without it, life cannot be sustained. The name of God the Father in Hebrew is, ‘Abba Shebashamayim,’ which means ‘Father of the waters.’ Can you see in this, how simple and yet how complex He is?
In order to return to Him, the path is simple and easy. We exchange our view points for His. Our worship of Him must therefore return to the simple way, alleviating us of all our burdens and knowledge. We therefore confirm this:
I shall love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul ,mind and strength and I will love my neighbour as myself because I am wonderfully made in the image of God. Who can look at that image of God and hate himself?
28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.