The Canon

The word “canon” comes from the Greek word meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”.  A biblical canon is a list of books considered to be authoritative scripture.  Because the Bible is considered by most believers to be the ultimate authority on questions of Christian doctrine and practice, I think that it is very important to understand its development over the centuries following the life and death of Jesus.  This will be the main focus of my study and blog posts for a while.

Along with the study of the documents, it will be important to consider the people who were most instrumental in bringing us our modern day scriptures.  I was just reading about  Irenaeus, who was a church leader in the second century.  He was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons, France.  He was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself was a disciple of the original apostles.  His writings, with those of Clement and Ignatius, are taken as among the earliest signs of the developing doctrine of the primacy of the Roman-centric church hierarchy.

Irenaeus is the earliest church leader known to recognize the canonical character of all four gospels.  This is important, because prior to that time many Christian groups recognized only one or two of the gospels as authoritative.  Many did not accept the Gospel of John as authentic until it was declared so by Irenaeus.  It is also important to understand which writings were rejected by Irenaeus, such as the Gospel of Thomas.  Many of the rejected writings were ordered to be destroyed, so it is often difficult to recover the history of any Christian thought for that era that was outside of the mainstream church doctrine.

The amount of information on the development of the Bible is staggering, but I will do my best to sort through it and share my findings as I go.

Here is a link to a useful summary timeline of the development of the scriptures:

http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1994/issue43/4322.html

I found two other links that will get us started.  There are many, many others.

http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon.html

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/index.html

I have two books that I will use to begin my studies.  One is Early Christian Writings, published by Penguin Classics.  The other is The Journey from Texts to Translations, The Origin and Development of the Bible,  by Paul D. Wenger.

You can always check the Bibliography and Related Web Sites pages on this blog for additional resources.

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Revelation

Jesus told his disciples that “the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth”.  Later, the apostle John wrote the book of Revelations describing visions received while he was “in the spirit”.  The apostle Paul never saw Jesus, but received his revelations about the gospel while not knowing whether he was “in the body or out of the body”.  So clearly the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ did not end when Jesus left this earth.  It continued as a work of the Spirit at least through the time of the apostles.

But what about after that?

I just started reading A Manual of Church History by Heinrich Guericke, written in the 1800’s and translated from the German by William G.T. Shedd in 1881.  The introduction section includes this passage:  “In the gift of the gospel, and at the first establishment of the Church, the entire sum and substance of Christian truth was given.  But this body of dogma was by no means fully understood by the human mind, in the outset.  The clear apprehension of this  … is a gradual process, becoming more and more self-consistent and all-comprehending, but even now not complete.”

The implication of this position is that there will be no new revelation of Christian truth after the time of the apostles and the establishment of the Church, but that there will be ongoing development of our understanding and application of that truth.  Should we expect that gradual process to be in the hands of certain religious leaders?  Or should it be much more personal than that?

Most of today’s Christian doctrines were developed after the time of the apostles.  The church leaders who established those doctrines have generally claimed and believed that the doctrines they espoused resulted from the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that they are totally consistent with the teachings of Jesus and apostles.  But what do we do with those doctrines that seem to be inconsistent or in competition with each other?  What are we to think about eternal security, or the meaning of the Eucharist, or the method and age of baptism?  Where does the Spirit of Revelation enter into all this for those of us in the post-apostolic era?  Is it possible that the Spirit reveals one truth to one believer, but a seemingly different truth to another?

This brings me back to a consideration of the paths of Christianity.  It is apparent that Christianity has taken many paths over the centuries.  How are we to say that one is true and all others are false?  And how would we identify the single true path in any case?  But I submit that such a decision isn’t up to us anyway.  I believe that what is up to us, as individuals, is to learn what we can about the basis of our faith, and then to follow the Spirit of Revelation in our own lives so that we can establish our personal spiritual paths accordingly.  After all, we aren’t responsible for the paths that others may take.  We are ultimately accountable only for our own path.

 

 

 

 

The Path of Christianity

As I was doing a web search for sites related to the history of Christianity I came across http://www.christianitypath.com/.  The stated purpose of that site is to be “the home for Christian communities all around the world to meet, interact, spread their word and mutually enrich each other.”  The site seems to be still in development, but I found it interesting.  It contains a good introduction to who Jesus is.

However, the name of this site started me thinking about “the path of Christianity”.  It seems to me that this phrase can refer to two kinds of paths, or maybe to two segments of the same path.  The first is the main topic of this blog — the path that Christianity and the Church have followed to bring us from the very first disciples of Jesus Christ through the centuries and up to the various manifestations of Christian worship and discipleship today.  Of course, this is not really a single path.  It is a multitude of paths that have branched and collided and twisted and turned in many different ways.

I think, though, it would be useful for each of us individually to look back at “our path” — the path that has brought us to our current personal faith.  An awareness of our personal Christian roots may shed new light on the sources — and ultimately the validity — of our individual beliefs and practices.  What you believe about the Trinity, about Bible prophecy, about “free will” and many other topics can be traced back through your current church and pastor, and then back through the historical denominations  and reformations and movements and branches in the path until you can see where those beliefs originated.  In most cases, such an examination will reveal that somewhere along the line some authoritative Christian leader said that this is what the Bible really says.  Of course, other authoritative Christian leaders may have proclaimed that the Bible says something quite different.  This is why the Path of Christianity has had so many branch points.

My point is that we stand on shaky ground when we insist that our personal package of beliefs and practices, resulting from the multi-branched path of Christianity leading to our particular church/denomination, is the “right” one.  This is especially true if we have not evaluated any of the other paths to determine why ours is different.  This brings me to a second way to think about The Path of Christianity.  We can view it as our own, individual path.  We can look back and see who or what has influenced our spiritual life up until now.  We can reevaluate some of those influences, and consider whether we are at a point in our path where we should put renewed emphasis on some principles, and less on others.  And we can look forward to see if any course corrections on our current path are in order.

Ultimately, our path is our own.  It is between us and our Maker.  We can’t let it be determined by some denomination or some powerful person in history, or even our own families.  The Path of Christianity is not only one of the most significant threads through all of human history.  Our own Path of Christianity is also the final determinant of our personal spiritual well being.

I wish you the richest of blessings as you walk your path.

The Timetables of History

The history of the Christian Church is a major thread through the history of the world.  But while we often relate Old Testament events to the world history timeline, we seldom make such connections for the Church Age.

I have a large, heavy book called The Timetables of History, a Horizontal Linkage of People and Events.  This book is basically a timeline in the form of one huge table.  It starts in 5000 BC and goes through 1990 AD.  It chronicles the major events in History & Politics, Literature & Theater, Religion/Philosophy/Learning, Visual Arts, Music, Science/Technology/Growth, and Daily Life.  It is interesting to see the developments in each of these areas over the centuries, but what I find most instructive is to see what else was going on in the world at the same time as major events in Christian history.

For example, The Timetables of History has entries in all categories for 1517 and 1518.  This is when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in Wittenberg, and was subsequently summoned by Cardinal Cajetan to Augsburg where he refused to recant.  In those same years when the reformation was born, the Turks captured Cairo, and coffee came to Europe for the first time.  Juan de Grijalva explored the coast of Yucatan and discovered Mexico.  Eyeglasses were developed for nearsighted people.

As another example, the 570’s were when Mohammed was born, Benedict I became Pope, and Buddhism was established in Japan.  The Byzantine empire (home of Christianity) was at war with Persia.

OK, I won’t bore you with any more historical trivia.  I just wanted to introduce another resource that I will be using in order to establish historical context as I continue to learn more about the history of Christianity.  Context matters.  The geopolitical situation has always been an  influence on how Christianity has been interpreted and practiced over the centuries.