Tag Archives: excommunication

Very Basic Introduction to Western Christianity

Information/terms to assist you with the reading (I created this brief summary for my NRM students who needed some supplemental background information regarding why many American NRMs were invoking terms sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and what these concepts signified for the older “mother” traditions.)

This summary written by Katherine Daley-Bailey.

Christianity: (Christians) Christianity is a religion that sprang up within Judaism. Jesus of Nazareth, who Christians refer to as the Messiah (Jewish concept meaning anointed one, chosen one, kingly one) or Christ (Greek translation of messiah), was born a Jew. His family was Jewish. They participated in Jewish holidays and Jesus seems even to have been educated in the Jewish law. The earliest Christians were Jews… so Christianity only makes sense if you know something about the religion it grew out of. Christianity, as new religion, based itself of various distinguishing marks (that separated it from Judaism). Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was not only a Jewish wise man but that he was God incarnate (in the flesh). Jews don’t believe that Jesus was God in human form. Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that this resurrection awaits all faithful followers after death. Jews believe that Jesus was a human being and died a human death. Christians believe that they are the “new Israel”… the new “chosen ones” of God. Jesus, according to Christianity, came back from the dead to tell his early followers to go forth into the world and declare the gospel, the “good news.”

Texts: Early Christians saw the Jewish scriptures (the TaNaKh) as predicting the arrival of Jesus. According to these Christians, their relationship with God had changed… since Jesus’ followers believed that God was with them in the flesh, was killed, and then rose from the dead. The early followers of Jesus began to tell others of Jesus’ story (the gospel). Over time, four versions of the Jesus story were considered authoritative. Christian leaders felt that if Christians were to truly understand Jesus they must know the earlier Jewish scriptures as well as the new scriptures (the gospel stories, etc.). For this reason, Christians included the earlier Jewish scriptures along with these stories about Jesus and the early Church in their Christian Bible.

Leaders: Christians believe that Jesus told his followers to tell His story… and that this requirement was passed on to all Christians. The earliest followers to go out and preach about Jesus are referred to as Apostles (messengers). Fifty days after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, Christians believe that the Holy Spirit (another member of the Christian trinity along with God, the father, and, God the son) came down to where these early followers were and gave them the ability to speak in various languages (speak in tongues) so that they could go all over the world and tell people about Jesus. This event is referred to as the Pentecost. Christianity developed its own structure … a hierarchy with the bishop of Rome (the Pope) ruling over other bishops, and they rule over different geographical regions. Various early Christians rebelled against the structures of belief of the church leader who held power and were thereby thrown out of the church and deemed “heretics.”

Later some Christian bishops thought the bishop of Rome should share power with them and this led to a split in the church. In 1054 c.e., the Western Latin speaking Christians under the leadership of the Pope and the Eastern Greek speaking Christians on the side of the various Eastern bishops, excommunicated (ousted) each other from the church. The Western Church is known as the Catholic Church and the Eastern Church is known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Western Church centered in Rome went through troubled times as the Roman Empire shifted its center to the East. When the Roman Empire in the West crumbled, a power vacuum opened up and the Western (aka Catholic) Church and the Pope began to play a huge role in the politics of Europe.

Schisms: The Catholic Church encountered interior opposition in the early 1500s. The Catholic Church held massive political power in Europe at the time. However, there were numerous criticisms among the clergy (ordained) and the lay (not ordained) communities in the church. Martin Luther, a young Catholic priest, was encouraged by his advisor to study the Bible (remember that very few people could read and even a smaller percentage could read Latin (Latin Bible= Vulgate), the language in which the official authorized version of the Bible was written in). Luther started to study the Bible and found what he saw were inconsistencies between Church doctrine and laws and what was written in the holy book.

Luther wrote a list of questionable practices and theological ideas that he felt were problematic and nailed a copy of this text (The Ninety-Five Thesis) to the church door in Wittenberg on Oct. 31st, 1517. When Luther would not recant his statements against the Catholic Church, he was excommunicated. He would later go on to translate the Bible into German. This allowed those who could read German access to the text. Thanks to the invention of the printing press, literacy rates shot up and many more people could read the Bible. Luther believed that man was saved by sola fide (faith alone)… whereas the Catholic Church believes that man is saved by faith and works (good deeds and merit). Luther believed that a Christian only needed access to the Bible (sola scriptura= scripture alone) to be a good Christian… whereas the Catholic Church emphasized a Christian’s need of scripture and tradition (along with the Church’s guiding influence to help Christians understand that scripture). Luther and those who split with the Catholic Church were called Protestants… because they “protested” against the Catholic Church. Since these Protestant Christians believed they could interpret the Bible on their own, these Christians often disagreed over their interpretations and this caused many to start their own churches.

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Filed under Lectures (Academic Study of Religion), Lectures (Christianity), Lectures (New Religious Movements)