I am for all intents and purposes a Christian, though I dislike calling myself that, and I believe that Christ is my lord and saviour; I encourage questions and objective comments about my faith, but I do not ask others to agree with my faith and views in any way. The following content has been checked for accuracy and reliability to the best of my ability, but I make no garuantee of correctness. Any thought and opinion is purely my own.
A group of us have a fortnightly Bible study session to foster closer ties between Christians and encourage a deeper understanding of the Bible. During my first session, we discussed 1 Corinthians : 1. These were the questions posed to us :
1. Paul affirms his readrs in Corinth. What does he say about why he is thankful for them?
2. Read verses 10-17. Why do you think cliques had formed around Paul, Apollos and Cephas?
3. How did Paul conduct himself in Corinth to avoid, is possible, the problem of a personality cult?
4. Read verses 18-31. The Corinths boasted in worldly wisdom and those who taught it. How does the message of the cross destroy all such boasting?
5. How do veres 30-31 sum up the main teachings of this chapter?
6. How can genuine humility promote unity in your church of fellowship?
The first of the three formal letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 1st Corinthians records Paul’s concerns with the church in Corinth and his attempts to correct their faults. While chapter 1 was discussed as a whole, it summarizes chapters 2, 3 and 4 in separate paragraphs and should be seen as an introduction to these chapters, rather than as a standalone chapter. The issues are linked, but since, for example, the topic of a divided church in Chapter 1 : 10-17 leads up to chapter 3, I read it as such.
A brief exploration of division in Christianity and its implications throughout history
Divisions in the church of Corinth arose because believers based their identities, and therefore their loyalties, on individual leaders rather than on Christ. Church leaders prided themselves as spiritual successors of the early Apostles, and saw themselves in terms of individuals of wisdom and social standing. Disagreements with one another lead to dissension within the church, and people saw themselves as followers of a certain name rather than followers of Christ. Paul remonstrated such jealousy and quarreling in the church, calling for man to see themselves as builders on the single, unifying foundation that is Jesus Christ. He feared that discord amongst believers would interfere with the true purpose of man, which was to advance the kingdom of heaven; more importantly, it would risk the Cross being emptied of its power.
Despite Paul’s entreaties, competing branches of faith evolved, unsurprisingly, from the apostolic Christianity that had been preached by Jesus’s earliest followers. In the course of two thousand years, Christianity was divided and subdivided into various denominations based on canonical texts, liturgy, doctrine and church authority. Today’s Bible, as a pastiche of different manuscripts, reflects the written records of Christianity. To very briefly summarize the range of main canonical texts : the Roman Catholic Church uses the Latin Vulgate, which is translated from the original Hebrew texts and includes the Apocryphal books of the Septuagint; today’s most widespread Christian Bible is derived from the Greek Septuagint but excludes the Apocrypha; the Masoretic Text, known also as the Tanakh, is the primarily Aramaic version of the Hebrew Bible, and was also translated from the original Hebrew texts. The Hebrew texts were by themselves extremely fluid, without standardization, and built up over a millenium. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are often used to confirm the integrity of the Septuagint (and today’s Protestant Christian Bibles) include a variety of other texts which are included, in various combinations, in the Bibles of Orthodox Christians (Eastern and Oriental) and other minor Christian denominations.
1. Fundamental differences in the interpretations of Christian texts resulted in the permanent division of early Christianity into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Linguistics and time will corrupt, to a certain extent, the intended meaning of the original texts, but different interpretations of the same book played a more significant role in dividing Christianity into its present factions. Dissent in Christianity began in as early as the 1st century in what was then the Holy Roman Empire. Dogmatic differences in Christian theology, along with other linguistic and cultural barriers between the Eastern and Western regions of the Roman Empire, resulted in the Great Schism, or the East-West Schism, of 1054AD, which permanently divided the Roman Empire into Western Christendom and Eastern Christendom. This geographical division was directly related to religious division; by the 11th century, early Christianity had already been irreversibly dichotomized into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church respectively.
The East-West schism had its roots in competition amongst the bishops of the early Church. The Roman Empire then was comprised of provinces, known as dioceses, each of which contained the seat, or the “See”, of a single bishop. These bishops were charged with determining orthodox interpretations of the Bible, confirming and retaining important believes, and refuting opinions that they deemed contrary and heretical. The earliest religious controversies concerned the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ – for example, Docetism held that Jesus’ humanity was merely an illusion, thus denying the incarnation; Arianism held that Jesus, while not merely mortal, was not eternally divine and was, therefore, of lesser status than the Father; Trinitarianism held that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were three different aspects of the same entity. Although the 4th century saw the bishops gathering in formal conferences, known as ecumenical councils, to discuss and settle theological disagreements, dissenting views on the Christian doctrine were nevertheless the precursors of a fragmented church.
Five dioceses came to be of highest prominence in the 5th century : Rome in the West, and Constantinopole, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria in the East. While bishop of Rome (the Pope) was granted merely clerical primacy over the Eastern dioceses, she interpreted this primacy as a God-given right to unlimited papal supremacy over the Church. Rome imposed theological amendments independently of the Ecumemical councils, adding, for example, the Filioque clause to the Nicene Creed without the consent of Eastern Christendom. The Eastern dioceses concurred upon the illegitimacy of Rome’s appropriated authority and opposed its changes to established doctrine. Final tensions peaked with the mutual excommunications of the legates of Rome and Constantinopole, which resulted in the official separation of the Empire into Eastern Christendom in the Byzantine territories and Western Christendom in mainland Europe.
The Roman pentarchy in the 7th century
2. A revolution in the Catholic religion and the rise of Protestanism
By the 16th century, the once supreme Roman Catholic Church was recognized as a corrupted and sacreligious institution. Determined to effect change in the Catholic Church, Western Catholics fronted the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) in Europe. Even in the early stages of the Reformation, the movement had been split up by disagreeing leaders such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingly and John Calvin. It thus came to be that when Protestanism was eventually established as an official constituent of contemporary Christianity, it was not a single entity but a coalesence of denominations such as Puritanism, Presbytarianism, and Lutheranism, all of which had varied stances on the Christian doctrine.
Such religious conflict had a direct implication on the rulers in Europe. For a region in which religion had long formed the basis of political and social consensus, the Church had become closely linked to the monarchy, and any rejection of the Church was akin to treason. In France, for instance, the saying “Une foi, un loi, un roi” (“One faith, one law, one king”) encapsulates the inherent connection between the Church, the society, and the state. It was widely believed that any rejection of the Church was akin to treason. The Protestant Reformation was a direct threat to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and, by extension, the Catholic rulers of state.
With religion so deeply entrenched in politics, the Reformation inevitably incited extensive military conflict in Europe. One of these was the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598), a civil war which resulted in the death of millions. It began with a power struggle between nobles of Protestant and Catholic faith, both of which laid claim to the then vacant throne. The fighting was fuelled by mounting tension between the public Catholics and the Protestants and died down with the voluntary conversion of Henry IV to Catholicism in 1594, that he might be granted the throne.
As in France, almost all European nations had long viewed any non-Catholic religion as heresy, and lawful acknowledgement of other religions was the only way to enforce religious tolerance amongst both society and the state. The French Wars of Religion ended with the publication of the Edict of Nancte in 1598, which officially granted Protestants the freedom of worship and civil rights. While formalized directives were a means to halt bloodshed, their effect was seldom permanent. Treaties such as the Peace of Passau, the Peace of Ausburg only temporarily appeased tensions between the Catholics and the Protestants.
Of the succession of of conflicts in Europe, the Thirty Years War, which brought about disease, famine and a death toll of over 11 million, is believed to be the bloodiest. Taking place primarily in Germany but involving 15 other nations, the Thirty Years War weakened the authority of the Holy Roman Empire and caused the splintering of Germany into many territories. The Thirty Years War ceased with the Peace of Westphalia, which granted that religious worship was an independent choice, and acknowledged, against much disapproval, the legality of minority religions.
3. The implications of divided Christianity on the modern church
What this suggests about Christianity is hardly promising. The history of Christianity has thus far been mired in docmatic princples and rituals; likewise, today’s Christians differ consistently on recurrent aspects of faith – eschatology (the ultimate destiny of humanity : matters concerning the 4 final things, death judgement, heaven and hell), salvation, evangelism, are just a few examples. What does this disunity say about the credibility of the Church, and how does it undermine the advancement of the kingdom of heaven? (For that matter, which church? which heaven might I be referring to?) I am not trying to undermine the Church and its teachings. Rather I am trying to understand how something which I always believed to be personal and spiritual came to have its worth defined by institutions and establishments.When religion becomes embroiled in government, humans see fit to take control of it.