Lost Voices of Christianity: Diversity of the Early Christian World (Introduction)

There are more than 2 billion Christians in the world today. It is by far the most influential religion in the last 2000 years. However, it is a diverse religion with thousands of streams and forms. Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Methodist, Baptist, Anglican Church, etc. Do you know that there are more than 10 000 different Protestant denominations in the world today? Hardly something Martin Luther would approve! Not to mention followers of David Koresh who still think that the end is near. Moreover, as I understand the Jehowas’ witnesses also self-identify as Christians! It is an unimaginably diverse religion that begs the question of whether is it more appropriate to speak about Christianities (plural). The thing that strikes most people is the fact that Christianity was a diverse phenomenon in antiquity as well.


In fact, the diversity that we observe today was even greater in the formative period of Christianity. Most of these ancient forms of “Christianity” are unknown to people in the world today because they eventually came to be reformed or stamped out. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there were Christians who believed (as most Christians today do) that there is a God who created the entire world. However, others believed that there actually were two separate Gods – one inferior and even evil that created this material world. There were even Christians who thought that there are 365 gods! Some of the Christians back then asserted that the creation was good. And it is a belief shared by most Christians today. But, there were other Christians who held that the created world was evil, a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divine being as a place of imprisonment – to trap humans and to subject them to pain and misery. They all made Jesus the central element of their faith. However, their views on the precise nature and role of Jesus differ – differ a lot! There were Christians who claimed that Jesus was both human and divine (at the same time) – a belief that is held by most Christians today. But there were other Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries who believed that Jesus was completely divine and not human at all. There were Christians who preached the belief that Jesus Christ was actually two things: a full flesh-and-blood human (“Jesus”), and a fully divine being (“Christ”) who had temporarily inhabited Jesus’ body during his ministry and left him prior to his death. There were Christians who saw Jesus primarily as a Jewish prophet and a Messiah without believing that he was anything like a divine being. For them, Jesus was a great man, but only a man.

How could all of these people consider themselves Christian? Didn’t they have a Scripture (New Testament) where they could read everything and see for themselves whether their beliefs contradict the true message of Jesus? Well, the New Testament as a collection didn’t exist. That doesn’t mean that the books that were eventually collected into the New Testament hadn’t been written by the 2nd century! They were! But they had not yet been gathered into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture! Moreover, there were other books written as well – other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses, claiming to be written by Jesus’ apostles! Furthermore, today we do have a New Testament collection but that didn’t decrease the diversity among the Christians in the world! For example, Baptists and Catholics share the same books of the New Testament but they still diverge on a lot of important theological issues! To be honest, virtually all forms of modern Christianity derive from one form of Christianity that emerged victorious from the conflicts of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This one form shaped the “right” beliefs and decided what was the “correct” Christian perspective. This one form decided what forms of Christianity would be marginalized and even destroyed!

So, in the next couple of posts, I’ll be talking about these lost voices of Christianity – groups who claimed to be the followers of Jesus but held different theological views than the victorious party. If I got a penny for every time someone said to me that winners write history I would be a rich man. But there is a notion of truth in that. However, here or there we do get the opportunity to hear the voices of the long-forgotten ones, of those who were deemed as heretics, whose works were destroyed, and whose beliefs were stamped out. Whether you would agree that they were indeed heretics or not, they were certainly part of the early Christian world. Therefore, they deserve to be heard!

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