The Bible as we know it today is not one book, but a number of books stuck together. People commonly believe that these individual texts are inspired and I would have to agree that the men who wrote them were. I do not believe that everyone who read the Bible, interprets it, or even translates it has the same degree of divine inspiration.
Some say that only the Bible is inspired by God because the Bible tells us this.
2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
This is very interesting idea because the Bible as we know it today did not exist at the time this was written.
The word scripture is from graphe meaning writings, things written. It is not a term exclusive to the Bible.
There were many writings that did exist such as the Old Testament, and other books mentioned in the Bible, but not included in the modern text. The Q Gospels and the sayings of Jesus seem to predate our copies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and seem to be a source if not the guide for those texts.
The Gospels of Thomas and Philip seem to compliment the accepted books in the Bible although they may come into conflict with dogmatic and religious interpretation of those texts.
I believe that there are inspired writers who were excluded from the Bible.
I do not wish to extract from the validity of those original texts, but it might help people overcome a misconception of the teachings of Christ and the prophets if they understood the history of the acceptance and rejection of the many Holy Scriptures of those early days of His Holy Church.
The Allurement of Wolves
Flavius Salerus Constantinus has been touted in some historical accounts as the first Roman Emperor who was converted to Christianity. Was Flavius the King and Emperor really a man propagating the Gospel of Jesus? He alleged that an apparition of Christ told him to put XP (khi, hro)1 on his shield, on the eve of the battle against Maxentius, his empirical rival in Italy. Did Jesus alter his position on exercising authority?
“And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” Luke 22:25, 27. [Mt 20:25. Mr 10:42.]
Did Constantine obey this command of Christ?
Constantine was truly a man of visions. He had also claimed a vision of the sun god in 310 while in a grove of Apollo in Gaul. In 313 AD, Constantine and Licinius as co-emperors had joined together in “issuing the Edict of Milan, which granted toleration” for his version of Christianity under their binding authority. “As guardian of Constantine’s favored religion”, certain churches and bishops were “given legal rights and large financial donations.”2
These “financial donations”, funded by the spoils of war and compelled taxation, subjected the Churches who accepted them to the benefactors who exercise authority. Christians had been guaranteed their lawful rights by emperors before. Constantine did not free the church, but seduced a small portion of it into a “legal status” with the offering of “deceitful meats” and the dainties of his royal table.
A struggle for power soon began between the two commanders, from which Constantine emerged victorious. Constantine betrayed Licinius and had him and all his family put to death. He had thousands of people put to death in mass exterminations of any who opposed him.
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Matthew 7:15, 16
The more I study the detailed thorns of Constantine’s life and those ministers he and his successors appointed over men, the less I am convinced of any fruits of the Holy Spirit in their questionable conversion. There were thousands upon thousands that suffered and toiled under their “exercising authority”, with tens of thousands who died at their murderous, bloody hands. The testimony of their lives bears witness to the purity or impurity of their souls.
“Constantine intervened in ecclesiastical affairs to achieve unity; he presided over the first ecumenical council of the church at Nicaea in 325.”3 He claimed the office of Pontifex Maximus or High Priest, till he died. As the ruling High Priest, he had demanded that the bishops of the Church come to his council. There were over 1800 known bishops at that time and barely 300 came. He sat on a golden throne, claiming to be the “Bishop of Bishops”, not a servant of servants, but as a dictator.
Of those who came, the historical record showed that, they were financially rewarded with the spoils of his imperial rule. Extravagant gifts of gold, silver, property, and privilege were bestowed on these collaborating bishops who accepted his rule from the top down. Those bishops who sanctioned his benevolence and title of “bishop of bishops” are difficult to justify. His gifts had been taken from fields of corpses and an overtaxed populations. If ever there was a sin of the Nicolaitan branded on the head of men, it was here at this council of hypocrisy. How could men justify this fundamental departure from the teachings of Christ by becoming the state Church of Constantine?
Fortunately, these men were a small minority. True Christian faith continued to thrive in those who remained in the liberty of Christ. Those who did not answer his call or questioned his assumed authority were sent packing or, in the years to follow, were labeled heretics and cast out of the graces of these despotic ‘bishops’, or simply murdered as heretics.
In 381 A.D., the Council of Constantinople was convened by Theodosius I. Only 150 bishops attended condemning various religious groups that did not heed the call of the emperor. Theodosius was as much a tyrant and more a murder of thousands.
Several emperors had earlier guaranteed the protection of the Church. The idea that the Church was “legalized” may not be far from the truth, but what exactly does that mean? There was now an official Church of Rome established by men who found favor with the rulers of Rome, but were they true Christians? Or were they taking the name of the Lord in vain?
The legalizing of the Christian church was more a legalizing of certain collaborative sects of churches who claimed to be Christian and were willing to turn a blind eye, or at least give a grateful wink, to the autocratic oppression by these manipulating chiefs of state in exchange for exemption, if not wealth and protection.
Christ would not appeal to Rome to save his life, but these men petitioned Constantine and his senate, not to save their own life, but to take the lives of others. Abraham would not take a buckle, but these men took lavish gifts of gold and silver. They seemed to be “the lovers of soft things” like Essenes spoken of in the courts of Herod.
These sects and governments have been able to control the writing of history throughout the ages. But, probably even more importantly, they promoted the compilation of the books we know today as the Bible. “The 27 books of the New Testament are only a fraction of the literary production of the Christian communities in the first three centuries.”4 There is no clear record of how some writings were excluded and how others were chosen to be placed into what some referred as the canon.
There is one thing clear from the historical record. Large numbers of Christian sects fled the judgment and persecution of the legalized church and their allies of force, fear, and violence. This union of church and state was not one sanctioned by God, nor did it bear much resemblance to the ways preached, demonstrated, and taught by Jesus.
Their fornicating relationship was self-serving, proud, violent, and oppressive. From Augustus to Constantine, the emperors still held the title, if not the office of Apo Theos, Originator of gods.
There is little doubt that the men, who exclude so much from the compilation of the New and the Old Testaments, did so with less than noble purposes, if not evil intent. This is not to say that those writings are not now authentic or valid, but their relationship with the Roman state can only lead one to believe that there may have been self-serving exclusions. These were not the Apostles who made the final decision concerning Bible content, but someone quite different. We can only assume that, what some men meant unto evil, the God of Heaven shall turn for good.
It was centuries before these apostates were able to crown rulers who began an aggressive policy of bloody “reform”. With these new institutions, the beast rose again and brought about the inquisition, annihilation, and extinction of millions of people who were seeking God’s Kingdom in spirit and in truth. The persecution of the early Christians by some emperors was nothing compared to the persecution of Christians and others by this unholy alliance of Church and State.
The Church was not a homogeneous group marching with goose-step uniformity. They did not trim the corners of their beards to identify themselves from other groups, nor were they steeped in identifiable traditions of robes and rituals. They looked like Greeks, Samaritans, Jews, and gentiles. They looked like everyone because they were everyone and anyone but they turned toward the ways of God’s kingdom, instead of the ways of the gentile governments.
They were heterogeneous and diversified. Yet, through their system of ministers and the teachings of Christ, they formed a self-disciplined network across the empire and beyond. That union of spirit and brotherhood was absolutely essential for their survival during the social, political, economic, and even geological catastrophes that plagued mankind during the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The godly character and virtue of that system will prove invaluable as the modern empires of the “world” continue to decay and decline into a similar frightful fate.
Identifying the Church from those who took that Name in vain is a matter of understanding what the Church truly was to be and do. What was the Church meant to be and accomplish for the people who daily sought His Kingdom and desired to obey His commandments?
There were men in those early days who were called the Patristic writers of the Church. Men like Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great. They are presented by some as the “patriarchs of the Church”. But are these patrons of Jesus Christ or did they take to a different path? Their philosophies often seem to contradict the teachings of Jesus as well as the traditions of the ancient Hebrews and the Bible itself.
Jerome, around 400 AD, believed that women were bad news for men and that they were uncontrollable, excessively passioned, and unreasonable. Although, the writings and opinions of Jerome and others were enormously influential in defining what has been historically touted as the Church in the medieval world, their conclusions seem to fly in the face of God’s creative instincts.
“And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” Genesis 2:22
Jerome inferred that women were inferior “they degraded men.”5
“And Adam said, This [is] now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:23, 24
Women do not degrade men. A good woman is a blessing or a curse, depending on the heart and soul of the man. It is only weak, selfish, and proud men who blame their sin on God’s gift. The nature of women is not responsible for man’s sin and choice.
Another early author of this church sect was Ambrose. By the voice of the people, Ambrose was elected as bishop of Milan. But these were “instant Christians”,6 formed at the emperor's command, not by repentance but by order to be baptized, just add water.
Ambrose, was the son of the governor of Gaul and a former high Roman official. He had asked the emperor if he could become Bishop of Milan and was granted that right by this self-appointed Bishop of Bishops. Before Ambrose could accept this position, he had to take time to research what Christianity was, for he had no idea. He returned sometime later with his own doctrines.
Ambrose considered a bishop as an “aristocratic figure” and formulated the Church according to the “ways of Rome issuing decrees, edicts, and commands”, rather than serving as a subject, minister, and servant of the people. He also displayed a fierce hatred of women that was carried into the middle ages. He was intolerant of other religions and actually argued in the Roman Senate that all other religions should be stamped out. This seems in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. The idea that other religions should be persecuted by Roman force and policy seems to fly in the face of the injustice of the Crucifixion itself.
“Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men?” Colossians 2:21-22
These people, by a majority vote, chose a single, top-down ruling bishop for thousands and, at the command of a tyrant and his Edict of Milan, were not Christians of repentance, although, they may have been baptized with water and fanfare. The Milan Church, its hierarchy of authority, was established by the spirit and character of Constantine, not by Christ. Much of what we see as the Church has come down through this tainted religion and apostasy. To understand the Church and its position in the Kingdom of God, we must go back to its origin, which is Christ, not Constantine.
“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” 1 Corinthians 7:23
The Separate Church
The Church and the congregation of the people continued in free association, working out their own salvation with fear and trembling. They imposed, by their presence, a powerful force of freedom and liberty for almost a thousand years. By their brotherhood, they were able to keep kings retreating to their castles so that freeman could walk down God’s paths, living at liberty in spirit and in truth.
“Those captured by pirates and robbers remain free.”7
Many believe that America was once a free country and has lost much of those freedoms. This land is as free as it ever was. When my ancestors came here in the 1600’s, it was a free land. There were impenetrable forests, bears, lions, and wild uncivilized aborigines. There were dangers, perils, and hardships at every turn, but freedom is found, like the Kingdom of God, first, in your heart and your minds. Freedom is not comfort nor convenience. Man is bound by his words, appetite, or fear, by his allegiance, given or bought, by his own covetousness and his lack of faith, not by the circumstances in the world around him. It is your vise that binds you and your virtue through Christ that sets you free.
“Things captured by pirates and robbers do not change ownership.” 8
The solitary retreat and fasting, like Christ in the wilderness, plays an important part in the development of the soul. But true fasting is about abstaining from self indulgence not punishing the body through deprivation and neglect. Even the Levites, who had their homes amongst the people for service, had their suburbs and lands in common for their retreat.
Monasticism played an important role in the development of the Church, but monasticism was not really defined generally as we know it until the late middle ages. Until then, there were a variety of practices and traditions. In most studies of broad and diverse subjects, it is often convenient to the teacher to group peoples and customs into categories and classes, sometimes at the expense of the truth.
Yes, there were eremitic monks who were hermetic individuals who lived solitary lives of prayer and study as holy men, rejecting all the pleasures of the world in abject poverty. But they were not the rule. They were remembered because of the dedicated nature of their life and, as the Essenes, because their communal buildings survived the test of time. The truth of their purpose and practice may have been lost in the partisan reporting of it.
There seems to be enough pain in a life of service that one needs not seek out more pain and discomfort for suffering’s sake alone. Although, solitude for periods of time may be beneficial, I cannot imagine that God put us here on earth simply to reject and deny every aspect of our existence and life just because it might afford some pleasure or comfort. And can we really live as servants of mankind, feeding His sheep, if we never come in contact with any of them? These centers of monastic life were places of training and study, not hermitage of isolation and deprivation.
There were other more communal monks that were of several types, such as the Basil and Benedictine. These forms of Monastic life styles eventually formed what we see as monasticism in Europe, but, again, that was in the Middle Ages. To look at the Middle Ages and assume that the Church in that time period was even similar to the early Church will lead to a super-erroneous picture of what Christ intended the Church to be.
The History of the Church was, by no means, presenting one doctrine of religious zealots spanning the globe. The idea of Petrine Succession from Peter as the head of the Church was a minority concept of little more than general respect. There were no geographical jurisdictions for Bishops, for the kingdom, not being here nor there, is not geographical. The ministers of the kingdom were more like the public servants of the mobile nation of Israel than medieval or modern Churchanity.
The true Church operated relatively well in the first thousand years after the destruction of Jerusalem. It had little to do with central authority until it ran afoul of persecution coming from disparate sects, which often enjoyed the generous graces of despots.
The faithful Church’s function and achievements in ministering to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth did not fit well into modern history books, which were fostered, written, and censored by the promoters of central Benefactors who exercised authority, one over the other. The true precepts of Christianity were so successful that no king rose to prominent power over the Kingdom of Heaven on earth for almost a thousand years, beating a previous record of four hundred years from Moses to Saul.
There are many stories that tell us of the princes of the Kingdom, as in the account of Saxons marching up a European river toward the castle of a would-be king who had done, at least, some sort of injustice to men. His Ambassador returned after, what that kingly usurper believed to be, lengthy negotiations, only to report that he could find no one to bargain with, for “They say they are all kings.”
The Church had brought to these lost sheep the good news of the Kingdom, where there was no king and every man did according to his God-given conscience. It was not a kingdom that was new, but was the ancient kingdom of Israel, where God prevails. It did not have the rituals and robes of the Pharisees. It was not like the nations where men crowned men to guarantee the safety of each other at the expense of liberty. There was liberty among the sons of God, as long as they accepted the responsibility of protecting their neighbors' rights as if they were their own.
Men sought the kingdom. Some were pure and pious and some mixed their search with anger, impatience, and hostilities. Yet, their search and contemplation upon the message of Christ altered the course of nations and history. But when men turned from God’s law, they soon felt the whips of corrupted rulers and suffered under the bondage of despots.
“If we will not be governed by God, then we will be ruled by tyrants.” William Penn.
Jesus was the rightful heir of that promised Kingdom and the people flocked to His message of liberty, to His Free Dominion under one God, the Father in Heaven, not the would be Fathers on earth.
“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein], he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” James 1:25
The people of Europe and their rugged individualism was a fertile ground for such blessed messages brought by the early refugees from the persecution of the civil powers of Rome. The decaying cities of the Roman Empire often displayed their own brand of corruption. God’s kingdom is practical and wise. It does not guarantee perfection, but shows us the imperfection of our own hearts and minds. It demands spiritual and moral growth, or demonstrates the evidence of its absence in our lives. The Kingdom must be written on our hearts first.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
Others systems, which run contrary to God’s plan and Jesus’ gospel, lead to deception, though they can often conjure up measures of success and order for a period of time. Their affluence is often a lie built on debt and established by spending the future of the next generation for the comfort, indulgence, and apathy of the present. In almost all cases, they feed avarice and sloth with repose and slumber. The strong are made weak and the weak are debilitated. Faith, hope, and charity atrophy as covetousness and avidity amplify.
There were many who said that they were the Church. There were many who said that they were seeking the kingdom of God. God is judge. Right knowledge and good fruits help us see the truth of God’s kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which tells us that His Kingdom is at hand. Though understanding the Kingdom is, in part, the product of preaching the truth of the Kingdom in word and deed, it is really the divine revelation of God in our own hearts and minds that grants us the faith and grace to know and do the will of our Father.
“But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Luke 12:31
The precepts of God’s kingdom have remained the same because God has remained the same. What people see as new is often just a return to the precepts and principles long forgotten or twisted out of any recognizable form. Seeking the kingdom always requires a measure of repentance. It is humility that allows us to turn from what we have been taught as true to what, in the depths, of our being we know is true.
Explanations of history, examination of words and phrases, may bear witness to the precepts of the Kingdom of God, but flesh and blood cannot reveal it. One may recognize the kingdom as they see the truth of what has already been revealed to them in their hearts by God’s grace. The pattern of the Kingdom is as redundant in history as fingers and toes on a man.
Where two to ten families, who love the ways of God, can come together in congregation, loving one another as they love God and themselves, you have the beginnings of the Kingdom. If they practice their faith in Christ and His way, then their love, and charity will bind them and seal them from harm. Like the planks of Noah’s Ark, sealed inside and out, they will weather the storms of the millennium riding the waves of tribulation, and the beast shall die upon the earth as it does in their hearts.
The time to begin your journey toward the Kingdom begins by the turning of your heart toward God and your hands and feet toward His service. By serving one another by faith, hope, and charity, according to His will, we shall find our way into His everlasting Kingdom within our reach.
“Church. In its most general sense, the religious society founded and established by Jesus Christ, to receive, preserve, and propagate his doctrines and ordinances.”
“A body or community of Christians, united under one form of government by the profession of one faith, and the observance of the same rituals and ceremonies.”9
See also a letter on the Word of God verses the Bible.