Faith in the Third Millennium

With the advent of the industrial revolution, the guiding light of religion was dramatically eclipsed by faith in science and technology. Agnosticism was almost unknown at the start of industrialization, but today, little more than 160 years later, simple agnosticism is passe; over one-quarter of mankind has fallen into atheism. Now, while the steam is rapidly escaping from the engine of industrialization, and the nuts and bolts of its values and institutions are weakened from the rust of irrelevance, we have short pause to wonder about the impact that the technological revolution will have on the faith of future generations. Among those believing in God, the largest percentage are converting to the more contemporary faith of Islam. We may not recognize the Christianity that will greet our children's children as the third millennium unfolds.

The most promising careers that will be open to our descendants will be in existent and emerging high-tech fields. Just as hard work was the ethic of the industrial age, so will the systematic investigation of reality become the ethic of the technological era. In the third millennium this new ethic will have shaken the institutions and values to which we cling so tenaciously. If Christianity is to keep pace, much less to lead in providing eternal values during this age of rationalization, it must be regenerated and develop into a system which finally reconciles the original revelation with reason.

To envision an outline of the 21st century church we will look from the field of its genesis and conceive how it could have blossomed in an ideal environment. There were ancient trains of Christian thought that would be more suited to our need for a sensible (rather than a blind) faith in Christ. Past church purges of scientists and philosophers have left us with an inadequate heritage in this respect.

Judaism is a venerable religion that is almost free of the difficult doctrines that we so unconvincingly dignify as "mysteries." Christian doctrines as the trinity, incarnation, fall of man, and existence of a Devil are as absurd to the modern atheist as they are unorthodox and alien to the Jewish tradition. As Christianity was founded by an Aramaic speaking Jew in a Hebrew society, we might ask why it became so divergent.

History reveals how Pauls Hellenistic presentation of Christ's message developed into today's Christianity. The Church would be appreciably different if St. Peter's more traditional interpretation had prevailed over that of the self-appointed Apostle to the Gentiles. Despite St. Peter's spiritual primacy being ordained by Jesus Himself (1) - Paul's supremacy is obvious; Peter's role in Christianity is as a doorman at the gates of Heaven and the subject of many a popular joke and crude bodily reference. Nobody jokes about Paul. St. Peter - the simple fisherman - stands in the shadow of the educated and travelled Paul - a Pharisee who was intimately acquainted with the Gentile's irrational pagan beliefs. Paul's immensely successful syncretisms of pagan ideas with Christian and Jewish teachings justified his saying "I have become all things to all men." Though the lions share of the New Testament consists of Pauline writings, the prolific Paul only sees fit to quote the sayings of the Lord once.(2) Paul's picture of Jesus is not that of a heavenly teacher: He is a mute babe in the manger and the saviour on the cross. Wilhelm Nestle drew the conclusion that "Christianity is the religion founded by Paul which replaces the Gospel of Jesus by a Gospel about Jesus." (3)

At its genesis, however, Christianity was the teachings that Jesus gave to His twelve pure-hearted Jewish apostles. Nazarene Christianity grew from James' Church of the Hebrews in Jerusalem, but these believers were castigated by Paul as being "false brethren" and stigmatized by later Churchmen as heretical "Ebionites" and "Jewish Christians." By the fourth century the persecuted Nazarene movement had petered out, leaving only fragments of their pristine Christian writings. Their very different approach can be seen in this portion of the Ebionite document - The Proclamation of Peter:
Then says Peter: "For we apostles are sent to expound the sayings and affirm the judgements of Him Who has sent us; but we are not commissioned to say anything of our own, but to unfold the truth of His words." And Peter said: "But let neither prophet nor apostle be looked for by you at this time, besides us, for there is one true Prophet, whose words we twelve apostles preach; for He is the accepted year of God, having us twelve apostles as His twelve months."

The reasonable beliefs of this ancient church offer us the pattern for a logical Christian faith in the coming millennium. Let us no longer rob Peter to pay Paul. Rather, giving absolute loyalty only to Christ's revelation and using the interpretation of His chosen Apostle and some common sense, we will envisage a spiritual, constructive and reasonable Christian faith for the third millennium.

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Author - John Roncalio. © 1983, 2003, John Roncalio.
The views expressed herein are those of the author who is solely responsible for their contents.