Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the ChurchHeresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church
Harold O.J. Brown
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The history of Christian Theology is in large part a history of heresies, because Jesus and the claims he made...seemed incredible, writes the author. Heresies presents the story of how succeeding generations of Christians through almost twenty centuries have tried to understand, trust, and obey Jesus Christ. Particularly concerned with christology and trinitarianism, the author calls on the four major creeds of the church.....Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, and separate orthodoxy from heresy. He acknowledges that heresy served this purpose historically, so it serves this purpose pedagogically in Heresies. This volume presents a clarion call to evangelicals to preserve tenaciously the faith once delivered to the saints.

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Chapter 2:  Heresies
1.    Perspectives Jewish and Pagan

    Jesus was a Palestinian Jew; most of his early followers were Jews, and for a number of years the civil authorities and the surrounding secular world looked on Christianity as a variety of Judaism.  Indeed, for at least thirty or forty years, until the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, most Christians in Palestine appear to have considered themselves Jews--more knowledgeable Jews, fulfilled Jews, obedient Jews, but Jews nonetheless.  But the very nature of the Christians' claims--that Jesus was the expected Messiah, and that their understanding was fuller and more complete, while that of the unconverted Jewish majority was inadequate, obsolete, and willfully blind--naturally set them off against the unconvinced, traditional Jews around them.

    Before the breach between Christianity and Judaism was complete, indeed, before all the books of the New Testament itself were written, and long before anyone began to write works of what we now call theology, Christianity had begun to attract pagans as well as Jews.  judaism gave to Christianity is fundamental conviction that the eternal, omnipresent changeless God works in time and space, in the particular circumstances and conditions of human history.  The Apostles' Creed tells us that Jesus Christ suffered and died "under Pontius Pilate," a rather mediocre, middle level Roman bureaucrat.  The reference is Roman, but the idea is Jewish:  that the Word of God is not an ineffable, timeless, spaceless Principle, but lived in human flesh and blood at a particular time, in a particular place, and under a rather undistinguished Roman governor.

    But time passes, and even the most overwhelming of historical personalities and events are obscured and fade from human memory.  The Jewish religion was decisively shaped by Moses, and took its origin in the tremendous event of the Exodus from Egypt.  Judaism, more than any other great religion, is characterized by the Law, and the Jewish Law specifically hearkens back to the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt:  "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt..."  These words, this reference to an epoch-making historical event, introduce the Ten Commandments.  Passover, one of the two greatest feasts of the Jewish calendar, involves the effort to embed the memory of the Exodus and its importance in the mind of every Jewish child by the family observance of the Passover meal.

    But other things have happened to the Jewish people that have caused the present awareness of that historic event, no more than three millennia in the past, to fade.  There was captivity in Babylon, then return from Exile.  There was oppression under various rulers, then a brief time of national renewal under the Maccabees.  There was submission to Rome, revolt, and the virtual wiping out of Palestinian Judaism in the Jewish Wars of A.D. 66-70.  During the twentieth century, there was the incredible Nazi persecution of the Jews, culminating in he Holocaust during World War II, which wiped out at least one third of the Jewish population of the world.  Following World War II, the state of Israel was established, restoring national sovereignty to the Jews for the first time in two thousand years.  All of these historical events, and especially the Holocaust, entered into the historical awareness of the Jewish people and may tend to displace the historical memory of the Exodus, despite the fact that the spiritual importance of Moses and the Law remains.

    Christianity, like Judaism, is based on an event or a series of events, i.e. on the historic person ad work of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.  But the person and work of Jesus --his ministry, his death, and his resurrection--were experienced by relatively few people.  Most of those who came to believe in him only heard of him and his work, or after the Scripture became available, read of them.  The basis for remembering the work of Christ as a foundational historic event surpassing that of the Exodus was narrow.  The Exodus was experienced by all of the Hebrews alive at the time, and had direct repercussions for Egypt as well as for other Near Eastern nations.  The events of the, death, and resurrection of Christ, witnessed by only a few people, were immediately contested by the civil and religious authorities.