The Missing Christ
So often I hear my Christian friends complain about the fact that their minister’s sermons rarely touch on the teachings of Christ. After all, if one doesn’t understand the teachings of Christ, how can they ever be expected to be a good Christian? There’s a reason why Christianity downplays the teachings of Christ and that reason goes all the way back to the origins of Christianity itself.
As we now know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament story is to a great extent a story about the Nazarean Movement. In that vein, Jesus was often called Jesus of Nazareth. The movement founded The Jerusalem Church and the head of the Church was James, the brother of Jesus. The Nazarenes were a small group of Jews who followed the Torah (the Mosaic Law). They also believed in the Old Testament prophecy of a messiah (king) who would lead them to victory over their oppressors (the Romans). So the New Testament backdrop was more a story of politics and revolution rather than one of religion. With the burning of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple, the Jewish revolt against Rome was broken and those Nazarenes that survived scattered throughout the Diaspora.
The origins of Christianity
The objective of the Nazarene Movement was to restore the Davidic line to its rightful place – on the throne of Israel. In order to accomplish that goal it was necessary to displace the Roman Empire and to do that they would need lots of help, particularly from the Gentiles. What better way than to develop a new religion, a new form of Judaism, one that would appeal to Gentiles as well. For them the rightful heir to the throne, who had descended from King David, was Jesus. With respect to Jesus, the Nazarenes believed that he was not divine; that he lived his life in accordance with the Torah; and that he was the messiah according to Jewish prophecy which they defined as the coming of the Prophet and the Messiahs (plural) of Aaron and Israel.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, historians saw the makings of what would eventually morph into Christianity. The rites of the Nazarenes included tithing, baptism, a sacred common meal and a Last Judgment where God would save the righteous. The Jerusalem Church sent emissaries/apostles out into the world to establish a major footprint through the founding of churches. Their vision was an apocalyptic one and the Nazarenes in Antioch (in what is now modern-day Turkey) would eventually add one very important element to their theology – the premise that man was saved from sin through the death of Jesus. In so doing, they invented a religion that would suit the pagans of the Roman world and in the process changed Jesus from a Jewish messiah into a universal savior for all men. It was from that point that the Nazarenes would be referred to as Christians.
Jesus in the Bible
Many consider Jesus to be the greatest man/god who ever lived. So why was there so very little written about him? In fact, much of what was written about him was intentionally excluded from the Bible. Those scriptures that were not included in the Bible were an important part of Christian thought and philosophy for three hundred years after Jesus. Then, overnight, they were considered to be heresies (by the Church) and the writings were destroyed. Three hundred years; that’s longer than the current life of the American Republic! It’s like saying that the Constitution, which was carefully crafted by the Founding Fathers, would suddenly be considered un-American and that anyone who still subscribed to it would be thrown into a FEMA camp. Except back in those days, they just simply killed them.
Politics and religion
What the Roman Empire needed in those days was a cause that could serve as a reason for the people to support the Empire, for it’s much easier to control a far-flung empire with a religion than it is with an army. The Empire didn’t need a god (Jesus) because they already had one (The Emperor), since all of the Roman Emperors declared themselves to be God. Then along came Christianity which had a savior but no Christ. By that, I mean that Christ, himself, was essentially missing from his own religion. The Roman Emperor Constantine couldn’t resist adopting a non-threatening Christianity as a political tool to help save a crumbling empire. As for the Bible, the Holy Roman Church would include very little about the life and times of Jesus and even less about his teachings. All they really ever needed was a savior to mollify the masses.
It’s kind of ironic that Christianity started out as a political weapon in an effort to displace the Roman Empire and turned out being a religious weapon in an attempt to help save it. Two thousand years later, Christians all over the world are still practicing Hellenized Christianity as opposed to the true teachings of Jesus, whether they know it or not.
“One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history – it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn about church history.”
– Brian McLaren, leading Christian pastor and theologian