Sketch of Christianity from the birth of Christ 

Jonas Yanthan

Year of the Birth of Christ:
Jesus is neither a myth nor a mere story but real and historical. If so when was He born and died. The birth of Christ is ascertained from the year of the ‘Founding of Rome’ termed as “ab Urbe condita” (AUC) meaning, after the founding of Rome. The Roman’s calendar year was calculated from the date of the founding of Rome. Matching the Roman calendar with the other chronology called Before Christ (BC) which was counted in descending order as 10,9,8,7 etc., we get the historical dates of Christ’s event. The third calculator is the Christian chronology termed as Anno Domino (AD) meaning, “in the year of the Lord” which is in use now. Deciphering the period from the above chronologies, we find that the then Emperor of Rome, Augustus, who ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC to 14 A Dor (727 AUC to 767 AUC) issued a decree for the universal census (Lk- 2:14) in the year 746 AUC equivalent of which is8 BC. For this decree to take effect in Palestine, at that time, it will require at least a year or more. This indicates that Christ must have been born after747 AUC i.e., 7 BC. We also read in the Gospels about Herod the Great (37 BC- 4 BC), King of Judea, who died in 750 AUC i.e., 4 BC who had ordered the killing of all male child in Palestine who were two years and under, in the hope of killing infant Jesus. And this Herod, as we know from the Gospel, was the one who talked to the Magi. From this estimation, Jesus was born either in 749 AUC or 750 AUC or their equivalent 5 or 4 BC. However, to give a simplistic understanding, a Scythian Abbot/monk called, Dennis the Little, concluded that Jesus was born in the year 754 AUC, its equivalent of 1 AD, which became official in Christian chronology. Otherwise, in effect, Jesus was born in BC and not in AD. (The above description is as per Scholars’ research)

There were three Herods, as per the Gospel. They are Herod, the Great, (37- 4 BC)who talked with the Magi and ordered the killing of all male children below two years on coming to know that Jesus was born. He had five official wives and killed many of his relatives and even his own three sons. Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD), fifth son of Herod, the Great is the best known to us from the Gospels. When Herod, the Great died, Palestine was divided among Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Philip.  Herod Antipas was given Galilee and Perea destining him to meet Jesus. Philip had married Herodias, his niece. They had a child, Salome. When Philip divorced Herodias, Herod Antipas took her as his wife, which John the Baptist reproached him for this and cost him his life. (Mk 6:16-29; Mt 14:1-12) This was the time when Jesus preached and died by crucifixion under the same Herod in 30 AD. The third Herod is Herod Agrippa-1(10-44 AD). He is the one who persecuted Christians.

The Church under the Apostles:
After Jesus died and rose, Peter became bold, remained eight years in Antioch (capital of ancient Syria, now a town in Turkey), the then headquarter of the Eastern Part of the Roman Empire. As Christianity spread to Asia, Africa and Europe, he found it difficult to administer the expanding church from Antioch so Peter shifted to Rome. Thereupon Rome, by default, became the center of Christendom as well. Peter became the first Bishop of Rome but as for the Christian world, he was known as the Pope. He was crucified upside down in 67 AD along with St. Paul Linus, a very saintly priest, succeeded Peter as the second Pontiff. The present Pope Francis is the 266th pontiff in succession since Apostle Peter.

Other ancient Centers of Christianity were Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople etc. Heads of these centers were called Patriarchs. St. James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. It may be noted here that Jerusalem was not made the Center of Christianity due to administrative inconvenience in comparison to Rome and so remained only as the Holy Land. Apostle Thomas reached India and travelled as far as China and Afghanistan during the early Chola Kingdom. He was killed around 72 AD in Mylapore and was buried there and enshrined as St. Thomas Mount.

The mission of Christ or Christianity did not have a name for almost more than half a century of its mission, except names like, ‘Followers of the way’; ‘Believers’; ‘the followers of the Lord’; and to identify each other as Jesus’s followers, they used the secret symbol of the fish’ to avoid the persecutors. The name, Christians first occurred at Antioch. Then in 109 AD, after much debate among the followers, as some opined that Jesus came only for the Jews, it was then finally resolved that Christ died for all and to aptly name it gave the name, “Catholic” which, in Greek, means universal, implying that the salvation of Christ is universal.

Chronology of Jesus’ mission and the writing of the Gospels:
•    27 AD - the preaching of John, the Baptist. Baptism of Jesus by John and Beginning of Jesus’ public ministry
•    30 AD - Eve of the Passover, Jesus’ sacrificial death and the Pentecost event
•    36-37 AD – Martyrdom of St. Stephen and Paul’s conversion
•    45 -49 AD – Paul’s first missionary journey.
•    50 AD – The Council of Jerusalem and appearance of St Mathew’s Gospel (Aramaic edition)
•    50- 52 AD - Paul’s second missionary journey
•    53-58 AD – Paul’s third missionary journey
•    61-62 AD – Paul imprisoned in Rome. James stoned to death in Jerusalem
•    64 AD -     St. Mark’s Gospel
•    65 AD – St. Luke’s Gospel. St. Mathew’s Gospel (Greek edition) 
•    67 AD     – Martyrdom of St. Peter and Paul in Rome
•    68-70 AD – The Romans waged war against the Jews, defeated them and destroyed Jerusalem
•    70-80 AD – Other possible date for St. Like’s Gospel and the final edition of St. Mathew’s Gospel
•    95 AD - St. John’s Gospel
•    100 AD     - St. John, the last Apostle, dies at Ephesus in Turkey

The Church in the first five centuries:
Even as Jesus began his ministry, enemies arose from here and there. Prominent among them was a man called Simon Magus, a contemporary of later part of Jesus who established a church called, “Simonians”. The other was Cerinthus who started a church called, “Cerinthians” but both disappeared for lack of followers. Likewise, within the first five centuries altogether about 37 anti-Christ churches were founded but they all failed. However, their teachings and ideas remained harmful among the innocent populace. Among them the most dangerous heresy came from the teachings of the following: 

(1) Cyrenaic presbyter an ascetic priest, Arius (250-336) who taught ‘arianism’ meaning that Jesus is not God but only a creature of God. The Catholic Church condemned him in 325 AD. 

(2) Lucidus advocated the idea of ‘Predestination’ that God predestines salvation of a person beforehand but this is a direct insult to man’s will and intellect and against person’s responsibility to one’s salvation. 

(3) Eutyches (440 AD) taught ‘Monophysitism’ in which he held that Jesus has only one person saying that his divine nature absorbs His human nature. This is opposed to the Church doctrine of Trion (trinity) God. However, they all failed to destroy the Church but unfortunately their philosophies gave birth to Islam through Mohammad (570-632 AD). Islam was thus born out of Judaism and Monophysite heresy of the Arabian Christians

The Great schism or also known as iconoclasm:
A practice began in the early Church where statues of Jesus on a cross, St. Joseph, Mary and various other Saints and Martyrs were sculpted to adorn the Church but soon gave rise to controversy. This controversy over the statues of sacred and holy images placed in the Church is called iconoclasm.

As long as the headquarter of the Roman Empire was Rome there was no such issue but when the Roman Empire capital was shifted from Rome to Constantinople/Istanbul, in present Turkey, various misunderstandings in the Church arose. When Leo III (717-740 AD) took the reign of Constantinople he not only forbade placing statues in the church but also destroyed them. This conflict let to the division of the Church into the Latin Rite of the West and the Greek Rite of the East called Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. The seventh ecumenical council of Nicea in 787 AD settled the issue under the understanding that the sacred images are kept only for reverence and not objects of worship. However, serious split took place when Pope, St Nicholas-1 excommunicated Photius in 863 who was appointed as Patriarch by then Emperor Michael even though he was not a priest by deposing the legitimate official Patriarch St. Ignatius. The formal split between Rome and Constantinople took place when Michael Caerularius was consecrated Patriarch of Constantinople. Caerularius condemned celibacy of clergy, fasting on Saturday etc., against the practices of the Church. Pope Leo IX pleaded to respect the practices of the Roman Church which has its origin from the Apostle Peter. The split became permanent since then.

Heresies of the Dark Ages (1001 to 1500 AD) or (11th to 15th century)
Heresies are false teachings. Heretical or false teachings about Jesus’ message erupted in the eleventh to fifteenth century which were adopted by the sixteenth century Protestants that gave rise to various denominations as we shall see in the following paras.

Waldenses and Albigenses were the most dangerous heretics. Peter Waldo of Lyons (1140-1218), Italy founded Waldensian Sect. He and his followers lived an austere life but the problem was his extreme denunciation of wealth, advocated that anybody could read the bible and interpret the scriptures. They also denied the authority of the Church and proclaimed the priesthood of the laity. They taught that every just man could absolve sin, consecrate and preach the gospel without sacramental ordination.

More dangerous for the church was the Albigenses founded by Constantine of Samosaya, South France in the 12th century and named their sect after the city’s name of Albi. They were not Christians but as they became powerful, like the Muslims, seized Church properties, condemned private property, opposed marriage and family life, advocated suicide and murder and encouraged the destruction of Churches and monasteries.

Together with the plague(called black death) came another heresy in the person of Wycliffe (1324-84), an English scholar, priest who wanted to rebuild Christianity but he condemned the church, the priesthood, sacraments and made the Bible the only source of all faith as opposed to the common understanding that while the Bible remains as a primary source, the apostolic traditions are equally important in the life of the believers.

Protestant Movement (1301 to 1800 or 14th to 18th Century)

For many years, Catholics, both lay and the clergy called for reforms within the Church but as the Church did little rebellion started. Church became richer antagonizing Northern Europe’s rulers. The then Pope was in need of more money for the beautification of Rome and expenses of the crusaders to defend the Church from the marauding Muslims. Pope Urban-II said the Knights, who were killed while fighting for the cause of the Church in the crusades were already remitted of their sins in their next life.

Immediate cause: John Tetzel, a Dominican monk at Mainz in Germany neighbouring to Martin Luther’s parish, was found to be using objectionable methods for getting more donations. Tetzel, in his sermons, who not only misunderstood the teaching of the Church on indulgence also started using substandard appeal to the congregation that by dropping a few coin, one could rescue the souls of a few friends or relatives from the fire of purgatory. This was objected by Martin Luther (1483-1546), an Augustinian monk and professor of theology. We must keep in mind that Luther was not against indulgence but the mode. This, he revolted and appealed the Church of Rome, but receiving no positive response, he started an open revolt in 1517. He nailed 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Church, which were all, in fact, disproved by the Church. Prime faulty point of Luther was that man is so wretched, sinful and helpless that he is incapable of doing anything good on his own to achieve salvation. And hence propagated the doctrine of faith alone through the infinite mercy of God can one attain one’s salvation. This false theory overran Sweden, Denmark and Norway which gave opportunity to the Rulers of these countries to take over the properties of the Church.

Ulrich Zwingli (1448-1531): Switzerland’s revolt was led by Zwingli. He believed in the priesthood of every true believer and in the individual interpretation of the Bible. More than half of Swiss became Zwinglians. He was killed in the civil war he started.

Calvinism: John Calvin (1509-1564) who believed that God foreordains those who are to be saved and those who are damned. This is nothing but predestination theorized by Lucidus in the 5th century. This is simply a denial of human effort and responsibility for one’s own action acting in his natural understanding of freedom in relation to ones being. This began in France, later spread to Holland, Scotland and portion of Hungary. Calvinists believe in infant Baptism. Calvinism gave birth to Presbyterian churches.

Church of England or Anglican Church (1534):
King Henry VIII (1509-1547) is the founder. In 1534, Henry divorced his duly wedded wife Catherine and married his mistress Anne Boleyn in defiance to the Pope’s counsel and cut off all religious linkages with Rome and declared himself supreme head of the Church of England. Those who refused his dictate were sentenced to death. Chancellor Thomas More and Bishop John fisher deaths were classic example of Henry’s cruelty. Not only that he married six wives and killed two of them; Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Henry, actually did not want to change the religious practices of Catholicism but it was Thomas Cranmer, who was awarded as the new Archbishop of Canterbury for helping him legalize his new marriage changed everything. He abolished celibacy and allowed priests to marry and the Church of England adopted a mixture of Calvinistic and Lutheran Doctrines.

The Anabaptists: Thomas Munster (1489-1525), a priest of Germany, a preacher and a theologian of the early reformation, opposed both Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church. He believed that all Christians baptized as infants must be re-baptized saying that infants do not believe hence only adults be baptized. Their baptism is called “believer’s baptism”. He asserted individual’s right to interpret the bible and advocated strict separation of church and State and prohibited the believers from holding government jobs. Anabaptists rejected ecclesiastical ordination and practiced choosing of preachers by lot and ordained by the congregation. Munster allowed polygamy and refused to pay church tax.

Mennonites: Menno Simons (1496-1561) was a Roman Catholic priest from Holland who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his protest against celibacy of the priests and other apostolic traditions of the Church. He became an influential Anabaptist religious leader. Amsterdam’s Anabaptist came to be known as Mennonites. Menno fought against setting dates for the second coming forecast by some preachers and the practice of polygamy in Anabaptist.

Church of England and its offshoot:
After the emergence of Church of England, many new Christian sects were born. They are Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, the Baptists and the Quakers etc., to name a few. Baptists alone has more than 15 sects and hundreds of independent churches each holding their own fundamental views arising out of theological controversies.

Baptists: The origin of Baptist is not clear because it is not founded but developed as an outcome of protestant movement in the 17th century. The term Baptist officially appeared in1742 for the first time at the Philadelphia confession or declaration of faith as to what Baptists believe.

John Smyth (1554-1612): Smyth was a priest in the Church of England but due to his controversial teaching was dismissed from the Corporation of Lincoln as lecturer on October 1602. He was also deprived of his license to preach and subsequently prosecuted. There upon, he joined the Puritan separatist congregation but his ideas split this church. He and Thomas Helwys along with his splinter group went to Holland in 1608. They decided to start a new church as they considered Church of England as false and the Church of Rome as corrupt and hence the baptism they received from these churches are not valid. He then suggested for “Believers baptism”. In 1609, Smyth baptized himself then Helwys and the rest by effusion. Problem arose because of the mode of baptism and the group split. Symth and his followers of 32 became Mennonites while Helwys and his small group of seven or eight returned to England in 1612 and founded “General Baptist” as opposed to Eaton’s “Particular Baptist”. Particular Baptist believed that only their church members will be saved and the rest damned.

Roger Williams (1603-1683): Williams was an English born New England (colony in America) Puritan Minister, theologian and founder of Providence Plantations, which became the colony of Rhode Island. He was expelled from Massachusetts Bay by the Puritan leaders for his rigid separatist view on civil and church powers. In May 1639, Williams and his followers renounced the baptism they had received in their infancy under the Church of England and hence the need for another baptism to start the new church. To avoid Smyth’s case of self-baptism, Williams appointed Ezekiel Holliman, an ordinary member, to baptize him and Williams in turn baptized Ezekiel and the rest and so was born the American Baptist. Williams left the church he created because he was not satisfied with the baptism he received and died without belonging to any church. Thomas Olney became its pastor but in 1652, it split; the one under Olney became Calvinists and the other became Armenians. The disbanded group was revived in 1771 under the President, Manning of Rhode Island College. EW Clark, who evangelized Nagas, was a member of this church.

In conclusion, what we see is a laissez faire or (khushi-khushi, in Nagamese) approach to the Bible and belief contrary to the apostolic tradition and teachings about Jesus and his mission set by the Apostles over the centuries that gave rise to numerous denominations opposed to the Apostolic Church. The main tenets of Protestantism, as we saw are that everybody and anybody can read and interpret the Bible resulted in confusion and shallowness among the Christians. The Bible is not an easy book and at the same time has the potential to mislead and it is. Salvation by faith alone doctrine of the protestants is not only heretical but also an insult to Christianity itself; Considering the Eucharist or Lord’s supper as only a symbolic act is an insult to Jesus’ proclamation in the Bible; The understanding that Baptism should be only by immersion is not reasonable enough because by this understanding an immersion will be valid only in the River Jordan and cannot be in any river; Celibate priesthood evolved from the Apostles due to the intensity of the mission and in contravention declaring the priesthood of all believers is a pandemonium in itself; Protestants protested against indulgence but don’t we see that every church built in Nagaland is by the practice of contribution of the church members with the belief that every giver will be blessed and it does not matter whether that money is clean or not. Protest against hierarchy of the Catholic Church was another feature but don’t we see that it is by design, natural and a necessity to further the cause of integrity in teaching and sanctity of the believers. No wonder, despite protest, protestant churches has hierarchy like NBCC, APCC, CBCC, ABAM, LBCC etc., which in themselves are a contradiction to their very inception as Protestants.