How the Church lost The Way . . . and how it can find it again
by Steve Maltz
- Acknowledgements 5
- Foreword 6
- Introduction 7
- Prologue 12
- Part One: Wisdom
- Chapter 1 A Tale of Two Summits – Part 1 16
- Chapter 2 God’s Extended “Gap Year” 23
- Chapter 3 Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts 31
- Chapter 4 A Tale of Two Summits – Part 2 41
- Chapter 5 Things Ain’t What They Seem 51
- Part Two: Signs
- Chapter 6 The Kosher Cavalry Arrives 62
- Chapter 7 Thus Sayeth the Lord . . . Allegedly! 69
- Chapter 8 Every Day with Yeshua, Every Year with God 84
- Chapter 9 There’s No Place Like Home 107
- Chapter 10 Our Father God 121
- Chapter 11 Redoing Religion 129
- Chapter 12 God’s Language Unravelled 140
- Part Three: Balance
- Chapter 13 One New Man Revisited 150
- Chapter 14 The People of Many Names 162
- Chapter 15 Finding One New Home 169
- Epilogue 181
- Appendix 1 Recommended Reading 187
- Appendix 2 Now Why Don’t You . . . ? 189
My thanks and love to all the usual suspects. You know who you are and you are all too modest for a name-check. Couldn’t do it without you, though.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for filling up this empty shell with timely knowledge, contacts, and experiences and yet again bringing together all of those strands in such a marvellous way.
The removal of stubborn grease requires drastic treatment! Simple cleaners may not do the trick: pretty strong stuff may be required to force the grease out.
“Greece” in the Church also needs removing! Few of us have much idea of the level of contamination that Greek thinking has produced in the Church through the ages. To say that drastic treatment may be required to remove it is an understatement.
It is no exaggeration to say that ancient Greek ideas have bedevilled Christendom. Its legacy is twofold, producing on the one hand “Christians” that are so spiritually minded they have little impact on society; on the other, “Christians” that are so identified with the world that they have no real testimony at all.
Steve Maltz has beaten me to it! For many years I have wanted to write a book along these lines. But Steve has rendered us all a great service in exposing the trap of Greek thinking, showing us how to break free and return to Church life as Jesus wants it. Free of the crippling influence of Greek thinking and free to move in the fullness of Christ.
Read this book; enjoy this book; but above all, learn the lessons of this book. They are profoundly important for the successful testimony of the true Church in these end days.
Christopher Hill – Bible teacher and broadcaster
It’s a presumptuous title for a book, don’t you think? How the Church lost The Way . . . It’s a double whammy. There’s a simple angle and a clever one. Firstly, we can take it at face value and ask ourselves what has gone wrong with the Church? Actually, this is not a biting critique of the Church today. There are no crude frontal assaults at the clerical edifices or cunning strikes at the soft underbelly of the ecclesiastical world. It is merely an analysis of a series of events that occurred in the far-off past, in the formative years of the established Church. It is a reference to a process that started many centuries ago and has continued unabated ever since.
We can also look again at the title and see something else. Before the Church had got used to calling itself The Church, it was called The Way. So the implication here is that the Church didn’t just lose its way, but it lost touch with its origins. At some point in its history it stopped being called The Way. So what? It’s just a name, isn’t it? Well, it’s a good name if you think about it. It has an air of certainty and exclusivity. For a central figure who claimed that He was not just The Way to God but the only way, this alternative name for the fledgling Church is a pretty good one. Yet once the events of the Book of Acts were all played out, the name disappears from history. And so did thecertainty and the exclusivity of the message at the heart of it.
Now for the subtitle ... and how it can find it again. To which, your reasonable response is . . . Oh yes, what makes you so sure you have the answers, if indeed there is a problem to start with?
Here is the problem. It’s subtle, but it’s there nonetheless. It was highlighted to me recently in a church that I was regularly attending. The memory verse for that year was to be Romans 1:16 and they proclaimed it on a card given out to church members. It read, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes …” Sounds right, but it’s not the whole story. You see, they had missed out the last bit of the verse, “… first for the Jew, then for the Gentiles”. Also, in that same church, a sermon series in Romans skipped seamlessly from the end of Romans 8 to the start of Romans 12, as if the missing three chapters – the key New Testament chapters on the role and future of the Jews – inhabited some parallel universe!
You may deem me over-sensitive on this issue. After all, I am a Christian of Jewish birth and that would make me over-vigilant for any whiff of anti-Semitism. And this is true, but my concern is not for myself, or for fellow Jews, but for the Church itself.
Thumbing through what is described as one of the most widely used textbooks in Christian theology1, authored by one of the most respected theologians of our age, two observations surprised and shocked me. Firstly, in the extensive index, there was not a single reference for any of the following terms, Jewish, Israel or Hebrew (or Hebraic), whether as single words or within phrases. Secondly it was stated that the key debates in the early Church on Jesus Christ were conducted in Greek and in the light of the presuppositions of major Greek schools of philosophy.
To an impartial observer studying the Bible and subsequent Christian history, it would seem that a Jewish-based faith, defined by the Bible, had become a Greek philosophy, defined by arguments birthed in the minds of Socrates, Plato and their ilk. Yes, this is a very simplistic deduction, but gut feelings often uncover crude truths, that layers of sophistication, tradition and cleverness can sometimes mask. It is surely significant that the textbook index had as many references to Plato as the apostle Paul and for Aristotle just double the total and add some. But, as for Moses, just a big fat zero.
What was it about these Greek philosophers and their influence on Christian thought? Did God use them to shed much needed extra light on our faith? Does that mean that the Bible is insufficient for our needs? Important questions, but seldom asked and rarely answered. I have already stated that the perceived problem is a subtle one, but no way is it a trivial one. The scenarios outlined are just symptoms of a problem in the Church, a historical process that has been going on for centuries in most churches, whatever their denomination.
The process of stripping out every trace of Jewishness from the established Church started officially as a result of a decision made in the fourth century AD and has been motoring along quite nicely ever since. Yet it seems to be in direct opposition to one of the Apostle Paul’s major declarations as to what the Church of Jesus Christ was to be, in his letter to the Ephesians:
“For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made the two one [Jews and Gentiles] and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14–16)
Speaking first in metaphor we see that God’s purpose was that the Body of Christ should be a mixed-race man, part Jew, part Gentile. What this means is that the Church was always meant to have Jewish and Gentile elements. The fact that this has never really happened in history does not prove God wrong, it just paints the Church as unfulfilled. The Church was meant to be an entity with Jew and Gentile at peace and reconciled and no-one can ever claim that it has ever got even close to that ideal. But it doesn’t mean that it is never going to happen because God’s Word does not lie. It’s going to happen and some people claim they know how it is going to happen. So are they right or are they wrong? We can only answer that once we find out what they are saying.
The “One New Man” movement that has recently appeared in the USA is to be commended in that it seeks to restore the Hebrew roots of Christianity, lost since the fourth century AD, when the established Church started its campaign of extermination of all things Jewish. But, just like a Catherine wheel, going from a steady jerkiness to all out mayhem in a matter of seconds, some in the movement, after first taking it to a reasonable place, just let rip, confusing some Gentiles into believing that they had, in some way, become Jewish! It is acceptable to restore Jewishness where relevant, but not to the extent that there would be a blurring of identity and Gentiles would be seen worshipping in full Jewish garb, going to Yiddish classes and eating Kosher. This can’t be right. Someone lit the fuse and the whole lot has gone all gefilte fish!
This has been something that has troubled me for many years. It is OK to bring back the Jewish elements, but surely God was speaking about a balance between Jew and Gentile? Surely folk could see that a mainly Jewish Church is no more the answer than the mainly Gentile Church that has been the status-quo for sixteen centuries. Isn’t God talking about a balanced arrangement here? If He is, then there is some serious rethinking to be done.
As I sit in churches, I wonder how much that I see and hear would be different if Paul’s “One New Man” declaration had caught on. Would there still be icons, statues and murals? Would there be churches and cathedrals as we know them, at all? Would the structures and hierarchies be any different? What about worship styles and liturgies? Then my mind wandered as it wondered. What about the catering? Would Alpha courses become Aleph courses? Will we all be singing choruses in Hebrew? Would the preacher need coaching in stand-up comedy?
My imagination was stirred. So I decided to investigate further.
Notes: 1. Christian Theology, Alister McGrath, Blackwell Publishing 2007.
We start with a mental exercise. Not an easy one, but a useful one and one that hopefully will prepare your mind for what it is about to receive. No, I am not proposing a New Age emptying of thoughts, but rather a realisation of what lies beneath them.
Imagine you have just woken up to a new day. Then mentally trace through it, concentrating on your voluntary actions, rather than the more mundane (though serious) processes that actually keep your body alive. Here’s what could be a typical day.
Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, then realised I had just paid a homage to The Beatles. Ah, The Beatles. Memories flooded back of the previous night at the themed bar, guzzling too much food and beer, while being entertained by a rather good Beatles tribute band. Ah, The Beatles. The first worldwide celebrities of pop culture, trendsetters in music, fashion, drug taking, political agitation and communication. These hazy thoughts were swept aside by pangs of hunger and I had a full greasy English breakfast, then went to work. Once there, I just counted the hours to home time , mechanically going through the processes of my allotted tasks, but my mind focused on the football game I was going to later . . .
OK, so what? Given that I’ve just described a typical day for someone living in the West in the twenty-first century, there must be a purpose to the exercise. Before the great unveiling I will move to a Sunday and repeat the mental process, but focusing on the daily activities of a typical Christian.
Woke up, got out of bed, prayed and did my devotions. Slight dread but duty first, put on my “Sunday best”, cleanse my mind of distractions, then church. Sit there quietly, sing the songs, listen to the sermon, mind wandering . . . 4,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire, what the? . . . walk to the altar, take communion, polite conversation, then leave the church, change clothes, then an afternoon in town, take in a show, some Chinese food, a few drinks. Home late at night, not looking forwards to work tomorrow, just need to get through the week until the next weekend. Get ready for bed, prayers and sleep.
Of course you may not connect with this entire list, but I guarantee there are at least some familiar aspects. Now to the big point, the climax, the denouement. If I told you that, in both lists, you are chiefly following processes flowing from the thoughts and practices of a civilisation that flourished in a land many miles eastward, many centuries ago. And that land was not the Middle East of Jesus, two thousand years ago, but rather the Greece of four hundred years or so earlier than the Christian era. And ideas flowing from that land of Greece are very much still alive and kicking. In fact they set the foundations and principles behind our daily lives in our modern world. Let that sink in for a few moments.
Look at people going about their daily lives. Some stride purposefully around, secure in their imagined immortality. They live guilt-free lives filled with pleasure. For a growing number, the working week has no other purpose than facilitating the wild excesses of the weekend. Others are not so secure. The certainties of old had been eroded, leaving behind a confusion of beliefs and philosophies. Some mix and match and hope for the best, others just retreat from the world, yet others reject everything save that which feeds their self-interests. Then there are those who just shrug their shoulders and get on with things. What will be, will be, they chant. Finally there are those who don’t care any more and have given up.
There’s nothing new under the sun. This same scenario was a perfect fit just over two thousand years ago, in the streets of Ancient Greece. The difference is that each of the attitudes painted were, for them, schools of thought and philosophy.
The names will be familiar to you. The Epicurianists took meaning from modest pleasures, while the Hedonists took this to the extreme. The Eclectics were the mix and matchers, while the Ascectics turned their back on the world and its pleasures. The Sceptics just rejected everything, while the Cynics took this further and just lived for themselves. The Stoics simply put it all down to fate while the Nihilists denied any sort of meaning at all.
We may be separated from these folk by two thousand years of Christianity but the cynics (I worked that one in quite cleverly, didn’t I?) among us would wonder why our society, as a whole, seems to have rejected the certainties of the Gospel of Jesus and has slipped back into those ancient ways. To make matters worse, there are aspects of many of these philosophies in the Christian Church too. These and other Greek ideas are very much a part of the modern ecclesiastical world. So when was the Church infiltrated? When did we turn our backs and let these pagan ideas in?
The answer is simple, serious and startling and it’s the subject of this book.
PART ONE – Wisdom
“ . . . Greeks look for wisdom . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:22)
A Tale of Two Summits – Part 1
Summits are rewards after a long arduous climb. They are also meetings of significance. There were two such summit meetings in the early days of the Church. The first represented a climb down by key delegates and the second represented a groundbreaking thrust into unfamiliar uncharted territories. Both had a huge impact on the fledgling Church as they addressed the question “where can we go next?” and we are still feeling the effects of where we did actually go next as a result of those meetings, held in Jerusalem in AD 49 and in Nicaea in AD 325.
There’s a series of Christian cartoons for kids, where the modern-day heroes are transported back in time to Bible days and interact with real characters in familiar stories. With no consideration of the time paradoxes that have worried Trekkies and other sci-fi nerds in similar situations, these brave heroes would meet Noah and Jonah, watch the parting of the Red Sea and witness the nativity of Jesus. Why let the kiddies have all the fun, we are going to follow in this fine tradition, travelling back in time and witnessing, not the glamour and thrills of Bible adventures, but the goings-on at these two summit meetings. This idea may not fill you with much passion and excitement, but in terms of drama and significance, Church council meetings they weren’t!
So, with the liberty of authors’ license, without Dr Who’s Tardis or a DeLorean car in sight, we travel back to Jerusalem, around twenty years since the crucifixion of Jesus . . .
The room was far too small for the number of men who had gathered there. It was large enough to sleep a small party of pilgrims at Passover. It was also large enough to accommodate that ragtag group a couple of decades earlier, who had sheltered there at Passover just after the untimely death of their leader, Jesus. Now, many of the same people were present at this summit meeting, convened by their leader, James. But as this number had virtually doubled, the room was decidedly not large enough for comfort and convenience. But these people were poor and lived at the very margins of society, so it wasn’t simply a case of booking a conference hall or convention centre.
There were three groups of people crammed into this upper room. Half the room was full of elders and men with the air of leadership and importance. They were all facing the wide shallow window on the east side, through which the morning sun cast bright beams that framed a man who stood, facing the others. This was Peter, tall, thickset, his face a sculpture of determination. Huddled in the corner on floor cushions sat Paul and Barnabas, the heavyweight division, uncharacteristically quiet, following the protocol of observers. In the other corner were Thomas, Matthew and Philip, veteran disciples, original followers of Jesus. And between them all, a servant girl, Rhoda, a vision of perpetual motion, was twisting and turning, fetching drinks and baskets of food to and fro.
This meeting of Jewish believers in the risen Jesus had been convened to address one problem, “the Gentile problem”. What to do with them? It was a lot neater when God was drawing believers just out of His ancient chosen people. After all, they had two thousand years of dealing with God, while the Gentiles were flailing about without law, direction or purpose. After all He was their God, wasn’t He? OK, it hadn’t been a strife-free relationship, but, don’t forget, they were bearers of the marks of covenant, circumcision in the flesh. What can Gentiles know of the things of God?
It had been a hard lesson, but God had made it absolutely clear to them, through Peter’s episode with Cornelius the centurion, that the Gentiles did have a future in God’s plan. Hadn’t the prophet Isaiah declared, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” That wasn’t the problem that had forced this summit meeting in Jerusalem. They were meeting to discuss practical matters. It wasn’t how could God extend His kingdom to the Gentiles, but rather how can Gentiles live out their new faith?
The very things that had ensured the survival of the Jews through their two thousand year history were now to provide a stumbling block. The Jews were used to being a people separate. God had kept them apart from the nations that surrounded them, through stringent laws and customs, but most of all through the mark of circumcision, the unique branding that ensured that a Jew stayed a Jew and belonged to God, in body if not always in mind. How could Gentiles be grafted into this whole thing? To some, such as the apostles Matthew, Thomas and Philip, it was clear. They would need to go through adult circumcision – it was the only way. This opinion had been voiced earlier in the Jerusalem meeting, despite a spirited report from Paul and Barnabas on their successes with the Gentiles, on their travels. Nevertheless, before Peter had been allowed to speak, a Pharisee had just argued his case. “Without circumcision these Gentiles are lost!” he asserted. “And they must also follow Torah, just as we do”, he added.
Most seemed to be in agreement with this, but not Paul and Barnabas and certainly not Peter, who, after much private discussion, was now speaking.
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.”
This had been around a dozen or so years earlier, when Peter had received his revelation at the house of Cornelius. This was old news by now for the delegates at the meeting, but, among the nods and casual shrugs, there were still some that, you can see, hadn’t yet adjusted to this situation. Peter continued.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”
He stopped and looked around, as if trawling for any hints of dissent. Before the slight murmurs had risen to a disruptive level, he resumed his speech.
“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
At that he sat down abruptly, momentarily startling those in front of him, who were now faced by the full beams of the rising sun. As if on cue, Paul and Barnabas stood up and shifted over to the position vacated. With much muttering and the occasional gasp or two, the delegates heard of the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them in Iconium and Lystra, such as the man who was crippled from birth, healed by just a command from Paul.
The meeting was drawing to a close and it was up to the leader of the Jerusalem church to sum up the proceedings. This was James, the half-brother of Jesus, who knew him better than any man still alive and had also met him once since his death, in a personal resurrection appearance. A highly respected leader and a righteous man, he was not known as James the Just for nothing. So when this stalwart of the Torah, this upstanding and outstanding individual stood up to make a judgement, people listened. He spoke.
“Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ that have been known for ages.’ ”
They continued to listen in silence, as the preamble gave way to proclamation.
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
And so you witness perhaps the first really key decision of the early Church. What was to be done about the Gentiles? What James proposed was not just an arbitrary compromise on the spur of the moment, he had given some thought to this.
Some say that what James proposed for the Gentiles was a distillation of the basic laws God gave to Noah after the flood. Based on Genesis chapter 9 and expanded on in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 56a), these laws were: practising justice and abstaining from blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, bloodshed, robbery and eating flesh torn from a live animal. As these laws were given in ancient times before the rise of Abraham and his family, before there were any Jewish people around, they are said to be the basic laws for mankind. As Jews were subsequently given the Torah to live by, according to the rabbis these laws of Noah are said to be the eternal laws for Gentiles, even up to the current day.
On the other hand some have said that these prohibitions were based on the acts that a Jew must die rather than commit, though this only accounts for the immorality and the (implied) shedding of blood. Still others think that all James was doing was providing a way for realistic fellowship between Jews and Gentiles, offering these suggestions just as pointers rather than fixed commands and emphasising a stricter morality than they were used to.
The summit meeting was over and a letter dispatched to the Gentiles, listing these instructions, not as holy writ but rather as recommendations, with the parting words, “You would do well to avoid these things.” The Jewish leadership of the Church had now offered an open invitation to the Gentiles. Jesus is for you, too. Now let’s move forwards together.
To summarise this first great council of the Christian Church, it is clear that they acted out of pure zeal for the Gospel. A practical solution had to be found for a problem that had arisen due to the sheer speed of growth of their message. God had made it clear that the Gospel was for all people and so a way had to be found to make this possible, within existing frameworks.
If they hadn’t addressed this situation then the Church would have failed before it had even got going. By forcing circumcision and Jewish culture upon Gentile converts, most would have fallen away, weighed down by these imposed burdens. Christianity would have been strangled by its own Jewish roots. Eventually it would have been decimated by the pagans, as just another atheist (i.e. non-emperor worshipping) sect and would have become just a footnote in history. Perhaps it would have survived in some form, as a form of Rabbinic Judaism with added grace and salvation, but it is doubtful whether God would have looked down at it with favour. As for you Gentiles, you would have remained pagans, outside God’s covenants, living lives of hedonism and lawlessness, guided by principles formulated by ancient Greek thinkers.
This leads quite nicely to the next episode in our journey, where we find out more about those ancient Greek thinkers. We ask the question, how did they become so influential? To answer this, we continue to travel back in time to the Greece of the fourth century BC.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this sample from How The Church Lost The Way … And How It CanFind It again by Steve Maltz.
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