Monday, July 13, 2009

The Early Christians

I've really developed a love of studying the early church, and am even considering going back to college to get a Doctorate in Religious History or some such degree.

The early Church was Jewish. The followers of Christ were considered a Jewish Sect mainly located in Jerusalem. In my opinion it is a shame that this is not more widely taught throughout Christianity.

We should never forget that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi. Everyday, from the time he was little, Jesus, like all observant Jews would recite the Shema. This was the closest thing to a Creed to be found in Judaism. It was the greatest expression of their basic beliefs and their commitment to Judaism. The Shema can be found in the Jewish Torah, or the Book of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord or God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The word Shema actually means "Hear" in Hebrew, so this is a command, not a request! He's not saying "Hey guys, think about this," he is saying "Listen! These are the facts!" The "Lord is One" is very important, as the people of that time, around 1400 B.C., generally worshipped many gods, being polytheistic, but the Hebrew people were monotheistic and this was an important part of the Shema.

Love for God is to be total and with one's whole being. Many Jews take these verses very literally and have been known (in the last 2600 years) to tie notes to their heads and forearms, and to place small wooden or metal containers with these commands on the doorframes of their homes.

Jesus and the Disciples, who were all Jewish, would not only recite the Shema, but celebrated Passover with the famous meal, and the youngest at the table would ask specific questions of the elder, wise one, or Rabbi. The dinner consisted of bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and roasted meat(lamb) to remember the night of the original passover in Egypt that led to the freedom of the Jewish people.

So why have these practices, so important for the early Christians, been abandoned by the Modern Churches? In Mark 12:28-34 Jesus added to the Shema in a revolutionary way when he was asked by a teacher of the Law of Moses this question: "Of all the commandments, which the most important?"

Jesus responded by refering to the Shema first: "The most important one is this: Hear, O Issrael, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." He then took the commandment from Leviticus 19:18 and added, "The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." Jesus did this to show that love for one's neighbor is a "natural and logical outgrowth of love for God." The teacher of the Law understood and realized that to "love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." This is important as this probably took place in the temple courts where the priests were preparing the offerings and sacrifices.

How often do Christians get so stuck in a routine, or ritualism, that they forget what we are actually called to do? To love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus also changed the Passover meal with the famous Communion celebration, and this act shocked his disciples and led to great confusion amongst them. It was only after his crucifixion, death, and resurrection that they came to truly understand what he had done.

So why have we lost our Jewish origins and practices? When Paul began converting non-Jews, how did the Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem react? I'll get to that next time.

Love to all.

The above was inspired by the book The Jesus Creed by Scott McKnight, and by my study group at Church. I highly recommend this book as I have learned a great deal from it. I use the NIV Study Bible and all references from the Bible are taken from it.

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