the kingdom is in your centre
and is about you
when you know yourselves,
then you will be known,"
-- The Gospel of Thomas
I have a challenge to all protestant Christians. This is not an attack or an attempt to create an argument. I would really like all Protestants to think about this seriously, if only for a moment. But first I must give some history.
The council of Nicaea first met in 325 A.D. It was called by the newly converted Emperor Constantine. His goal was to end the internal bickering that had characterized early Christianity and to decide once and for all what constitutes a Christian.
The end result was three major things. They wrote the Nicene Creed, a short statement of faith that is still used throughout the world by widely divergent faiths to define themselves and other Christians. Secondly, they began the process of canonization, that is deciding which of the early religious writing belonged in the Bible and which did not. Finally they established the authority of the bishops and the Pope in Rome, ultimately leading to the formation of the Catholic Church.
It is these last two I want to deal with mostly. Let's take canonization first.
Three hundred years after the birth of Christ there was already a fair amount written about him. Numerous gospels existed. Many of the original apostles had written books of Acts and numerous letters back and forth. Early bishops also wrote back and forth repeatedly.
Much of what was left out was left out for practical reasons. Many of the letters contained similar information, and added little to the general understanding of Christianity -- either then or now. Some of it was too specific, written by one bishop for one congregation. Some of the writings were short or incomplete.
However some of what was left out was for political reasons. There were three main factions in the early church. Without going into too much detail, two of them -- the Catholics (not quite the same as modern Catholics) and the Orthodox sects -- teamed up and pushed out the Gnostics, who they considered Heretics.
Much of the writing from that time has been lost but not all. Thanks to the relatively recent discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt, several of the more important Gnostics writings are still available. We will come back to that in a moment.
The other major decision of the council involved settling a long standing debate about who had authority to say what Christianity was. Once again, two factions -- one out. They were supporters of the Pope in Rome and the Patriarch in Alexandria. Eventually they would schism into the Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox Church respectively.
Flash forward about 1500 years. Martin Luther posts his ninety-nine theses and the rest, they say, is history. Christianity divided into hundreds of distinct denominations. All are called Protestant, because they were all spawned from this one act of protest.
Specifically, all these myriad churches and denominations share one crucial protest; they do not believe the Pope is not infallible. The Pope does not have the right to tell all Christians what to believe or what to do. In saying this, they are rejecting one of the cornerstone decisions of the council of Nicaea.
So here is my challenge to you. If the council of Nicaea was wrong about the Pope and wrong to establish the Catholic Church, could they have been wrong about the canonization? If their divine inspiration failed at this turn, could it be possible that they weren't divinely inspired at all? Maybe they were just men.
Not sure? Read one of the Gnostic texts for yourself. Personally I recommend the Gospel of Thomas. I am not trying to convince that it is right or wrong; I merely want you to read it with an open mind. It presents -- as all the Gnostic writing does -- a different view of Jesus and of Christianity.
I like Thomas in particular because he really delivers. He speaks not one word about the life of Jesus or any suppose miracles he performed. the Gospel opens with: "These are the words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded"
And that is exactly what the book is -- a record of what Jesus said.
I like it to because many of the sayings are similar to what's in the other Gospels, but they are given a different perspective.
Gnosticism is less concerned about Jesus' divinity than it is with his example. How do we follow his example, how do we individual achieve a relationship with God? I think Christianity today could benefit from a wider understanding of it's own history and of the diversity of thought it contains. I hope at least some of you will seriously consider what I have said.
What are your thoughts on church history and the divisions that have occurred in its history? Do you think that books outside of the Bible -- like the Gnostic books -- deserve as much attention and importance?