One is forced to talk about the "histories" of Christianity
rather than of the "history" of the religion. This is particularly
true of the very early Christian movement:
There is one history taught by religious historians which is based on
the documents of the time -- including the few books that made it into the
Bible and the hundreds of others (incluing about 40 gospels) that were excluded. Historians speak of many Christian faith groups
teaching conflicting views of Jesus, God, morality, religious obligations,
etc. Men and women led house churches. No central authority existed. Tthe
congregations were almost completely decentralized. In the early years, there would often be multiple congregations in a single city following Pauliine Christianity, Gnostic Christianity or Jewish Christianity.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Jesus selected Peter to be the temporal ruler of
the church. Peter traveled to Rome, presumably with his wife, and reigned
there as the first Pope.
Una Fides, a Roman Catholic apologetics web site, claims that:
"History proves that from that time [of the disciple Peter] on, both in the East
and the West, the successor of Peter was acknowledged to be the supreme head of the [entire Christian] Church." 1.
Catholicism teaches that Peter,
Paul and the other apostles ordained bishops as their successors; those bishops, in turn, ordained their successors. Thus, the church's current bishops
can trace their ordination through an unbroken line from the apostles; this is called the "apostolic succession."
There is the conflicting view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS; the Mormons). Their
founder, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), taught a theology of restorationism: He preached that the true Christian church died out in the early
2nd century CE, and did not survive in any form until he personally restored it as the LDS Church, early in the 19th century.
The "Two by Twos" church (a.k.a. Irvinites,The Jesus-Way, No-Name Church, etc)
teach that their group was founded by Jesus. They maintained a very low profile since the first
century CE. It survived until today as the only true Christian church. They feel
that they have been continually persecuted by other Christian groups
"which from the earliest times have diluted and perverted the
true gospel." 2
Many Christian denominations teach that they alone are the true
church. They believe that they alone can trace their lineage directly back
to the primitive, first century Christian church. They view the
tens of thousands of other Christian denominations in the world as having split away from
their own church at some point in history.
Each of the above denominations tends to view very early Christianity as
movement which agreed on almost everything. However, historians view the
early Christian movement as composed of many faith groups which taught
widely varying beliefs. Sometimes multiple Christian congregations would
co-exist in a single city, and would agree on little -- much like today.
The group that publishes this web site is in a lose-lose situation. No
matter what we write, we are severely criticized. For example, some
Roman Catholics write us Emails stating that in
1054 CE, the Eastern Orthodox churches broke away
from their church. Eastern Orthodox Christians also write
us; they maintain that it was the Roman Catholic
church which broke away from Eastern Orthodoxy in the 11th
century. If we write that the two wings of early Christianity
simply drifted apart and finally split from each other, we are criticized by
nearly everyone. But that seems to be what actually happened.
We expect to add many more essays to this section in the future.
Benton Johnson, "Christians in Hiding: The 'No Name' Sect,"
published in M.J. Neitz & M.S. Goldman, Eds., "Sex, Lies and
Sanctity: Religion and Deviance in Contemporary North America,"
JAI Press, Pages 37-55.