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The Fall of the Way Movement
We begin this study in the dark years following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. By this point Jesus (Y'shua ben Yosef) has been dead for 40 plus years. His 12 disciples and initial followers are in their 50's-70's. Many have died. An entire new generation of followers are now leading the Way movement, sometimes under the direction of the disciples and sometimes at odds with them. Gnosticism is gaining ascendancy (I John 4:3), the Nicolaitan heresies that 'claims to be Jewish but are not' is growing quickly (Revelation 2:6-9, 3:9) and the Way community is fragmenting (I Corinthians 1:12-14). The words of Rabbi Gamaliel are remembered:Acts 5:35 And he said to them, Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.The Way sect was now falling apart.
5:36 For before these days Theudas rose up, boasting himself to be somebody; a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves to him; who was slain. And all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered and brought to nothing.
5:37 After this one, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the Registration, and drew away considerable people after him. Yet that one perished; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered.
5:38 And now I say to you, Withdraw from these men and let them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will come to nothing.
The Second Century CE saw a marked increase in anti-Semitism and heretical sects. The orthodox Jews as well as the estranged followers of Jesus were suffering terribly at the hands of Pagan Rome during these years. The traditional Jewish communities endured these persecutions as they always had, by remaining true to Torah and the sacred Traditions as best they could. And yet during this period Judaism was being transformed by people like Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai from within due to the loss of the Temple. Within this uncertainty the traditional Jews were being revitalized. This period saw the birth of what we know as Rabbinic Judaism.
The non-traditional Jewish Way sect was also being transformed during this period, but not for the better. Without the great Torah scholars available to other Jews, they began compromising their beliefs with the Romans. They hoped that by assimilating into Roman culture and accepting their religious norms they could escape the bitter persecutions that were befalling all Jews. Many of the Jews and Noahides who had embraced the teachings of the Disciples knew little to nothing about Torah. This made maintaining the reform Torah observances extremely difficult for them. The early 'Church fathers' were mainly Gentile converts with little or no practical knowledge of Jewish Tradition. Many of them justified assimilation arguing that through this process they could extend the sect's teachings throughout the Roman world.
They succeeded, but at a terrible cost. Already by the Second Century many of the Way Jews and affiliated Noahides had allowed the original reform teachings to be compromised to the point that in some cases their connection to Torah was becoming doubtful. Of such people John warned:Revelation 2:9 I know your works and tribulation and poverty (but you are rich), and I know the blasphemy of those saying themselves to be Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
Some Important terms:
Catholic: From the Greek katholikos meaning "universal" (and brought into Latin as catholicus). Catholicism was the Roman religion established by Emperor Constantine (see below) as the universal religion to be observed by all people under the authority of Roman bishops. This word is not found in the Bible.
Ekklesia: Unlike the word Catholic the word church (ekklesia) is used in the Greek New Testament writings. It is understood in three main ways: As all Christians collectively (ekklēsia kuriakē) (often capitalized), as the the congregational meeting house (kuriakē oikia), and popularly as the true denomination (whatever that is deemed to be). The word is first used in the Bible at Matthew 16:18: "... upon this rock I will build my church."
So "church" refers simultaneously to both the place where Believers meet as well as to the Believers themselves collectively. Both usages are correct and both apply to the modern idea of "the Church."
Church: The common English word translated from ekklesia as "church" comes from the Old English word cirice which is taken from the Germanic kirika (or kirche) which in turn is taken from the Greek kuriake' which means "of the Lord" (or "the Lord's property"). Hence 'the Church' is said to be the possession of the Lord, and again comes from the Greek, not the Hebrew (which is so often the case with this Gentile religion). Imbued in this word are many non-Jewish associations that Jesus and his disciples would have been appalled at being connected with. These terms were unknown to the original followers of Jesus. They were just Jews who embraced the reformed Jewish doctrines of Jesus. As they began separating themselves from other Jews they began to adopt sectarian names for themselves.
The history of the (Roman) Universal ("Catholic") Church is replete with stories of Pagan priests, Nicolaitan bishops and theologians, Pagan customs, and politicians bitterly debating every conceivable point of doctrine. In addition to the infighting they also fought with the "Arian" Jews and Noahides who were 'contending earnestly for the faith' (Jude 1:3). In the end the Arian voices were silenced and the Nicolaitans usurped the Way.
Arianism refers to the monotheistic views championed by Bishop Arius (250 or 256 - 336 CE). The term has nothing to do with views of Aryan racial supremacy. These were people who sought to remain true to Jesus' original monotheistic Jewish teachings. Much had already been lost, but the Arians were arguably the last flowering of the Way sect.
As the New Catholic Religion replaced the Old the Nicolaitan Papacy was installed. The Bishops usurped authority over all accepted doctrine and practice throughout the Empire whether Jewish, Pagan, Heathen or secular philosophy. Catholicism was declared to be the One True and Apostolic Universal Church. Unapproved beliefs were pronounced illegal and after a while those holding them were severely punished and even killed in diverse and often brutal ways.
Here's How the Fall Happened
Between the late first and early fourth centuries C.E. everything was open for debate among the conflicting sects of the Way Movement as it gradually disassociated itself from the Rabbis. Without Torah and the oral traditions the Way lacked a solid foundation. Nazarenes, Nicolaitans, Ebionites, Gnostics, post-Essenes, Mandaeans (i.e. the followers of John the Baptist), overt Pagans and the diverse local beliefs of the Heaths (i.e. the unsettled outlands), and others all openly competed for acceptance. Who could say which group was correct? In Rome religious acceptance was synonymous with political and social power and so the various factions were quite serious in their debates.
In the end, by the authority of the Roman Empire itself, under edict of Constantine the Great, the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6, 15) were the victors. They installed their hybrid religious and political views as "Catholic Christianity" (Universal Christianity). This new religion, formed through the forced unification of all Roman religions and philosophies into a single hierarchy, would rule the Empire and the world. Jesus' reform Jewish Way sect, by whatever name, was no more. A time of darkness was spreading over Europe.
Catholic bishops now issued decrees with the authority of "the Mother Church" (a Pagan term if ever there was one). These decrees were presented as sacrosanct and binding on everyone within the Catholic domains. Failure to comply with the rulings of the Catholic Magisterium was punishable as apostasy.
Catholic doctrine mixed Pagan tradition and biblical truth in a bid to be all things to all people. Pagan customs and traditions were blended in from across the Roman world and beyond. The Papacy declared the carefully crafted theological collage to be inspired by God.
But Catholicism was a house of cards. Remove one and the entire edifice might collapse. This is doubtless one reason why dissent was not tolerated and reading the Bible was discouraged and at times even outlawed. The Vatican established itself as the only authorized global religion and its priests as sole interpreters. All who challenged the Papal rulings were to be sent to the Pagan god Hades for eternal punishment. Never mind that Hades is not a biblical character. The Church declared this Pagan god and his domain real. Failure to recognize his existence was punishable in this life and in the next.
Constantine the Great, Sol Invictus and the Papal Cross
The warlord Constantine the Great claimed to have had a vision of Jesus that changed his life. In 312 CE this alleged vision led him to fight and defeat Maxentius for control of Rome. Despite his vision, Constantine remained a worshiper of Mithras Sol Invictus (i.e. the Roman sun god) until the day he died. He eventually became Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus and lived circa February 27, 272 - May 22, 337.
Constantine was the true founder of the Christian religion. Under his authority the Universal Church and its bishops were installed and the essential Church dogmas and hierarchy was established. His influence far outdistanced that of Paul and even Jesus.
Following Constantine's alleged conversion the Roman Empire came to be regarded by law as the Kingdom of God on Earth and the fulfillment of the Messianic requirements Jesus had failed to satisfy. But rather than universal peace and brotherhood, under Papal rule faith was replaced by blind obedience and reason by cruel authority. The new doctrines were enforced by Roman Law and the persecutions returned, but from a different source. Under Catholic rule opposing the Bishops meant opposing God and opposing God meant opposing Rome and that would not be tolerated.
Constantine claimed that Jesus had appeared to him in the heavens. The god-man was enshrouded by the sun, the sacred emblem of Sol Invictus. Jesus ordered his anointed warlord to "fight and conquer" under the sign of the Chi-Rho (an ancient Pagan cross). To the right you see a Roman coin embossed with this Pagan symbol on one side and Constantine on the other. According to the New Testament of course Jesus died on a stake (a starous) and not on a cross.
For Pagans the cross represents a crossroads, the opportunity to take a new direction. The symbol was an omen used to signify that one had arrived at an opportune moment and as an augury of good fortune and success if the correct fork is taken as instructed by the gods. This Pagan good luck charm became the symbol of the new religion.
This Iesus (Jesus) who appeared to Constantine was said to be the Y'shua of the Way movement and yet the differences were astounding. This new Jesus supported violence and military conquest. The old Y'shua ordered his followers to turn the other cheek when struck. He had ordered Peter to put away his sword, 'because those who live by the sword will die by it'. And yet according to the Church this was the same Jesus who repeated refused requests to take up the sword and lead Israel as Messiah, replying that 'My kingdom is not of this world'. How could this be the same Jesus? It was against Church law to question such things.
This new Jesus lead the Roman armies into battle. He and his Church committed untold abuses against the people of the Roman Empire, both Jews and Pagans! 'Submit to the Church or face the bitter consequences'. For dark centuries resistance to the Church was futile.
Despite the obvious absurdity of the Church's claims that the Jesus of the New Testament would now empower a Pagan warlord to conquer the world by force and spread theocratic tyranny, the victors write the history books and this was the history the West accepted until relatively recently, many still do.
Constantine remained a worshiper of the Mithraic Roman sun god Sol Invictus until the day he died. He even refused Catholic communion until he was lying on his death bed. For Constantine and his bishops the new religion was a means an end: power. Today as then most Christians accept Constantine's account of Iesus' ordination of him. Most accept it as an established fact that the God of the Bible wanted to elevate the Way sect (or its replacement, the Nicene Church) to political power and did so through the might of a brutal Roman Pagan warlord!
Most Christians continue to accept the claim that Jesus decided to fundamentally alter his doctrines and non-violence stance, to nullify the Torah which he said would never pass away (Matthew 5:18), to severe his Movement's tenuous remaining ties with Judaism, to even outlaw its observance, and to create the Catholic Church and government as a replacement for Torah and its rabbinic structure. And all of this is based on Constantine's unsubstantiated claim that Iesus appeared to him in the form of a Pagan religious icon! An icon that now hangs upon the wall of almost every Christian church on earth and around the necks of untold millions of Believers... Just because an unconverted Pagan warlord said so.
Seemingly all the fourth century Believers could see was the end of the periodic persecutions they faced and political vindication of their faith in Jesus. The persecuted became the persecutors and Hell emerged onto the earth.
Uncertain but significant numbers of Jewish and Noahide followers of the Way sect converted or returned to traditional Rabbinic Judaism during this period rather than accept the heresies being established by Constantine and his councils. Records are sketchy but provide some evidence that Judaism took in more converts during this period than during any other single period in its history. Other followers of the Way outwardly conformed to the New Religion but covertly maintained their faith in the Way. Among these people, fears of Papal persecution often kept them from teaching their children the Way doctrines and so within a generation they mainly ceased to be a factor within the Church as their children embraced Catholicism.
Most members of the Way sect and most Pagans entered the Catholic structure submissively and accepted Rome's authority and anomos (Torah denying teachings). The Way Jewish teachings were fast falling by the wayside, replaced by the Nicolaitan hybrid dogmas just as John the Apostle had warned in Revelation chapters two and three.
The Pagan Roman persecution of the Way beliefs was gradually replaced by the Roman Catholic persecution of apostates and Judaizers, of Witches, of Druids and other unrepentant Pagans and infidels, including the traditional Jews (many of whom escaped to Muslim lands). As long as one submitted to the Church there was relative peace, but oppose it and one would experience the wrath of the Inquisitions. It was much easier (and safer) to embrace the New Religion of Christianity than to oppose Rome. Most people submitted to Papal authority! Most who refused died.
The Gnostics were effectively silenced. Secular philosophy, what little remained, disappeared. The rival "Christian" sects entered the Church or were destroyed. What remained of the 300 year old Way sect now a had universal "Daddy" (Pope) to care for it and was absorbed into the Nicolaitan heresy. In some ways they must have felt that God had replaced the rabbinic structure and demonstrated His acceptance with this new structure of teachers and religious authorities. Judaism and Torah were replaced in their consciousness. The Universal Church was now the ruling power on earth.
Go to: Part Two: The Nicene Creed (coming back soon)
Continue With Part Two: The Nicene Creed
Go to: Part Two: Coming Back Soon
Go to: Part Three: Coming Back Soon