What is Christian Origins/Current Faith? At first, I simply defined it as my goal of teaching the material I learned in seminary to the average churchgoer. While this is still true, I realized my ambition was a little more radical than sharing mere concepts in a Bible study. This realization came to me gradually through learning and experience. I started a blog and a discussion group in 2013 both called First-Century Faith to talk about Christian origins. Moreover, I hoped to add an element of devotion to the academic knowledge, seeing many believing groups that rarely discussed biblical scholarship as opposed to the academic ones that balked at the very mention of faith. I wanted to bring these opposites together. Whereas many scholars research the "historical Jesus," churchgoers venerate the "Christ of faith." So why not have an objective view of Jesus' historicity as well as belief in his divinity? I think it is possible to learn about and revere a "historical Jesus Christ of faith." Nevertheless, this is just the beginning of my definition for Christian Origins/Current Faith. What started as a fanboy's zeal for biblical scholarship turned into my pursuit of the real Jesus.
Meeting the Jesus I Never Knew
Christian origins is an academic field of study that quests for the historical Jesus, considers whether his initial followers rightly or wrongly deified him as Christ, and examines Paul of Tarsus' influence in the early church. Scholars also research biblical archaeology as well as ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman literature. This is to give a three-dimensional context for the New Testament. With the complement of "current faith," I expand the study of Christian origins spiritually. This is to discover the "historical Jesus Christ of faith" instead of settling for the flat-planed version many of us lifelong Christians grew up with. Over twenty years ago, the Evangelical author Philip Yancey wrote his The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 1995), a devotional book on the real Jesus. Certainly, his work transformed the lives of many individual believers, although most churches have yet to make any changes toward seeking the "historical Jesus Christ of faith." With Christian Origins/Current Faith, I strive to answer how Jesus can be the living God in human flesh and blood for us. Whereas most systematic theologies prioritize the devotional reading of scripture, the historical-grammatical method grounds devotion with history and literature. This was how I met the real Jesus, inspiring a spiritual rebirth that drastically changed my faith in him. As a pilgrim traveling among the churches of Christendom, I tried to find something of "first-century faith." I only found it in snippets rather than a complete hermeneutic. I have since learned to cherish both Jesus' divinity and his humanity.
Back to the Basics
My goal is to use the historical-grammatical method to teach other Christians how to be better disciples of Jesus. To further my ambitions, I pray for a return of "first-century faith." I also hope for paleo-orthodoxy, or the central beliefs which unite all Christians across time and space. In addition to this website, I manage a Facebook discussion group and various social media accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest) all titled Christian Origins/Current Faith. In this foreword, I mention both matters referring to the studies of Christ Jesus and his "church" (Greek: ekklēsia; G1577; Latin: ecclesia). Because the church is Christ's body, I believe that christology and ecclesiology are mutually inclusive fields of study and practice. The church is also "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15); not so much a union of conflicting beliefs and traditions, but a unity of faithful disciples seeking Jesus "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23). The authentic church strives to be unified, holy, multiethnic, and mission-oriented in line with scripture.
First-Century Eyes in the Twenty-First Century
In our churches today, we generally view the New Testament through the lenses of Augustine (354–430), Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), Martin Luther (1483–1546), Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), John Calvin (1509–1564), Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609), John Wesley (1703–1791), etc. While these men worked out many valuable contributions to systematic theology, they were not close enough to the apostolic era to have firsthand knowledge of Jesus. The Anglican scholar N. T. Wright insists, "For too long we have read scripture with nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions. It's time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first-century questions" (p. 37). To do this, we must return to a biblical theology of Jesus' lessons to his apostles and rethink how we understand Christianity today. Therefore, Christian Origins/Current Faith emphasizes a plain reading of the Bible over systematic interpretation. As a result, Jesus' teaching shows its sociopolitical edges in addition to is spiritual ones. For example, the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12) challenge us to really be "poor in spirit" (v. 3) as well as peacemakers (v. 9)—they are not just lovely notions of some distant future, but actions to take in the here and now.
Christian Origins/Current Faith traces its free and independent heritage via the original Christians, desert hermits/ascetics, medieval "Modern Devotion" ascetics, Franciscans, proto-Protestants, Anabaptists, United Brethren ("Moravians"), Pietists, early Methodists, and Messianic Jews (see here for the complete succession list). These groups most often sought peace and rejected the unholy alliances of church and state. Rather, they preserved the Christian faith through compassion, piety, and discipleship. This was the difference between the better-known Magisterial Reformation (1517–1648) and the Radical Reformation (1525–1632). These free churches knew the cost of following the real Jesus. They always tried to reform the "cultural Christianity" that deemed individuals to be Christians simply because of membership or nationality. They even valued the enduring Judaic heritage of Christianity, which is one of the major themes for Christian Origins/Current Faith. The Messianic Jewish theologian Daniel C. Juster agrees there is no historical example of antisemitism or "replacement theology" (i.e., the church replaced the Jews as God's chosen people) among the Anabaptists, the Pietists, and the Methodists—unlike the "magisterial" churches of the patristic and medieval periods. Although many of these same denominations have repented from their more repugnant forms of antisemitism, most of them still hold to softer versions of replacement theology—some of them joining the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
A Tale of Two Covenants
Christian Origins/Current Faith encompasses a dual-covenant theology; that God relates to the Jews through the Law of Moses and to the church through the Law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 3:17-25; 6:2). Paul warned us that God never abandoned the Jewish people, but anticipates the full inclusion of gentiles into Israel's inheritance before he reconnects with them in the abundance of his grace (Rom. 11:25-26). The rediscovery of the Didache and the Dead Sea Scrolls, the independence of the State of Israel, and the resurgence of Messianic Judaism from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century shows that God is once again revealing the Judaic heritage of Christianity. More importantly, he is calling on the Jews once more to know Jesus of Nazareth as their national Messiah. Christian scholars and theologians are calling to mind the "Jewishness" of Jesus and Paul, and even the Catholic Church has reassessed its position on Judaism during Vatican II. Simply put, God is recalling the Jews to their covenant promises in Abraham and to correct the church's replacement theology. The Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann observes, "We stand today in a remarkable period of transition. . . . the Christian faith is experiencing what I would like to call a 'Hebraic wave'" (Wilson, p. 125).
An Instrument of Peace
Christian Origins/Current Faith strives for unity between Christian gentiles and Messianic Jews. It advocates civic responsibility and a grassroots ministry of compassion, but not through the political process that unnecessarily divides people. Instead of antisemitism, Christian Origins/Current Faith stands for "philosemitism." Rather than Jew or gentile, it stands for "disciple." Instead of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, it stands for "Christian." Rather than progressive or conservative, it stands for "human." We pray these words ascribed to Francis of Assisi (1182–1226):
Lord, make us instruments of your peace: where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
This witness by former U.S. Senate chaplain Richard C. Halverson (1916–1995) also highlights the ecclesiology of Christian Origins/Current Faith:
In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal and vital relationship to the Lord; it transformed them and the world around them. Then the church moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. Later, it moved to Rome, and it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe and it became a culture. Finally, it moved to America, and it became an enterprise. We've got far too many churches and so few fellowships.
The irony of a chaplain employed by the government criticizing these manifestations of "cultural Christianity" is bold. Whereas Halverson tried to reform the culture from the top, the Christian Origins/Current Faith approach is to distance oneself from politics and work in the everyday lives of people. This is most christological, as Jesus himself inspired changes of heart, mind, and soul throughout the Mediterranean without corrupting himself in policymaking. He overturned all levels of Jewish, Greek, and Roman societies, not through government, but connection and steadfast love (Greek: agapē; G26). Likewise, the Christian church endured the age commonly known as "the Enlightenment" (c. 1715–1789), not with legislation or clever apologetics, but revivals of heart, mind, and soul. Christian Origins/Current Faith preserves these same christological and ecclesiological goals. We ask for your prayers and support in this aspiration of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13).
Peace be with you,
James M. González, M.T.S.
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest, in whom we are built up as living stones of a holy temple, that we might offer before you a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which is holy and pleasing in your sight. Amen.
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