Christianity’s Family Tree
I recently read Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree” and my faith was strengthened by what I read. We can trace the start and beginning of our Christian family from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost over two thousand years ago all the way to the present. We have many relatives in our Christian family and a rich history. I would like to pass some of this history along to you hoping you will be blessed as well.
Our can find our Christian brothers and sisters in many different Christian churches and denominations. Even though each church or denomination may have different traditions and minor differences in some of their beliefs, the same Holy Spirit has baptized us all into the body of Christ
. We will introduce you to what each Christian denomination emphasizes in their walk with God and how some of their traditions may be different from ours. We will briefly explore how one church differs from the other in our Christian family tree: -the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists and Pentecostals. In future weeks, we will go over the beliefs of each of these Christian churches. There are off shoots of these larger branches that will not be mentioned here because of time constraints.
The Christian church is spiritually alive and is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church had it’s beginning at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first was given. Jesus had instructed the believers to wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to come. Then ten days later God sent the Holy Spirit to each of the apostles and believers who were waiting and praying. Scripture tells us that when the Holy Spirit came down that very first time, there was a mighty rush of wind in the room and then a tongue of fire could be seen over the head of each believer and each believer began speaking in unknown tongues. (Acts 2:1-5) Since then the Holy Spirit has been given to each believer or each member of the Christian family when they believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.
In the first century of Christianity there were no denominations among those early believers. The major division was between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. There were only believers in Jesus Christ, and most of the believers lived in Jerusalem or Antioch.
By the end of the first century the Church had grown quite a bit and many Christian churches that had been planted by Paul. Churches of believers called themselves, “Followers of the Way”, or “Christian”. And these Christians communities were thriving all over what is now Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. But these Christians were often jailed, whipped, stoned and persecuted unmercifully because of their faith. Peter and Paul were both put to death in Rome. By the third century the Roman ruler Constantine became a Christian himself and stopped the terrible persecutions. Instead Constantine made Christianity the national religion.
Heresies and false teachings have always threatened the Christian faith and each Christian generation has had to contend for the faith by stopping these heresies. In those early days one of the main heresies threatening Christianity was the Aryan heresy. Arius was an early Christian bishop in Alexandria who did not believe that Jesus was God. He believed that Jesus was created by God the Father at some point in time and that Jesus was not eternal and was a lesser god. Aryanism rejected the doctrine of the Trinity: the doctrine that God encompasses Three Persons in One being. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There are cult groups today who hold to the Aryan heresy. The Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon churches do not believe in the Trinity, or that Jesus is God the Son.
Christians in the third century prayed that the Holy Spirit would lead them into the truth and help them dispel heresies and false teachings. Constantine called all of the bishops of the Christian churches together to pray and to write out a creed that would state the tenants of the Christian faith. With much prayer for God’s guidance, three hundred Christian bishops gathered together at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. These bishops or leaders of their local churches, after much prayer and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote the Nicene Creed, which has been the guiding creed for all Christians ever since. All but two bishops voted against the Aryan heresy. They voted that Scripture teaches that Christ is eternal, the Son of God and God the Son. Belief in the holy Trinity is the cornerstone of our Christian faith. If Jesus were not God He could not have saved us from sin.
All the beliefs of the Christian faith were summarized in the Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. and the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and all of the Christian Protestant denominations down through these many hundreds of years have professed that they believe this Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed spells out our Christian faith. We have this one common faith will all brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are all baptized into the body of Christ by one Spirit – the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Here is what the Nicene Creed states: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, and on one Being with the Father, through Him all things were made. For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and became truly human. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate: He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. Who with the Father is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
Next week we will explore what the Catholic Church believes and practices. The Catholic Church is the largest church with the most members in Christendom. And if we have time we will cover the Eastern Orthodox Church as well. And then after that we will cover the Protestant churches, the Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and the Anglicans in the weeks that follow.
We will find that each branch or church group in our Christian family has brought certain strengths and blessings. Wouldn’t it be un-healthy if we were to cut off all the other branches and leave only our branch? How tragic it would be to say that our branch is the whole tree! Perhaps the beauty of the great tree comes from its diversity.
We personally may feel more comfortable on our own branch and in our own church. And we may disagree with some of the practices of some of the other branches or churches that make up the Christian family. We don’t have to agree with everything our family members do or say to love them.
All the branches or churches share the same roots and the same trunk. Our roots are Judaism and our trunk is Jesus Christ. We all live by the same Scriptures and are all nourished by the same truths. The Holy Spirit is feeding and watering the many limbs and leaves and branches and keeping this glorious Christian family tree alive! Let’s remember that we are all connected to one another and together we all make up the glorious body of Christ.
The ideas and quotes in this blog are taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Christianity’s Family Tree”.