The Christian Faith and Worship [Muslim Perspective]

As discussed in the earlier pages the Gospels do not prove conclusively that Jesus Christ (peace be on him) ever preached any new religion. In fact, his mission during his three year prophetic period was aimed at convincing the Jews that they had gone astray much from the path of God due the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes among them and that therefore they should go back to the folds of the true laws through repentance, mutual love, justice-and most of all by following the law in letter and spirit as preached by his Gospels revealed by God, which among others are highlighted in the ”Sermon the Mount” in Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7. No one can have any doubt that these had been the essence of the Law in the Commandments of the Old Testament records considered as the Five Books of Moses (peace be on him) and that those were amplified by the Gospel highlighting how committing of sins may be totally avoided by restraining ones thoughts, senses and actions in advance. Further, the New Testament records say that he used to pray in private and instruct his disciples “to pray by going into thine own room, shutting the doors and pray to the father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6-13), and that whenever he used to preach before the Jews and his disciples, he always used to worship secretly, and alone. Is it appealing to sense and reason therefore to even imagine that this prophet of the One God could have ever committed the major sin of attribution of sonship of God to himself or oneness with God to himself or could have given himself any share in the exercise of the absolute power of God, which are acts punishable by death according to the Torah?

That until a few decades after the ascension of Christ (peace be on him) his followers had no separate place of worship and any separate identity of their own is proven from the fact that it was after the fellowship was thrown open to gentiles, mainly Greeks and heathens in Antioch, and after Barnabas had brought Paul also to Antioch that the followers of Christ (peace be on him) had been called as “Christians” for the first time (Acts 11:26). However, even after this epoch-making event about the fifth decade C.E as well as during their earlier first missionary journey, Paul, John and Barnabas “proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews in Cyprus” (Acts 13:5). In Antioch of Pisidia too the same was the case (Acts 13:16-44). However, it was because the Jews reviled and contradicted Paul that they had to turn to the gentiles as the last resort under great opposition (Acts 13:45-50) from evangelists who had come from Judea to Antioch and therefore Paul and Barnabas had to go to seek the decision of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem on the matter (Acts 15:1-5). It is seen that the ascension that developed was on the questions of throwing the movement open to all gentiles who were not circumcised, whereas the Jews were, and the eating of foods that were forbidden in the Mosaic law as being unclean. Then it was the Council of Jerusalem under the advice of James that decided to exempt the gentiles from the act of circumcision and to permit them to eat anything except what was sacrificed to the idols, blood and what was strangled, and to refrain from unchastity (Acts 15:6-29) It seems that on these very issues, and possibly more too, Barnabas and Mark had to part their ways with Paul and Silas after “there arose a sharp contention” (Acts 15:36-40). After this incident, strange enough, the New Testament does not state any reconciliation between the two groups and Barnabas and Mark also do not get even mentioned thereafter. In any case, it is clear from the above that a the beginning of the sixth decade C.E., the Christian Church, which was formed only during the last few years, had already started dividing up doctrinally into groups as the result of deviation from the path shown by Jesus Christ (peace be an him) as to how and among whom the spread of the word of God was to be directed. In conclusion therefore, it is clear that Jesus (peace be on him) and his early apostles and disciples had neither shown nor directed any way of life, devotion and worship different from the ways of the real Torah nor a separate place of preaching other than synagogues of Jews. Thus, even as per the New Testament essentially it was only the question of repentance and mending the wrong ways in accordance with the Mosaic Law in letter and spirit that Jesus Christ (peace be on him) preached during his short prophetic period aimed at the children of Israel, alone.

As seen from the foregoing paragraphs, it was because of the fact that the fellowship of the disciples of Christ (peace be on him), which originally was confined to Jews only, was thrown open to gentiles after exempting them from circumcision that a separate church including place of worship exclusive for the Christians had to be established first in Antioch. Since then, on the basis of the Pauline deification of Christ (peace be on him) in the holy alliance of the Trinity, whereby Jesus Christ (peace be on him) acts as and on behalf of God though the concept of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in granting unconditional pardon of sins to his disciples, took firm ground as the linchpin of the Christian faith and worship through an initiation ceremony called, Baptism.

It may be important in this connection to mention that during the fourth century C.E., a. dispute also existed between the Antioch and Alexandrian schools of churches on the questions of “inspiration” and “incarnation” in respect of the “divine presence through the Holy Spirit” in churches. Earlier, during the latter part of the first century itself, the followers of Christ (peace be on him) had split into two main camps, one believing in him as “the son of man with no divinity attached to him other than a miraculous prophet of God” and the other believing him to be “the Son of God,” the last spearheaded by Paul. It is a matter of critical history how this split aggravated subsequently into a confrontation between them leading to the success of the propagators of the schism whose faith and belief – “God is one in essence but three in the person of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit” and the “uniqueness of God in Jesus Christ” – had come to stay ever since for tens of centuries as the indisputable doctrine of the Church as contained in the “Declaration of Creed” to be confirmed by all devotees at the time of the baptismal initiation into the Christian church in total deviation from the acute monotheism of the covenant and laws of the Torah preached by many a prophet of the children of Israel from Moses down to Jesus Christ (peace be on them).

Notwithstanding the above, no one may ignore another fact of history that a group among the Christians called the Hypsistarians, who considered Jesus (peace be on him) as a prophet of God alone and refused to believe in the Trinity or the assignment of sonship of God and divinity to Jesus (peace be on him) also did exist up to about the fourth century C.E. They considered God not as “The Father,” but as a mighty ruler of the world, being the highest with no one equal to Him. Prior to that, as the Gospel of Barnabas proves, he and Mark along with their followers also did not believe either in the divinity of Christ or that he was the son of God. In his Gospel, Barnabas even reports that Jesus (peace be on him) admonished anyone who attributed divinity to him and that he used to impress on all that he was nothing but a messenger of God like his predecessors Moses, Abraham and others (peace be on them).

It is also found that in later years Paul of Samosata who was the bishop of Antioch, was of the view that Christ (peace be on him) was not God, but only a holy man and prophet and that God could not have become a man. Again, Lucian, the bishop of Antioch, well known for his sanctity as well as a reputed scholar who was martyred in 312 C.E., was strongly against the belief in the Trinity. He is said to have deleted all mention of the Trinity from the Church canons because this, according to· him, was a later interpolation not found in the earlier Gospels. Further on, Arius, a disciple of Lucian (250-336 C.E.) and a Libyan by birth who had a large following, also believed that “howsoever much Christ may surpass other created beings, he himself was not of the same substance his God, but was a human being as any other.” In fact, he shook the very foundations of the Pauline Church. However, in 325 C.E., Emperor Constantine, being a supporter of Christianity without himself being actually a Christian, in the interest of carrying on with his own administration, having desired to unite the different factions and particularly the two contending strong factions of Christians, one under Arius and the other under bishop Alexander, called a conference of Christians of all opinions at Nicaea. Confused, but wanting to have the cooperation of Christians, Constantine backed the larger section of them under Athanasius, who had succeeded Bishop Alexander as the head of the Pauline Church, and banished Arius from the realm. Thereafter the belief in the Trinity became the official Christian faith of the Empire and was followed by the horrible massacre of Christians who did not believe in the concept. Also, the possession of any version of Bible not authorized by the· Church became a penal offense in the Roman Empire. It is said that over 270 different versions of the Bible including the Hebrew versions were then burned. The Nicaean Council had decreed that the New Testament as it is found today was the only authorized version of the Christian Church. Nevertheless, the course of events changed when in 336 C.E., consequent on the emperor accepting the faith of his sister Constantina and Arius. Arius too was recalled but soon he was murdered. The emperor having known of the plot, banished Athanasius and his two other bishops from the empire and himself accepted Christianity of the Arius faith, whereby monotheism became the official Christian religion of the Roman Empire. On the death of Constantine in 337 C.E., the new emperor, Constantius, who had also accepted the faith of Arius, called a Christian conference at Antioch in 341 C.E. in which again monotheism was accepted as the correct Christian faith. This decision was reconfirmed by another council held in 351 C.E. at Sermium. St. Jerome, however, wrote of this in 359 C.E. that “the whole world groaned and marveled to find itself Arian.”

The mutual killings of Christians still fresh in his memory, Pope Honorius wanted in the early seventh century to find a solution to the cause of dissension and he tried to support the doctrine of “one God” because he believed that if God had three independent minds the result would be chaos. Although this concept of one God was not challenged by any for a considerable time, in 680 C.E. in another Council of Churches held in Constantinople, Honorius was anathematized, a unique act in the history of the Papacy when a pope was denounced by a succeeding pope. Nevertheless, long after this incident, in 1547C.E., L. F. M. Sozzini, a native of Siena (1525-1565 C.E.) who having come under the influence of Camillo, a Sicilian mystic, challenged Calvin on the doctrine of the Trinity, amplifying the doctrine of Arius and denying the divinity of Christ as well as repudiating the doctrine of original sin and atonement. According to him, the only object of adoration could be the one and only One God. He was followed by his nephew F. P. Sozzini (1539-1604), who published a book on the gospel of St. John denying the divinity of Jesus. With the assistance and collaboration of others like him, such as John Sigismund, the ruler of Transylvania, who was an antagonist of the Trinity doctrine, and Bishop Francis David (1510-1579 C.E.), also an anti-Trinitarian, Sozzini formed in 1578 C.E. a sect known as ”Rocovian Catechism” after the city of Racow in Poland, which was a stronghold of the faith of Arius.

Today, there are a large number of men and women among Christians who believe in only One God, denying the divinity of Christ (peace be on him) as well as the doctrine of the Trinity. However, they are voiceless and helpless under the strong power of the Church. Even Athanasius, the champion of the trinity doctrine, is reported to have said that in spite of all his efforts to mediate in the divinity of Jesus (peace be on him), his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves, making him incapable of expressing his thoughts, which made him pronounce, “There are not three, but One God!” From his close association with many followers of Christianity, the author of this book has found that due to similar contradictions between the faith propagated by the Church and the inherent reasoning present in the individual particularly in the educated generation of today, many an enlightened modern man does not bother much about what the ecclesiastics of the church pressure him to believe, although he himself was born, named, baptized, brought up and would even call himself a Christian.

Source: A Comparative Study of the Religions of Today by Mohammed Ali Muhiyaddin. Pg. 57-61.

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