The most surprising thing I learned from this course and the excellent book, “The Lost History of Christianity” which covers similar ground is how far East Christians went in early evangelist efforts.
The ancient churches of Iran, China, and other branches founded by Nestorian Christians were something I never learned heard about before. What could we in the West learn from these churches? It is hard to set ourselves outside the context of Western imperialism and the 18th and 19th-century missionary movement, but this myopic lens clouds the witness of our brothers and sisters who seeded this ground centuries earlier.
This is so good. I wonder what we could learn from those ancient Churches as well. The history of the Church is deeper and greater than I was aware of. Learning how far East Christians in ancient Iran and China went in evangelist efforts was a treat. I hope to one day be able to come across more material of those days. It is so tempting to think I know everything there is to know about the church. The Holy Spirit has truly been at work for the last two thousand years in parts of the world I never knew about.
I thought that Christianity in the First 1000 years was almost completely full of new material for me. When I think of church history, I think of things like the Church in Acts, Monasticism, Desert Saints, Rome, the Catholic Church, and the Reformation. While none of these things are wrong, they are in no way the full picture. With that being said, almost the whole pamphlet surprised me. The idea that surprised me the most was the nature of the spread of the Church of the East without the “backing of an empire” During the earlier ages of the Church of the East, Christians were second-class citizens compared to their Muslim counterparts. In some ways, I think this created a more authentic growth of the church without diluting what it means to actually follow Jesus.
I think that you’re right when you say that there is something beautifully authentic about Eastern Christianity. Eastern Christians are much more vulnerable to persecution, and their decision to follow Jesus comes at such a great cost. The West has much to learn from them.
Western Christians are so quick to focus on the Great Schism of 1054 AD and to forget those that came before it. Prior to the separation of Rome and Constantinople, we saw both the Nestorian and Chalcedonian schisms. The traditions involved in these schisms represent such a rich tapestry of Christian diversity and culture. It is a shame that the West is primarily fixated on Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, thus inevitably remaining uneducated about the traditions of the East.
Narsai,in his Metrical Homilies, shows that the Eastern Church was active in preaching the gospel to Gentiles. This surprises me positively. But I would like to know more about the terms he uses: by «Gentiles», I think, that he means the unbelievers. What does he mean by the «House of Abraham»? Does he mean the Jews who believe in the Messiah? Or the believers of the Gentile Church? How did the Eastern communities understand the relationship of their communities to Israel? Did the Jews have a place in their theology, or were they replaced by the Church? Were there any Judeo-Christian / Messianic churches left in the Near East? They were certainly a reality in the first and second centuries, but after? The Orthodox were negative towards the Jewish Christians in the councils, what about the excluded Eastern Churches? Under Islam, the relationship between Christians and Jews became hardly easier. Are there sources for these questions?
Everything that was covered in this material surprised me. I could see deeply how I was out of the history about my own Faith and my family from other Christian traditions. To know about them straight my faith and I felt the need to tell others in my community about our brothers and their beautiful cultures and traditions and how is
important to protect Near Eastern Christians and recognize how fundamental their presence is in the Near East as mentioned in the material. I Just wanna thank you for the course. It brought me another vision about Near East.
I’ve been most surprised after the reading (and the lectures) by the deep historical roots of Christianity in the East. While it was no surprise that there is a long lineage of faith in Israel, it surprised me about the role of Christianty in China, India, and Iraq. In the past I’ve struggled at times with how sometimes it seems like Western missions in the 19th and 20th century seemed to import an almost colonial religion and practices. So, I was astonished to discover the deep Christian roots already in these cultures prior to Western missionaries.
When I lived in an Arab-Israeli town this Spring, there was both a Baptist and a Orthodox church in the town. Visiting the Baptist church, it felt a little uncomfortable to think about how white Western American missionaries had come over to Israel to convert historic Christian minorities to a more Western way of practicing their faith. I think the Western church has a lot of listening to do. It would do well to connect to older Eastern communities of faith and figure out how to support them well.
I’m glad you enjoyed the reading! I also hadn’t been exposed to much of other kinds of Christian thinking until I started Seminary and began taking Church history courses and missiology courses where I was more deeply exposed to the different beliefs and practices of Christians throughout the ages. While it’s reasonable that most American Christians are unfamiliar with these other practices beliefs (many American Christians will rarely be placed in situations where they need to regularly and thoughtfully engage with those from the Near East), the more of us who are engage in understanding their backgrounds and beliefs, the better off we all are.
I agree with your takeaways. As a Catholic, it was fascinating for me to ponder how many of the liturgical practices I love, such as singing ‘Agnus Dei’ during Mass, are likely derived from Eastern not Western sources. I presumed because the hymn is a famous Latin one that it was a medieval creation but astonishing to consider it was adapted from customs brought by Pope Sergius. Likewise I was unaware of how for a large portion of the early Church there were effectively more dioceses and Christians in the East than in the West.
This is a great take away from the course. Growing up in a nondenominational church before becoming a Presbyterian I thought I seen and heard it all. However, this course really gave me a deeper appreciation for the different approaches to worship. In addition, as you mentioned, I got a better appreciation of what the different churches focus on when they enter worship. I wonder if when we get to heaven all the types of worship will take place?
I also thought it was interesting to learn about other parts of the church. I’m reminded that Jesus said that they would Know him by the way we love each other, and also how he prays numerous times that we would be unified. I pray that this is the future of the church. I also think the interaction between the Eastern and Western Church is quite interesting.
Hey Thomas. I’m glad you had that experience in Omaha. Learning about the city of Edessa fascinated me as well. I also thought it was interesting to think about the difference between a church growing out of Persia and a church growing out of Rome. The former doing mission work in places dominated by various other religions and the latter doing mission work in a place dominated by people of pagan religions.
I was also unaware of the importance of Edessa in the early Church! Such a fascinating revelation. Knowing its centrality in the early Church should only prompt Westerners to want to learn more about our Eastern brothers and sisters.
Great takeaways Alex. I too was surprised about how large the numbers of Christians in the areas of modern-day Iraq and Iran had become. Quite honestly, I don’t think I really realized before Philos just how strongly Christian the Middle East was before the rise of Islam. My grandpa’s parents were Melkite Catholics from Syria, but here in the modern-day, I always knew that to be a very small minority of people, especially farther East where the Ayatollah persecute freedom of religion.