Christianity:
The One, the Many

What Christianity might have been
and could still become

by John F. Nash

 

Published by Xlibris, December 2007. 

Reviews Excerpts Author Bio Contents ISBN numbers


"Encyclopedic in its coverage." 
"A masterpiece of research, insight and faith." 
"A must-read for believers and nonbelievers alike." 
"Now I know there’s a place in Christianity for me."
 

What is Christianity?  Who was Jesus Christ?  What relevance does Christianity have in a “post-Christian” age?  Why are there so many Christian sects, and what are the prospects for bringing them together?  Does Christianity have a future?  Am I a Christian?  Are you?  The two volumes of Christianity: the One, the Many, offer encouraging answers and options for modern spiritual seekers.

This first volume focuses on the life and teachings of Jesus and the evolution of Christianity over its first millennium.  The institutional church of the Middle Ages imposed standardized beliefs and practices in place of the spontaneity and pluralism of apostolic times.  But standardization was never complete, and alternative religious forms survived.  The Gnostic, Celtic, Coptic, and Cathar Churches represent important variants.  Finally, in the 11th century, mainstream Christianity split into western and eastern branches. 

The organizational structure, clerical roles, doctrines and religious practices of the medieval church are studied in some detail, laying groundwork for the examination of western Christianity in Volume 2.  The major variants are discussed, as well as the development of the Eastern Orthodox Churches through modern times.  The exploration of religious forms that may be less familiar to western readers provides a glimpse into how Christianity as a whole might have developed—and directions it could take in the future.  Insertion of little-known facts helps bring the historical survey alive. 

The second volume focuses on western Christianity from 1000 CE onward.  Decline of the medieval church led to the Reformation and emergence of the Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican Churches.  Baptists and Methodists soon followed, and in due course the charismatic movement.  The scientific revolution and the Enlightenment challenged Christianity’s very foundations and produced innovative religious forms, like Deism and Transcendentalism.  Meanwhile, esoteric Christianity has established itself as a further option.

A bold new vision is offered that honors the diversity within Christianity as well as a transcendent, unifying reality, the “Body of Christ.”  Seven spiritual paths are identified which offer all sincere Christians opportunities to express personal and collective aspirations.  Archetypal in nature, and cutting across denominational boundaries, they are: Devotion, Ceremony, Knowledge, Service, Healing, Activism and Renunciation.  The unifying reality is a larger archetype, the Ekklesia, visualized as a great “Cathedral” into which all are invited to open themselves to the Divine, love their neighbor, humbly seek truth, and work to make the world a better place.


Volume 1: 390 pages, volume 2: 372 pages.
List price (two-volume set): paperback $39.98, hardcover $59.98.

Order from Xlibris, Barnes & Noble, and other major retailers.
 

Reviews

(This review appeared in the Esoteric Quarterly, Fall 2008.  It is reproduced here by permission.)

It may sound like a chore to review a two-volume book on Christianity, but set that thought aside!  As I became engaged with this material I found myself delighted.  The material is easy to read, exciting with stories and legends interwoven, and broad in that no one perspective is defended.  Dr. John Nash has created a most pleasurable study.  I particularly think how exciting an adult Sunday School class could be as it bounded through these rich remembrances and explored the vision offered in conclusion.  To dance through these two volumes is certainly possible; they are inspiring.

Christianity: the One, the Many takes one on a delightful tour though the history of Christianity with spice and good food along the way.  The book’s subtitle is: What Christianity Might Have Been—and Could Still Become.  Volume I leads us through the earlier years of a church planted by the disciples as it sprouts into the mustard tree it was meant to be.  Volume II leads us to self-examination and a realization that we are a part of Christianity’s glory as well as its dubious past.  We are led to acknowledge that as Christians, we are called to make our personal contributions to the as-of-yet unwritten future.  Hard questions wait to be answered, and as we traverse this material, we find the inspiration needed to carry us forward.  

Since I have special interests—as we all do—I relished the respectful mention of the Gnostics.  I appreciated seeing their contribution to Christianity acknowledged and was sympathetic when they chose to go their own way.  I could not help but to think of the dear price many paid for doing so.  They and others, unknown to most of us, suffered greatly for the pursuit of the Holy, called by whatever name.  At last we of the Christ are acknowledging this.

I was delighted with the treatment of the divine feminine: Mother Mary in Volume I and Sophia, in Volume II.  The author’s references to Sophia are rich, truly bringing both her history and her modern influence to our attention.  As one of “Hers,” I delight in his rich references helping to make the divine feminine more understandable.  It is important for Christians to know She has always been here, although not always appreciated.

Nash’s work is sensitive to all women throughout history as it is written at this more open period of time.  He includes the plight of women as the regard for women deteriorated throughout the known world.  He records the contributions women have made that went unrecognized.  Thus we are provided a sense of pride that women, known and unknown, have always served in our tradition, whether it was politically correct or behind the scenes.

A rich and original segment of Nash’s effort is defining The Seven Paths of Christianity.  The Paths, which can be of assistance to all who are seeking and/or serving the Christ, are: Devotion, Ceremony, Knowledge, Service, Healing, Activism and Renunciation.  Esotericists will immediately see a relationship to the seven rays of Spiritual Science, or Kabbalists to Martin Buber’s “ten rungs on the ladder.”  However one might approach these ideas, having such definitions makes it easier to see the path one has traveled or even how a path may be unfolding as one proceeds.  We are reminded of the many intimate means by which we can choose to be one with the Christ.

Throughout these chapters, we find glimpses of known persons, but with a more friendly face, a legend or a story to help us get a feeling for the weavers of the faith.  We emerge from these volumes realizing the wonder of the two-thousand year history Christianity has had: its high points and its low.  We are inspired by the richness of the saintly and sickened by the scandals of certain kings and popes.  We are brought face to face with humanity in all its expressions, a living caravan of Christians trying to find the Christ, the Light of the World.

No review of this material would be complete without mention of the richness of the references included at the conclusion of each chapter.  This book is an encyclopedia of ideas, explored briefly and written in an easy-to-read style while providing plenty of documentation to satisfy the scholar who might desire to dig deeper.  Ministers and teachers have need for such a tool, one that they can recommend to others without overburdening them with materials that are difficult to read and laborious to endure.  Dr. John Nash is to be saluted for producing two volumes that are both interesting and readable.

I am rereading the two volumes, this time not to review them but to linger with the wisdom they contain.  I desire to take the time needed to absorb the grace these volumes have to offer.  While I rebel against “Churchianity,” I love Esoteric Christianity.  I realize I am a more knowledgeable individual for having experienced the findings provided in these volumes. While rereading the book, I shall savor the pages as I ponder and derive an even deeper level of inner satisfaction.  

Carol E. Parrish-Harra
Sancta Sophia Seminary
Tahlequah, Oklahoma
 

Excerpts

From Volume 1

In first-century CE, the Middle East was crisscrossed by many religious, philosophical, social and political currents.  Not surprisingly, the apostles, their immediate followers, and later generations of missionaries who lived and worked in that environment developed diverse visions of Christianity.  As they founded or contacted religious communities they communicated those diverse visions to the early Christians…

By the end of the first century a wide range of beliefs and religious practices had taken hold, even within the overall framework of Pauline Christianity.  If the pluralism had been allowed to continue, Christianity would have taken on a radically different character.  As it was, determined efforts were made by the proto-institutional church to corral the early Christianity communities into a single religious format.  Even then, the outcome was largely fortuitous; few observers in 100 CE could have foreseen the characteristics of the medieval church, still less its power.  One might ask whether Jesus Christ foresaw it.  In any event, the claim that the medieval church was the preordained outcome of Christ’s mission on earth, the working out of divine mandate, was a later projection back onto primitive Christianity.

Achieving the desired standardization of Christianity would be a slow process.  It was complicated by the wide geographical dispersion of the communities, local cultures and customs, a history of autonomy, entrenched religious habits, and difficult travel and communications.  Also, although the leaders of the proto-church may have shared a common vision of Christianity, that vision needed to be transformed into codified beliefs and religious practices that could be communicated to the far-flung Christian communities.  Doctrine and creeds had to be formulated and a liturgy developed. We often hear about the "heresies" of the first few centuries; but heresy implies a corresponding orthodoxy that did not yet exist…

Many times during Christianity’s 2,000-year history, and particularly after the Reformation, efforts were made to return to the purity of the "apostolic church."  Those efforts stemmed from a belief that the first generations of Christians were united in a simple faith in Jesus Christ, uncontaminated by the doctrinal disputes and political entanglements that followed the conversion of the emperor Constantine.  Brave souls have long questioned the existence of a pristine apostolic church, and we can safely dismiss it as a myth.  The very term is dubious because a "church" did not emerge until the end of the first century, by which time most of the apostles were dead. Furthermore, attempts to recover an apostolic church invariably rely on scriptural authority; but we have seen that the New Testament was not even "in draft" until some time in the second century and did not take final form until late in the fourth. [Volume 1, pp. 112-113]

From Volume 2

Whether we feel drawn to traditional or innovative forms of Christianity, we can all find a spiritual path within the Ekklesia.  Some persuasions emphasize one path or another, but the seven paths are intrinsically free from denominational or factional associations.  Moreover they are open to people at all levels of spiritual attainment and aspiration.  Each path offers a distinctive way to express the presence of God and the love of Christ in our lives.  Certainly we have acknowledged that the paths have pitfalls; Knowledge and Activism are prone to divisiveness, and Ceremony may be culturally separative.  Devotion, Ceremony and Renunciation can ensnare people in pride and self-absorption. But to be aware of the pitfalls gives us the opportunity to avoid them.  Service and Healing are not entirely free from pitfalls, but they may offer the strongest affirmation of the unity of the Ekklesia.

Whatever path we are on, and wherever we may be on our journeys, we are united in common ideals.  We oppose injustice but aim to heal the world rather than resorting to violence.  We seek truth but pause to reflect that what we discover can only be partial and time-dated.  We renounce excess in our own lives but value the creation of great works of sacred artistic heritage.  We strive to love all whom we meet, no matter how different they may be from ourselves.  And we worship God and share in the love of Christ, realizing that both may be known by different names…

Christianity is a communion of pilgrims inspired by the love and wisdom of the Christ.  We do not march with the army of the Church Militant—and certainly not to the beat of a single drummer.  But we do travel our paths with companions, students, teachers, unseen mentors and guides, listening to the sounds of nature, sacred music, and our own inner voices.  Each of us is unique, with a different genetic, cultural, economic, social and educational background. We carry with us personal histories, hopes, fears, weaknesses, strengths, successes and disappointments.  We have stumbled many times and are familiar with setbacks and disillusionment; but we have also experienced rebirths, epiphanies, and expansions of consciousness.  Epiphanies can occur at any time, and opportunities for service are most likely to arise when we are not engaged in "religious" activities.  Perhaps a life-changing experience urged us forward onto a new path, gave us courage to meet the next challenge, or opened our eyes to new realities. Perhaps we shall have a life-changing experience tomorrow.

Christianity is also a pilgrim on its own journey, ever striving to express its archetype more fully.  The history of Christianity could be seen as a series of failures, missed opportunities, and incomplete successes. From another perspective we can see a success story that surpasses any other human creation, with or without divine support.  The soul-searching made necessary by conditions in the modern world is giving the churches a new sense of their mission and identity.  Christianity’s journey is not over.  It has a bright future as the subjective union of denominations, congregations, communities and individuals under the leadership of Christ, pursuing their various paths and giving expression to their highest aspirations.  We affirm Christianity’s own progress onward and upward for ever.  The most glorious days lie ahead. [Volume 2, pp. 341-343]
 

Contents 

Volume 1

 

Introduction

 

The Book’s Objectives.  History and Future of Christianity.  Outline of the Book

 

Part I.  Christ and the Birth of Christianity

1

Environment of Early Christianity

 

Egyptian Heritage.  Jewish Civilization.  Greco-Roman Civilization.  Cultures Outside the Roman Empire.  Reflections.

2

Scripture and the Historicity of Jesus

 

Testimony of Scripture.  Reliability of the Scriptural Record.  Extra-Biblical Evidence.  Was Jesus “Real”?  Reflections.

3

Jesus the Christ

 

Jesus’ Family.  Jesus’ Ministry.  Death, Resurrection and Glory.  Reflections.

4

Christianity’s Formative Years

 

The First Christians.  Diversity in Apostolic Times.  Early Christian Melting Pot.  Autonomy, Diversity and Authority.  Reflections.

 

Part II.  Medieval Christianity

5

The Institutional Church

 

Emergence of Institutional Christianity.  The Church Hierarchy.  The Papacy.  Legends of the Papacy.  Reflections.

6

Ministry and Religious Orders

 

Ministerial Roles in the Early Church.  The Priesthood.  Monasticism and Religious Orders.  Women and Religious Life.  Military Orders.  Reflections.

7

Christian Doctrine

 

The Role of Doctrine.  God, Christ, and the Trinity.  Mary of Nazareth.  Satan, Sin and Salvation.  Reflections.

8

Religious Expression

 

Worship.  Ritual and the Sacraments.  Religious Expression and the Arts.  Reflections.

 

Part III.  Variations on a Theme

9

Gnostic Christianity

 

Classical Gnosticism.  Gnostic Teachings.  Manichaeism.  Other Gnostic Sects.  Reflections.

10

Celts and Cathars

 

Christianization of Western Europe.  The Celtic Church.  Decline of the Celtic Church.  The Cathars.  Suppression of the Cathars.  Reflections.

11

Fragmentation in the East

 

Seeds of Fragmentation.  Arian Christianity.  The Assyrian Church.  Oriental Orthodox Churches.  The Church of India.  Reflections.

12

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

 

The Great Schism.  Slavic Churches.  Highlights of Orthodox Christianity.  Eastern Orthodox Doctrine.  Reflections.

 

Index to Volume 1

  

Volume 2

 

Introduction to Volume 2

 

The One and the Many.  Outline of the Book

 

Part IV.  The Western Church

13

Western Christianity in Crisis

 

Age of Transition.  The Crusades.  Changing Political and Social Environment.  Decline of the Western Church.  Grassroots Religious Movements.  Reflections. 

14

Renewal and Synthesis

 

Intellectual Revival.  Mystics and Mystical Philosophers.  The Renaissance.  Confluence of Traditions I.  Reflections.

15

The Reformation

 

The German Reformation.  The Swiss Reformation.  Reformation in England and Scotland.  The Catholic Response.  Reflections.

 

Part V.  Christianity in the Modern World

16

Bridge to the Modern World

 

Religious Conflict.  Science, Philosophy and Christianity.  Political and Social Upheavals.  Reflections.

17

Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity

 

A Simple Faith.  Evangelical Movements.  From Tent Revivals to the Southern Baptist Convention.  Charismatic Christianity.  Reflections.

18

Esoteric Christianity

 

Modern Esoteric Christianity.  Two Esoteric Philosophers.  The Rosicrucian Movement.  Healing Ministries.  Confluence of Traditions II.  Highlights of Esoteric Christianity.  Reflections.

19

Liberalism and Fundamentalism

 

Definition of Terms.  Religions of the Enlightenment.  Scriptural Criticism.  Modern Protestant Theology.  Unifying and Divisive Causes.  Fundamentalist Christianity.  Reflections.

20

Developments in Mainstream Christianity

 

Developments in Catholicism.  Developments in Eastern Orthodoxy.  Developments in Major Protestant Denominations.  Trends in Religious Practice.  Religious Orders and Asceticism in the Modern World.  Reflections.

 

Part VI.  The Future of Christianity

21

The Ekklesia

 

What is Christianity?  The New Face of Christianity.  Membership in the Ekklesia, or Who is a Christian?  Reflections.

22

Seven Paths of Christianity

 

Path of Devotion.  Path of Ceremony.  Path of Knowledge.  Path of Healing.  Path of Service.  Path of Activism.  Path of Renunciation.  Final Reflections.

 

Index to Volume 2

 

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ISBN Numbers

Volume 1   Volume 2  

Paperback

978-1-4257-8444-7   Paperback 978-1-4257-8452-2

Hardcover

978-1-4257-8445-4   Hardcover 978-1-4257-8459-1

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