Development of Church Franchising

In the timeframe in which Jesus is alleged to have brought god’s means of redemption to the Roman world, there was no word for the institutional type gathering places which we today speak of as churches.  There were gathering places, of course, where people could share esoteric mysteries and spiritual tutoring, but these places generally were not used exclusively for a rigidly controlled “faith” purpose.  The closest thing known to what we today call a church would have been in the Greek word ecclesia, a term which referred to a group of citizens “called out” and assembled for political purposes.  Loosely the word ecclesia may be interpreted as meaning “assembly” or “gathering.”

The translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy II (285-246 BCE) were commissioned to accommodate Greek speaking Jews in Alexandria.  That translation, known as the Septuagint, consequently became the version consulted by most early Christians.  Therefore, when quotes are made from the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament, they were commonly taken from the Septuagint version.  This tended to serve as the status measure for early Christian theologians.  In the Septuagint translation the word synagogue, denoting a place of assembly, was translated with the Greek word ecclesia.

Thus we have received through third century BCE translations of that Greek word the nuance that now implies an explicit holy association in words such as ecclesiastic, used to identify a clergyman or  priest; ecclesiastical, which pertains to a church, especially an organized institution; and ecclesiasticism, which implies principles, practices and activities of an institutionalized faith system.  From this usage there even evolved a body of contentions called Ecclesiasticus, a book of the Apocrypha, which is also called “Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach.

And then there is also ecclesiology, which refers to the study of the Christian Church as an institution, and the same word can also be used to identify ecclesiastical art, especially in relation to the architecture and/or decorations of churches.  Without question the most negative use of is the word ecclesiolatry, which refers to the worship of the church itself—the excessive devotion to principles and traditions mandated by man-formulated, self-serving faith systems—i.e. the customary indulgence of fundamentalists.

It was noted in a previous post, Puzzles of Faith (March 2009), that it is curious that the hierarchical setups and franchising organization for religious instruction such as are in fashion today were not proposed anywhere in Gospels.  At that time there were temples–buildings that were built by man, but they were regarded as housing facilities for some divine presence, with the structure used as a purified accommodation for a particular god or goddess.  Such structures were not designed with seating arrangements for seeker to sit and listen to priests pontificate, although priests supervised such places.

Curiously, in the first written “Gospel,” the book of Mark (which is now placed second in the NT lineup), Jesus was not portrayed as instructing Peter to establish his “church.”  Nor was the institution of a “church” ever mentioned until the later rewrites of Matthew, and then term “church” is used only two times.  In fact, it was not until Paul (a name Romanized from Saul) burst upon the scene (he is traditionally accepted as having lived c. 3-68 CE) that the term church developed, and even then there was no implication that a church was to serve in the role of a hierarchical institution.  Paul’s use of the term “church” was generalized, for he commonly spoke only of local gatherings of supporters that congregated independently in various regions, so it was not exactly a framework for a franchised faith system business.

A number of factors contributed to the gradual development of such an institutionalized method for promoting the business of faith. The nearest to any divine interpretations of the word “Christ” seems to have developed from the 300 BCE Greek Gnostics who recognized and honored the universal “Logos” or “Word,” which they revered and spoke of as the Chrestos.  The “Logos” or “Word” referred to the underlying cosmic principle, regarded in ancient Greek philosophy as the source of universal orderliness and intelligibility.  From the reverence of the Chrestos this esoteric group referred to themselves as Chrestianoi.   It was in a later timeframe that the term “Christians” was first used in the Greek-built city of Antioch, a Gnostic center, to distinguish the disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:25:26).  As a consequence, Antioch became recognized as the “mother-city of Gentile Christianity” (Acts 11:19-30; 12:1-3; 14:26; 15:30).

This makes for some confusion.  In Christian tradition Peter is the declared “rock” of the Christian institutionalized structure which arose in Rome, although the earliest Jesus cult members in that city referred to themselves simply as “brethren.”  Curiously, this “rock” of the Christian faith system was first known as Simon (or as Simeon, in Acts 15:12) in the first Gospels of Mark and Matthew.  Interestingly, prior to and in this same early first century timeframe there was in Rome a highly revered interpreter of Pagan  esoteric wisdom who was widely identified by the letters PTR, which may be loosely translated as signifying “grand interpreter.”  This was a title of reverence which was widely known within Rome and therefore the title was much too valuable to discard in laying down the foundation for a hierarchical faith system in the second century CE.  Thus by around the late second century CE, when copies of copies of the earlier Gospels were being produced (revised), the assertion was then “documented” that Jesus had renamed Simon as Peter, which use the PTR letters signifying the Pagan interpreter of esoteric wisdom to play upon the Latin word for “rock.”  (More on PTR in Christianity and the PTR Factor, March 2012.)

Simon may be correctly designated from the books of Mark and Matthew as having been “the apostle of the circumcision,” for he is portrayed in these two Gospels as adamant in following strict Jewish customs.  This makes it more than just awkward to place that staunch Jewish personality in the “impure” city of Rome and having apostatized from his Jewish obligations to serve Jesus as first bishop of a gentile church.

Oddly, Paul never actually spoke of Simon-Peter as though he was the “rock” upon which all seekers should look to as the  keystone of faith.  Indeed, Paul spoke several times of the heresy being preached, which was a rather disrespectful accusation since some of the twelve apostles who allegedly had known Jesus personally would still have been alive and preaching in that same timeframe.

Nonetheless, it was the self-appointed cult activist Paul who took possession of the reins of the ill-defined Jesus movement by formulating the language and systematizing the doctrines that would later be utilized as the foundation of Christian theology.  But the full application of his theological methodology did not immediately gain endorsement.  That approval developed gradually (evolved) and was made to pivot upon the four revised Gospels and the Pauline correspondence.  It was in that adapted form of Gospels, which was compiled near the middle of the second century, that was consulted by the expanding Jesus-cult affiliates.  (The cultists were not yet called “Christians” even then, despite what is taught as church history.)  Only then, around 140 CE, did the idea of formulating a canonical authority of Gospel become a serious concern, an idea which may have been inspired by a man named Marcion, a Gnostic from Sinope (in Turkey), who arrived in Rome around 140 CE.

Four years after arriving in Rome, Marcion grew frustrated with the direction of the developing Christian doctrine which would become defined as Catholic.  His Gnostic view of things was not favorably received by the “church” fathers, although they had eagerly received his generous monetary contributions.  Thus Marcion founded his own sect, which grew rapidly.  Marcion rejected the Old Testament, assessing the Creator-god of the Hebrew Scriptures as the Demiurge, the author of suffering.  This, he theorized, meant that Jesus could not have been the Messiah promised by that god, for the Christ (the Gnostic Chrestos) expressed light and love, which Marcion did not perceive as expressed in nature or in the Hebrew scriptures.  Marcion also rejected the concept of resurrection of the physical body.  He rejected as well the concept of marriage, theorizing that it was less than loving to increase the race of man to be subjected to the ruthless whims of the creator of matter.

The Marcionite sect flourished, becoming second only to the developing Catholic theological form, and for that reason the  process of canonizing basic texts as the New Testament was undertaken.  There was as well in this timeframe an economic decline within the Roman Empire, and the edgy Christian faction sought to lure converts with the promise of the “bread of life.”  The Marcionites continued to thrive until around the fourth century, when they became absorbed into the Manichaeans (named after the Persian sage Manes).  The chief opponent of the Manichaeans was Augustine (353-430), who just happened to have been a Manichaean disciple for nine years before converting to Christian ideology.  This undoubtedly explains some of “saint” Augustine’s hang-ups regarding sex.

Like any business, the goal of any faith system is to attract as many customers as possible.  The product in all faith systems is pretty much the same—the alleged special access to a higher power.  But the essential appeal for a lasting franchise faith system rests in how the product is advertised and displayed to enchant a consumer’s ego.

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