Atavist Bible Churches: Remembering the First Christians (Third Revision)

by Mark E. Mountjoy

Introduction

I became a Christian as a teenager and began reading the Bible in 1976. That was a time in my life filled with much uncertainty and many hopes. Raised in as traditional Pentecostal, my Dad was a nominal Christian, the son of a Baptist preacher. I was not supported in my spiritual quest nor encouraged to live for God in any way. I was not even sure what I believed--or why--until Jehovah’s Witness friends swooped in and tried to sell me their arguments about the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and its governing body being God’s channel for truth in this day and time. With that “pressure” on me I went out and did my own research. The number one question for me at the time was not Bible prophecy or end-time studies, but who is God? Who is Jesus? Is the Holy Spirit a person and is he God? Is the idea of the Trinity the truth or is it a lie?

Questions about the nature of man were high on my list; so were questions about the after life (heaven and hell and eternal conscious punishment). I did a lot of studying around basics--basics about God, basics about what is a Christian, basics about the Church, basics about evangelism and outreach and benevolence. My studies included such authors as Josh McDowell and Kenneth Boa and Paul Little, It was important for me to be grounded and in all my searching I never let that rule slip away. Which is why now, as a person who believes in Realized Eschatology, I think it is very important to not only have an understanding of the meaning of prophecy, but also maintain what is good and right about the BASICS. At this time efforts are underway to establish what may be the first organized Preterist Church, but will it be top-heavy with eschatological notions informed by the general consensus of two thousand years of Christian lore ON TOP of a weak regard for the basics or not, is a big question in my mind. My vision, mission and goal was and remains the establishment of an ordinary Christian church based upon an extraordinarily meticulous and well-reasoned understanding of the Jewish Wars and how the New Testament relates to it. I ask you, the reader to imagine what such a church might look like in this following essay.

 A Search for the Old Path

There is nothing new about a desire to reproduce or reintroduce into contemporary experience that which once was. Today the world-wide brotherhood of Christians is, in fact, made up of a great number of cooperating and sometimes competing movements whose one common motif is to "remember" as it were, the first Christians. What does it mean to remember the first Christians and how has such been expressed in actuality? In this piece I would like to cite a few examples of other Christian movements who have sought to observe and mimic the beliefs and practices of the first Christians and how the efforts of Atavist Bible Churches may prove to be both similar and different.

Searching for the truth and delving into the past, almost go hand-in-hand. This is especially true when it comes to the history of the Church and its roots in a distant and unfamiliar antiquity. Looking backward in hindsight it is easy to assume that the Church basically "came out of the Roman Empire." However, this impression is vastly misleading. As we take on the task of remembering the first Christians anew, it will be discovered that the Church came out of a much more critical frame of reference than the Roman Empire could ever provide: the world of the Law and the Levites. The world of the Levitical priesthood, the arch-foes of the then newly ascending Christian movement, more directly focuses on what we each need to know to give shape and meaning to the kind of research and analysis that will yield the best answers to our questions.

Now, since the birth of the Church took place in Jerusalem (in A.D.33), and Jerusalem itself represented the hub of a major civilization with ancient Scriptures, and authorities, and aspirations and antipathies, having a look at the world of the Jewish People (the Second Jewish Commonwealth) will bring into focus what will almost certainly be missed looking at the much larger picture of the Roman world.

In the case of the fate of the Second Commonwealth (also called the "Second Temple period) many wars and conflicts have erased much of what may have been preserved in written records. Archaeology, however, and the study of the Scriptures are about the only two methods (besides claims of direct divine revelation) that we have of "looking back." Both myself and a number of individuals are deeply interested in doing this research. We hope to bring the results of our findings to the attention of others. You, too, may be interested in joining with us in bringing the implications of these things into reality in practical rather than purely theoretical terms.

But to be perfectly clear, the Atavist Bible Church vision is not the result of any modern claim to direct divine revelation. Instead, it is the product of prayer and study and research into the history of events from the Babylonian Captivity to the disappearance of the Jewish State in the second century of the Common Era (John 17:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:22; 2 Timothy 2:15).

The "Old Time Way"

In the Law it is written, "Thus says the LORD: Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16). Countless efforts have been made, of varying characteristics, and different levels of success to find the "Old Way," the original holy grail of what it meant to be a Christian under the direct shadow of the Apostles.  But what about this way AFTER the Destruction of Jerusalem?  It is held by some that the church's legitimacy reaches only to the disappearance of the Second Temple.  For those who believe this, eschatology is a fascinating topic, but it hardly warrants the efforts it takes to establish a company of believers who believe and think similarly and who are willing and ready to operate as a church with clear religious objectives that include public worship and necessary ministries and services.  A look into the meager history of Christians in the last seventy years of the Jewish State affords us a glimpse at a people on fire for God and folks who made a significant impact on the Land of Israel.  Evangelism of Jews reached the point that the Rabbis searched and found a false messiah (Simon Bar Kokhba) to stem the tide.  But, the history of the Church after the Bar Kokhba debacle is one of increasing organization to fascilitate ministries and the transfer of goods and services to Christians in need of help and other assistance all across the Roman Empire.  Today, in many parts of the United States and the world, Christians are waking up to the reality of Realized Eschatology and finding themselves marginalized and without meaningful spiritual help or social support of any kind.  It is in light of this that the need for an organizational and federated framework is necessary.

Claims of Unbroken Continuity

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Church both lay claims to being the Christian church in perpetuity. Their claim to be the direct and legitimate heirs of the first Christians does not rest so much on the idea of fidelity to every major claim of the Apostles so much as on a more general claim of continuity of authority passed down, from generation to generation in what they call "Apostolic Succession." Although there are no real Apostles in the Catholic or Orthodox Churches today, they say they believe this by virtue of the New Testament practice of laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14). Through this method, Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe their churches have the authority of Apostolic era even though it has not been the case that anyone since the Apostles has ever exercised anything close to the power and authority of the Apostles. Yet, according to the claims of Apostolic Succession, these institutions boast of a continuous legitimacy vested in no other church.

Although these two churches make the same claim, it will be noted that their beliefs and their practices range from slightly different to contentiously juxtaposed in many ways: the issue of the Pope being head over all Christians (as Catholics claim) or rather he is to be the "first among equals" (as the Orthodox allege)? The nature of the Trinity and the "Filioque Clause" was so important that there were mutual excommunications issued in A.D.1054. These resulted in the Great Schism, the first major split in Christianity. it was only in 1965 that this great division was directly confronted, but what about those persons who have been disenfranchised from churches over issues of or surrounding Preterist eschatology? What will they do if and when they finally must confront what makes them different in this day and time? I believe the best case scenario for anyone believing in a realized eschatolgy is an ability to point to a continuity with the ancient church around the issue of the BASICS--otherwise (in my mind) it is two steps forward and five steps backward!

The First Christians "Forgotten"

It may be easily seen that an enduring division that has lasted 957 years is, for all intents and purposes, an excellent demonstration of (not remembering the first Christians) but of totally forgetting them! In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, for example, Christian divisions are dealt with. There, the Apostle Paul commands Christians, by his Apostolic authority, to have no divisions and to "speak the same thing." And yet these two churches have gone their separate ways on many levels. The differences include leavened versus unleavened bread in the Eucharist; baptism into Christ by immersion or by sprinkling; Catholics believe in purgatory whilst Orthodox do not, and many other things. Not only do these differences mar what might otherwise seem like inconsequential practices but even the philosophy and outlook of the Roman Catholic west and the Greek Orthodox east hinders relations between the two churches in many subtle and blatant ways.1

Apocalyptic and Academic Dereliction

Not only are these fraternal twin movements slowly moving away from one another, they are definitely, if gradually, moving away from the ideas and ideals of the Apostles. It will be found that their beliefs and attitudes about New Testament apocalyptic ranges from indifferent, to fuzzy, to totally hostile. For example, the Roman Catholic Church teaches an interpretation of the Book of Revelation developed by Augustine of Hippo.2 called "Amillennialism." But Amillennialism is the official apocalyptic interpretation of New Testament prophecy, not only in Catholicism, but also in many mainline Protestant churches as well. Amillennialism is an attempt to deal with the subject of prophecy from the rubric of immanence (not imminence). It is an effort to deal with a vast subject the wrong way: from the standpoint of human history, rather than from the perspective of the Church's Jewish origins--and therein lies its weakness.

The Orthodox Church and churches of the East, on the other hand, generally reject ANY study of eschatology as such. In their recent publication of the Orthodox Study Bible, Book of Revelation Preface there is a comment that says, in effect,

"Revelation is the only book in the New Testament that the Orthodox do not allow to be read in the Divine Liturgy."

What is the reason for this odd stance? The article explains that there is so much "confusion" about what Revelation means, that it is thought best to leave it out! However, one would think that if Apostolic Succession and the antiquity of the Church guaranteed no changes of consequence had happened, the key to understanding would be in the hands of the leaders today, but they are not! So much for remembering the first Christians!

The Anabaptist and Baptist Movements and Other Efforts

During the Middle Ages, at the time when the Bible was being put into print and made available to Christians on a large scale, new Christian groups began to spring up. Many of these, like the Anabaptists and Baptists hoped to remember the early Christians by re-instituting baptism of adult believers by immersion rather than infants by sprinkling. Other movements sprang to life, hailing foot-washing of the saints as a practice worthy of revival and fit and proper for contemporary Christian experience. In the late 19th century others, focusing on Bible prophecy, deeply believed that the conventional Church had all but forgotten the Blessed Hope of our Lord's Second Coming (Titus 2:13). Reeling from recent disappointments caused by prophecy failures in 1844, thousands of Americans flailed about, seeking strength and stability in the aftermath of the William Miller Great Disappointment debacle. Out of that chaos and hopelessness emerged Ellen G. White and, under her leadership sprang up the Second Adventist movement. Within a very short time a group of Baptist and Methodist churches banned together and formed the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

In forming this group, these believers were convinced that they had restored the Second Coming of Christ to its "rightful place" as a pivotal doctrine in Christian thinking. In keeping with the New Testament (it was urged) the end has to be heralded as still "soon." It was felt that it is a must that every believer be impressed with the urgency of this very hour in human history, an hour of decision and a time close to the dreaded Armageddon.

This matches exactly with the expectations of the first Christians without also being involved with the milieu that the earliest believers understood was quickly coming to an end.  This means the Adventist message and emphasis is only apparently the same, but not really.

Not only this, but the Seventh Day Adventists' remembering and identifying with the first Christians went so far as to mean that the elect 144,000 of Revelation chapters 7 and 14 are fully and completely represented (not in a group of ancient Semitic Christians from the genuine Twelve Tribes of Israel in antiquity) but is, rather, 144,000 people, of mixed nationalities in these present-day groups.

Very few have paused long enough to question the logic of this, even though we are living a good ways away from those whom reason would suggest must have been part of the actual 144,000: original Judaean Christians (James 1:1; Acts 21:20; Revelation 7:4). It should be noted here that the Jehovah's Witnesses, who share a strong belief that the 144,000 are nominees from their group, came out of this same Adventist movement.

Is "the Truth" in an Organization or in Jesus Christ?

A number of groups boast themselves to be the gatekeepers of truth and the parameters of salvation. According to them no one can reach eternal life without their message or outside of the framework of their organization. Are these things so? Well, we have to look and decide. It appears that genuine growth and self-reflection is more difficult in groups that believe or feel this way. I do not believe it is entirely possible for any group to actually say it knows enough (or so much) about the first or second century situation that it and it alone is the "Ark of Salvation."

In my experience of learning it seems there is always more to learn. Additionally, there is a difference between what could be called "core issues" and ancillary issues. For example, a core issue is the idea that there is but One God. This is a central doctrine in both the Old, Deuter-canonicals and in the New Testament.

Any group claiming to be true "Christians" has to pass this critical test. If they say they are Christians yet do not believe in one God, they have failed a major and central tenet of the truth no matter how hard they protest and no matter what they claim they have "restored." Another central and inviolable tenet of the Scriptures is the Deity of our Lord Jesus.

In Daniel he is called "the Ancient of Days" (Daniel 7:9 cf. Luke 9:28-29 and Revelation 1:13-15). The Prophet Micah ascribes him an everlasting past (Micah 5:2 cf. John 1:1) and the Hebrew writer extols him as "the same, yesterday and today and for ever (Hebrews 13:8). He is worshiped by the angels (Hebrews 1:6 cf. Revelation 5:11-14). And he is lauded by God the Father as God forever enthroned with a sceptre of righteous and everlasting kingly rule (Hebrews 1:8). Nevertheless in these things an obvious issue seems to beg the question,

If Jesus is Lord and God, how is it that the Scriptures also attest that he was sent by God (John 8:29; 14:24)?

Inherent in the beliefs of the first Christians are the claims which once proved to be highly contentious within the Jewish world: more than one Divine Person in the being of the One Deity. The earliest Christians, long before the Nicene Council, recognized that there are Three Holy Persons in the One Being of God: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; John 14:26; 15:26 and 16:7).

The idea that there is one God and that he exists as three Persons (a Trinity) is the most central tenet of any Atavist Biblical Church, without it there is no Atavist Biblical Church at all since it betrays the Implicate Reality of the basic New Testament Christian understanding of what Biblical monotheism is and means (Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 4:4, 5, 6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:5-11 cf. Revelation 21:6-7).

Now, after a belief in one God and the Tri-unity of the Persons of God, there is the Person of Jesus in his Incarnation, the purpose of his coming to this earth and being crucified, killed and then raised from the dead the third day. This message, according to the Apostles is "the Gospel" (Acts 2:22-36; Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Galatians 1:6-9).The Gospel is the one message that is effectual for all mankind to hear and believe and confess and live, for all time, world without end. It is the obligation and the duty of all Christians to preach the Gospel to the lost and do so tirelesson an ongoing basis.

After the Gospel, there are some other basics which need to be examined and understood to more fully define (more or less) the ancientest Christian world-view. We believe the serious application of Jewish (Semitic) Biblical antecedents along with the course of Jewish history will yield a stable foundation. With it we can understand the reasons why the Christian People appeared in Jerusalem and Judaea at precisely the time that they did. Conversely, the prophetic herald of a soon coming judgment and impending Second Coming in context tells us by what Intelligent Agency the Jewish Era came to completion and was wrapped up. In other words, rather than believing current events prove the Bible is true, we believe the downfall of the Jewish [Temple-centered] civilization and the anomalous prodigies that attended it are the "proof" that Christianity has the approval of God and a green light to go forward confidently and purposefully in this world.

Insiders and Outsiders Have a Responsibility to do Independent Research

Atavist Bible Churches and fellowships are going to be asking individuals (within and outside of Christianity) to take on the responsibility to do their own independent research. This must be a self-motivated act, necessitated by both wisdom, pragmatism and caution that you arrive at your own sense of peace and satisfaction that the claims of Christ, the Apostles and the New Testament makes are believed to comport with the facts of past Jewish salvation history.

In no case should a person, who is doubtful. apprehensive or otherwise troubled by the prospect of a past Second Coming or Great White Throne Judgment be pressured to be baptized or commit himself to the cause and the convictions we believe in or the ministry we are engaged in. When a person has studied and is able, ready, and willing and of his or her own free will and volition reached personal acceptance that these important events necessarily happened in the distant past and is best reflected in the Church's understanding of the four kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7--and that person says so (in no uncertain terms) then and only then should they either be baptized into Christ or otherwise receive the right hand of fellowship into our fellowship.

On this site we have recommended books written by qualified and disinterested historians who are not in any way, shape or form associated in what we believe or what we are doing. We firmly believe that independent corroboration of basic milestones of Jewish history, like, e.g., the Babylonian Captivity, the Restoration under the Persians, the Hellenistic Era, the victory of the Maccabees, the rise of Herod the Great, the Great Rebellion of A.D.66-70, the Revolts of Quietus and the Bar Kokhba Revolts are not mere random historical accidents and losses.

Instead, they have a fundamental meaning if seen through the lens of the Word of God. In other words, we believe the frustration of Jewish nationalistic hopes from the 60's of the first century to the 30s of the second century was deliberate and was intentionally designed by God to give the Christians the upper hand so that we would one day dominate this planet, according to God's holy will.

All Christians Have Been Shown an Example of Practicing a Living Faith

Not only do Atavist Biblical Churches have a strong need to remember the first Christians, and not only do we believe in the same Trinitarian God they worshiped and served, not only do we take the subject of Bible prophecy and the implications of Jewish Salvation history with more than a grain of salt, we also believe that the Apostles and the first Christians, both in their joys and in their trials, left us a shining example of not just learning about faith and believing tenets but of being doers of the Word (James 1:22-23; 2:14-16).

Now, to be perfectly clear, the idea behind being living examples of our profession to be Christians rather than walking libraries of theological and historical information is not the same thing as saying one need work to please God. Salvation, forgiveness and justification comes from the grace of Jesus Christ alone and not by anything we could possibly merit from him.

However, we are called to put one foot in front of the other and walk our talk. We are called to love one another. We are called to face each other and help one another. The Christian world has clearly understood this and this is why it is a world is booming and out ahead of any human revolution in the history of mankind at this very time. Atavist Bible churches represent a fundamental aspect and expression of the first Christians and cannot come behind other Christians where the rubber meets the road.

If being a Christian is only about understanding and reminiscing about ideas and events then it is not better than a school or an academy. In that case, when the hard realities of life arise--sickness and lack, loneliness and isolation, persecution or disasters or distress, or old age and decline--the oblivion of emptiness and of a life lived bereft of the righteous fruits of repentance will be the chickens of ambition which come back to haunt whoever has been negligent in this regard. God has called us to bear much fruit (John 15:1-8).

All the first Christians believed in a heavenly hope--so do Atavist Bible Churches.  The Atavist do not pretend to be the first individuals to see in the events surrounding the Destruction of Jerusalem echoes of the expectations of the first Christians. Sadly, a number of individuals have who also reject Christ as God's eternal Son. More recently, unrelated groups who believe in preterist themes also reject the belief that the Bible describes, in glowing terms, the reward and destination of the righteous. Some of the first people in recent memory (Unitarians) have understood that the Second Coming should have come about long ago, however, in the 19th century this group surrendered the New Testament doctrine of the Triune God and in the late 20th century it went on to shed any claim of even being "Christian."

In some present day circles there are some groups who have conflated the heavenly hope into a one or two-dimensional idea that this Christian life is the New Jerusalem and there is nothing more that one could hope for or aspire to. It is not that they may believe life ends at death (AND SOME DO BELIEVE EVERYONE'S LIFE ENDS AT DEATH) so much as they feel constrained to say that the Bible does not ask, describe or entertain the question about what the afterlife looks like.

We strongly disagree with this!

We believe in a heavenly hope (John 14:3 cf. Revelation 14:13 and 15:2) and we believe the Bible maintains that this hope was the ultimate goal and destination of Abraham (Hebrews 11:10, 16 cf. Matthew 8:11). As Atavists we believe the New Jerusalem is a Place, not an idea (2 Corinthians 5:1 cf. 1 Peter 1:4 and Hebrews 11:16; Revelation chapters 21 and 22).

We believe this is correct because the Jewish world, out of which the original Christians arose, had no such conception of an afterlife in a building.  In their eyes this was totally new and struck them as a quaint and ridiculous novelty. However, for the Gentiles, this vision and expectation was a spectacular draw and gave them overwhelming reasons why they should be Christians; we jealously cling to the same expectation today and enjoin all to bend their every affection and longing on one day being with Christ and the saints who have gone on before us (Revelation 14:13 cf. 21:7).

Herald of the End of the World

Because of the obscurity and distance in time of the demise of the Second Temple era, the herald of the end of the world has morphed and transmogrified and taken on many meanings and assumed many shapes. Yet, in all these things, a regard for what was originally believed, in terms of proximity, scope, relevance and urgency, remains (as Winston Churchill once said of Russia) "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

After the Cross and the Ascension of our Lord, the next most important feature of the beliefs of the earliest Christians is the Second Coming and the end of the world. No one can read the New Testament and play this fact down. What is different in the Atavist idea is our conviction that the Second Coming of Christ and all the events associated with it, cannot be properly understood without a familiarity and working knowledge of the world the Christian Church was born in and came directly out of: the Second Jewish Commonwealth.

We believe that any interested individual can examine the perspective we offer, weigh it for its merits and reach the same or similar conclusions that we have reached. We believe that if the big picture of the ancient Jewish world is held in view, the Book of Revelation and many other things in the rest of the New Testament will naturally resolve themselves.

Thus, Atavist Biblical Churches hope to truly remember the first Christians by recollecting upon and intensely observing, to the best of our ability, the world out of which the earliest Christians came. By doing this we look back at past statutory judgments of God (Revelation 16:16-21 cf. Josephus' Wars 5.6.3:270). But we do not only look back! It is because we are convinced that the Apocalyptic events happened soon (as was announced) that we are also convinced of a reality of unspeakable splendor in a dimension not very far away, indeed, next to our own (Revelation chapter 21-22). It is this Place, in our estimation, that all affections should be directed and all eyes should be turned (2 Corinthians 2:9; Revelation 22:1-5). We are not here to stay. We were created to fulfill a purpose (Colossians 1:16). As the twenty-four elders proclaimed, so we believe,

"Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor, and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created" (Revelation 4:11).

The Christian’s purpose is to glorify God in Christ in the context (not of a Bible prophecy conference) but of the Church (Ephesians 1:6,21; Colossians 1:13-22). Therefore we ask: How are Atavist efforts to remember the first Christians both similar and different from the historic endeavors of churches older than our own? Our efforts are similar to Catholic and Orthodox claims to Apostolic Succession in that we, too, believe that the authority of the Apostles must be acknowledged and enforced beyond the lifetimes of those holy men. Where we differ is, whereas Catholics and the Orthodox see the laying on of hands as imparting that Apostolic continuity, empirical observation does not show either church believing exactly each other or the Apostles on many of the same things (expecially in their exaggerated views of the Virgin Mary and her supposed mediatorial role between Christians and Jesus Christ.

In fact, only Jesus has been exalted by the Father to be a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5:6-10; 6:20; 7:1-21.  Hebrews is very clear (see, e.g. Hebrews 8:1-7) that this special role belongs now and forever to Jesus and no one else! As Atavists, we believe the best way to go forward is simply to obey relevant commandments, precepts and principles from what the Apostles penned in the New Testament. When we do that their authority is both honored and passed on to the next generation of Christians without doubt, division or acrimony.

Division is the opposite of what Jesus or the Apostles wanted, therefore the doctrine of Apostolic Succession may look good on paper, but in practice almost a thousand years of doctrinal division between the two Christian churches who believe that such a concept is bona fide proof shows it to be actually unworkable. Furthermore, the neglect and near rejection of the last book of the Bible (the Book of Revelation) means that a major part of the experience of being a Christian is forever nearly occluded or completely blotted out in the consciousness of those who today claim that their Christianity has neither added, subtracted, changed or substituted anything that was believed or practiced from the very beginning.

The idea of Atavist Bible Churches are similar to Baptist churches in that we, too, insist that baptism should be done by immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring (Acts 8:38-39; Romans 6:1-4). But where we differ is on the significance of water baptism (Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21). The evangelical idea that water baptism is both a work of merit or is superfluous to salvation is erroroneous because it implies that baptism has no significance in the mind of God and is (for all intents and purposes) meaningless.

Jesus taught that we should wash each others feet (John 13:12-15). Roman Catholic, Orthodox and over ninety-eight other Christian groups observe washing feet. On this point there is a general agreement among Christians that here we have an example that our Lord expects us to follow.

On the matter of the Lord's Second Coming, we agree with the Adventists that its centrality in Christian thinking was lost or rejected, but we differ on how it is to be restored to its rightful place. Do we "remember" by making it "soon" for us today? Or do we "remember" it by recognizing that it really was soon in the future of the first Christians then (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4; 5:23-24; Hebrews 10:25, 37; James 5:1-9; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:12-144)?

Atavist churches also think it more probable that the 144,000 were the first Jewish believers than any group of non-Semitic people living more than eighteen hundred years afterward.

Supernatural Activities Today Such as 'Tongues'

One of the more or less controversial practices in the Christian world today is speaking in tongues. A desire to "remember" the first Christians is behind the Pentecostal insistence that speaking in tongues is a necessary gift in the Church today.  Citing numerous New Testament texts as proof (Acts 19:2; 2:1-4; Romans 8:26), these particular Christians are sincerely convinced that unintelligible utterances in their services are proof of the Holy Spirit communicating directly through the individual to God, themselves or to the whole church.  But whether this practice is what the New Testament means is the big question.  Rarely (if ever) are the protocols instituted by Paul followed (1 Corinthians 14:28). The result is an unwarranted certainty and sometimes the introduction of confusion and contention between brethren.

From a Scriptural standpoint speaking in tongues appears to be the ability to speak in another language (human or angelic), not gibberish, and to do so without actually having learned it. The first time this phenomenon happened was on the Day of Pentecost when the Church was born in A.D.33 (Acts 2:1-19).  However, this ability was given on that day to only the Twelve Apostles--not to the one hundred and twenty who had been gathered in the Upper Room. Note the following:

"And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, “Behold, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how then do we each hear them speaking in our own tongue wherein we were born?Parthians, Medes, Elamites and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians — we hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

And they were all amazed and were in doubt, saying one to another, “What meaneth this?”Others mocking said, “These men are full of new wine.” But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said unto them, “Ye men of Judea and all ye who dwell in Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words.For these are not drunken as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. . ."

In the above texts only Galilean men were speaking in tongues, and then when Peter stood up it appears that only the Apostles were the ones doing this on the day of Pentecost.  Furthermore, speaking in tongues, one of the many gifts of the first churches, was never a gift of all Christians—not even then (1 Corinthians 12:30).  True, it played a key role in their services, but today we believe the purpose for this phenomenon does not now exist (1 Corinthians 14:22).

Summary

Acknowledgment of the past reality of the Second Jewish Commonwealth as the setting of the New Testament and its prophecies is the critical difference between Atavist Bible churches and all other Christian endeavors today. This does not make Atavist Bible Churches the "only true church" or Atavists "the only right Christians." It simply means that studies of the phenomenon of the rise of Christianity out of the ancient Jewish State has produced a consistent viewpoint and we hope this may prove helpful to all Christians, regardless of their label or denominational affiliation.

It is, therefore, our hope that what we say may indeed prove to be uplifting, not only for Christians, but even for non-Christians who want to better understand what being a Christian (from an indigenous New Testament perspective) is really all about. The articles, music, news, conferences and lessons on this website reflect our broad similarities with other Christians and, most of all, our love and devotion to Jesus Christ as the Great I Am who humbled himself and died on the Cross that we might have eternal life. We invite those who resonate with our ideological appeal to ask themselves how they can win the lost to Christ and inculcate a legitimate understanding of what the Church is in light of its solid historical foundation in a world long vanished, in order to contribute to future meaningful Christian relationships on a local, national and global level. Any deep conviction of what Atavism is, and what it means, I believe, must transcend a purely speculative and academic and virtual realm and appear in the real world of love and commitment and fellowship. And this begins where we each resides and in our own immediate circles of influence. May God richly bless us all.


End Notes


[1] An example of subtle differences of attitude can be seen in the Roman Catholic invitation to Orthodox churches to freely participate in their Holy Communion. But this feeling is not mutual. Orthodox churches not only forbid their faithful to participate in Catholic services, they disapprove of Catholics partaking of the Lord's Body and Blood in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy.


[2] "Augustine of Hippo adopted the immanent or spiritual reading and his authority led to its dominance for seven hundred years. This reading did not eliminate the element of prophecy from Revelation entirely, but it discouraged seeing current events as signs of the end. Revelation was used primarily as a resource for moral teaching against vice and error in the Church." The Book of Revelation, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume V, 706.


[3] This heavenly hope is expressed in the following Scriptures: John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; 5:1-3; Hebrews 10:8-10; 1 Peter 1:4; Revelation 2:7; 3:5, 12; 7:13-17; 15:2; 19:1; 21:10-27 and 22:1-5, 14. Organizations which deny this heavenly hope have "forgotten" the first Christians.


[4] The Greek words prosdokontas and speudontas used by the Apostle Peter in chapter three and verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen mean "expecting" and "hastening." However, it is impossible to expect or hasten an event which is beyond ones lifetime. No amount of ingenuity can explain the entirety of early Christian expectations of the end of the world while at the same time denying that it was a valid conception to begin with. If it was true at all (and we believe it was) it had to come true.


Bibliography


Duncan, Andrew. Opatowski. War in the Holy Land. From Megiddo to the West Bank. Sutton Publishing. 1998.


Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. Princeton University Press. 1996.


Ben-Sasson, H.H. History of the Jewish People. Harvard University Press. 1976.


Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Semitic Background of the New Testament. William B. Eerdman's Publishing. 1997.


Penton, M. James. Apocalypse Delayed. The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press. 1997.


The Orthodox Study Bible. St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. 2008.

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Spreading the Word Positively and With Good Will

(Second Revision)

Engaging in religious discussions often reveals a harsh truth: different assumptions and contrary forms of information organization lead to communication handicaps, arguments and sometimes even impasses. Nevertheless, we ARE commanded to "Let brotherly love continue" (Hebrews 13:1), and we are encouraged to "Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13) and to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). The problem in the Christian world is that what has not been imagined cannot easily be believed. To put it bluntly, most Christians have been groomed to think of Bible prophecy as a future proposition rather than as a number of important facts anchored in antiquity.


Our role, then, in bringing about discussions, dialogue and understanding, is to bring about an awareness—often for the very first time—of the rich and diverse pool of information, events, tragedies, and milestones which transpired in order that our present standing in God and of Christ might be made manifest. For, many do not realize, that what is true is not merely a matter of authority or tradition or what we prefer; rather, truth must be informed by what has happened; it requires the revelation of the Word of God, it is related to a specific timeline and painful national vississitudes, Jewish struggles and finally triumph—all against great risks, dangers and odds. So in talks with those who do not share our convictions, it is important to provoke a sense of curiousity—curiosity about the unknown, curiosity about antiquities, curiosity about Jewish salvation history (and this is done best, not by making audacious assertions, but by asking meaningful questions).


Did they know Daniel predicted the passage of four kingdoms till the arrival of the kingdom of God? (Daniel 2:36-40, 44 and Daniel 7:1-27).


Do they know what those four kingdoms are? [1]


How many kingdoms do they suppose have come and gone in the Middle East since the Babylonian Captivity of Judah? [2]


What assumptions about the kingdom are assumed in the Synoptics? (Matthew 21:43-46; Mark 12:1-9 and Luke 20:15-16).


A conversation that goes to the root of issues and builds from there up to the first century can, over time, establish a firmer foundation with which you can address relevant issues. And there are many issues to be addressed: Who Jesus is, the Cross and atonement, the New Testament and its prophecies, way of salvation and life, the Church and its significance, evangelism, heaven and hell. Speaking on these subjects with confidence and authority, a local study and thereafter a local group of likeminded Christians can be founded.


We do not want to debate in order to win arguments. That is a SURE way to lose good will and a sure way to lose friends and loved ones. Be willing to be "wrong" so you can talk about things again another day. I repeat: Be willing to be "wrong" so you can talk about things again another day. Be willing to lose face in order to show that humility that is needed. I do it and so can you. We cannot win by always being recognized as being right. It is, in fact, impossible for others to agree with you or believe you are right if they do not have the necessary background knowledge to support their making that conclusion about what you are saying. So give things time to jell. Suggest passages and verses that they can consider. Point to resources, links and studies so their knowledge of different situations is steadily increasing and coming up to the bar.


Start on a gentle gradient, understand and appreciate that most Christians are not even aware of the rich, tragic and strange history of the Jews and Jerusalem that is contained in Josephus' Antiquity of the Jews or his Wars of the Jews. For this reason it is all too easy for them to prefer a future prospect for prophecy fulfillment over the past. But once they become familiar with the history, once they realize its connection to the circumstances of the early Church and once they understand ancient Jerusalem's strong relationship to Bible prophecy, you are more likely to have on your hands a growing number of people who are able to understand and share their enriched faith with others.


This forum refers you to, not only materials, literature and links, but also visual representations that you can copy so you can teach, describe and help others visualize what is being conveyed in a Bible study setting. There is something here for everyone, so please take advantage of everything you can—and be sure to let it be known if you want something addressed that we have overlooked. God bless.


Notes


[1] Atavist Bible study charts list them as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Judaea. Judaea (not the Roman Empire) is assumed to be the fourth kingdom in the Synoptics and the Book of Revelation (See Matthew 8:12; 21:43-45; Luke 13:28 and Revelation 19:14-21).


[2] The Persian period started in 539 B.C. and ended in 332 B.C. (but 311 B.C., by Rabbinic reckoning), the Hellenistic period began in [311 B.C.] and ended in 141 B.C., the Hasmonean period began in 141 B.C. and ended in 37 B.C., the Herodian period began in 37 B.C. and ended in A.D.70, the early Roman period began in 63 B.C. and ended in A.D.136, the late Roman period began in 136 A.D. and ended in A.D.324, the Byzantine period began in A.D.330 and ended in A.D.638, the Arab period began in A.D.638 and ended in A.D.1516, the Ottoman period began in A.D.1517 and ended in 1917, and finally, the modern Israeli period began in 1917 and continues to the present. Please note, these periods do not necessarily coincide with the existence of empires, but correspond to various rulerships OVER the Holy Land ONLY.

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Recommended reading . . .


A comphrensive study of our ancient spiritual ancestors; a detailed dissertation describing the social construct of the world's first Christians and how they maintained churches and grew networks of support, both in Rome and all across the early Roman Empire.   Professor Wayne A. Meeks describes their environment; the social level of those in the Apostle Paul's circle of influence, the formation of the Ekklesia (the Church); Governance, Ritual and Patterns of Belief and Patterns of Life.  At 299 pages, this book is heavy reading and informs and gives sources for surprising aspects of early Christianity.  First published in 1983, it has been republished at least twice.  I highly recommend it!