Easter was the main feast of the Christian Church in early times. It was considered a “Christian Passover” and it celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. The name derives from the Teutonic name for the goddess of spring, Eastre, the Scandinavian Ostra and the Anglo-Saxon Eostre. Contrary to what some believe, it was not derived from the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.
In the second century, there was a debate as to the correct time of Easter. Some churches followed the Jewish calendar, but this ended in the third century. Some kept it the first day of the week after Passover. Several other methods for deciding the time of Easter was developed, but not all churches agreed. The Council of Nicaea set the date as the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox.
Easter became a popular time for baptisms because baptism was needed for salvation according to the Church. The reason why there was so much controversy about the date was because the Church had moved away from the biblical festivals, so confusion was the rule of the day. Yeshua rose from the dead on the biblical festival of First Fruits, which is celebrated the first day of the week after Passover.
Yeshua was crucified on Passover, was buried on Unleavened Bread and rose on First Fruits (Lev 23). Because the Council of Nicaea, presided over by Constantine, tried to “wipe out all traces of Judaism that still remained among the practices of Christianity” (History of the Jewish People from Yavneh to Pumbedisa, Mesorah Publications, p 183), they had to decide on a time for everyone. This is just one of many examples of what happened as the Church moved away from the truth in Scripture and decided to do what was right in their own eyes.
The practice is still followed today in Christianity. Tertullian, as said before, was from Carthage and he became very anti-Roman. Carthage had fought Rome in the Punic Wars, so there was some animosity there. Because of persecution by the Roman Emperor Severus, he embraced Montanism because of its ascetic and other worldly concepts. He believed that Gentile Christianity was a new law based on better promises. He believed that baptism was essential to salvation and said that only churches that can be traced to have been founded by the Apostles and had a succession of bishops were valid.
There is much more to him but the thing that must be seen is that these Church Fathers were scary and what is worse, they are looked up to by theologians over time. They are looked up to as “authorities” and credited with keeping Christianity alive. But all these guys had one thing in common, they did not know the Scriptures. Many so-called “messianic” ministers in messianic organizations were trained by the writings of these guys in seminaries and quote the Church Fathers all the time.
Why doesn’t anyone call these guys on this? It is possible that they don’t even know how mixed up the Church Fathers were. One of the ordinances that really got perverted was water purification. This site has a teaching devoted to it called “Tevilah (immetsion) and Rachatz (washing).” What started out as an occasion to show your faith in Messiah eventually became a three year ordeal where the candidate was put on “probation” to see if he was sincere.
Then came the period where creeds were developed and put to the candidate. Based on three questions, this evolved into a more expansive statement of belief. Why three questions? It was leftover from the Jewish practice by the first century of going down three times in the water when a person immersed. Water purification was could done in a mikvah (immersion bath), river, lake,stream or by pouring water over the body from a vessel, like in the case of Bathsheba. By the third century, a minister would lay hands on you where it was believed that the candidate received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Child baptism entered onto the scene in the third century and infant baptism by the fourth century. By the sixth century, only infant baptism was practiced. Some believed that baptism had a magical effect and Tertullian mentions prayers that “sanctify the water” and that all sin was washed away by the water (holy water). To combat demons, a candidate went through an exorcism by the second century. This is a far cry from the original intent of biblical water purification and it was an elementary principle of the Faith (Heb 6).
People will say, “How could all this happen!” Remember, outside of the Jewish world, people were uneducated and they couldn’t read. They were coming from a pagan background and they were told what to believe. When Christianity developed, the same thing happened and the uneducated followed these “educated” men.
At the same time as all this was happening, Judaism had undergone some tremendous changes. Rabbinic Judaism ( the Judaism that developed through the direction of their rabbis after 70 AD) was developing along with Christianity and both were deviating from what the Lord had intended. Rabbinic Judaism reacted to these Church Fathers, their doctrine and perversions and responded by running contrary to it. If Rabbinic Judaism was doing something since before the first century, and Christianity started doing it, Rabbinic Judaism stopped doing it.
For example, prostration in prayer and the raising of hands was a very Hebraic thing to do. But, when Christianity did it, they taught against it. They were making some of the same mistakes and followed the same roads as Christianity, and both were in error. The truth is, we are not saying that Rabbinic Judaism was good and Christianity was bad, or vice versa, but what we are saying is there was a lot of confusion going on with everyone. But, God was also preserving those who understood the truth.
Another Church Father was a man named Cyprian, who was an intellectual heir of Tertullian. Cyprian called him “my master” and he was born in Carthage (a rival of Rome) around 200 AD. He is a highly regarded Church Father and he believed that if you were not in the Church, you were not a Christian.
He believed there was no salvation outside of the Church and he said that the Church is based on the unity of the bishop. The Church is the bishop and the bishop is the Church. He believed that Peter was the pattern for bishops, and that Rome was the chief church, but was not saying that the Roman bishop had authority over all others. But, that concept is coming. Cyprian taught that the Lord’s Supper is a real sacrifice by the priest to God. He was ascetic, like Tertullian, and favored celibacy (a Mithraic practice) and was a believer in martyrdom as a fruitful thing to do. He was beheaded in 258 AD.
Right now, we are talking about some of the Church Fathers that lived before the Council of Nicaea because there was a lot of Church doctrine that was brought forth and laid down during this period. In Part 9, we will pick up here and discuss a classic case of replacement theology found in the Scriptures, and using some identifying factors learned there, how we can apply them to our current study on the development of Christianity.