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QUESTION: Which Is the 1st Religion? Catholic or Orthodox?


The following question came to me via The Question Box at my congregation’s web page. From other correspondence, I have reason to believe the person who asks is from a third-world country, possibly Ethiopia.

Which one is the first religion Catholic or Orthodox? If one came first, how, when, and where did the second emerge?

This is a very interesting question – for each of these Churches claim to be original. In fact, each of them traces its origin back to the church in the New Testament. What has happened over the many generations and centuries, is that little changes and differences have multiplied until there were great differences – at least they are great in the eyes of those who hold the different ideas and practices.

To find truth, we must go back to the purity of the gospel as we see it in the New Testament. It is like a stream that begins high in the mountains. As it flows down the mountain, it picks up dirt and other impurities. The closer we can get to the source of the stream, the purer the water will be. The purest gospel water is that which we find in the teachings of Jesus and His apostles.

Both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches claim that their bishops are direct successors of the apostles. Yet, in teaching and practice, they have developed their own differing traditions. Now traditions of men may be harmless – but they can also become like the traditions of the Jews in the time when Jesus was on earth. Sometimes traditions of men set aside the commandments of God. See how Jesus dealt with this in Matthew 15:1-9.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Is there anything wrong with washing your hands before you eat? Not at all! In fact, it is a good practice for good health. The Pharisees, though, had an elaborate ritual of washing to purify themselves before God, lest they sit down to eat while they were “unclean” from casual contact with Gentiles. The procedures for this purification were spelled out for them, first in their oral tradition handed down through the generations and later (after the time of Jesus) written down in the Talmud. The Law as found in the Old Testament Scriptures said nothing about washing your hands before you eat.

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

Jesus ignored the issue of washing hands before eating. Instead, He talked about the fact they had judged His disciples by the tradition of the elders instead of by the commandments of God. They, by tradition, sometimes canceled God’s Word. This is what was dangerous. In fact, Jesus said that this made their worship vain, or empty. Why? Because while they worshiped God, they ignored what God had actually said for their tradition handed down by the elders.

When a Church makes its tradition equal to or greater than what God has actually said, they corrupt the purity of the gospel for their tradition. Most of the differences, not only between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches but among all of the Protestant churches as well, are based on traditions about the teaching and practices they hold. They seldom differ on what the Bible actually says, though sometimes there are different understandings about what the Bible means by what it says. The differences are mostly over what the Bible does not say.

Something may come up that the Bible does not talk about. Then men decide that they need to make a decision about what to do. And this is true. Next, however, they also decide that everyone must do what they decide. When that happens, men over-reach and begin to become lawgivers instead of simply obeying God.

Over hundreds of years in different parts of the world, different traditions developed in understanding and practice. Eventually, these differences became so great that the Catholic and Orthodox churches separated about 1,000 years ago. The Catholic tradition involved having a Pope over that entire church; so it maintained (supposedly) a common faith and practice. The Orthodox has bishops or Patriarchs over each country or region. Thus, they may have more differences from country to country than do the Catholics.

The Bible says nothing about popes or patriarchs. Instead, each local congregation of Christians was led by its own elders that were also known as bishops or pastors.

You can see this in Acts 20. In verse 17, we read that Paul sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus. As he spoke to them, in verse 28 he said, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.

The word “overseer” in this translation is often translated bishop. The word for “be shepherds” is a verb form of the word for pastor. You can see a similar combination of words in Titus 1:6-8 where Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every city, but as he described the men to appoint he explained that an elder must be this way because the overseer (or bishop) is entrusted with God’s work.

What is the solution for us to live by? Take the Word of God and follow it. Where there are differences, don’t insist on our own way when it is a “disputable matter,” or something God has not clearly taught. In Romans 14:1 – 15:7 Paul instructs us how to live peaceably with each other in the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. When we will follow this teaching, the disputes between different churches or people within a single congregation who all claim to be servants of Jesus will disappear.

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11 Responses

  1. I stopped being a catholic about a year ago,because something profound happened to me. I was keep asking for help then one day last year i was sitting on the couch when all of a sudden i felt a strong presence,and words came out of my mouth what only could come from say a priest,or someone who studied the bible. I could also feel another presence in me.
    The strong presence was Jesus,and the other presence in me was the Holy Spirit. This answered my payer that Jesus was the head of the Church in Heaven,and the Holy Spirit was in me. I then understood what Jesus meant by a man must be born again of the Spirit.
    This made me investigate the Pope,and the entire set up of the Catholic Church. I was amazed what i found out,and quite alarming.
    The Pope is a man and you do not bow down to him,and i also found out about Anti- Popes. I also found out about images, example- a cross in a church. The Catholic Church was breaking the First Commandment.
    I am not loosing my marbles. This changed me altogether. This is the true church,evan Jesus said My Church is not made out of stone. It is in you,not some man,or any other denomination. Yes i am a sinner,but only Jesus can forgive sins not man.

    • so what religion were you after catholic . not all catholics are good some of them are . but the main thing is why do you stop begin catholic

      there is a catholic nun who have seen jesus and he heal her she was sick belive or not that is true if u do good u go to heaven i am so glad to be a catholic if u want to know more about the nun her name iws awalet she is in eritrea

  2. The cross, statues, and images in the Catholic church were made for the common people around their early time where only the elite and the rich are literates. Onliy 1 of 10 can read. A book like the bible would cost 3 year salary. Those images were meant to visually gave the common people an idea about our Lord, the heaven, Jesus’ life like the crucification & resurrection, etc.. No one was violating the First Commandment but merely bringing the people closer to HIM the best way they can.

    • Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven thing,nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above,or in the earth beneath,nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them nor serve them.
      This commandment answers just what you have said.
      One person said about the statues how do you know they looked like that,because there were no camera`s in those days,and nobody did any drawings of Jesus.
      You hit the nail on the head it`s all about money,because when the Pope is in all of his gear if you kidnapped Him you would be a millionaire.
      The thief on the cross didn`t need any image of Jesus,because Jesus looked into his heart,and said from this day you shall be with me in Paradise.
      Doubting Thomas, Jesus appeared to him the second time and said you have seen,but Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe. This was all for the likes of me and everybody else.

  3. Anthony, what you began to examine was the accumulated tradition of centuries of time. You correctly determined to set these aside.

    Al, the things you mention are traditions that may have been appropriate at one time! but have now become ironclad traditions that people revere with superstitious awe. As such it is time to discard them. But, for many, the symbols have become the reality – and thus substitute for the realities that are in King Jesus.

  4. what is the oldest religion?

    • Eric,
      The first “religion” was the worship of the One God who created Heaven & Earth. This took place in the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. The history of religion shows that all polytheistic religions evolved from the worship of one God.

      Yet, even in the worship of the One God, people evolved different ways of worshiping Him. For example, Cain’s worship was, apparently, without faith, while Able, his brother, offered by faith. Any “worship” this is not by faith has become mere ritual, not true worship at all.

      Another example: God had instructed Israel how and where to bring their offerings and sacrifices to God. In 1 Kings, after Jeroboam led 10 tribes in a revolt against King Rehoboam, he feared that if the people continued to go to Jerusalem to worship they would go back to the House of David in political allegiance as well. So, he built golden calves for the northern kingdom to worship, telling the people that “these are the God that brought you out of Egypt.” He also appointed his own priests instead of the priests from the tribe of Levi as God had instructed to lead in Israel’s worship, and he appointed other feast days of his own choosing to replace the festivals God had decreed. See 1 Kings 12:25-33.

      Similar things happened following the time of the apostles of Christ. As I point out in the above post, changes crept in over the years that may have been innocent – but different changes occurred in different parts of the world over time. These became enough different that those who held these different ideas and practices would no longer accept other ideas and practices (though they may have still held the same faith in Jesus as God’s Son and Savior). But, they thought their differences were so great that they declared each other to be apostates.

      Unfortunately, this has been repeated over and over through the centuries until we have reached the horrendous state of the church today, with many different religions all claiming to be the original church of Jesus Christ. Nearly all have lost sight of Jesus’ prayer for his apostles and those who would believe through them that they all be united “so the world may believe that Thou hast sent me” (John 17:20-23ff). Because of the division and sectarian pride, unbelievers are confused as well as earnest seekers after Christ.

      I wish I could answer your question with greater precision. What I would suggest is that you seek a congregation that focuses on the Bible, exalts Christ, and acts with love – not only to its own members, but to all people, whether they are believers or not. I would recommend that you begin that search with a Church of Christ (my own faith heritage) if there is one in your community.

      Jerry Starling

      • I do not know what to make of your answer or if you asked me a question or not.
        I am currently on a site called What Christians Want To Know,and the main Paster there is called Jack Wellman.
        This man has really learnt me a lot not only from the Bible but through his emails.
        Recently he said something unusual saying God can make a rock that he can`t lift? God his showing how awesome his powers are.

      • The question, “Can God make a rock He cannot lift?” is a classic question atheists ask to try to make God look impotent. It’s like asking if God can make a square circle. These are contradictory things, but God is not a God of confusion nor of contradiction, which is what the Atheists try to make him. I’m afraid your Pastor Wellman has fallen into the Atheists’ trap by asserting God is so powerful he can make a rock so big He cannot lift it.

      • You misunderstood the answer,God can make a rock, it does not after to be a big rock so that He can`t lift it. Jack Wellman hasn`t fallen into any atheists trap. He does not bother with them.
        Man is showing what awesome power He has.
        It is man that has wrote this down to have an idea how powerful God is.
        I would not associate myself with atheists in any religious debate,because it`s in the dictionary Atheist = Belief that there is no God.
        It`s like saying Wau does not exist but it does.
        If you asked ten people this question they would not know.

  5. why there is lots comment we don;t need to talk about that i can give
    you the true ans ok there is one god and holy trnity ok . u do good things that jesus had to do u go to heaven a;ll is to good go pray every day dont fight be a peacemaker help others give but dont take things back

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