Christianity - a new religion?

First some facts about Christianity:

  • There are roughly 33,830 Christian denominations
  • There are an estimated 2.1 billion adherents in the world, making Christianity the world’s largest religion

Anyway, the reason for this post is that I had a sudden realisation when I was mulling over religions - Christianity as I know it (i.e. the type I was raised with, Protestantism) has only existed since the 16th century! Protestants consider their separation from the Catholic church to have taken place in the 16th century, at the time of the Reformation. I always used to think that before that, there was still a “real” Christianity, it just wasn’t very popular. But I’ve been doing some research, and my findings have challenged that point of view.

Before the Reformation, the Church used to sell indulgences. An indulgence (apparently) allows a person to skip the wages of sin, that would usually be paid for in purgatory. The Church was probably making a tidy profit on this business, but then along came a man named Martin Luther who put together a paper now known as the “95 Theses”, in which he said the sale of indulgences was basically A Bad Thing. The reigning Pope, Pope Leo X, wished for Martin Luther to recant 41 of the Theses. He refused (he publicly burned the papers containing the request from the Pope), and was ex-communicated by the Catholic Church. When I initially did some research for this post, I thought I would find that those 41 theses that the Pope wished for Martin Luther to recant contained beliefs that modern Christianity would find abhorrent. However, this was not the case - in fact, many of Luther’s own theses contain statements that modern Protestantism would probably have a hard time agreeing with. Here’s a few of Luther’s theses:

  • Salvation can be sought for through the Church as it has been granted this by Christ
  • It is clear that the power of the Church is adequate, by itself, for the forgiveness of sins
  • The pope should rebuild St Peter’s with his own money
  • You should feel guilt after being pardoned
  • Souls in purgatory need to find love - the more love the less their sin [interestingly, the Pope in his response pointed out that Purgatory can’t actually be proved from Scripture]

It’s easy enough to pick holes in Luther’s theses, and also the response from the Pope (known as Exurge Domine). But my point in all this rambling is that these events make up some of the foundation stones of modern Christianity (at least, the Protestant variety of it) - and if I was a Christian, I’d be looking pretty seriously at where my religion came from. It seems to me that “Christianity”, as we known it, has only been around for a few hundred years - and before that, it contained so many conflicting doctrines that one has to question whether it was really “Christianity” at all - at least by modern standards - how much can a religion change before it’s not the same religion?

(It’s not particularly related to this topic, but let’s not forget that Martin Luther also wrote about the Jews, proposing that their homes be destroyed, synagogues and schools burned, money confiscated, and rights and liberties be curtailed.)