This post is part of a multi-post article. You can find the first part here. This post is also a continuation of my posts in the series "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.The the first three hundred years or so of the Christian church was an extremely fruitful time for new ideas, investigations, and speculations into things of theological significance. Much of the doctrine we take for granted today was discussed and developed in this period of rapid growth within the church. Looking at the writing of this period we see a dramatic evolution of their form, representing the development of thought in this period. Initially most writings were pastoral in nature. Then they became apologetic in explaining the reasons for Christianity. Next the became polemic in challenging the heresies that threaten the church. Finally they became didactic which laid the foundation of teaching in the church for thousands of years to come. Throughout this period, the church existed in relative unity. This does not mean that issues didn't arise. In 190 CE Victor, the Bishop of Rome, sought to excommunicate the churches of Asia Minor for celebrating Easter on a day difference from that celebrated in the west. Fortunately, Irenaeus' stern words persuaded him to relent and to reconfirm the unity of all believers.
For the next couple of hundred years, unity was secured through ecumenical counsels. These counsels brought together bishops from all over the know world to discuss and agree upon issues of faith and discipline. For a while, these counsels served their purpose as weight was given to the wise and those in attendance listened to reason and decided with prudence. However, overtime these counsels were called not to discuss issues but to condemn descenters and persuasion was replaced by demagoguery and consensus by the tyranny of the majority. Philip Schaff writes of the council held in 449 CE (known as the Robber Council) saying, "It occupies a notorious place in the chronique scandaleuse of church history. Dioscurus presided, with brutal violence, protected by monks and an armed soldiery; while Flavian and his friends hardly dared open their lips, and Theodoret was entirely excluded." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, Section 140. The Eutychian Controversy. The Council of Robbers, a.d. 449. Where persuasion once ruled the day, now violence, intrigue, and political positioning determined religious faith.
Muhammad writes of the sectarianism in the Christian church saying, "Surely this community [religion] of yours is one community [religion], and I am your Lord; so fear Me.' But they split [rent] in their affair [great concern] between them into sects, each party rejoicing in what is with them. So leave thou them in their perplexity [error] for a time." (Koran 23:54-56) and "and be not of the idolaters, even of those who have divided [split] up their religion, and become sects, each several party rejoicing in what is theirs [their own]." (Koran 30:31) Muhammad believed that the Koran had come to clear up the doctrinal differences and to reconcile the various sects of Christianity and even to reunite the Christians and the Jews. "And We have not sent down upon thee the Book except that thou mayest make clear to them that whereon they were at variance [the subject of their wranglings], and as a guidance and as a mercy to a people who believe." (Koran 16:66) Muhammad believed that, if the Christians and Jews would just receive the Koran, then it would restore peace and the unity of faith between them, but it did not.
It is interesting to note that the same judgement that Muhammad laid against the divisions in the Christian church could today also be levied against the Islam faith. While Islam was once united in religion and faith, it is today fractured into many sects and competing beliefs. Beyond the sects of Sunni and Shi'a there are a number of smaller sects and several divisions within each sect. Many of these sects denounce the others as infidels and not true believers. Great hatred and animosity exists between many of them and much blood has been shed in religious battles between these Islamic sects. Sometimes it seems that the only thing they hate worst than each other, is us!
More to come...