Excommunicating the Faithful
Jewish Christianity in the Early Church
Kenneth W. Howard
RELIGION / Christianity / History
RELIGION / Christian Church / History
RELIGION / Christian Theology / History
Excommunicating the Faithful traces the development of Jewish Christianity from among the earliest Jesus followers through its apparent disappearance in the fourth or fifth century. The author’s thesis is that among Jewish Christians in the early Church, there existed at least one Jewish Christian sect whose theology stood within the acceptable boundaries of orthodoxy at that time and existed through at least the fifth century, at which point it was declared heretical by the Church Fathers and eventually died out despite the fact that it considered itself part of the greater Church. The author’s thesis also suggests that the increasing antipathy of the Church toward Jewish Christianity was the result of a variety of interrelated influences operating over several centuries. Some of these influences included the changing demographics of the Church and the accompanying clash of cultures; the increasing isolation of Jewish Christianity from the predominantly Gentile Church; power struggles between competing Christian communities in Palestine, as well as Rome’s interest in asserting its primacy; and theological and pastoral concerns, which were well-intentioned but resulted in increasingly narrow views of orthodoxy and orthopraxis; and lasting anti-Jewish sentiments throughout the Empire, some of which still exist today.
Ken (MDiv, MEd) is the founder and Executive Director of The FaithX Project, a faith-based consulting, research, and resource development practice with the mission of helping congregations survive and thrive in challenging times by better understanding and engaging missional opportunities in their communities through data-grounded missional discernment and experimentation. Ken is also the author of Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them and "The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Disrupting and Transforming Institutional Christianity."
"As a scholar of Hebrew language and literature, with a focus on the Second Jewish Commonwealth, I have long been fascinated by the notion that the rift between Judaism and the developing Christian faith was not a matter of the Jews rejecting Jesus, but the Christian churches, having become thoroughly 'Romanized,' rejecting the Jews. In this eye-opening volume, Rev. Ken Howard does a masterful job elucidating who the early Jewish Christians were and their ultimate exclusion from the orthodox Christian fold. In particular, the so-called Nazarenes identified with the apostolic church in every respect, their sole transgression being their wish to retain their Jewish identity, including the observance of Jewish ceremonial practices. Excommunicating the Faithful is a must for those who, from this 'cautionary tale,' seek inclusion and diversity in today’s religious environment, and who seek to resolve differences, not through excommunication but dialogue."
‒Kenneth Hanson, Ph.D.
Coordinator & Abe and Tess Wise Endowed Professor of Judaic Studies,
University of Central Florida
“How did a religion that was founded by Jewish people end up excommunicating all the Jewish groups? This is such an important question. Ken Howard takes you on a fascinating journey. He explores the question with depth, insight, and appropriate thoughtfulness. For anyone interested in this puzzling paradox of our origins, this is a must-read book.”
‒The Very Rev. Ian Markham, PhD
Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary
“Here is a thorough study that elucidates a grievous turn in church history while analyzing the roots of Christian antisemitism. It also offers a cautionary tale for all Christian polity. Tracing the brave polity of inclusion of the apostolic age to its demise three centuries later, Excommunicating the Faithful is especially relevant in today’s febrile mix of religion, politics, and culture. It’s message reminds us that, given the right set of circumstances, the oppressor and the oppressed can easily switch places, even among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.”
‒The Reverend Peter M. Antoci, PhD
Dean, Southern Maryland Region,
Episcopal Diocese of Washington
“What happened to Jewish Christianity in the first centuries of the Christian church? Largely due to a dearth of original material, this proves to be a very difficult question to answer. Focusing on the fate of several of the more 'orthodox' early Jewish Christian sects, Ken Howard’s Excommunicating the Faithful is an impressive attempt to extract an answer to this question from the fragmentary and often problematic source material available.”
‒Morgan Rempel, PhD
Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies,
Georgia Southern University