The Ebionite Christian Church

Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)

A reader of this blog recently asked, “When are we going to form the ECC (Ebionite Christian Church)? Or maybe EUC, Ebionite Universal Church?” Many vegetarians and vegans who come from the Christian tradition find that there isn’t really a Christian church, group, or denomination, which it makes sense to join. So why not form our own? Here are my thoughts.

To begin with, such a community could be really valuable and helpful, but do you have any idea how much work this would be? On top of that, cults based on a single charismatic leader can also take advantage of people, and I’ve seen several unfortunate examples of that in our own vegan community. I’m all for charisma, but rather than a single large organization, I’d prefer to see smaller groups evolving on a more face-to-face basis, that can start to sort out some of the things involved in such a movement. Some examples of attempts to promote a genuine community include the Christian Vegetarian Association, Norm Phelps’ attempt to engage the Unitarian-Universalist churches, and the “Vegan Spirituality” groups. Want to try something more ambitious? If so, I’d be happy to help, but I’m probably not the one to take the lead here.

Also, there’s no particular reason to be attached to the idea of a modern group taking the name “Ebionite.” The Ebionites are an inspiration for me because they were vegetarians and held vegetarianism to be part of the gospel message. But I’m not an “Ebionite fundamentalist,” nor do I want to make any particular metaphysical system the basis for a fellowship, like some sort of Ebionite equivalent of the Nicene Creed. What was distinctive about the early Christians was not their theology or metaphysical beliefs, but their lifestyle and their community. Christianity is not a system of belief, but a way of life, and I’d prefer for the community to try to sort out what this way of life is really about.

What modern vegetarian followers of Jesus and the early Christians both share is a common experience. You have an experience, it changes your life, you feel great, you try to explain it to others, but the others usually don’t “get it.” Trying to sort all of this out, you come to meet others with similar experiences. There is an intellectual and logical component to all this, but there is something more. This is both the experience of the early Christians, and the experience of many modern vegetarians and vegans.

Spiritual understanding, however imperfect it often is, has something to tell modern vegans. There is an intellectual and rational component of veganism, which I don’t want to minimize. But reasons and reason are only part of the story. Animals are suffering, and we don’t have to hurt the animals — that should be sufficient to motivate us, but usually it isn’t. If the heart is closed, reasons will never be able to overcome intellectual resistance. If the heart is open, you don’t need reasons at all.

9 thoughts on “The Ebionite Christian Church

  1. Drew Hensley

    Excellent points and professionally written as always. I agree that a vegan church should be all-inclusive. But there are significant problems with this too as I recall from my stint in the UU. There was quite a lot of confrontation. Every other week the atheists had a service and so with real supernatural, deistic, or some sort of religious system simply didn’t show up those Sundays. I for one have no interest in spiritual but not religious anymore because I need a belief system. So problems abound for me; but for many this new church would be a life saver.

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    1. Keith Akers Post author

      Yes, there are problems with everything, which is one reason why I’m not inclined to take the lead. When you try to define just exactly what the ECC (or some equivalent church) would be, it becomes sticky. E. g., are we going to have daily baptism, like the original Ebionites? So this is bigger than any of us. But I’ve had some favorable conversations with other vegans in the area, so I’m keeping my mind open on this subject.

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  2. Cindy Thomason

    This is so interesting that I’m reading this article right now. I’m finishing my psychology degree, after many years of putting it off, and am taking a class called Leadership for the Non-Profit Sector. We were told to create a new non-profit organization (on paper) and submit a total of five papers over the course of this semester and I’m working on something I’ve been thinking about for years. The Church of Christian Vegans is the name of my charitable/non-profit and I’ve submitted my mission statement and am now working on the strategic planning stages! I am sure not considering taking on such a formidable and controversial mission but it’s a dream of mine and I’m very passionate about it. How exciting to be able to talk about this and I look forward to reading about the Ebionite Christian Church but I wouldn’t want atheists anywhere near it because, as a vegan and a Christian, I’ve been gang attacked by the predominantly atheistic vegan population for years & the thought of inviting their anti-Christian hatred & aggression into the sacred house of God doesn’t seem like the happy Christian fellowship I’m wanting and needing after so many years of trying out different churches and finally giving up from all their hypocrisy.

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    1. Keith Akers Post author

      You have expressed very well some more reasons to be cautious about starting a new church. I’m sorry that your experience with the vegan population and with churches has been so negative. Alas, I suspect it is not unique.

      Would you be willing to accept an atheist who did NOT express hatred or aggression? Would you be willing to accept a Buddhist, or a Jew? (O. K., trick question.) Also, would you accept someone who had the views of Paul Tillich or Rudolf Bultmann? In general, I get very nervous when people start proposing doctrinal tests. Just following the way of life of Jesus and the first Christians is hard enough, without getting into accepting a metaphysical system.

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      1. Cindy Thomason

        Yes, I would be willing to accept atheists and anyone who came with an open mind, just out of curiosity or just to listen, because Jesus welcomed all sinners into the house of His Father. He also threw out those who disrespected His Father’s house. My experience with vegan atheists has been online on the vegan & animal rights pages & in person with non-vegan atheists. I would welcome an opportunity to meet a non-believer that was open to change, or even listen, but there would probably be more of a chance with agnostics. As far as Jews go, aside from Messianic Jews who already believe in Christ, & also Buddhists, at at least they believe in God, or their version of the God Christians know to be, I believe they would be respectful of the church. The reason I think this is because atheists react out of anger & defensiveness which makes me conclude that they’re reacting out of denial because of hurt, disappointment, & fear.

        As far as the two German philosopher/theologians you mentioned, I’ve had discussions with a couple of people, including a former Catholic priest, who share their views on removing God’s omnipotence from the Bible, which tells me they haven’t had the blessing of experiencing His almighty power. There also is the problem of over-intellectualizing the Bible when even Jesus told parables to hide the truth from the few & reveal the truth to true believers. I hear the “mythology” factor over & over again with the cliches from the vegan atheists. There are certain things in the Bible that are not supposed to be taken literally, but not everything. I’m just saying that if there’s one single spark of an opening, Christ can come into their lives & changed their minds.

        I would want whoever wants to be there & if they found they still didn’t want to hear anymore, they could walk out. I know that the Pastor Frank Hoffman of The Compassionate Church at all-creatures.org is a wonderful example of the kind of leader for this church & I agree that many smaller groups would be a good idea.

        Thank you for your article & excellent ideas & I appreciate your response.

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  3. Eileen Mackin

    Starting a church sounds monumental. Can’t we just meditate and pray together? The last speaker we had suggested we be an example of the lifestyle we want to see in the world. That in itself is a monumental task.

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  4. Steve Bastasch

    Liturgy alone would be difficult, not to mention music/musical ambience. We don’t have a whole lot of data on this. Did the Ebionites use a significant amount of Hebrew scripture in their liturgy – and what scripture did they accept, and what did they reject, or ignore as not relevant – what kind of homilies/exhortations would they have, assuming that their interpretations would themselves be interpretations of Jesus’ own scriptural interpretations? Keith brought up baptism – what about table fellowship/communion? Would it be Didache-like, with Jesus being viewed/addressed as God’s servant (not ontologically divine Son), and the elements not related to any Pauline/proto-Catholic “Eucharistic Sacrifice”? Would wine and bread be involved, or water instead of wine? Would there even be a separate sacred meal (“Lord’s Supper”), or would it simply be just a general communal “breaking of the bread” … etc.? Problematical just from a liturgical POV, not to mention all the theological/christological aspects …!

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    1. Cindy Thomason

      I think since we’re Christians, we should follow the Bible & have the grape juice & bread for communion, etc. I haven’t read anything yet about the ECC but it sounds like there’s a lot of differences in that church from the Christian teachings I’ve seen. Christ is Son & Lord but was a servant to all when He walked this earth to show us how to live. He IS God so He is no servant to God. I wouldn’t want to go to a church who views the Lord as a servant to Himself.

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