George Lamsa—Semitic Christianity
George Lamsa—Semitic Christianity
Hi Friends -
George Lamsa was a WWI refugee from war-torn areas that we are so familiar with today: Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Kurdistan and Iran. How is it that he wound up being a Bible teacher for Unity in the 1960s? As I say further down, we just may be a denomination which is uniquely free and unlimited—free of culture and unlimited in our capacity to experience the rich inner life of a Semitic rabbi and healer who lived 2,000 years ago.
This post introduces George Lamsa to those who don’t know of him or his work, explains how his work gives us a glimpse into the semitic world of Jesus and provides several resources for us to learn more about Dr. Lamsa and his work.
To understand his story, we have to start with the early Christian expansion out of Jerusalem to Antioch, a city north of Israel. From the letters of Paul and the Book of Acts we have all learned that the church then spread westward into modern day Turkey and then to Greece. What we haven’t learned is what happened to the the missionaries who went eastward, to the cities and regions of George Lamsa’s homeland, that are so much in today’s news.
Two things happened to what became known as “The Church of the East,” the church of George Lamsa. First, eastward expansion placed them outside or nearly outside of the boundary of the Roman empire, making them free from suppression. Second, eastward expansion kept them in a Semitic culture, unlike the western churches which found themselves in a Greek culture.
Being in a Semitic culture, the Church of the East had no need to adapt its teachings and theology to accommodate the Greek mind. They were able to practice the teachings of Jesus from the perspective of Jesus’ own culture. Second, being free from Roman suppression, they were a hospitable home for early Christians, one of whom was, according to tradition, Thaddeus of Edessa, one of the seventy disciples.
That is what George Lamsa wants us to know. It explains why he totally devoted his life to recovering ancient documents from his homeland and publicizing them in America, his new homeland. And it may explain why he found himself speaking primarily in Unity and Religious Science churches for nearly 30 years after coming to America. Here is why an Assyrian Semite would find a home in Unity.
First, the church from which George Lamsa came, The Church of the East, has been called the “Nestorian church” because it broke from orthodoxy over the doctrines put forth in the 3rd Ecumenical council, held in 431 CE, which condemned Nestorius. You can read the history on your own, but know that Nestorians struggled with those who diminished the human nature of Jesus.
New Thought people also struggle with those who place Jesus in a category that is super-human and unapproachable. And New Thought people, like Nestorians, are not orthodox, meaning we and Nestorians do not adhere to the strict dogmas promulgated by the Ecumenical councils. Our beliefs do differ, and they differ greatly, but we share a willingness to declare ourselves Christian while much of Christianity rejects our fellowship.
But, perhaps most important, it may be that George Lamsa felt welcome in New Thought and Unity because we, as a denomination, have never been bound by culture, ethnicity, race or gender. We are, as Janet Bowser Manning said, free and unlimited—free from the limits of culture and unlimited in our capacity to experience the consciousness of Jesus—a Semite.
Timothy Ware has written “Christianity, while universal in its mission, has tended in practice to be associated with three cultures: the Semitic, the Greek, and the Latin.”1 When Paul turned west from Antioch, he entered into Greek culture, which became the predominant culture of the Orthodox church. As the church expanded west to Rome and north from Rome through Europe, Christianity entered into Latin culture, which became the predominant culture of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
George Lamsa was a Semite, an Assyrian Semite, whose native language was a close dialect of the language of Jesus. He devoted his life to conveying that the spiritual teachings of Jesus were idiomatic. And Lamsa believed that the only way to truly understand those idioms is through the lens of a Semitic eye. Nearly all of orthodoxy—Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant—laughed at him. But the metaphysical churches of New Thought have always been open to the consciousness of others, and the consciousness of Spirit conveyed through others, regardless of the culture and the language they use.
Culture is experience, and I think that George Lamsa found a home in Unity because of our willingness to lay aside our beliefs about Jesus so that we may enter into the experience of Jesus. George Lamsa wanted nothing more than for us to enter into the experience of Jesus. I believe that made George Lamsa, like it does for you and I, feel welcome.
Regardless of why, we do know that George Lamsa greatly influenced New Thought and that his students continue to do so. Click "Read More" for a collection of resources about the life and work of Dr. Lamsa.
Sunday, October 18, 2020
- Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church (Penguin, 2015) 4. Web extract: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/history_timothy_ware_1.htm