Preconceived ideas about historical Christianity seem to fall into two groups. The first group believes that any changes in Christian concepts have arisen from the evolution of people and society over the centuries. Most likely this bias is based on a sense of intellectual superiority, that is, the assumption that modern Christians are more educated than past Christians—an assumption that may or may not be generally true—and so, any changes would have been an evolution that corrected superstitious flaws of past Christians. Certainly the intellectual history of Western civilization accepts this attitude. At its foundation, the West views humanity as continually evolving towards a higher state of rational and spiritual existence.
The second group tends to idealize the ancient Christians. They view the early church as one community united by Christ, and so, they imagine that the early church was a more pure institution. To them, the range of practices and beliefs in modern Christian churches have not been a positive evolution, but have been misguided movements away from their perception of the first church. Paul Ricoeur’s concept of neo-past might explain this phenomenon; the neo-past is an illusory cultural “memory” used as a basis for religious identity. Ricoeur would attribute this need to return to the “old true Christian ways” as a neo-past.
Just as all of Western society has been influenced by scientific reason, the Christian religion has been changed by acceptance of the scientific method. Some Christian groups have rejected aspects of scientific rationalism, such as evolution, while others (most notably some Protestant churches) have embraced reason. While those in the first category fight against scientific theories viewed as contradictions to the Bible, the second group finds a way to accept the Bible and science too. Yet, both make the same assumption: they presume that they must find an absolute reconciliation between the teachings of science and the teachings of the Bible. I wonder if Martin Luther began this dispute with the translation of the Bible into German. When he taught that each individual should study the Bible to learn about salvation and grace, he gave ordinary people the power to interpret divine revelation.