So where would you go to find a bunch of folk who were spiritual successors to the kind of early Christianity that continued to keep the Sabbath, Holy Days and other characteristics that traditional Church of God people believe identify the true church?
In part 1 I suggested that Church of God believers are totally unrelated to that movement, which died out in the West centuries ago. Have a look at the Bible that Meredith, Flurry, Pack, Kilough and others pound and quote: it's the 66 book Protestant version. The early Christians couldn't have used that, because it didn't exist back then. Their Old Testament was primarily the Septuagint, and they freely cited books that were never accepted into the later Hebrew and Protestant canons. The Churches of God are merely a cluster of confused Protestant sects with delusions of antiquity.
What about the New Testament? Well, there was no New Testament as we know it till 367 CE. In the years before then Jewish Christians had a particular affinity for a version of Matthew's gospel, but were wary of Paul's writings. There's a good case to be made that their beliefs underlie the later Pseudo-Clementine literature, but that's a bit beyond the scope of this discussion. But ask yourself, have you ever seen the Pseudo-Clementines quoted by Herbert Armstrong, or any of his imitators?
I also suggested that scholars may indeed be able to - at least tentatively - identify a more legitimate line of descent for the original non-Hellenistic church, the faction that continued to maintain boundary markers (such as food laws) that kept them apart from emerging Catholicism and Orthodoxy.
Hans Kung (see part 2) suggests that the Monophysite Christians of Ethiopia have continued the Jewish Christian lineage to some significant degree. These folk keep Saturday and Sunday, abstain from pork, circumcise their male offspring, and display other characteristics that indicate Ebionite origins or influence.
But Kung's most shocking conclusion, particularly in a post 9/11 world, is that these Jewish Christians, with their strongholds in places like Syria (where they may have formed the Christian majority), were eventually swallowed up by Islam; but not before they exercised huge influence on that faith. Schoeps, writing back in 1969, anticipated this when he wrote:
"Many of their central doctrines, however, appear to have survived... in the period of the Monophysite quarrels, [and then] to have entered Arabia by means of the Nestorians. ... From this religion many beliefs flowed in an unbroken stream of tradition into the proclamation of Mohammed."
Kung (2004) states:
"[U]nderground relations between Jewish Christianity and the message of the Qur'an have long been discussed by Christian scholars ... Muhammad took over the prize possession of the Jewish Christians, their consciousness of God, their eschatology proclaiming the day of judgment, their morality and their legends, and established a new apostolate as 'the one sent by God.'
"[M]any Ebionite beliefs and customs may have been preserved in the mixed population of Syria and Mesopotamia as regional traditions which shaped not only Nestorian Christianity but also the still later Islamic Shi'a sects...
"The fifth Sura (5.48-59) especially, sounds like the extension of the Jewish Christian theology of the covenants to the population of Arabia through Mohammed, the new messenger of God."
Remember the reference to the Pseudo-Clementines?
"In the Pseudo-Clementines religion is defined as follows: 'This is religion, to fear him alone and to believe only the Prophet of Truth' (Hom.7.8). This definition is so constructed that Islam could find its own confession of faith... extensive similarities in structure between Jewish Christianity and Islam explains why the population of the countries bordering Arabia, areas permeated with Monophysitism and Nestorianism, could so quickly become Mohammedan."
"The famous designation of the prophet Muhammad, the 'seal of the prophets', already appears in one of the earliest works of the earliest Latin church father, in Tertullian's Adversus Judaeos (before 200) - of course as a designation of Jesus Christ. ...there is no doubt that Judaism was established on the Arabian peninsula by a variant which we call both Jewish and Christian. It may have been this Jewish Christianity which the title 'seal of the prophets' reached, and the title may have been used there and in principle throughout Jewish Christianity to guarantee a particular confessional identity.
"[T]he designation of Jesus as servant ('adb) seems to have been the dominant christological confessional formula. So when Muhammad puts the the title 'servant' at the centre of his preaching about 'Isa (Jesus), he is adopting a scheme from earliest Christianity..."
"And thus we have a paradox of world-historical proportions, viz., the fact that Jewish Christianity indeed disappeared within the Christian church, but was preserved in Islam, and thereby extended some of its basic ideas even to our own day."
Kung, the Catholic theologian, wonders:
"Let us be clear just for a moment what it would mean for a dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims if Muhammad could be understood as the 'Jewish Christian apostle' of the one true God in Arabian garb..."
Muhammad as the Jewish Christian apostle to Arabia? My oh my. Rod Meredith would surely have a hernia at the very thought.