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Fall 2008 Magazine: A Forgotten History: Back to the Mother Church
Publish date: Oct 16, 2009
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Any organization or movement that could hold the center stage of history for 1260 years ought to be a subject of vast importance. What political kingdom or empire has had so lengthy a history? Longer than the days of Great Britain, enduring more years than imperial Rome, even rivaling the centuries wherein the Jews were the chosen people, is the record of the Church in the Wilderness. And yet, the history of this clandestine and renitent church is often treated by historians as a blank. Why are the vast achievements during this period ignored? Has the Bible prophesied in vain concerning this church? Is the allotment of divine revelation of 1260 years of history to this organization nothing in the judgment of historical researchers?
For 1260 years, unknown and forgotten men and women kept alive the truth of Word of God, often paying for it with their lives. What was their battle about? The history of Christianity is a record of bitter theological controversies and bloody encounters, as well as the stirring consecration of godly evangelists’ tireless labors for the salvation of the benighted and hopeless.
In the days of the apostles, the Gospel spread like wildfire to the surrounding nations of Europe and Asia. Before even the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Gospel had already gone to Samaria, Ethiopia, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and India. It evangelized Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Greek philosophers, and Confucianists. Although the Gospel was first preached to the Jews of Israel and to the Samaritans, as the apostolic church advanced, the Gospel was planted in different languages: Syrian (spoken in Syria, Assyria, Persia, India, and China), Celtic (spoken in Galatia, France, Ireland, Scotland, and England), Greek, and Latin.
In the town of Antioch in Syria, a new center for the Gospel was founded. When Jerusalem, the original headquarters, was destroyed, church leadership moved to Antioch, where the name of “Christian” first fell into use. Antioch’s rival was Alexandria, Egypt. There, Gnosticism arose as a union of pagan philosophy and Gospel truths. Although it appeared in Christian garb, founding churches and building colleges, Alexandrian “Christianity” rejected the Old Testament, denied Creation, and held in contempt all Jews, even Christian Jews. This is part of the “mystery of lawlessness” that Paul mentioned in his writings saying it had already begun to work in his day. Alexandria and Antioch quickly became antagonists, “Alexandria representing a mystical transcendentalism and promoting the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures; Antioch insisting on the grammatico-historical interpretation of the Scriptures, and having no sympathy with mystical modes of thought.”i
It was during this period of history that the scholar Lucian translated the Textus Receptus, on which the King James Version is based, into Greek. Lucian founded a school of theology in Antioch to rival Alexandria, and defended, preserved, and passed on to other generations the true text of the Holy Scriptures. The difficult and dangerous situation in which Lucian lived can only be imagined. Alexandria had, for more than two centuries before Christ, been the real capital of the Jews who were compromising with paganism. Soon the churches of Rome and Alexandria entered into an alliance. In this environment the movement to make Sunday the prominent day of worship in the Church began.
From this same Alexandrian/Roman union came other false doctrines such as Manichaeism (rejection of Creation and a miracle-working God and belief in the celibacy of leaders, and the worship of the sun as the supreme dwelling place of deity), and Gnosticism (built on Greek philosophy and promoted by Simon Magus, it denied the incarnation of Christ and, among other things, taught that humans are gods. Gnostics believed they had exclusive knowledge and fostered a spirit of superiority). The very foundation of the Gospel was at stake, and it is to Lucian that we are indebted for the preservation of the truth Biblical faith.
Prominent church fathers such as Augustine, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Eusebius were not necessarily correct in their theology and belonged to the Alexandrian arm of Christianity. These leaders, who left a record of their faith in writing, are not genuine “fathers” of the Gospel.
Let us have a quick look at some of the beliefs of the famous men of the Alexandrian school:
Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) held on to some of his pagan philosophies after embracing Christianity, including the allegorical and mystical interpretation of Scripture and the idea of a “middle state” after death that eventually would become Rome’s doctrine of purgatory.
Tertullian (c. 155-255) who lived in Carthage, although he fought against Gnosticism, also taught that the Church’s authority was above Scripture, that the bread of the Lord’s Supper was Christ, that widows who remarried committed fornication, that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, and that Mary was the second Eve who, by her obedience, remedied the disobedience of the first Eve.
Origen (185-254), though he endured persecution and torture under the emperor Decius, was loaded with false teachings. He denied the infallible inspiration of Scripture, rejected the literal history of the early chapters in Genesis, accepted infant baptism, believed in purgatory and that the Holy Spirit was a created being, believed that human souls are pre-existent, denied the bodily resurrection, believed Jesus to be a created being and not eternal, allegorized the Bible, and was one of the fathers of the a millennial method of prophetic interpretation further developed by Augustine and later adopted by the Roman Catholic Church doing away with the imminence of the return of Christ.
Eusebius (263-339) promoted the erroneous teachings of Origen, and was hired by Constantine to produce Greek New Testaments. Many of the omissions in the modern versions can be traced to this period. Many textual authorities have identified Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, the manuscripts so revered by modern textual critics, as two of the copies of the Greek New Testament made by Eusebius. These manuscripts also contained the spurious apocryphal writings Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas, even though Origen had considered these two uninspired and fanciful books as canonical Scripture. Constantine, however, ordered them included.
Augustine’s (354-430) theology was polluted with many false doctrines and he helped lay the foundation for the formation of the Roman Catholic Church. For this, Rome has honored Augustine as one of the “doctors of the church.” Augustine was the father of the doctrine of persecution. The historian Neander observed that Augustine’s teachings “contains the germ of the whole system of spiritual despotism, intolerance and persecution, even to the court of the Inquisition.” He taught that the sacraments are the means of saving grace. He believed in infant baptism. He taught that Mary did not commit sin and promoted her worship and claimed she played a vital role in salvation. He believed in purgatory and in the celibacy of priests, exalting the authority of the Church over that of the Bible. He interpreted the early chapters of Genesis figuratively and taught that God pre-ordained some for salvation and others for damnation.
What does this all mean, other than that readers should be careful which of the historical figures they read? Well, many Protestants revere these church fathers. After studying the “church fathers,” John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest, converted to Roman Catholicism in the late nineteenth century. More recently, Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Presbyterians, joined the Catholic Church because of the influence of the afore-mentioned “church fathers.” In 1985, Thomas Howard became another famous Protestant convert to Rome. Most of the “church fathers” are actually more Catholic than Protestant, yet Protestants seem to find no problem reading their works.
The move to Catholicism is expanding to more prominent leaders, such as Tony Blair who has made the formal step to convert to Catholicism.ii It is even being reported that President George Bush is thinking about converting to Catholicism as his brother Jeb has already done.iii
Another convert to Rome is Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. In May 2007, he tendered his resignation and converted to Catholicism, admitting that his reading of the early church fathers had convinced him, and stating that the early Church was more Catholic than Protestant. This is absolutely true. It was, in fact, Catholic, if one looks at the theology of Alexandria and Rome. But that was not the only Christian message being preached.
Beginning in Paul’s day right down through the 1260 years and into the Protestant Reformation, there were men and women who maintained and preserved the purity of the Gospel and the Scriptures. Because of the readings of Augustine and other famous men, who only served to promote erroneous teachings, the work of godly leaders of the Church in the Wilderness goes unnoticed. Many of their writings have not been preserved, burned in the fires lit by their enemies. Lucian of Antioch was followed by Vigilantius, leader of the Waldenses; Patrick, the father of Irish Christianity; Columba who renounced his right to the Irish throne to promote a greater Kingdom in the country of Scotland, doing so long before the Dark Ages were over; Papas, first head and guardian of the Church in Asia; and Ulfilas, missionary to the Goths who won great victories for Christ.
Who remembers these names? The history of Christianity as it is being told us is skewed. If instead we understood that the chasm between dark and light began in Paul’s day, and continued throughout the history of the Church, we would fall less into the hands of the Catholic fathers and more into the stirring accounts and truths of God’s Church in the Wilderness, which survived the greatest and longest assaults ever waged against any empire.
The truth was miraculously preserved by God and His men and women for more than a millennium of darkness and oppression. Today, although the Bible is readily available, darkness and depression still threaten the truth, with oppression looming on the horizon. Are we willing to stand for the truth as were the godly individuals who quietly and steadfastly maintained the purity of the faith? We will not be if we do not learn from history, for it is only by a correct understanding of the past that we can make sense of the present and the future. Those who have been taught falsified history or who have had their minds filled with twisted interpretations of events gone by stagger like the blind with a darkened mind.
By failing to note the true centers of Christian activity in the past, we can be led astray. We can realize altogether too little the meaning of the momentous events taking place today because we are ignorant of the historical background.
The upcoming Reformation series is designed to strike at our misinformation and wipe away the deception and twisted interpretations we have gained through popular sophistries. If you cannot come to the seminar, call our office and order the series for your family. This is a series no Christian should be without.
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i Newman, A Manual of Church History, vol. 1.
Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers
Nolan, Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate
Wilkinson, Truth Triumphant
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