APOSTASY: DEPARTING FROM THE FAITH
Apostasy is not a word common in our everyday conversation, nor does it belong to the business world. Nevertheless, it has been a very real and common occurrence in religious circles through the ages. The result of man’s natural tendency to seek an easy way through life, it offers a form of escape from difficult choices.
Simply defined, apostasy is “desertion of one’s faith, religion, party or principles.” To join a political party and accept the principles of the party and then turn from it is apostasy. To make a profession of faith in God and embrace a certain doctrine and then forsake that belief is apostasy.
Apostasies can occur in either the secular or the religious world. In this study we will be concerned with apostasy as it has affected God’s true Church from the time God first began His work with humankind. When He called the first workers into His vineyard, He gave them His law. The command was: Obey and live; disobey and die. The reward: “The blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God” (Deut. 11:27-28). Those He addressed were left free to choose their course of action and their destiny-whether to obey and receive a blessing, or disobey and receive eternal death.
From the beginning there have been many apostasies among God’s people. Israel as a nation was favored by God. He had chosen them to be His people. By means of visions, dreams and the words of angels, He had given them His law. They had received it and promised to obey. Repeatedly they had been warned of the penalty for disobedience, yet how often they forgot their sacred covenant and rebelled against the God who had miraculously delivered them from Egyptian slavery.
The history of the Exodus from Egypt and of the wanderings in the wilderness is filled with miracles demonstrating the power of God. But alongside the miracles are numerous apostasies. When the way became rough, they quickly forgot God. Only three months out of Egypt, Moses was appealing to the Lord that the people were ready to stone him. Within a year they were ready to make themselves a captain and return to Egypt.
One of the most serious apostasies during that time was the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. These three, together with 250 “men of renown,” “princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation,” accused Moses and Aaron of usurping power, saying, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy,…and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Num. 16:2-3). Being Levites, they thought they had as much authority over the people as did Moses and Aaron. But God did not agree.
Their apostasy occurred at a time when God was not silent, when He was working openly among His people and retribution was swift and severe. Today men can turn against God and His leaders with impunity, but at that time God answered with destruction. To convince the congregation that Moses and Aaron were God-appointed, “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. 33 So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly.…And a fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men” that stood with them (Num. 16:1-35).
The people feared greatly, but the impression was short-lived.
Once the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land and Joshua was dead, there was a continuous round of apostasies. Each time the sequence of events was much the same: a time of recognizing God and serving Him; followed by a period of forgetfulness and falling away, doing evil in His sight; then God’s retribution, followed by repentance and deliverance under the hand of another judge.
The nation of Israel under Ehud,the second judge,is a classic example. Ehud delivered Israel from the oppression of Moab.This was followed by an unusually long time of peace, for we read that “the land had rest four eighty years” (Judges 3:30).But when their deliverer had died, they soon forgot and turned away: “When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 4:1). Following this apostasy, God allowed Israel to be oppressed by the king of Canaan who “had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he harshly oppressed the children of Israel” (v. 3).But they repented, and “cried unto the Lord,” and God sent Deborah, a prophetess, to their rescue. With God’s help she and Barak, the captain of the army, subdued the enemy and afterward “the land had rest forty years,” when they again did evil and “the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years” (Judges 5:31; 6:1). It was God’s way of punishing them for their evil ways.
But in spite of all their oppression and suffering, the lesson was never learned; for under Samuel, the last judge, they committed even greater apostasy in rejecting God as their King and asking for an earthly king that they might be like the nations around them. Their wish was granted, but they were no more loyal to their earthly king than they had been to their heavenly King. Throughout the years of the kings, until the nation ended in dispersion and dissolution, apostasy was frequent, just as it had been under the judges.
Israel’s apostasies from God are summarized in 2 Kings 17: They “walked in the statues of the nations”; they did “secretly did against the Lord their God things that were not right, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities”; they “set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. There they burned incense on all the high places, like the nations,… for they served idols” (vs. 7-12). God demanded their undivided loyalty; to worship other gods was apostasy.
THE GREAT APOSTASY
From the beginning of God’s working with men, through the period covered by the Scriptures, there were many apostasies but never was the apostasy complete. Always a few continued to cling to the true faith. In the wilderness wanderings, when we read that the “whole congregation rose up against Moses,” we can know that a few abstained, for we have record of Caleb and Joshua who “wholly followed the Lord.”
The same was true in the time of the Judges and Kings. Although from the reading it might appear that all turned against God, we know that a few obeyed the Law and kept themselves separate from the wicked multitudes. God had promised that He would not cut off the house of David until His Son, the Messiah was born.
But the time was to come when none would endure, when all would be turned away from God, when there would be no one to hold up the light of true religion. This is the apostasy upon which our study will focus, the “great apostasy.”
This time of apostasy was clearly prophesied in the words of Paul to Timothy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
That this happened is a matter of history. However, it was first a matter of Bible prophecy.
Daniel Forecasts the Great Apostasy
God’s plan and purpose for this earth has been a matter of record from beginning to end. And this plan and purpose had been revealed to men through His prophets, for “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). The prophets spoke and wrote the words which they received, and “whatever things were written before were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4).
Outstanding among the prophecies of the apostasy are those of Daniel. Two prophecies that span the entire sequence of events are included in his words. These two visions are found in Daniel 7 and 12.
Daniel’s first vision of the apostasy (Daniel 7)
In this vision Daniel saw four beasts rising out of the sea. “The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings.…A second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth.…After this…a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird.…After this a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth” (Dan. 7:3-7). Bible students recognize in this vision the four major world kingdoms.
Three Beasts. At the time of the prophecy only the first, Babylon, was in existence. Babylon was to be supplanted by the Medo-Persian government, represented by the bear. And Medo-Persia in turn, was to be overturned by the Grecian Empire, represented by the leopard, its four heads suggesting the four generals who succeeded the conqueror Alexander the Great.
The fourth beast. The fourth beast, which Daniel described as “dreadful and terrible,” not only had huge iron teeth, but as he watched “it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.” In the midst of the ten horns, another “a little one” came up, “And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words” (v. 8).
In verse 25 (chapter 7), Daniel said of this “little horn,” “He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.”
Daniel appealed to the angel that he might understand the vision, and the angel obliged in detail. Briefly, he was told that the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, was the destructive power that would 1) make war with the saints, and prevail against them; 2) speak great words against the Most High; 3) wear out the saints of the Most High; and 4) think to change times and laws (Dan. 7:21, 25; 8:12).
Daniel’s Second Vision
Daniel’s second vision was for the purpose of identifying the period of time covered by the first vision, the time of total apostasy. In the final chapter of the book bearing his name, the angel Gabriel showed Daniel a vision of a river with a man standing on either side. The angel was asked, “how long shall the fulfillment of thse wonders be?” And he answered, “it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished” (Dan. 12:5-7).
How long is “a time, times, and half a time”? To us mortals accustomed to counting time in days, months and years, this reckoning of time seems strange. But the Bible does not give us a riddle without an answer concerning so important a period of time.
Prophetic time. This time figure is part of a prophecy, hence must be understood as prophetic time. Students of prophecy agree that prophetic time in the Bible is not figured as we count time today, but on the basis o a thirty day month and a 360 day year. On this basis, let a “time” equal one year: “times,” then, would be two years, and the “dividing of time,” or “half” time, one half year, bringing the total to three and one half years. Applying the Bible rule of “each day for a year” (Num. 14:34; Ezek.J 4:6). the three and one half years (or 1260 days) represent 1260 years, the time during which the power of darkness would prevail, the duration of the complete apostasy.
The 1260 years in Revelation. This same space of time is also to be found in the last prophecy to be recorded, that of the Book of Revelation. What is identified as “time, and times and the dividing of time,” or “time, times, and half a time” in Daniel is separately identified as “three-and-a-half days” (Rev. 11:9, 11); “forty–two months” (Rev. 11:2; 13:5): “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Rev. 11:3) and “time and times and half a time” in Revelation 12:14. Careful study reveals that all are identical in application; all cover the same period of time, the dark Medieval Age, the time of total apostasy from true religion. Using the same formula applied to Daniel’s prophecy, we arrive at 1260 years for each of the prophecies.
Is it not more than coincidental that all these prophecies figure out to the same period of 1260 years? We believe that this was God’s way of informing us that the total apostasy, the period of darkness when there was no true religion proclaimed on the earth, was to last 1260 years. That it did happen and that it lasted more than twelve centuries is amply proven by both secular and ecclesiastical history.
In Revelation 11:2, one of the verses cited above, is another statement identifying this period of time as the apostasy: “the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” The “holy city” represents God’s people, His true Church, those professing and living by the commandments of the Holy Scriptures. The “holy city” corresponds with the “saints” of Daniel 7:21, against whom the “little horn” made war and prevailed, which the “beast, dreadful and terrible, … devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet.” (Dan. 7:7). During this same period of time, God’s “two witnesses,” the Old and New Testaments, lay dead in the street “of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8), symbolic of wickedness. God’s Word had been temporarily silenced. He no longer had living witnesses to proclaim His Word.
Jesus and Paul Forecast the Apostasy
In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke a parable that was actually a prophecy of the coming apostasy. In the parable He used five wise and five foolish virgins to picture two groups, faithful and unfaithful covenant-makers. The bridegroom (Christ) was to be gone for an extended period of time. The ten virgins (representing all covenant-makers) were to wait and watch to be ready to welcome the bridegroom whensoever He might return. But “while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.”
There would be a time during the bridegroom’s absence when all, both the wise and foolish, would “slumber and sleep.” During periods of sound sleep, one is totally unaware of what is happening, hence the parable is a fitting illustration of the apostasy.
The apostle Paul, appointed by Jesus Himself, was explicit concerning this same period of time: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The time would come when men would no longer teach sound doctrine, but seeking to please themselves they would seek out teachers who would teach what they wanted to hear, or as rendered in the Phillips translation, “They will want something to tickle their own fancies, and they will collect teachers who will pander to their own desires. They will no longer listen to the truth, but will wander off after man-made fictions.”
Paul again forewarned of the apostasy in his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,…let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God… the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2:1-4, 7, ).
In our Common Version, the “apostasy” is rendered “falling away,” and Paul says it was to happen before the return of Christ could be expected. From Paul’s statement it appears that the Thessalonians had been misinformed concerning the Second Coming and Paul was writing to correct this misunderstanding. Some had wanted them to understand the lapse of time that must intervene between them and that great event. Included in this period of time would be the apostasy, and Paul saw the first evidence of it already at work. When he said “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work,” some Bible students think he had reference to Gnostic perversions of the Christian faith, which taught salvation through a secret gnosis or “knowledge,” and not as the apostles and Jesus taught.
In his farewell address at Ephesus, Paul warned, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30). The prophecy was as sure as any that had been spoken before. It was part of the Word of God, which never returns unto Him void (Isa. 55:11).
What was the age-old method of determining the authority behind a prophecy? “…if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken” (Deut. 18:21-22). The apostasy did come to pass; hence, the prophecy was the Word of God.
The Transition: From Truth to Error
In spite of fierce opposition, the young Christian Church thrived in the period immediately following Jesus’ ascension and the giving of Holy Spirit power. Thousands were added to the Church, convinced by the power of the Holy Spirit manifested in the miracles performed by the apostles. In these early days the church had no formal organization or governing body. Ecclesia’s met at convenient locations, sometimes in private homes and sometimes outdoors. Such was the meeting by the riverside at Philippi which led to the conversion of Lydia.
Each church was independent with its own bishops and elders. The apostles themselves were head over all. There was no assembly of bishops to adopt and hand out new doctrines. The Bible was the rule book: no other rule was needed. All were held together by a common bond of love for God and concern and love for each other. Any disagreements arising were dealt with when the apostles made periodic visits.
But this simple arrangement could not last. According to the historian Mosheim, by the second century a “confederation of churches” had been formed. Instead of the churches operating independently, “this liberty and independence was by degrees relinquished, and it became the practice for all the minor churches within a province to join in one large association, and to hold as it were, conventions at set times.” The process appears to have begun in Greece, but it soon spread throughout the Roman Empire until this “form of government became general throughout the whole church, so that the Christian community resembled one large commonwealth.” The conventions of delegates were termed synods by the Greeks and councils by the Latins, and the laws which they enacted were given the name canons.
The second century saw many other changes in the Church. Apostasy was rearing her ugly head. The Church was moving further and faster from the simple teachings of the Master. The historian informs us that the bishops, who in the beginning had been only ministers of the representative churches, increased their authority. Their “humility was exchanged for a loftier tone”and they “took upon themselves to assert that they were the legitimate successors of the apostles themselves.” Whereas they “had seen themselves as equal in the beginning,” that equality disappeared and “preference was given to bishops of the chief cities of the provinces.” It was then that they began to hold councils to adopt rules for the church.
Later in the second century it was decided that a “supreme power should be lodged in the hand of some one individual bishop; … preeminence being given to the bishops of Antioch, Rome, and Alexandria, the principal cities of Asia, Europe and Africa, and that the bishop of Rome, the noblest and most opulent city in the world, should take precedence among these principal bishops,…and also assume the primacy of the whole Christian Church throughout the world.” It was from this small beginning that the Power of Darkness came to hold sway over all the churches. The apostasy was spreading, though it was by no means complete.
The historian records that there were churches that “declined to take a part of the grand Christian confederation which was gradually entered into by the rest, and were, for a long time, inflexibly tenacious of their own just liberty and independence … and refused to acknowledge the authority of those who were appointed to preside over the general interests of the whole body.”
According to the historian Mosheim, what came to be known as the “Church Hierarchy” started from a very small beginning and attained its position of power only by tacit approval of the apostatizing churches. It sprang “from nothing more than a plan adopted by the Greek churches of moulding their ecclesiastical government after the model of their national civil government.” There was no original intent to have a titular head (or pope) whose word would be held infallible and equal to that of our Lord, and whose power would be able to defy all efforts to overthrow it.
Causes of the Apostasy
Following his conversion, the apostle Paul gave his entire life to missionary work for the Christian Church. Many were those he convinced, yet he knew that not all would continue in the faith. The opposition he encountered was a harbinger of things to come. “That according to the way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers” (Acts 24:14), he said in his defense before Felix. To Paul it was true religion. To some others it was heresy.
From his prison cell in Rome, Paul addressed this prophecy to Timothy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Human nature is fickle, and Paul’s words were fulfilled. The Jews could not stop the spread of Christianity, though they imprisoned the leaders. But the movement did grind to a halt-when God allowed it. The time did come when they would “not tolerate wholesome teaching.” This time was the apostasy. There were many reasons for this.
The end of Holy Spirit power
Probably no one factor influenced the decline of faith more than the withdrawing of Holy Spirit power. This power had been the means of convincing thousands. Who could resist the words of one who had the power to tell a cripple to rise up and walk? But with the withdrawing of the Holy Spirit power and the death of the last apostle, such miracles were no
longer possible. Without miracles, the telling and retelling of past miracles lost their luster. It was not long until there were no living witnesses to miracles nor anyone who had known Jesus personally. Doubt soon turned to unbelief and apostasy set in.
Mingling with the nations
Moses had forbidden the children of Israel to mix with the surrounding nations-for good reason. Well he knew that if they mixed and intermarried they would adopt the ungodly ways of the nations around them and lose their love for the true God.
After the death of the apostles, the young Christian Churches began to mix more and more with the people outside the church. Paganism was rampant in the provinces of the Roman Empire. Many new converts were more concerned with affairs outside the church than within it. Some who had been educated in Greek philosophy brought with them ideas that were foreign to true Christianity. The new ideas often proved more popular than the old—-and right-ways, and many turned away from the church.
The influence of Greek philosophy
Without doubt, philosophy was the greatest single cause of the apostasy. The Greeks were the most educated people of the period in which the early Christian Church was established. For them, philosophy was a way of life. (We will discuss this topic later in our study.)
General desire to broaden the way
Not least among the causes of the apostasy was man’s natural tendency to try to find an easy way to salvation, thus broadening out the “narrow” way defined by Jesus. During the centuries after Christ the church adopted so many of the ways of the world that it quickly lost its identity. The worldly attitude of “eat, drink and be merry” replaced the command to “come out from among them, and be ye separate.” Man’s naturally rebellious attitude toward authority was as evident in that age as in ours. If they thought the rules of the church too inhibiting, they changed them!
Opposition arose almost immediately with the preaching of the apostles after Pentecost. Seeing the spread of the new faith, the Jews were jealous. In an effort to discourage or halt the movement, they frequently imprisoned, scourged and beat the apostles. But some 150 years later persecution became much more severe. Many of the Christians suffered cruel deaths rather than deny their faith. Others defected from the church, preferring life to martyrdom, reasoning that they would rather deny the faith and live than fall into the hands of the cruel Romans.
The popularity of Gnosticism
Gnosticism, a thriving religious movement of the early centuries that originated with the Greeks, lured away many. Gnosticism was a fantasy religion, similar to Eastern religions of our day. The Gnostics claimed that salvation came through man’s knowledge of himself, that such perfect understanding could be reached as to place man on a higher plane. Being closely allied with philosophy, it became very popular during the early centuries and gained a large following among the Christians. But one could not be a Gnostic and a Christian, hence to join the Gnostics was to apostatize.
The false teachers against whom the apostle John warned were no doubt Gnostics, those whom he identified as “antichrists.” Any opposer to Christ is an “antichrist,” and he said there were “many.” Peter also encountered them. He wrote of the “false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, of them he said, many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). Many did follow their “destructive ways” and departed from the faith, fulfilling his prophecy.
Even though the apostle Paul expended so much effort explaining the end of the Mosaic law, “many of the Jews still clung to the traditions of their fathers. Long before Jesus had denounced the Pharisees for holding to the tradition of their fathers, vet they persisted. While the apostles lived, ritualism was kept out of the Christian Church. But soon after the death of the last apostle, the first schism in the church appeared. Ritualism was the issue. According to Mosheim’s history, “Certain Jews could not be induced to renounce their attachment to the Law of Moses,” holding that “ceremonial law promulgated by Moses was to be of perpetual duration and that the observance of it was consequently necessary to salvation and that its ordinances ought to be complied with even by the Gentiles who had been converted to Christianity.”
Mosheim indicates that the matter was resolved by allowing these Jews to Conform to the Mosaic ritual while still maintaining their membership in the Christian Church—another evidence of the apostasy.
Christianity vs. Philosophy
Philosophy was a problem for the Christian Church from its infancy. It was not something new. The best known of the philosophers lived more than four centuries before Christ. The names of Philo, Aristotle, Plato and Socrates meant more to the Greeks than the names of Moses. Isaiah and Jeremiah. Philosophers controlled the scrolls, so all the educated class were exposed to the works of the philosophers, not the prophets of God.
Paul had warned Timothy and Titus against the subtle influence of philosophy: “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness….avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:16, 23). And again he wrote, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself” (1 Tim. 6:3-5). The church was not compatible with philosophy.
His warning to Titus concerned choosing elders for the church who would hold to the true doctrines of Christ. An elder “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth” (Tit. 1:9-14). No doubt Paul’s reference was to philosophy.
We can be sure that Timothy and Titus and other teachers instructed by Paul heeded the admonition and held to the true doctrine. But when these teachers were succeeded by others of a generation that had known none of the apostles, philosophy soon crept in. Philosophy was popular, and as Paul said, the Christian religion was a “sect…everywhere spoken against.” Christian teachers were being trained in the school at Alexandria, and this school, like all schools of the time, was dominated by the philosophers. According to the historian Mosheim, “philosophic speculation spread throughout the whole church, supplanting that holy simplicity which had characterized Christianity during the first age.”
Again quoting the historian, “the taste for the cultivation of philosophy and human learning during the first century was kept under and not permitted to blend itself with religion, but in the second century it spread with the utmost rapidity throughout a large part of the church as a result of the many Greek philosophers who had been induced to embrace Christianity. “The Christian teachers with a bent toward philosophy reasoned that if the philosophers could be brought to embrace Christianity, the popularity of the church would be greatly enhanced, for philosophy was popular. With this as an excuse, writes Mosheim, “they not only adopted the study of philosophy themselves, but became loud in their recommendation of it to others, declaring that the differences between Christianity and philosophy were but trifling.”
When this passion for philosophizing had taken hold of the church, the historian states further that “the holy and beautiful simplicity of early times very quickly disappeared and was followed by a most disastrous alteration in the whole system of Christian discipline. This very important and deeply to be regretted change began in the second century.
One of the earliest evils that flowed from this attachment to philosophy,” writes Mosheim, “was the violence to which it gave rise in the interpretation of the Scriptures. The Christians had held [to this time] that the words, laws, facts, and doctrines recorded in the Sacred Volume were complete, but no sooner did this passion for philosophizing take possession of their minds, than they began with wonderful subtility to press the Scriptures into their service in support of all such principles and maxims as appeared to them consonant to reason, at the same time perverting and twisting every part of those divine oracles which opposed itself to the philosophical notions.”
“Those most proficient in the pernicious practice were the teachers who first turned the attention of the Christians towards philosophy,” he writes. The teachers were not being original, but were following the writings of Philo, the Greek philosopher which they studied and “whose empty wisdom they were unhappily led to admire and to imitate.”
As a result of the success of their efforts in bringing the philosophers into the church, philosophic interpretation soon infiltrated the Christian doctrine. The Christians had converted the philosophers, and in turn, the philosophers converted the Christians. As Paul had prophesied, the time had come when they would not “endure sound doctrine.” Yet not all followed their pernicious ways; the issue of philosophy divided the church; but it was to take several centuries before the apostasy was complete.
Philosophy began worming its way into Christian doctrine at an early date. The historian Gibbon relates how “a chosen society of philosophers, men of a liberal education and curious disposition discussed complex questions of metaphysics,” and how their “lofty speculations” were embraced by many, including not a few who professed to be Christians. “These speculations,” he writes, “instead of being treated as the amusement of a vacant hour, became the most serious business of the present, and the most (supposedly) useful preparation for a future life. A theology, which it was deemed incumbent to believe, which it was impious to doubt, and which it might be dangerous to mistake, became the familiar topic of discussion.
Here is the reason why the apostasy was complete: because the new “religion” was deemed “incumbent to believe,…impious to doubt,” and “might be dangerous to mistake.” In a time when people were uneducated and uninformed either in religion, science, or civil affairs, such a set of beliefs was easily broadcast.
These discussions centered around such basic topics as the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, the nature of Christ (whether He was God or man, and whether He existed before He was born). The “new” thinking on these topics came to be the new theology.
The New Theology
The influence of philosophy on this new theology was noted by many people. One such person was Eusebius, a bishop of the church in the fourth century. Mosheim notes that Eusebius “censured severely those who neglected the study of the Holy Scriptures,” who instead devoted themselves “to the cultivation of philosophy and the logic of Aristotle, endeavoring to find support for their errors respecting Christ.” Imagine seeking the basics of religion in the writings of Aristotle, the pagan Greek philosopher who lived centuries before Christ. They studied, he says, not to understand the Scriptures but “to obscure and deprave the simple religion of the New Testament by encumbering it with the…precepts of Aristotle and other vain and impious men.” Bishop Eusebius could not approve of such.
But censure by the bishop did little, if anything, to discourage the “new” methods or to return men to the unadulterated Scriptures. In fact, so completely victorious was the new method that, according to the historian, “but few points of Christian doctrine” were “left untouched.” Whatever the Scriptures said with respect to “God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, was so expounded as to render it consistent with the doctrine of the three natures in God as maintained by Plato (who also lived four centuries before Christ) and other philosophers.” Other doctrines were “so explained by these teachers as to make them accord with what was taught by Plato and the Stoics (a school of Greek philosophers).” Different passages of Scripture were “with great ingenuity made to correspond with what was taught by most of the Egyptian and Platonic philosophers of the ancient as well as the modern schools with respect to death”-and this meant the teaching of the “separation of the soul (and)…body” at death .
The writings of these philosophers were in the libraries of all the schools of the day, since the schools were operated by the philosophers. How did the teaching of these philosopher-operated schools get into the churches? Those who were attempting to expound and interpret Christian doctrine had been educated in these schools. And, quite naturally, like teacher, like pupil. This is why the writings of the so-called “church fathers” are tainted with the ideas of philosophy.
Of Clement of Alexandria, one of these prominent early “fathers,” Mosheim writes, “His attachment to philosophy was such as to lead him into many and very great errors….Without doubt he imitated the Egyptians, and unquestionably followed the example of Philo, while Origen (another early church father) clearly trod in the footsteps of both. And the more recent Christian teachers formed themselves upon the model of these teachers.” Thus the pyramid of error grew. The historian Gibbon, like Mosheim, recognized the trend, for he comments that the “study of philosophy … was … as often the parent of heresy as of devotion.” Quoting Eusebius he writes: “They presume to alter the Holy Scriptures, to abandon the ancient rule of faith, and to form their opinions according to the subtle precepts of logic. The science of the church is neglected for the study of geometry, and they lose sight of heaven while they are employed in measuring the earth…and they corrupt the simplicity of the gospel by the refinements of human reason.”
A minority protested, but the protests fell on deaf ears and in a matter of a few centuries the Christian doctrine was completely corrupted by philosophy. Many philosophers were supposedly “converted” to the Christian faith, but the reverse was true. As Mosheim writes, “those who were philosophers before they embraced the Christian faith remained so still, notwithstanding their conversion, and continued as before” in the study of philosophy.
How complete was the effect of philosophy upon the true Church? According to the “new” theology, “Christ is the same in God that reason is in man.” Further, “all souls or minds originally were part of and sprung from the Logos or Divine Reason (an opinion derived partly from the Egyptians and partly from Plato)”; hence, Christ was present in the minds of all men “as operating and acting in all who followed the dictates of right reason.”
A few doctrines provoked much-often bitter-controversy.
Probably the one doctrine that stirred up the most debate was that of the Trinity. Today, belief in the Trinity is accepted as a “cardinal doctrine of the Christian religion” and upheld by nearly all Christendom. But it was not so in the early centuries. In fact, it is interesting to note that the idea did not even appear until the third century after Christ and can in no way be traced back to Christ or His apostles. Not until philosophy had been arduously studied and assimilated by the “Christians” did the tenets of this doctrine work their way into the church creed.
Belief in the Trinity was officially adopted by the church at the Council of Nicea, a council convened and presided over by the Emperor Constantine in 325 A. D.
Where is found the basis for the Trinity? Not in the Scriptures but in the writings of Plato. Plato expounded three different theories regarding the three natures of the Supreme Being. The idea was nothing more than a product of human reasoning, but it appealed to “philosopher-Christians” and by long and involved discussion was evolved into the present belief.
Gibbon describes the reasoning of these philosopher-Christians who saw this idea through its early stages of development: “Three distinct and infinite minds or substances, three co-equal and co-eternal beings, composed the Divine Essence; and it would have implied contradiction, that any of them should not have existed, or that they should ever cease to exist….Three beings, who…possess all the divine attributes in the most perfect degree; who are eternal in duration, infinite in space, and intimately present to each other…as one and the same being”-all separate beings, but all “one and the same being”! And interestingly enough, he describes it further as a “hypothesis”-not a fact-that these three-in-one/one-in-three beings “subsist only in the mind which conceives them…and the incomprehensible mystery which excites our adoration eludes our inquiry.”
How truly can such reasonings be termed “incomprehensible incomprehensibility,” as the Trinity has been called. Suffice it to say that the doctrine is only fiction and has no Biblical basis whatever. It was added to the doctrine of the church by the apostate hierarchy and has no place in true Bible faith. (For further discussion of the subject, see our booklet, Trinity or unity?)
The Immortal Soul
Another doctrine that came via the apostatizing “church fathers” and which has no more Biblical a foundation than the trinity is the widely accepted belief in the immortal soul. Here again we are indebted to Plato for a theory which antedates Christ and the Christian Church by some four centuries.
Men have always been loathe to admit the finality of death or accept the fact that they are of themselves destined to nonentity. For this reason the philosophersy speculated. Belief in the immortal soul was a natural result. According to Gibbon, the belief was the outgrowth of “a more exalted” reasoning of “a few sages of Greece and Rome….though it must be confessed that, in the sublime inquiry, their reason had been often guided by their imagination, and that their imagination had been prompted by their vanity.”
Gibbon writes further of their reasonings concerning the soul: Since none of the properties of matter can be applied to the human mind, “the human soul must consequently be a substance distinct from the body, pure, simple, and spiritual, incapable of dissolution.” He says further that it was from these basic reasonings that “the philosophers who trod in the footsteps of Plato deduced” an assertion of what he calls “the past eternity of the human soul.”
The historian notes that the doctrine was not well received at the time (during the second century after Christ), but was “piously rejected as an opinion that received no countenance from the divine Book, which they revered as the only rule of their faith.” However, only a few years and the church raised the authority of tradition to the level of the” authority of Scripture. Then the doctrine could be readily accepted; and it was.
The Dual Nature of Christ
During the centuries immediately following the establishment of the Christian Church, the nature of Christ was debated vigorously. While there were _vet living witnesses of His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection, there was no occasion for debate. Men who had known Him personally Could easily override the reasonings of the younger set who speculated. There was no question in their minds as to whether Christ was half God and half Man, or all God and all Man, or part of each. They knew Him as a man like themselves, one raised up “from among their brethren” (Deut. 18:18).
But when the last witnesses had died and men who had been educated in philosophy took positions of leadership in the church, those who accepted the thoughts of the philosophers as true wisdom aroused a great debate among the church hierarchy as to who Jesus Christ really was. Some said He was a man. Others that He was God. Others that He was part of each. According to the New Schalf-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, the controversy erupted in the second century. We quote:
“In the (writings of the apostles), only simple, practical, Biblical statements are found, with reminiscences of apostolic preaching for the purposes of edification.” Simple, practical, Biblical edification was what God intended men to obtain from His Word. But the Encyclopedia states further:…theological speculation on the person of Christ began with Justin Martyr, and was carried on by Clement of Alexandria and Origen, in the East; by Irenaeus. Hippolytus, and Tertullian in the West.” Justin Martyr (166 AD) conceived of Christ being the “logos” of John 1, and the idea proved to be a “very fruitful germ of theological speculation.” Justin conceived the idea that the pre-existent Christ “scattered elements of truth and virtue among the heathen philosophers and poets, although they did not know it”-what an adept method of justifying their desire to draw their beliefs from the pagan philosophers (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. III, pp. 51-52).
Origen, who lived about one hundred years after Justin Martyr, added his contribution to the doctrine. According to the historian, he “felt the weight of the…problem, but obscured it by…bringing the Son into union with the essence of the Father, and ascribing to him the attribute of eternity.” Origen thus became the author of the Nicene doctrine of “the eternal generation of the Son from the essence of the Father.” He was the first to use the term so widely used now of Christ: “God-man.” ( Schaff-Herzog, Vol. III, pp. 51-52).
Irenaeus also added his bit. He used the terms “Logos,” “Son of God” interchangeably, picturing the two as distinct in the same sense that the inward thought and the uttered word are distinct in man. At the same time he applied both terms to God, “who is above all antitheses, absolutely simple and unchangeable, and in whom before and after, thinking and speaking coincide.”
While rejecting some aspects of the doctrine of the nature of Christ then accepted, Irenaeus defined the actual distinction between Father and Son by saying that the former is God revealing Himself; the latter, God revealed. The one is the ground of revelation; the other is the actual appearing revelation itself. Hence he calls the Father “the invisible of the Son”; and the Son. “the visible of the Father.” The confusion is obvious-entirely removed from the plain, simple teachings of Christ and His apostles.
The contributions of the other church fathers only added confusion to confusion. Tertullian propounded “a threefold existence of the Son: 1 ) The preexistent, eternal Son in the Father, they being as inseparable as reason and word in man; 2) the coming forth of the Son with the Father for the purpose of the creation; 3) the manifestation of the Son in the world by the incarnation.” Tertullian is regarded by many as the real father of the doctrine of the trinity as accepted today.
Speculations continued over a period of several centuries, as the darkness deepened. The issue was finally settled at the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451 A. D. To “clarify” the doctrine, a one-sentence statement was issued. It read in part:
“Following the holy Fathers, we all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly man, of a soul and body; consubstantial (co-equal) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial (co-equal) with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin, begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation: … one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one Person, and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two Persons but one and the same Son, and Only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Words, words, words. Can we fully appreciate our deliverance from such “incomprehensible mystery”? How strange that no one asked, “What has the Lord answered?” for the above statement reveals a glaring lack of Scriptural support. Like Israel in the time of Jeremiah, they “perverted the words of the living God, of the Lord of hosts, our God” (Jer. 23:35-36). They turned from the simple truths of the Bible, and were turned unto fables.
Do we wonder that the apostle Paul warned his brethren: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ?” (Col. 2:8).
The Apostasy Hastened by Adversaries
The Christian Church was never without its adversaries-both within and without. Paul the apostle had to deal with Alexander the coppersmith, who “greatly withstood [his] words.” At one time Paul reported that all Asia had turned away from him. The apostle John wrote of those that “went out from us, but they were not of us”-in other words, they did not accept the doctrine taught by the apostles.
Ammonius. In the centuries that followed the death of the last witnesses of Christ’s ministry, the influence of false teachers spread. One of the earliest of these teachers was Ammonius, a teacher in the school of Alexandria in the second century. Being a teacher, he was in a position to influence many through his lectures. One of his better known pupils was Origen, who is recognized today as one of the early “Church Fathers.”
According to the historian Mosheim. Ammonius sought to include all people, regardless of creed or deed, in one common brotherhood, and to identify this brotherhood with the brotherhood of Christ. His object was to bring about a reconciliation between all the different schools of philosophy, to unite all in a common religion, whether Greeks or barbarians, Christians or heathens. In the judgment of world society, Ammonius may be esteemed; but as a Christian he failed utterly. Of the works left behind by Ammonius and his disciples the historian says, “It is impossible for them ever to be viewed in any other light than as deplorable monuments of wisdom run mad.”
The Roman Emperor Julian defended the teachings of Ammonius-a fact which was in itself enough to condemn Ammonius! The Roman emperor said that the different religious sects were “merely different modes of coming to the truth, and ought to be considered in no other light than as different routes by which men may travel towards the same place. Those who go to Athens,” he said, “are by no means restricted to one particular road, but are at liberty to go by sea as well as by land; just so they who are in quest of the truth may pursue different means of arriving at it….If one charts the course of these sects, he will find them all consistent and tending to the same end.” (These words have a familiar ring-not unlike what we hear from some ministers of our own day. But what a contrast to Jesus’ teaching, that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it”-Matt. 7:14; or “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many,
I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”–Luke 13:24).
Arius-the “Arian Heresy.” Arius was another false teacher who arose in the fourth century. The so-called “Arian heresy” did not concern a point of Bible teaching, but only a point of doctrine in an already apostate church. The point of controversy concerned the nature of Christ: Was He God, or was He man? The question excited both clergy and laymen. Constantine, the Roman Emperor at the time, tried to settle the dispute peaceably, but without success. Unable to get the parties to agree, he called the first ecumenical council-which had more to do with what is currently believed by many “Christians” than has the Bible.
According to historian Will Durant, the question “was vital both theologically and politically. If Christ was not God, the whole structure of Christian doctrine (so-called) would begin to crack; and if divisions were permitted on this question, chaos of belief might destroy the unity and authority of the Church, and therefore its value as an aid to the state. As the controversy spread, Constantine … summoned all bishops to meet at Nicaea in the year 325.”
The statement known as the Nicene Creed officially “settled” the matter, but it did not change the true teaching of the Word of God, nor did it end the debate between Arius and his contender, Athanasius.
Athanasius, also a bishop and a contemporary of Arius, seemed to delight in controversy. He helped formulate the creed that was accepted by the church at that time, explaining the nature of Christ and defining the trinity. According to the historian, Athanasius “conceded the difficulty of picturing three distinct persons in one God, but argued that reason must bow to the mystery of the trinity.” (What passage in Scripture suggests such a requirement?)
Athanasius was probably the best known of the arguers of the early centuries. For many years he led the opposition against many spokesmen for the apostate church. He enjoyed a sizeable following and a host of friends. With some of the clergy he found favor; by others he was banished. Likewise the emperors. He was persecuted by Constantine but protected by his son. Of him the historian Gibbon writes, “The name of Athanasius will never be separated from the Catholic doctrine of the trinity to whose defense he consecrated every moment and every faculty of his being.”
Athanasius also made one other great (?) contribution: It was he who first propounded the theory that the death of Christ was the payment of a debt due to God, a doctrine that led the already apostate church even further from the true gospel of Christ.
These disputes between factions of the church caused no small stir in their day. Although a small number still held to the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” the majority of the bishops at the Council of Nicaea represented churches already apostate, far removed from the Apostolic Church.
The Apostasy Hastened by Emperors
Roman Emperors, who were mostly pagans and opposed to the Christian Church, also helped promote the apostasy, though perhaps unwittingly. The barbaric persecution of Christians which they carried out was, next to philosophy, the greatest single factor in the apostasy.
Third century emperors. During the third century, the Emperor Decius issued an order requiring everyone to pay homage to the gods of Rome. Some resisted, but so many complied that the bishop of Alexandria was caused to write that “the apostasy was almost universal.”
A few years later, the Emperor Valerian carried on another reign of terror against the Christians, demanding that all conform to the Roman ceremonials and forbidding any Christian assembly. Those who resisted the order were subjected to the most cruel treatment imaginable; many were put to death.
Following Valerian in the third century, the scene was more peaceful. There was little persecution, but it was not a period of Christian growth into holiness. Of this period the historian Durant writes, “The church made rich converts, built costly cathedrals, and allowed its members to share in the joys of this world. Christians intermingled more freely with pagans and married them….The church became the richest religious organization in the Empire”-but it was not any longer the true Church.
“Cyprian (a 3d century bishop) complained that his parishioners were mad about money, that Christian women painted their faces, that bishops held lucrative offices of state, made fortunes and denied their faith at the first sign of danger. Eusebius mourned that priests quarreled violently in their competition for ecclesiastical preferment. While Christianity converted the world, the world converted Christianity, and displayed the natural paganism of mankind” (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 657).
The church had gone a long way down the road toward apostasy, but the darkness was still penetrated by a few rays of light. The historian, although unaware of the Biblical prophesy of the apostasy, recognized a remnant holding to the true faith. Of them he writes: “A minority wished to avoid any indulgence of human appetite, and to continue the early Christian absorption in thoughts of eternal life.” Praise God for the faith, zeal, endurance and courage of these faithful few!
Fourth century emperors. At the beginning of the fourth century, Christians again came under attack from the emperor when Diocletian “decreed the destruction of all Christian churches, the burning of Christian books, the dissolution of Christian congregations, the confiscation of their property, the exclusions of Christians from public office, and the punishment of death for Christians detected in religious assembly. A band of soldiers inaugurated the persecution by burning to the ground the cathedral at Nicomedia.”
Constantine, who followed Diocletian early in the fourth century, was an exception to the cruel rulers who had preceded him. Embracing the now apostate Christian faith (outwardly, at least), he made it the religion of the Empire. Persecutions ceased and Christians were accepted as desirable citizens, free to practice their worship as they chose.
Constantine’s Christianity and that of his empire was not the Christianity of Jesus and His apostles. It was Christian in name only-Christianity as espoused by Constantine was a mixture of much paganism and philosophy with a very small part of the teachings of Christ. But true Christians benefited even so. Many who had been forced into hiding under previous Emperors were now free to come into the light; however, their numbers were sadly diminished.
The historian casts some doubt on Constantine’s sincerity in embracing the Christian faith. “Was his conversion sincere?” asks Durant. “Was his conversion an act of religious belief, or a consummate stroke of political wisdom? Probably the latter….A real believer would have been a Christian first and a statesman afterward; with Constantine it was the reverse. Christianity was to him a means, not an end.”
Darkness Covers the Earth
“For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people,” wrote the prophet Isaiah (60:2)
History recognizes the period between the fourth and fifteenth centuries as an age of darkness, both mental and moral. It was a time of “extreme disorder, insecurity and violence”; a time when “people welcomed, and for the most part generated, a hundred thousand tales of supernatural events, powers and cures,” according to the historian Durant.
This period is called the Medieval Age, also appropriately the “Dark Ages.” In the realm of religion, it was truly an age of darkness. The light of true religion was gradually going out; the doctrine of the Scriptures was rapidly being replaced by the error being handed out as “truth” by the apostate church.
In the earlier centuries, the church had sought to overcome paganism, to convert the pagans to Christianity. The historian describes Augustine’s argument against paganism as the “last rebuttal in the greatest of historic debates.” But paganism won; the end result was that paganism overcame the church-and in a manner that could have been foreknown only by Divine wisdom. Paganism was popular. The church being unable to thwart it, adopted it. The historian Durant describes how paganism was “Christianized”:
“Paganism survived in the moral sense, as a joyous indulgence of natural appetites; as a religion it remained only in the form of ancient rites and customs condoned, or accepted and transformed, by an often indulgent church. An intimate and trustful worship of saints replaced the cult of the pagan gods,…Statues of Isis and Horus were renamed Mary and Jesus;…the Saturnalia were replaced by Christmas celebrations, the Floralia by Pentecost, an ancient festival of the dead by All Souls’ Day [which later became what we know as Halloween], the resurrection of Attis [a pagan god] by the resurrection of Christ. Pagan altars were rededicated to Christian heroes; incense, lights, flowers, processions, vestments, hymns, which had pleased the people in older cults were domesticated and cleansed [supposedly] in the ritual of the church; and the slaughter of a living victim was sublimated in the spiritual sacrifice of the Mass.”
“The church wisely [?] accepted the popular theology. She resisted, then used, then abused, the cult of martyrs and relics. She opposed the worship of images and icons, and warned her faithful that these should be reverenced only as symbols, but public feeling overcame these cautions” (Will Durant, The Age of Faith, p. 75).
Durant further describes how “people and priests used the sign of the cross as a magic incantation to expel or drive away demons,” and how “exorcisms were pronounced over the candidate for baptism,” how “dream cures” once available only in pagan temples could be obtained in Roman sanctuaries and at a hundred or more shrines. “It was not the priests who corrupted the people in such matters,” writes Durant, “but the people who persuaded the priests.”
Paganism had triumphed; the darkness had deepened. Total apostasy was not far off.
Fathers of Darkness
As a nation’s leaders, so its people. Just so in the church. Apostate leaders beget apostate people. When the young Christian Church had been headed by such faithful apostles as Peter, Paul, John and James, or by brethren like Stephen, Barnabas and Timothy, pure doctrine was the rule of faith. But when the church was headed by men who expounded their own ideas, and who were themselves devotees of philosophy, truth soon disappeared; the vain thoughts of men replaced the commandments of the Master and religion became more superstition than Scripture.
In the fourth century the Catholic Church had not yet reached its zenith. “Papal infallibility” had not yet come into being; bishops of the principal cities held sway over the churches-often with widely varying points of view on doctrine.
Much of the writings of the bishops of this time have survived, but of them none are better known than those of Augustine.
Augustine. When Augustine came upon the scene, the church was already a long way down the road toward apostasy, but probably no one of the early church “fathers” (so-called) did more to hasten the church into total apostasy than he. So indelible were the imprints he left upon the doctrines of the Catholic church that they can be seen today in the catechisms of the mother church and all her daughters.
Augustine was born of a Christian mother and began life with her simple faith. But while he was away at school, he proudly abandoned his mother’s faith and led a life that was anything but exemplary, sadly lacking in Christian morals. When he was thirty, he again embraced the Christian faith of the now apostate church. Soon after his conversion he entered a monastery (which he founded) and there began his career of studying and writing. Ten years later he was named bishop of the North African church, where he spent the remaining 35 years of his life.
Like so many other theologians, Augustine was not content to accept the teachings of Scripture as given by the prophets, apostles and Jesus, and in expounding them adapted them to his own vain reasoning. In treatise after treatise he labored to reconcile with reason such doctrines of the apostate church as original sin, salvation through Christ’s suffering, predestination, imputed righteousness, the sinlessness of Mary and many more. Fifteen years he devoted to his best known work-on the subject of the trinity-writing many volumes, “struggling to find analogies in human experience for three persons in one God.”
Augustine’s fertile mind produced more volumes of error than anyone else of his time, and when he died in 430 A. D. he left the church more apostate than he had found it.
Papal Imperialism. Not many years after Augustine, the question of one imperial head of the Catholic Church arose. Until this time, the bishops of the principal cities had enjoyed equal authority over their respective districts. About the year 445, Pope Leo I of Rome justified his claim to supremacy by quoting “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” and formally declared himself supreme over all bishops of the West. The action was based on what one historian calls “two vague traditions”: 1) that Peter had been the first bishop of Rome, 2) that Christ had given to Peter official primacy over the other apostles, and that this primacy had been transmitted to all succeeding bishops of the imperial city Rome.
The bishop of Constantinople, however, was not willing to yield to Rome, and a long struggle ensued between the two rival heads of the church. Some years later, Nicholas I built upon “the then accepted premise that the Son of God had founded the Church by making Peter her first head,…and concluded that the pope, as God’s representative on earth, should enjoy authority over all Christians-rulers as well as subjects—-at least in matters of faith and morals,” writes Durant. “He eloquently expounded his simple argument, and no one in Latin Christendom dared contradict it.”
The action was only one more step in the direction to total apostasy. Papal supremacy was conceived in the minds of men, no! in the Holy Scriptures. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that Peter was bishop of Rome at any time or that he was granted supremacy over all other bishops of his time. He identifies himself simply as “a servant and an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ”-not as bishop of the church of Rome.
Popes and more popes. History shows that between the seventh and fourteenth centuries the Catholic Church degenerated to its lowest level, assisted by a succession of irreverent popes. During one of these centuries, there were no less than 28 successive popes. “For several years the papal chair was filled by bribery, murder, or the favor of women of high rank and low morality,” writes Durant. “For half a century the family of the official of the papal palace made and unmade popes at will”-(all successors of Peter, they would have us assume).
At the same time, the sale of church offices was common. One German baron controlled and sold eleven bishoprics. “Such appointees were men of the world,” writes the historian. “Many lived in luxury, engaged in war, allowed bribery in episcopal courts, named their relatives to high positions. and worshiped mammon with undivided loyalty.” Corruption flourished, both in the church and state. “Popes were seized, jailed, starved and strangled in order to influence them….The aristocracy of Rome divided into factions, and whichever faction prevailed in the city intrigued to choose and sway the pope” and “between them they dragged the papacy to the lowest level in its history.”
The words of the Prophet had been fulfilled; truth had fallen in the street, equity could not enter. They had cast the truth to the ground and trampled upon it, and they practiced and prospered.
One of the better known popes of this era was Gregory, who reigned in the seventh century. According to the historian, Gregory “deeply influenced and expressed the medieval mind.” Gregory was a prolific writer. Of his works Durant says, “He left behind him books of popular theology so rich in nonsense that one wonders whether he believed what he wrote, or merely wrote what he thought it well for simple and sinful souls to believe.” Gregory made no attempt to separate legend from fact. His books were devoured by the common people “Because they offered as history the most amazing tales of the visions, prophecies, and miracles of Italy’s holy men.” In them “the reader learned of massive boulders moved by prayer, of a saint who could make himself invisible, of poisons rendered harmless by the sign of the cross…. of the power of relics” in performing miracles, “of the sick made whole and the dead restored to life.”
Gregory also had a definition for the human soul: “The living force and guide of the body,” and, he asserted, “Many of our time have often seen souls departing from the body.” He also gave a frightening definition of hell, which led to the development of the doctrine of purgatory, a place in which the dead could complete their atonement for sins committed but not atoned for during their lifetime.
Gregory’s writings show the depth of the darkness that had enveloped the church. There is not a glimmer of light to be found in the church of his time; the faithful remnant had disappeared, replaced by a people superstitious beyond belief, accepting for religion the mass of error being handed out by the church hierarchy. The common people had no access to the Scriptures, Pope Gregory having decreed that the Bible “needs careful interpretation by trained minds, and the church, as custodian of sacred tradition, is the only proper interpreter.” Jesus’ words, “Blessed is he that readeth” were not to be heard in the church. The darkness was dense.
The darkness of the “Dark Ages” was not confined to the church. The powers that governed were little better. The historian writes that these centuries witnessed not only “the utmost moral degradation of the papacy, but the almost universal spread of anarchy and barbarism, while intellectually it was, par excellence, the dark age.”
Punishment of heretics. During this era the so-called heretics (anyone who dared to question the authority of the state church or believe any doctrine other than those taught by that church) were condemned to death at, the stake often on the testimony of unreliable witnesses-or no witnesses at all. When no witnesses could be found, an authority of either church or state could condemn a person to death if they thought him a threat to the established religion. “If every man may interpret the Bible according to his own light, and make his own individual brand of Christianity,” said the theologians, “the religion of Europe would soon be shattered into a hundred creeds.”
The condemnation of heretics was known as the Inquisition, and of it the historian Durant writes, “Compared with the persecution of heresy in Europe from 1227 to 1492, the persecution of Christians by Romans in the first three centuries after Christ was a mild and humane procedure,…revealing a ferocity unknown in any beast … and ranks among the darkest blots on the record of mankind.”
Indulgences. These formed another blot on this same period of history. The practice grew out of one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church, a means of allowing a penitent sinner to atone for his confessed sin through fasts, prayers, almsgiving or other works of charity.
An indulgence was an exemption granted by the church for some or all of the punishment due in purgatory for earthly sin. The church claimed the right to remit such punishments by transmitting to the penitent some of “the rich treasury of grace earned by Christ’s sufferings and death, and by saints whose merits outweighed their sins.”
The practice of granting indulgences was soon abused and became mixed with politics when priests refused indulgences to those who sided with the emperors against the popes. Some carried it to the extreme, using it as a license to sin again.
Indulgences were not limited to parish priests. They were offered by popes for participation in the crusades-so-called “holy wars” launched to drive non-Christians from Palestine, and from Jerusalem in particular. In the year 1299 Pope Boniface VIII offered a “plenary [blanket] indulgence” for those who should come and worship at St. Peter’s tomb during that year. It was a rich idea. No less than two million, it is estimated, made the pilgrimage to Rome, each depositing their modest offering before St. Peter’s tomb. The historian writes: “It is said that two priests with rakes in their hands were kept busy day and night collecting the coins.”
Great wealth poured into the church coffers in these years, much of it from outside Italy. It has been calculated that the total income of the papacy about the year 1250 was greater than the combined revenues of all the secular sovereigns of Europe. From England in the year 1252, the papacy received a sum three times the revenue of the ruling crown, much of it payment for papal indulgences granted.
The practice of granting indulgences began in the 9th century: and although it was denounced by several church councils, it continued until well into the 15th century. Against such practices Luther rebelled and started the reformation of the 16th century.
No longer were there any true Christians in the church. No true disciple of Christ would have either part or lot with such works, but would cry out with the words of Peter: “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20-22).
During these same dark years, the church issued new doctrines as spiritually dark as the age in which they appeared, doctrines which served only to deepen the darkness that hung over the church. It was an era when superstition was of almost everything amiss, and says the historian, “A hundred objects were worn for their magic power to ward off devils and bring good luck”-a practice that had been adopted from the pagans. Such beliefs were not actually sanctioned by the church, but the apostate hierarchy lacked the authority to control the people, and parish priests were often not above their flock.
Mariolatry. This tolerant spirit of the leaders led to the worship of Mary. She had gained some honor in the eastern branch of the church in the sixth century. It was then that the “Feast of Assumption of the Virgin” was established, asserting that Mary had been received bodily up into heaven. The feast was assigned the date of an ancient pagan festival, and Mary became the patron saint of Constantinople.
Not until some six centuries later did “Mariolatry” flower in the church. Prayers were addressed to her specifically, as well as petitions for aid, and she was credited with answering prayer. Many legends concerning Mary were created which the church did not officially accept, yet several church festivals were established marking the events of her life. As late as the year 1854 the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” was issued by the pope, declaring Mary to have been born sinless.
Transubstantiation. This word, coined by the apostate church, describes the process by which the bread and wine of the mass is supposedly transformed into the “literal blood and body of Christ by the miraculous power of the priest.” It was proclaimed an “essential dogma of the church” by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. The doctrine has been often contested, but stands to this day, having been affirmed by other church councils in the intervening years. One of these councils strengthened the doctrine by adding that “every particle of the consecrated wafer, no matter how broken, contains the whole body, blood, and soul of Jesus Christ.”
Purgatory. Like transubstantiation, the belief in purgatory is a product of men’s minds, not of the Scripture. Augustine touched briefly on the idea in his writings, suggesting the possibility of the existence of such a place for the “purging of sins not fully atoned for before death.” Earlier church “fathers” such as Clement and Origen had also suggested such a cleansing place for all, saving that “even Paul and Peter must pass through it in order to be purified from all sin.” It was not established as a doctrine of the church until the seventh century under pope Gregory. The doctrine was controversial and became one of the irreconcilable differences between the Greek and Latin churches.
According to the New Schaff- Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, the doctrine “as now taught in the Roman Catholic Church is that souls which depart this life in a state of grace but guilty of venial sins or liable to some punishment after the guilt of sins is forgiven, are subject to a process of cleansing before entering heaven. The souls destined there [in purgatory] are helped by the prayers of the faithful….But what the location of the place is,…or the duration of the purifying process,…are questions to which the church affords no answers.”
The worship of Mary, transubstantiation, purgatory and other such doctrines are only further evidence of the total darkness of the era. The words of the Prophet were fulfilled: “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:30-31).
THE FIRST RAYS OF LIGHT
“It is always darkest just before the dawn.” This truism applies in the secular world; and it was also true in the religious world. The entire religious world was wrapped in darkness for many centuries before there was even a flicker of light. The Catholic Church dominated the religious life of the then known world and sought to control the civil governments as well. The Roman Curia laid a heavy hand on the pocketbooks of all who came under its influence, extracting a giant share of the world’s wealth.
In the secular world, conditions were no better. Class hatred prevailed. The lower class were servants, even slaves, to the wealthy landowners. Freedom was something reserved for only a privileged few; the masses had nothing which they could rightfully call their own. Neither human life nor property was secure.
Like the dawn after the darkness of night came a first ray of light. It happened in England in the thirteenth century-ironically in the same year (1215) the Catholic Church handed down one of its darkest dogmas-transubstantiation-the dogma which affirmed that the blessing of the priest changed the bread and wine of the sacrament into the literal blood and body of Christ.
The Magna Carta
The Magna Carta is regarded as one of the most notable documents in history. It became the basis of English law and was brought to America by the early settlers, who used its principles in the government of the colonies. Though it was a step toward reform, many centuries were vet to pass before the light of divine knowledge could again shine in the darkness. The apostasy still held Sway.
The Bible Into English
Divine foreknowledge decreed that the light would again shine out. However, before the light of knowledge could shine, the source of that light had to be exhumed. Men had to be free to read the Word of God for themselves, in their own common language, without having to depend on the erroneous interpretations offered by a limited clergy.
It was now the 14th century, and light was slowly coming. But very slowly. As vet there were no newspapers, no magazines; the only, reading material available were books and these were few and precious. The printing press had not vet arrived, and the only, known means of duplicating the printed word was by hand. The Bible still remained in the hands of a very few. Only small portions had been translated into English, and these were not publicly circulated. As for the rest of the Bible, it was still “sealed,” as it were, in the obscurity of the Latin language.
But this was the fourteenth century, and change was imminent, thanks to a few exceedingly brave souls.
Wycliffe. John Wycliffe, born in England in the 14th century, was the first to attempt to induce reform in the church in that country. Wycliffe’s greatest accomplishment was the translating of the New Testament into English. He resolved that the Bible should be available to anyone who could read. Until that time only, small portions of the Bible had been translated into English because the popes opposed any attempt to circulate the Bible among the common people.
Wycliffe’s reform movement met with much opposition and did little toward divorcing the church in England from the Roman Church. Nevertheless, it sowed the seeds of reform that were to bear fruit in later years under Martin Luther’s tillage in Germany.
Although Wycliffe knew only, the doctrines of the already apostate church, he opposed what he deemed to be unscriptural. He challenged the theory that the merits of another could rescue souls from purgatory. He also favored the separation of church and state, believing that the pope should not have the last word over the civil government. He emphasized an infallible Bible instead of an infallible pope.
He miraculously escaped the death of a heretic and died a natural death in 1384, but 30 years later a papal decree had his remains dug up and cast into a river and all his books burned.
Wycliffe was an instrument in God’s hands to lay the groundwork for the rebirth of true religion. Had the Roman Church maintained her hold on Europe, truth would have been unable to raise her head.
Martin Luther. Martin Luther was to Germany what Wycliffe was to England. Born late in the 15th century. he matured at a time when Germany was filled with discontent. The printing press had arrived; the Bible had been
Reports of the worldliness of the Roman hierarchy circulated freely in German society. Priests took advantage of the poor by selling indulgences. remitting the money to Rome. Indulgences were forbidden in Luther’s province, but he received firsthand information from a neighboring province when purchasers brought him the “papal letters” they had received in return for money. Luther’s ire was aroused. He quickly composed his famous 95 theses on indulgences and posted them on the church door. The reformation had started.
Luther quickly became a thorn in the flesh to the Roman hierarchy. His sharp tongue cut to the heart of the evils of the so-called “Holy See” in Rome. He freely denounced pope. priest, and layman alike. He challenged the authority of the pope, saying that “in the first centuries of Christianity, the Roman See had no more authority, than several other bishops of the church.” He won wide support throughout Germany, but called forth threats of excommunication from Rome. But he was not easily silenced. He published his answer in a booklet. These are some of his words:
“If Rome thus believes and teaches with the knowledge of popes and cardinals (which I hope is not the case), then in these writings I freely declare that the true Antichrist is sitting in the temple of God and reigning in Rome-that empurpled Babylon- -and that the Roman Curia is the synagogue of Satan….If we strike thieves with gallows, robbers with the sword, heretics with fire, why do we not much more attack in arms these masters of perdition, these cardinals, these popes, and all this sink of Roman Sodom which has without end corrupted the church of God. . . .?”
Luther’s words reached the pope, who immediately, condemned his works and ordered him to come to Rome to recant his statements or be excommunicated. He ignored the summons and continued his fight with his pen. He challenged the pope’s claim to superiority over secular rulers (every emperor or king had to be confirmed by the pope before he could assume power); he advanced the idea that everyone had the right to read and interpret Scripture for himself; he declared that Scripture should be final authority in matters of doctrine and practice.
Luther divorced himself from the pope and was successful in correcting the more flagrant abuses. He succeeded in slowing the flow of money to the popes, but he did little toward reforming the doctrines. He denied transubstantiation, indulgences, purgatory and worship of Mary and the saints. He believed all other doctrines of the established church, including a literal devil (with which he reported encounters), heaven, hell, the trinity, and the immortal soul. He denounced the philosophers “for trying to prove Christian dogmas rationally,” for trying to harmonize Christianity with the philosophy of that “cursed, conceited, wily heathen” Aristotle.
Luther, though successful in reforming the abuses of the Catholic Church, did little to reform himself. The historian describes him as “having a temper like hot lava,” with “hardly any of his associates able to escape his anger and humiliations.” His later writings heaped abusive language on both emperors and ecclesiastics, even to the point of advocating violence and bodily harm to any who dared cross him. The toleration he sought from Rome found no place in his heart.
Luther lived in a period that was shrouded in religious darkness, but he was an instrument in God’s hand to begin a process that would result in freeing men’s minds from the darkness of superstition and error. A time was pre-determined by God when the apostasy would end and the true light of God’s Word would again shine upon the earth. Rome still held sway over the majority, but without the Protestant Church, true religion would have found no place to lay her head.
John Calvin. Luther’s tide of reform did not stop at the borders of Germany. While he was still leading the reform in his own country and establishing the first of the breakaway churches, other reformers came upon the scene elsewhere. John Calvin was to France what Luther was to Germany. Born about the time that Luther was at the height of his career, he began as a lawyer, even though his main interest was theology.
Calvin is described by the historian Durant as a “God-intoxicated man … overwhelmed by a sense of man’s littleness and God’s immensity.” He was a firm believer in the Bible as God’s Word, but dark as to its true teaching as others of his time and as intolerant of opposition to his own beliefs as the Catholic Church hierarchy-a fact which caused his chief opposer, Servetus, to be burned at the stake.
Calvin’s so-called reform was in doctrine rather than in practice. He is best remembered for his doctrine of predestination: That God pre-determined ages before we were born just who would and who would not be saved. Calvin rejected some of the doctrines of the Catholic Church, including the mass and the use of all images-even the crucifix. But like Luther, he clung to most of the doctrines of the apostate church. Of him the historian says, “It is remarkable how much of Roman Catholic tradition and theory survived in Calvin’s theology…. Most of the doctrines he espoused as Protestant were but Catholic tradition … in milder form.”
Calvin was the father of the Presbyterian Church; his doctrine of predestination, somewhat modified and elaborated to accommodate modern creeds and directions of thought, still survives today in the manuals of some churches, though it is seldom heard from their pulpits.
Calvin’s churches were noted for their stern morality, a morality stressing personal responsibility. He insisted that to be religious is to be moral. The Puritans and Pilgrims who later settled in the American colonies were both products of his teachings. His churches were the first to be established on the principle of self-rule, each choosing its own pastors and elders. Out of this self-ruled church grew the self-governed towns of the New World and from this small beginning came the self-governed nation of America, the first of its kind in the world, with a democratic form of government heretofore untried.
Calvin, like Luther, though totally ignorant of true Bible teaching in a time of total apostasy, was nevertheless a tool in the Almighty’s hand preparing the way for the re-lighting of the lamp of truth, something that could never have happened had Rome been able to keep her hold on Europe.
Other Reformers. Others who influenced the reform movement are less known but through their work and writing they did much to loosen the shackles of the Catholic Church. Principal among these was John Knox, who founded the Protestant Church in Scotland, and Erasmus, who furthered the work of others with literary support.
The reformation was a step in the right direction, but it did nothing to lighten the darkness of the apostate church. “In the end the papal authority was not lessened but enlarged,” writes the historian, “and every bishop was required to take an oath of complete obedience to the pope.” The darkest of the dark dogmas were reaffirmed. including transubstantiation and purgatory; the Bible was still forbidden the common people, “the church claiming sole right to expound and interpret the Bible,” and claiming “equal authority for church tradition and scripture.”
The 16th century has been called the “religious revolution” because it was during this time that many new sects sprang up. For the most part they were but branches broken off the apostate church, rejecting now and then a doctrine or principle but adhering to the majority of the so-called orthodox doctrines and practices, identified as Protestant because they protested against some belief or practice of the Catholic Church. An occasional small sect had a few ideas in accord with the Scriptures. One “denied the divinity of Christ,” saying that “He was only the most godly of men, who had redeemed us not by His agony on the cross but by the example of His life.” But the time for the rebirth of the truth had not yet come; anyone who dared speak these words was put to death as a heretic.
Just before the end of the 15th century at the same time that the reform movement was sprouting, the countries along the coast were venturing out to sea seeking trade with foreign lands. Portugal had built up trade with India, sailing eastward around the southern tip of Africa. It was a costly and dangerous route. Mariners theorized that by sailing west far enough they would find India across the Atlantic. The world had not been mapped, and the distance had been greatly underestimated.
After many years of study. interspersed with several adventures on the high seas, Christopher Columbus sought permission from the king of Spain to sail westward in the hope of finding a new route to India. His hopes were rebuffed, but eight years and many attempts later he was granted three ships and funds for the voyage after Spain’s finance minister intervened in his favor. On April 17, 1492, the king signed the required papers, and on August 3 of that same year Columbus sailed westward.
Seventy days later the little flotilla reached land-October 12, 1492, the date remembered as “Columbus Day” in our nation. Columbus had not actually discovered America, but islands in the Caribbean. But it marked the beginning of westward exploration, which led to the discovery and settlement of the American continent.
The discovery of this new continent across the ocean was but one more step in God’s plan for the earth. The reformation of the 16th century brought some relief from Roman domination in Europe, but it did not end all religious persecution. In England, religion was no longer limited to the Catholic Church, but it was still under the direct jurisdiction of the king, and far from free. Any other form of worship than that officially prescribed was forbidden.
Free at Last
“We therefore, the representatives of the United States of America,…appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do,…solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown…. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge … our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
With these words, the 13 colonies declared their independence, relying on the God in whom they so firmly believed, to help them to this end. This was our first Independence Day, July 4, 1776.
The Declaration itself did not actually establish the independence of our nation; but it stated an intention to be free. And once stated, there was no turning back.
Total independence was secured only after several years of war and at great cost in men and money. But a new nation had been born, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Its discovery had been Divinely ordained that God’s plan for this earth might be fulfilled.
In all ages, God has operated through human instruments. To such men as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others not as well known, we are indebted. Through their efforts came the freedoms we so highly prize: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to assemble peaceably, and the right to own property. These freedoms, and others, were spelled out in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, identified as the Bill of Rights, freedoms that to this day are enjoyed by only a small part of the world’s population. It was all part of the plan of God for the ending of the long apostasy.
Prophets of God foresaw the beginning of the apostasy. They foresaw also its end. Daniel, in a vision, saw both: “Then I, Daniel, looked; and there stood two others, one on this riverbank and the other on that riverbank. And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, “How long shall the fulfillment of these wonders be?” (Dan. 12:5-6).
The water Daniel saw was symbolic of the “water of life,” the Word of God, and the “man clothed in linen” that was upon the water was God’s angel, guarding the Word of life until someone on this side of the apostasy should arise and again teach the sound doctrine of the Bible. We have seen in this study how the Bible was preserved through the darkest ages of the history of the world, unaltered and intact. We have also seen how tradition and philosophy, were combined to cover the sound doctrine of the Word with the commandments and doctrines of men. Centuries of teaching error had totally obscured its true teachings, and it remained in that obscured state until someone had the courage to challenge the commonly accepted ideas with a plain “Thus saith the Lord.”
In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke a parable which was a prophecy of the apostasy-its beginning and its end. While the bridegroom (Christ) “tarried, they all slumbered and slept”-when they should have been alert and watching for His return. But at midnight, “there was a cry made. Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” The “midnight cry” foretold the ending of the apostasy; someone would dare again to speak and live by the Word of God.
We believe that “someone” to have been our founder, Rev. L. T. Nichols. We believe this, not because he claimed any supernatural gifts or powers but because his accomplishments parallel the divine record and the forecast of the end of the apostasy as those of no other man we know of.
The new frontier had a special purpose in the plan of God; it proved to be the forum where true religion could once again be proclaimed. But not in a moment, not in a dazzling blaze of glory did it happen.
There was no still small voice speaking in a dream, nor were there any angelic visitations. God works slowly, using human instruments and human situations as He finds them for His purposes. And in this instance, He used a country that was less than a hundred years old.
The original thirteen colonies prospered and grew, and as they grew the groundwork for religious freedom was laid. Westward they spread, as new states were added. By 1850 there were 30 states stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The population has multiplied ten times-from two million to more than 20 million. But much of the frontier was still unexplored and inaccessible. And for good reason. Highways were poor and impassable in winter. Railroads were few, bridges were scarce, and the airplane was still confined to the realm of dreamers.
Our founder, Rev. L. T. Nichols, was a frontier youth, born in Indiana in 1844. At 14, he moved with his family to a new frontier in northern Wisconsin. When he was 30 he moved with his wife to Oregon, where he was a farmer.
Raised by a devout mother, he was taught from a child to reverence God and His Word. Bible reading was a regular part of each day’s activities, and he soon began to read and study the Bible for himself. His mother knowing only the “orthodox” doctrines of the nominal church, he and his sisters were taught these.
By the time he had reached his teens, his keen mind had noted discrepancies between what the minister said and what the Bible seemed to teach, and he vowed to study until he could understand what the Bible really taught, and to speak the truth whether or not it agreed with accepted teaching.
Relying on God’s words, “Yes, if you cry out for discernment, And lift up your voice for understanding, 4 If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:3-5), he began the monumental task of seeking the true teachings of the Bible.
Through the years those who would accept the true teaching of the Bible have been but few, but that is in accord with the words of Jesus, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:14)-yet how many believe that the majority of mankind will be saved?
Praise God, the light of true religion again shines. “The light shines in the darkness,” though the darkness “did not comprehend it” (John 1:5, NIV). The apostasy has ended. The message is again sounding (Rev. 22:17-20): “Let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming quickly.…Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
Can You Answer These?
1. What does “apostasy” mean?
2. What was the “Great Apostasy”?
3. What was prophesied to be the duration of the apostasy? Where do we learn this?
4. Explain briefly how the apostasy came about.
5. What were three causes of the apostasy?
6. Define: Heretic
7. Define: Indulgence
8. Who fathered the doctrine of predestination?
9. What great German reformer was used by God to lessen the abuses of the Catholic Church?
10. What change was brought about by the translation of the Bible into the languages of the common people?
11. What brought the great apostasy to an end?
(If you need assistance in answering these questions, refer to your Bible and to the pages of this lesson.)