Monday, November 30, 2015

Apostasy II : History of the Apostasy of the Church

The history of Christianity is a study of the battles of one apostate teaching after another. It is no doubt that the Holy Spirit had moved in the early church to superintend the Scripture and freeze what is now the closed cannon of the Bible. The purpose of a single source of recorded sacred Scripture is to have a source that is the standard by which all teaching is measured – We go to the source, our Bible.

Our Bible is unique among the religions of the world. No other sacred writings claim to be the Word of God and provides prophecy for its validation. Buddhism (563-483 B.C.) does not claim to be the word of God, but rather a collection of writings that guide one’s life – the Panna (Wisdom - right thinking), the Sila (Ethical conduct – right speech), and the Samadhi (Mental Discipline – right effort). Hinduism’s (c.1500 B.C.) written tradition ranges from 800 to 300 B.C. and is defined by the Upanishads, the Vedas, and the Bhagavad Gita. The Hindu writings are said to be revealed through multiple deities. These deities grew over the years from 3 (the Trimurti ”three manifestations”) to over 330 million (a curious example of the development of world thought through the period) . Even Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an (“recitations,” A.D. 610-630) is said to be the only uncorrupted source of revelation from God revealed to Muhammad, but it was not by God directly, but rather through the angel Gabriel.

The battle for the mind starts with the source - the authority. The Bible is our source of truth that is to be used to test what people say. The first attack on truth is to attack the word of God. The story of the fall is the first example of denying the word of God as Satan did:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said,`You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"  2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden;  3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said,`You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'"  4 Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die.”  (Gen 3:1-4)
This deception continues throughout world history as the “father of lies,” the devil (Gr. diabolos, “false accuser”), continues to promote his adversarial (Hebrew Satan, “adversary”) relationship with God and the things of God.

In the New Testament an immediate attack upon the word of God occurs before the text is even closed.  Jesus Christ, the Word, is denied His rightful eternal Sonship in His incarnation. The clear statement of fact – “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), was denied by some teachers in Ephesus (1 John 4:1-3). Indeed, Greek philosophy had crept into the church and their world view defined the physical bad, the spiritual good, therefore, Christ could not have had a physical body. The truth of the Son that is given for the sins of the world is denied. The result is His atoning death was not enough, His gift not sufficient!    

Salvation was also a major doctrine under attack before the New Testament was closed. Jesus clearly taught that no one could enter the kingdom of God by one’s own self-righteousness as He proclaimed:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Jesus clearly states salvation from the penalty of sin is by belief, whereas unbelief is the condition of condemnation:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  17 "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  18 "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  19 "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:16-19)

Yet even as Jesus clarified the source of one’s belief is by God alone and not a work of man (John 6:29), man demands to contribute to the completed work of Christ on the cross – man tends to be independent, self-centered, self-seeking, self-glorying, and self-righteous. The early church immediately tried to add onto the grace of the gospel of Christ by adding something man must do to be saved. For example, some demanded that non-Jews must be circumcised (Acts 15:1-11). To this, Paul responds with an anathema:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different  (Gr. hereros, “another - of a different kind”) gospel,  7 which is not another (Gr. allos, “another - of the same kind”); but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert (Gr. metastrepho, “to turn around,” i.e. “twist”) the gospel of Christ.  8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed (Gr. anathema, “accursed”).  9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9)

So great is man’s desire to contribute in some way to earn one’s own salvation that the apostle Paul tells the church in Ephesus: 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,

 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph 2:8-9) 

These statements are so clear that it takes slight of hand, a re-definition of terms, and a conscience desire to pervert the plan sense of Scripture in order to turn the truth of God into a lie. It is because of this great spiritual battle, both with the father of lies, the devil, and man’s self-seeking nature that we are to guard the truth, love it (Zech 8:19), walk in truth (Ps. 26:3), live truth (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6), obey truth (Gal. 5:7), and speak the truth (Ps. 15:2; Zech. 8:16; Eph. 4:25).  The purity of the Word of Truth is the standard by which we must stand, even when the wicked reject (Isa. 59:14-15; Rom. 2:8), distort (Acts 20:30), suppress (Rom. 1:18), and even oppose it (2 Tim. 3:8).

Early Church Heresies
Early church heresies centered around these three: (1) denying some aspect of who Jesus Christ was, ie., denying His deity, or denying His humanity; (2) denying some aspect of the grace of God’s salvation; and (3) denying some aspect of the character of the word of God, whether its inerrancy, its content, or even how to read it.

It was in the year 50 that the first church council was held in Jerusalem to address the matter of circumcision of gentiles (Acts 15). The organization of the council was local, though Peter, Paul, John, Barnabas, and Titus were present, it was , however, presided over by James the head elder of the Jerusalem church and its elders and congregation.   There is a saying: “Where God builds a church the devil builds a chapel close by.” This has been the reality of the church through history. 

It was by these church councils that the Holy Spirit secured which books belonged in the Bible. God was sovereign in control of what was Scripture and what was not. 

This adding to God’s free gift of salvation that occurred in the apostolic church shows up in every age. The Judaizing of Christianity that showed up in Jerusalem in Acts 15 also shows up in Galatia and Corinth. It also shows up in the second century as Ebionism as legalism moves the church under the bondage of its rules.

The Greek dominated regions of the ancient church confronted Gnostic heresies that denied Christ’s nature and changed the freedom of the gospel into license to sin – antinomian licentionsness.  The great historian Philip Schaff wrote of this period:  “The errors combated in the later books of the New Testament are almost all more or less of this mixed sort (Paganism or Judaism), and it is often doubtful whether they come from Judaism or from heathenism. They are usually shrouded in a shadowy mysticism and surrounded by a halo of a self-made ascetic holiness, but sometimes degenerated into the opposite extreme of antinomian licentiousness.” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1 p. 567)       

Dr. Schaff summarizes, “if Christ be not God-man, neither is he mediator between God and men; Christianity sinks back into heathenism or Judaism. All turns at last on the answer to the fundamental question: ‘What think ye of Christ?’”

To the cannon of Scripture the apostate adds other works. The apostle Paul had those who opposed him, but sent letters to the Corinthian church claiming to speak for him. These heretics wrote what has come to be called psethde (“false”) books that the early church rejected outright because of their obvious false teaching. Another group of writings that are not genuine, the Apocrypha (“hidden”) and pseudigrapha (“false writings”) are not Scripture. The Apocrypha are those extra-biblical books written during the “400 years of silence” between the end of the Old Testament and the birth of John the Baptist. The pseudonymous, as Dr. Mal Couch says, “ Instead of putting their own names on the books, the authors claimed they were written by particular prophets or apostles in an attempt to give their work the needed authority and credibility.” (Mal Couch, gen. ed., God has Spoken, p. 87).  These book are included in the Roman Catholic Bible but not included in the Protestant Bible. The Catholics do not call these book “inspired.”   Examples are from the OT: 1 & 2 Esdras, 1,2,3 & 4 Maccabees, Tobit, & Psalm 151. Examples from the NT are: The gospel of Thomas, The gospel of Peter, The gospel of Barnabas, the Acts of Peter, the Lost Epistle to Corinthians.

How can we trust what we have today is authoritative? Because the Holy Spirit has preserved God’s word. What we have today has stood the test of time, endured the criticism of critical scholars and have proven themselves to be true.

However, the true books of the Bible have had an additional attack on their authority. This attack has been in the form of the fundamental laws of reading – the spiritualized method. When one does not like WHAT the text says, then they move to either changing the definition of words or allegorizing the text. The Greeks did not like the moral failure of their gods, so in order to clean up their deities’ actions they turned to allegory. When the Greeks conquered Egypt, Philo, seduced by the beauty of what came out of their method, proceeded to do the same with the Old Testament. This method was introduced into the Church by Origen ca. A.D. 185-254. As Dr. Couch writes, “The literary device of allegory is quite distinct from the allegorical method of interpretation, which looks for deeper meaning in the literal words of a text. Allegorical interpretation allows the exegete to manipulate the text to support his or her presuppositions.” (Mal Couch, gen. ed., An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, p. 39).   

Another early departure was the establishment of an unbiblical church governmental systems. Almost immediately after the departure of the apostles, the established church developed a church hierarchy that incorporated overseers over overseers – a central control center instead of the local control of the church with a plurality of elders and deacons.  This hierarchy grew to what became in the middle ages as the political/ecclesiastical Papal organization. As the central power grew so did the Pope and the Roman Catholic church's control of the Bible. The source of authority moved from the Bible alone to include tradition as equal authority to the Bible with the Pope as absolute authority. 

As a result of the removal of the Scriptures in the language of the people and the move to the Roman Catholic form of church government the church of the middle ages saw ever increasing abuse of power and what looks like a semi-global apostasy of the Church.  A kind of precursor to the end-times apostasy. The next article will take up the story from the middle ages, how the Word in the language of the people moved to reform and split the Roman Catholic church.