Friday, May 05, 2006

Review of Post-Biblical History (5)

This is part 5 of chapter 8 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

So who came after these well-known Christian leaders mentioned in the Bible? While James, the brother of Jesus, served as church leader in Jerusalem, and while Paul was preaching and founding Christian churches throughout Gentile regions, it is thought, though questioned by many, that Peter made his way to Rome. Now Paul had provided Timothy with a plan to follow regarding Church hierarchy, and Peter acknowledged Paul’s writings as authoritative, part of God-breathed Holy Scripture; so we know a group of elders led each physical church. Peter may have been considered the prominent elder, or bishop, of the church in Rome (see 1 Peter 5:1). A new elder moved into Peter’s position upon his death.

In 67, Linus (see 2 Timothy 4:21) became perhaps the chief elder in Rome, and in 79, Anacletus (see Titus 1:7) succeeded Linus. Clement (see Philippians 4:3), known as a prominent and knowledgeable leader, followed Anacletus in 91. We can follow these successors, as given in both Christian and secular history accounts, to see not only some of the changes made within the church at Rome, both good and bad, but also the lineage of Roman Catholic popes. In time the elders of Rome looked to one prominent elder, who became bishop of Rome. These early bishops are regarded by Catholics as the first popes; in reality, the first man to be declared pope was Leo I, at least the forty-fifth bishop of Rome. He was declared pope by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

While it is nice to know who followed who within the Christian church at Rome, we must keep in mind that the Church had spread throughout Europe and the Middle East at this time. In fact, it would continue to spread into Asia, India, and Africa as well. Rome was not yet considered any more worthy of power than, say, Ephesus, Antioch, or Alexandria, among other prominent churches at the time. There were Church leaders everywhere; authority over all of the Christian churches, which rightly belongs to Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit that guides us while He is not physically present, was not assumed by Rome until Byzantine Emperor Justinian declared Rome over all other churches in 533 A.D.

As mentioned earlier, the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. validated the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament as authoritative. The four main Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) compiled with Paul’s letters were bound as one book in the late first century. By this time, all of the apostles had died, and their successors led the Church as it continued spreading the Good News around the world. Christianity was no longer deemed to be a sect of Judaism; the two were considered separate faiths.

The first seventy years of the second century are the most obscure in all of Church history. During this time, Christianity continued to spread throughout the world, even though second century leaders began to separate from each other in their teachings. These leaders included disciples of the apostles, such as Clement of Rome (successor of Anacletus), Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Hermas (see Romans 16:14), Barnabas of Cyprus, and Clement of Alexandria. These men, from throughout Europe and the Middle East, wrote extensively in their day, but their writings were imperfect, falling short of the credentials of canonical Scripture.

It seemed even these men, remembered as faithful saints, were disregarding the apostle Paul’s warnings against unsound doctrine (see 1 Timothy 1:10, 6:3; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9, 2:1). They were attempting to add their own ideas, rather than simply “preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Doctrinal issues and other concerns began to arise as the Church struggled to maintain unity during heavy periods of fierce persecution.
Writings that contradicted the views of the apostles became regarded as worthy of study, taken so far by some as to declare them authoritative, equal to Holy Scripture. (If you are genuinely interested in the writings of these and other post-Biblical Church leaders, many of their works are available to peruse online through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at

Latin Christianity was founded by Tertullian of Carthage, who lived from 155–220. Other profound thinkers accompanied him, not the bishops of Rome later known as popes, in guiding the Church, albeit further from Scripture and into mere philosophy on some occasions, throughout the third and fourth centuries. These leaders included such men as Origen of Alexandria, Apollonius of Ephesus, Hippolytus of Rome, Dionysius of Corinth, Julius Africanus of Emmaus, Theophilus of Antioch, Archelaus of Athens, and Eusebius of Caesarea. Also during this time, Anthony of Egypt, the founder of monasticism, led some Christians to separate themselves from normal life, retreating to peace, serenity, and safety from persecution. They lived as pious hermits and monks. The Church continued to spread despite both internal corruption and external persecution. In 250, as persecution continued to intensify, martyrs for the Christian faith became revered as saints. The Bible says that all believers, not just those martyred or canonized as such, are saints!

In the late third century, Marcellinus, the twenty-ninth bishop of Rome (considered by Catholics the twenty-ninth pope), offered pagan sacrifices to appease Roman Emperor Diocletian. Around the year 300, prayers were first offered for dead people. In 375, veneration of saints and angels became common practice among many so-called Christians. In 394, the formal Mass became the standard format for worship. In 431, worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus, became the norm as well. These are just a few of the practices that became traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, signs of the stray from Scripture the Church experienced early on.

As I mentioned in chapter one, the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 324, forcing pagans to adopt common Christian practices. This decision, while aiding the spread of true Christianity, contaminated the Church, because the pagan majority mixed their pagan traditional rituals with Christian principles. Constantine made Sunday the official Sabbath day; some scholars point to his former worship of the sun (sun-day) as a reason for making this change.

The Council of Nicea in 325 provided a creed of orthodoxy within the Church. It restored Scriptural teaching that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine while He was physically on the earth. In 330, Church headquarters was moved to Constantinople, as a split was near between Greek and Roman church branches. The Council of Athanasius in 367, gathered by Athanasius of Alexandria to combat a group known as Arians on doctrinal issues, and the Council of Carthage in 397, gathered by Cyprian of Carthage, recognized the twenty-seven books in our New Testament today as inspired. The New Testament canon, meeting the three guidelines of historical accuracy, literary style evenness, and theological consistency with Jesus’ message, was made official.

Christianity continued to spread and flourish despite much persecution during the lifetime of a well-known theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Augustine, credited with determining much of the early doctrine and formal Christian theology in leading the Church back to the authority of Scripture, supported the doctrine of original sin and helped to thwart Pelagianism, the heresy stating that man’s free will was responsible for salvation over God’s grace. Pelagianism, the precursor to modern day Arminianism, was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Also during this time, Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, and Patrick went from Britain to Ireland to preach the Gospel, converting many Irishmen to Christianity.

Both the Holy Spirit’s amazing conviction and sin’s corruption within the Church continued to spread. In time, the preaching of Scriptural sermons waned, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ became less-emphasized within the stumbling Church. These key apostolic institutions were replaced by the formal Mass, which reverted to the role of priests as in Old Testament days.

Shortly after the time Leo I was officially named as the first pope, Rome had established authority as the governing body in the Church, even a formidable world power. Popes began authorizing kings and rulers of nations, especially in Europe. Around the year 500, the pope was called Vicar of Christ. Priests began wearing different clothes than laymen; the crucifix became a religious icon. In 527, church leader Dionysius drew up his version of the calendar to include The Year of Our Lord, or Anno Domini (A.D.), which was retroactive to the approximate birth of Jesus Christ. In 590, with the inauguration of Pope Gregory I, the Church made its way from the early period of its history into the medieval period. In 593, contrary to Scripture, the doctrine of purgatory was established.

In 709, kissing the pope’s feet became a common practice of all who approached him; in 786, worship of images and statues of the saints was added to Church tradition. When the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne, and some say under the pope as well, grew strong, the true power and dictatorship of the papacy was seen. Forged documents were circulated claiming that the power-hungry papacy had political authority from its beginning. Disorder lasted for centuries; the Catholic Church did not recover quickly, because it did not realize there was a problem. Apostasy dominated the papacy over the next 700 years, from 800–1500; these years included many rival popes, even anti-popes, and much sin.

In time the Church became a melting pot of different cultures, values, and ideals. The preaching of Christ crucified had nearly disappeared; at least, it had been mangled and distorted beyond recognition. Regarding the early Church, Charles Spurgeon said:

It appears that the one subject upon which men preached in the apostolic age was
Jesus Christ. The tendency of man, if left alone, is continually to go further
and further from God, and the Church of God itself is no exception to the
general rule. For the first few years, during and after the apostolic era,
Christ Jesus was preached, but gradually the Church departed from the central
point and began rather to preach ceremonials and church offices rather than the
Person of their Lord. … The more Christ is preached, the more will the Church
prove and exhibit and assert and maintain her unity. But the less Christ is
preached … the more of strife and division and the less of true Christian
In 1054, a great schism split the Church and it divided into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1079, priest celibacy became mandatory. Just before the Crusades began, Popes Gregory VII and Boniface VIII declared that no one could be saved without acknowledging them as their ruler. As this version of Christianity clashed with Islam during the Crusades over nearly 200 years (1095–1291), the Holy Land, which had been taken by Muslims in the seventh century, was recaptured by Christians.
Christianity receives much condemnation for the Crusades, and we must acknowledge that no Christians are perfect. The heinous acts committed during the Crusades can in no way be justified by Christianity. Perhaps true Christians were not behind or involved in the Crusades. God has always maintained a living remnant of His chosen people on this earth, and in these end times, that remnant is growing increasingly larger. However, in the early second millennium A.D., there may have been few true believers.

I make the claim that Christians with sound doctrine would not have committed the brutal acts executed during the Crusades. Doctrine was not only greatly confused, but also nearly impossible to learn due to the lack of Bible study and preaching Christ crucified. I have a suspicion that few participants in the Crusades had an adequate understanding of Christ, especially given the time period. Remember, just because someone claims to be a believer does not make them one. Only possession of Christ through His Holy Spirit and by His grace makes someone a true believer. Jesus said:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but
only he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on
that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive
out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never
knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers’ (Matthew 7:21-23)!
After 200 years of senseless religion-based warfare, the eight major Crusades came to and end. (Remember true Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Christ!) The battles did continue, although on a lesser scale, for another 100–200 years. Islam had persisted; Christianity had survived; hatred had endured; Middle East turmoil remained.

Moving on to the thirteenth century, the Catholic rosary was invented in 1206 by Dominic. Thomas Aquinas, a famous theologian and scholar, lived from 1225–1274; he used reason to give five proofs for the existence of God (see Summa Theologica). Around 1228, the Bible was divided into chapters by Stephen Langton. In 1229, the Church, fearing its people would find out it was not following Biblical teaching, forbade laymen to read the Bible.

By the fourteenth century, the papacy had become so disrespected that it had to move from Rome to Avignon, France, for safety. Moving into the fifteenth century, there were two or three popes ruling at one time, all with different beliefs and motives. To keep with the 1229 decree prohibiting laymen from reading the Bible, the Council of Oxford banned Bible translations into the language of the common folk.

In a pre-Reformation movement, the former Catholic priest, John Wycliffe, left the Catholic Church because of its great apostasies, and he translated the first English Bible around 1388. Another man, John Hus, criticized the sins of the Catholic priests; he was burned at the stake for his comments. As the Renaissance erupted in Europe, a new importance was placed on learning. Scholars learned to read and study the Bible; they began questioning the practices of the Catholic Church. Around 1448, the Old Testament was divided into verses by Rabbi Nathan, and in 1452, the printing press began publishing the Bible in volume.

As the final lingering battles of the era of Crusades concluded, the inquisition, which began in 1231 as declared by Pope Gregory IX, increased in intensity, especially in both Spain and Spanish colonies under Pope Sixtus IV starting in 1478. During the inquisition, the popes justified the forced fasting, imprisonment, and in many cases, the slaughter of anyone denying the authority of the Catholic Church. The inquisition was not completely suppressed in Spain until the early nineteenth century! Of course, not all popes were bad; some strived to restore the Church to Biblical authority, but those men were few and far between.

Battling throughout the Dark Ages against heresies internally and persecution externally, the Church followed its majority into traditional Roman Catholicism. But God has never used the majority; He has always kept a remnant of true believers to be His light to the world. His minority is expected to share the Gospel of Christ crucified with the world in Spirit, truth, and love.

In 1517, a young Catholic priest, Martin Luther, began the Protestant Reformation by posting his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Among many issues, Luther denied the apocrypha as being part of the Bible used by the Catholic Church. His primary concern was the sale of indulgences within the Catholic Church. The papacy was offering forgiveness of sins, indulgences, in return for generous donations, which went to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Church in Rome. Forgiveness of greater sins required larger payments. Luther criticized “papal policy and stressed the spiritual, inward character of the Christian faith.”

The Reformation came in the sixteenth century, as Biblical scholars began to realize that the Church, the Catholic Church, had strayed from Biblical teaching. When John Calvin’s theology became popular among Reformation theologians during the 1500s, Protestant denominations, such as the Lutheran Church in 1521, formed within Christianity over a period of many years led by the return to Scriptural authority and the preaching of Christ crucified. In fact, the United States was first inhabited (after Native Americans) by Protestants escaping England due to religious discrimination. As we mentioned earlier, the United States had its foundation built on the truth that One God reigns, and He is the God of the Bible.

The Catholic Church held its counter-reformation at the Council of Trent (1546–1564) to establish an official stance. One had not been established prior, lending proof to the claims of apostasy which arguably still plague the Catholic Church today. Catholic leaders determined in 1545 that Church traditions were equal in authority with the Bible. In 1546, Bible printing was banned altogether by the Catholic Church. Again, Catholic leaders did not want its laymen to learn what the Bible had to say on their own; instead they wanted the people to rely on what the popes and bishops had to say!

At the Council of Trent the pope said, among other things, that the Mass was a true sacrifice offered to God; he denied that faith in Christ was sufficient as a means of justification; he officially added the apocrypha to the canon of Scripture; he affirmed the doctrine of transubstantiation, which says that the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. These claims are un-Scriptural, but Catholic laymen would have had no way to know that, seeing as they were forbidden to read Scripture!

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