A Brief Church History pt. 2
History is so much more than just dates and names and facts: it is about perspective and life lessons.
We finished the last post with the completion of the word of God in 100 AD when John wrote the Book of Revelation. We saw how God protected the early church in its infancy to get it off the ground. But the enemy is relentless, and the chess match won't begin to end until God calls checkmate at the Second Coming of Christ.
In almost every game, there reaches a point where the defeated foe resigns to his defeat. Down by 10 points, the losing basketball team allows the winners to dribble out the last 10 seconds uncontested. A victory formation in football is just that: the winning team takes a knee while the opponents stand there and watch the clock run out. Not so with this contest. Satan knows he is a defeated foe, but he will not give up until God chains him in the bottomless pit. Then, even after a 1000-year timeout, he will not give up. The moment he is loosed (Revelation 20:7-9), he will launch one last all-out attempt to overthrow the Lord. Don’t worry: he'll be met with defeat.
Let’s remember why we are learning about history from a biblical perspective. History is so much more than just dates and names and facts: it is about perspective and life lessons. Yet history is only a teacher if you apply it to your life. We must understand that Satan is the sworn enemy of God and man, and he will never quit. He is relentless. He never sleeps. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he's aiming his crosshairs directly at you. His goal is to frustrate you, defeat you, and kill you if possible. But he cannot get your soul, and he knows that. Satan understands eternal security better than most Christians do, and it angers him so much that he will do anything possible to counter the work of God in your life. But God has promised to complete his perfect work in you (Philippians 1:6, James 1:4). Remain faithful to the call and dedicated to the Lord, regardless of what the enemy throws your way. But as a believer in Jesus Christ, you should be aware of the basic methods your enemy will use against you. We see him use these methods as the church of Jesus Christ gains steam and moves into the second century.
God desires to communicate with his creation, and he does so with man through his word.
In the second century, Satan threw a double-barreled attack against the church. It is not uncommon for him to work on several different fronts at the same time. Satan mastered the art of multi-tasking long before the term was ever coined. Paul warned us of this two-pronged attack in his farewell address to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:29-30: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
This is an attack both from the outside ("grievous wolves") and the inside ("of your own selves"). The astute student of history and the Bible knows that Satan takes on two essential forms. He is the “angel of light” (II Corinthians 11:13-15) who deceives from the inside, and the “roaring lion” (I Peter 5:8) who attacks from the outside. One is subtle, sophisticated, philosophical and religious; the other is vicious, brutal and bloodthirsty.
The subtle deception from the inside took the form of philosophy and "deeper" thought. By 100 AD, everyone who'd had firsthand personal contact with the Lord Christ was dead. This left a void of authority. If there was an issue within the Church, no one could step up and say, “Hey, wait a minute. I was with the Lord when he said…” Additionally, the full canon of the New Testament was not confirmed and agreed upon until about 150 AD. Some of the writings were, of course, considered holy scripture. For example, Paul said in I Timothy 5:18: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” These are two different quotes from two separate passages. The “ox” quote is from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:4). But the second part of the verse is a quote from Jesus recorded in Luke 10:7. So Paul referred to the book of Luke as scripture. Peter also referred to Paul’s writings as scripture in II Peter 3:16.
So, even before the canon was finished, parts of it were being accepted as “God-breathed”. Yet there was still a gap of time between those who walked with the Lord and those who could hold a completed New Testament in their hands. This gap was all the enemy needed to wedge his way into the thought process of the early church. Here is where the Gnostics infiltrated with their heresy. There is no need here for a long dissertation on the Gnostic heresy; I give a full treatment of it in Church History pages 151-160. However, here is a basic introduction to the evils of Gnosticism:
The basic tenet of Gnosticism is the “I know more than you do” mindset. This was bred into the spiritual DNA of mankind back in the Garden of Eden. Eve was tempted with “be[ing] as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The Gnostics believed that they could arrive at hidden meanings in the Bible. But this is a stench in the nostrils of God. Paul said in I Corinthians 8:1-2, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
There is simplicity in Christ (II Corinthians 11:3). God speaks clearly, and the Bible means exactly what it says. Symbolism and parables are a part of the Bible, but in virtually every case, the truths are defined clearly in the context, so there is no misunderstanding what God is saying. God desires to communicate with his creation, and he does so with man through his word. He communicates with us in terms we can understand, and his truth is available to the common man. Never forget that it was theologians with "deep insight" into the word of God who murdered the Messiah.
The body of Christ has been leavened and corrupted by scholarship and higher education.
In chess, if a pawn moves to the opponent's back line, it can be turned into another piece. Typically, it turns into a queen, the most powerful piece which can move in any direction. Satan began this process when he raised up the Gnostics who established a system of thought that eventually became Roman Catholicism. The “Queen of Heaven” (known in the Bible as the “Mother of Harlots” – Revelation 17) entered the world and managed to move to the back line. Then she began moving in multiple directions.
The greatest heretic in history, Origen, was born toward the end of the second century, but did not get his nonsense going until the third century. So we will save further discussion of him for the next post. But his mentors and predecessors established a perverse and corrupt philosophy. This was one direction the “Queen” moved.
By the end of the second century, there was a full trainload of false teaching and weird theology floating around the known world. Once false doctrines get planted, it is very difficult to root them out. Read Daniel chapter 4 sometime, and note the tree mentioned there. It represents the philosophies of the world that try to counterfeit genuine faith in the risen Saviour. Notice how the tree gathers the beasts of the field under it: a clear reference to unclean spirits from Genesis 3:1. Note also that all flesh was fed of it. This pictures mankind in his lost condition, and how the lost mind gravitates to higher education like flies to dog droppings. Notice further that when the tree is cut down, the root remains. This disease of “gnosis” was sown in the Garden of Eden, and it flourished in the church of Jesus Christ before the ink was dry on the first copies of the full New Testament. No matter how many times someone who actually knows how to think comes along and tries to cut this tree down, it grows back. Gnosticism is very much alive on planet earth to this day, and I would argue even more-so than in the second century. The body of Christ has been leavened and corrupted by scholarship and higher education.
They paid for their faith with their blood
The other movement of the “Queen” was to act as the roaring lion and ramp up the intensity of the brutality of pagan Roman Emperors against Christianity. Perhaps the greatest source of information on the persecutions of Rome against the early church is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Every Christian should read this book. Of course, it is banned by the Catholic Church. It exposes the brutality of the Roman system against God and his people unlike any other book. Some would argue that the Roman persecutions were of pagan origin and ceased when Rome turned “Christian” under Constantine. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Rome has always been against God and his people whether pagan or Papal. We will discuss this further in a future post. But during the second century, brutal torture of God’s people was the way of life. The Roman Coliseum still stands to this day as a place where thousands upon thousands of believers in Jesus Christ stood firmly and boldly in faith and refused to bow to the pagan gods of Rome. They paid for their faith with their blood. Only God knows the names and the numbers of the martyrs of the early church, and rest assured that he DOES! He remembers every one of their sacrifices. The Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment will tell the full tale.
So let history be your teacher. As Christians, we can expect to see opposition from these two main sources. Many believers today pay the ultimate price for their faith in many parts of the world. In our American society, infiltration and deceit are much more prevalent. But do not think that the roaring lion has no designs on your life as well. Be aware of his motives and his methods. Rest in many of the passages in the Bible that encourage us to stand firm in our faith. One of my favorites is from the mouth of a man who was Satan’s public enemy number one his entire Christian life: the apostle Paul.
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24).
All our fighting will be worth it all when we see Jesus.