Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
Many wonder how the churches of this world got that way. Mainly, it was because many had ideas that conflicted with the Bible, and many of those ideas ultimately got accepted by apparently billions throughout time.
Yet, Jesus taught that the true church would be a “little flock” (Luke 12:32), hated by the world (Matthew 10:22), and persecuted (Matthew 10:23). He also taught only a few would find the way to eternal life in this age (Matthew 7:14; 20:16). The Apostle Jude indicates that the number of saints was relatively small (Jude 14), while the Apostle Paul called the small group a “remnant” (Romans 11:5). Most who profess Christ, however, simply do not want to accept what the New Testament teaches about the church.
This post will contain a fairly brief overview of some events that led to the current state.
In the first century, apparently a false apostle, who is now called Mark, preached an allegorical interpretation of scripture in Alexandria. Alexandria was one of the most important intellectual centers of the Roman Empire in ancient times and had much influence in the Greco-Roman world. The falsely titled “Epistle of Barnabus” came from Alexandria in the early second century and also preached allegorical interpretation of scripture (see its chapter 10:2). The second century Gnostic heretics Valentinus and Basilides were Alexandrian.
Within the Roman Empire the religion of Mithraism was increasing in popularity while versions of Christianity also were. Some considered that the two religions were in competition with each other (though that was really only the case with the compromisers and the followers of Mithras). Mithras was a pagan sun-god. Many beliefs and practices associated with Mithraism started to rub-off on many who professed Christ in the second through fourth centuries.
According to the 18th century historian E. Gibbon, around 135 A.D., many who professed Christ in Jerusalem chose to be led by a Latin leader who urged them to compromise with God’s law (which Gibbon calls “the Mosaic law”, see article on the Ephesus Church era) in order to be tolerated by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Certain compromises in Rome apparently occurred around the same time, apparently for the same reason (see articles Arab Nazarenes and Passover).
The acceptance of some of the doctrines held by other heretics (such as Simon Magus, Marcion, and Montanus) spread to many who professed Christ. Various allegorical heretics, such as Valentinus, went from Alexandria to Rome and elsewhere and began spreading various Gnostic and semi-gnostic teachings. And while history shows that second century leaders from Asia Minor opposed these heretics and their teachings, many of them were tolerated, at least for decades, by the main churches in Rome and Alexandria.
Part of the reason for that acceptance of certain Gnostic teachings was that it greatly increased the number of Gentiles into those churches. Notice what one historian wrote:
The Gnostics blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets … the Gnostics were imperceptibly divided into more than fifty particular sects, of whom the most celebrated appear to have been the Basilidians, the Valentinians, the Marcionites… Each of these sects could boast of its bishops and congregations, of its doctors and martyrs; and, instead of the Four Gospels adopted by the church the heretics produced a multitude of histories in which the actions and discourses of Christ and of his apostles were adapted to their respective tenets. The success of the Gnostics was rapid and extensive. They covered Asia and Egypt, established themselves in Rome, and sometimes penetrated into the provinces of the West. For the most part they arose in the second century…
The Gentile converts, whose strongest objections and prejudices were directed against the law of Moses, could find admission into many Christian societies, which required not from their untutored mind any belief of an antecedent revelation. Their faith was insensibly fortified and enlarged, and the church was ultimately benefited by the conquests of its most inveterate enemies (Gibbon E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Chapter XXVII. ca. 1776-1788).
While I do not agree with Gibbon that the true church “ultimately benefited” from this compromise as he indicated, this compromise did allow the mainstream Greco-Roman churches to “enlarge” as Gibbon wrote and become the majority of those who professed Christ.
Although many seem to accept blending of pagan ideas with their understanding of Christianity, this is not the way it was supposed to be. Notice, for one example, one of the accomplishments of Nehemiah:
I cleansed them of everything pagan. (Nehemiah 13:30)
However, many who professed Christ in the first few centuries did not share Nehemiah’s view as they included pagan concepts in their faith. Jesus Himself warned about adopting pagan practices of prayer (Matthew 6:7). Christians are not supposed to have the “spirit of the world” (1 Corinthians 12:12) nor love its practices (1 John 2:15).
Despite biblical warnings, in the second century, one or more semi-gnostic schools developed in Alexandria, including the one headed by the semi-gnostic Clement of Alexandria and then Origen, whose teachings greatly influenced professing Christians in the Greco-Roman world. However, many of the teachings of the main school there have been condemned as heretical, even by Catholic and Protestant sources–and although many had pagan ties, many who profess Christianity still have been influenced by them.
Notice what Dr. John Walvoord, who taught at the Dallas Theological Seminary for fifty years wrote about that school:
In the last ten years of the second century and in the third century the heretical school of theology at Alexandria, Egypt advanced the erroneous principle that the Bible should be interpreted in a nonliteral or allegorical sense. In applying this to the Scriptures, they subverted all the major doctrines of faith…the Alexandrian school of theology is labeled by all theologians as heretical…(Walvoord, John F. The Prophecy Handbook. Victor Books, Wheaton (IL), 1990, pp. 9,15).
Over time, some of the more obvious Gnostic concepts (like Aeons) were never formally adopted as the Gnostics taught them, but others that the allegorists felt had some type of support from tradition and/or scripture were adopted by the forming Greco-Roman “Catholic/Orthodox” confederation. And although leaders stood up to the early allegorists (for two see What is the Appropriate Form of Biblical Interpretation?), the allegorizers continued to increase their influence. The Orthodox and even the current Pope Benedict XVI have praised Origen (who ran that Alexandrian school in the early third century) even though some his beliefs have been portrayed as heretical by the same Pope Benedict (see Did The Early Church Millenarianism?).
After a local persecution by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus who died in 211 A.D., the church in Antioch ended up a leader (Asclepiades) that was acceptable to those who compromised in Jerusalem and apparently other areas. Also in the early third century, a compromising Roman leader (Callistus) allowed abortion and generally lowered moral standards, which resulted in great increases among his and related churches.
Around 244 A.D., one “Gregory the Wonder Worker” of Neocaeseria claimed to see apparitions and apparently had mystical powers (Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions). He has been trained by Origin. Through the combination of Gregory’s influence (cf. Isaiah 47:5-6,12), Imperial persecutions, the rise of the allegorists, and doctrinal compromise, changes occurred in Antioch and Asia Minor. Allegedly Gregory “could cast his cloak over a man, and cause his death…he could bring the presiding demons back to their shrine” (Roberts A, Donaldson J, Volume 20, p. 3). He apparently was scarily impressive.
Around 250 A.D., during the severe empire-wide persecution by the Emperor Decius, the most public leader of the church in Smyrna (Eudaemon), apostatized. Shortly after this persecution, something new happened: A new leadership was installed throughout Asia Minor that was commended by the allegorist tolerating Bishop of Alexandria (Dionysius) who reported:
But know now, my brethren, that all the churches throughout the East and beyond, which formerly were divided, have become united. And all the bishops everywhere are of one mind, and rejoice greatly in the peace which has come beyond expectation. Thus Demetrianus in Antioch, Theoctistus in Cæsarea, Mazabanes in Ælia, Marinus in Tyre (Alexander having fallen asleep), Heliodorus in Laodicea (Thelymidres being dead), Helenus in Tarsus, and all the churches of Cilicia, Firmilianus, and all Cappadocia. I have named only the more illustrious bishops, that I may not make my epistle too long and my words too burdensome (Cited in Eusebius. Church History, Book VII, Chapter V, Verse I).
Notice that the Alexandrian Bishop acknowledged that those in the East (Asia Minor) had been divided from the Alexandrian and Roman churches, were no longer divided. This is because there were no longer any original Christians leading them, but only those who tended towards allegory and non-biblical traditions. Is your religion one that followed the faithful or those who followed the compromisers?
And shortly after this time is the first recorded instance of the Italians being able to influence a Roman Emperor enough so that they could install a bishop of their choice (probably either Dmonus or Timaeus) in Antioch (circa 270-273 A.D.) (please see the article The Smyrna Church era).
Hence, essentially due to compromise and persecutions, the semi-gnostic allegorizers tended to become the main group of professing Christians. For example, by the third and fourth century, the Roman Church no longer taught many apostolic teachings that it once had and instead included more and more teachings that did not originate in the Bible (this is documented in the article Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God?). While true Christians remained throughout history (please see the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3), they were often a persecuted minority (see also Persecutions by Church and State), and were more specifically persecuted by the State beginning after the Council of Nicea in the fourth century and the subsequent “edicts against heretics” by Emperors Constantine (who had been a follower of Mithraism) in 331 and Theodosius in 381 (prior to that the Roman state normally persecuted Greco-Roman professors of Christ and original believers together)–so they fled into the wilderness for 1260 years (cf. Revelation 12:6).
Throughout time, God raised up faithful Church of God leaders and groups that kept “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)–for documentation please see the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3.
Over time people, like the Protestant reformers, sometimes stood up against those who often relied on allegory and tradition in an attempt to reverse some of the false doctrines that dominated mainstream Christianity. However, even though they were successful in removing some non-biblical practices (such as many idols and icons), they often retained many of the doctrines that the Alexandrian and Roman churches had accepted (some of this is documented in the article The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert Armstrong).
Many today, cannot accept the idea that the faithful would truly be a very small flock.
In the 21st century, many in the mainstream are also hoping to end division that they have and to attain ecumenical unity between the Catholics of Rome, the Eastern Orthodox, and with many of the Protestants–thinking that this is God’s will.
They, however, would do well to recall what Jesus said:
Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division (Luke 12:51).
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).
Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14)
Hence, for any to suggest or imply that Jesus is behind the current ecumenical bent of many should be biblically questioned (also the Bible indicates when there is an essentially one-religion prior to the second coming of Christ, that it is not good–see Revelation 13:3-4,8-15)–the “many” are not to be able to enter the Kingdom in this age per Jesus’ words in Luke13:24 and elsewhere.
Teaching the truth about the Bible and history and the love of the word of God to the world in general and those called in this age in particular (Matthew 28:19-20) is the mission of the Continuing Church of God. You can click here for Beliefs of the Continuing Church of God.
Some articles of possibly related interest may include:
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 Do they matter? Most say they must, but act like they do not. This article contains some history about the Church of God (sometimes referred to as the continuation of Primitive Christianity) over the past 2000 years. It also discusses the concept of church eras.
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. Is telling the truth about the early church citing Catholic accepted sources anti-Catholic? This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view? Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches? Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
What Was the Original Apostles’ Creed? What is the Nicene Creed? Did the original apostles write a creed? When was the first creed written? Are the creeds commonly used by the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholics original?
Do You Practice Mithraism? Many practices and doctrines that mainstream so-called Christian groups have are the same or similar to those of the sun-god Mithras. December 25th was celebrated as his birthday. Do you follow Mithraism combined with the Bible or original Christianity?
Continuing Church of God The group striving to be most faithful amongst all real Christian groups to the word of God.