What Happened to the Early Church that Led to Modern Mainstream Christianity?

There are many articles linked to on this page that provide specific details as to what happened to the early church that led to a separation between the true Church of God and the formation of various mainstream churches. However a brief overview may be helpful here.

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 called “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.

According to the 18th century historian E. Gibbon (who was not in the Church of God), 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 article on 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:

The Gnostics blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets, which they derived from oriental philosophy, and even from the religion of Zoroaster, concerning the eternity of matter, the existence of two principles, and the mysterious hierarchy of the invisible world. As soon as they launched out into that vast abyss, they delivered themselves to the guidance of a disordered imagination; and as the paths of error are various and infinite, 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, and, in a still later period, the Manichaeans. 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 that the true church “ultimately benefited” from this compromise, this did allow the mainstream Greco-Roman churches to expand and become the majority of those who professed Christ.

One or more semi-gnostic schools developed in Alexandria, including the one headed by the semi-gnostic Clement of Alexandria, whose teachings influenced professing Christians in the Greco-Roman world. Over time, some of the more obvious Gnostic concepts (like Aeons) were never formally adopted as they 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 confederation.

After a persecution by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus who died in 211 A.D., the church in Antioch ended up a leader that was acceptable to those who compromised in Jerusalem and apparently other areas.

Around 250 A.D., during the severe 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) 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 true Christians leading them, but only those who tended towards allegory and non-biblical traditions.

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 Church of God?). While true Christians remained throughout history (please see the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3), they were 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 and Theodosius (prior to that the Roman state normally persecuted Greco-Roman professors of Christ and true believers together).

Over time, people like the Protestant reformers 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 most idols and icons), they still 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).

This was recently added to early Christianity page.

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