The Great Apostasy
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints boldly proclaims that the gospel of Jesus Christ and the sacred authority to administer the ordinances of the gospel were taken from the earth shortly after the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. This apostasy, or "falling away" (2 Thessalonians 2:3), from the true teachings of Jesus Christ is a matter of biblical prophecy and historical record.
For the preparation of this article, I have utilized James E. Talmage's, The Great Apostasy, B. H. Roberts', The Falling Away, and several reprints or articles from our church periodicals.
At the time of Christ, Palestine was under Roman control. The Romans did allow much freedom of religious expression among Palestine's inhabitants. The separate religious systems in place in the area and during the time of Christ's mortal experience were:
1. Judaism. The Jews proclaimed the existence of the true and living God, and they looked forward to the advent of a conqueror Messiah, who they expected would crush the enemies of their nation.
The Jews observed the Law of Moses which emphasized the letter and not the spirit of the law. The Jews were not a unified group; they were divided into several contending sects and parties, among which the principals were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Beside these there were the Essenes, Galileans, Herodians, etc.
2. Pagan. These observed the sensual rites of heathen idolatry. They believed in multiple gods which were subject to all the vices and passions of humanity and distinguished by immunity from death. Morality and virtue were unknown as elements of heathen service, and the dominant idea in pagan worship was that of appeasing the gods in the hope of averting their anger and purchasing their favor. This type of religious philosophy was manifest in the heathen nations which surrounded Palestine, including Greece, Rome, Assyria, and Babylonia.
3. Samaritan. This was essentially a mixture of (1) and (2). The Samaritans were largely Assyrian colonists who had moved in and intermarried with Israelites after the Assyrians carried away the ten Israelite tribes of the Kingdom of Israel between 732 and 722 BC. The Samaritans inhabited a province between Judea and the Galilee called Samaria. While affirming their belief in the Jehovah of the Old Testament, they practiced many rites belonging to paganism.
Biblical Prophecies of the Apostasy
Nonmember critics of the church may often object to the idea of the great apostasy. "It's absurd," they may say, "to suppose that the Lord would come to the earth and bring his church, only to have it fall away. In Matthew 28:19-20 the Lord promised to be with his church 'always, even unto the end of the world.' In Ephesians 3:21 we read, 'Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.' We have the Papacy which can be traced right back to Peter. Christ said to Peter, 'thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:18). Paul said in Hebrews 12:28, 'Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace.' In Hebrews 13:5 the Lord said, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'"
So how do we answer these concerns? In Matthew 28:19-20, the Lord was promising to be with his apostles (see also verse 16) and not the church. Regarding Matthew 16:18, we teach that the Savior was referring to the process by which Peter received his testimony of the Christ-revelation. He said in effect, "It is on the rock of revelation that I will build my church." Obviously the only "kingdom which cannot be moved" (Hebrews 12:28) is the kingdom of heaven and not the earthly kingdom of God as the following scriptures will demonstrate. In Hebrews 13:5 the Lord was promising to be with all those that obey him. An identical promise was given to the prophet Joshua (see Joshua 1:5).
In 1909 James E. Talmage wrote The Great Apostasy, in which he gathered Old and New Testament passages which are useful in demonstrating clearly that a great apostasy was predicted by Jesus Christ, Paul, and other apostles and prophets. These include:
1. The prophet Amos foresaw the apostasy when he said, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).
2. Isaiah foresaw that the Church of Jesus Christ would break the everlasting covenant established by Christ: "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:5; see also Hebrews 13:20). The law of Moses was never referred to as "the everlasting covenant," so it had to be the Church of Jesus Christ.
3. The prophet Micah saw the day when "the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them" (Micah 3:6). In these days the heads of the churches will "judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us?" (Micah 3:11). Micah then reassures us that "In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it" (Micah 4:1).
4. Jesus preached to the Jews, "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 21:43).
5. Jesus taught his disciples, "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:4-13). Also he taught them, "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not" (Matthew 24:23-26).
6. As the Apostle Paul said goodbye for the last time to some of the members of the church he had grown to love so deeply on his missionary journeys, he gave them this chilling warning of things to befall the growing body of disciples: "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" (Acts 20:29-30). Peter taught that a great restoration-the "times of restitution of all things"-would not occur until after a great apostasy: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:19-21).
7. The erosive forces of apostasy invaded the church even during the ministry of the apostles. For example, apostasy was rampant among the Galatian saints during Paul's ministry. Mainly the Galatians were trying to harmonize their newly found faith with the law of Moses, so as to preserve the laws and ordinances of both the old and the new covenants. One of the main issues was the practice of circumcision. They were trying to practice Christianity, yet hold on to the traditions of the Law of Moses. An apt analogy: It was as if members of the church today were trying to harmonize the truths of the restored gospel with the beliefs and practices of the sectarian world. Paul wrote to them: "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8).
8. Paul foresaw that the second coming of the Lord would not occur until a great apostasy had occurred in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." Paul then continues: "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [restrains or hinders the forces of apostasy] will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8.) In other words, Paul says the spirit of iniquity and apostasy (the "mystery of iniquity") is already active, though restrained or hindered for a time-perhaps by the presence of the apostles. Later on, this restraint will be removed-the apostles will be killed-and the evil one will be in power.
9. Paul also warned Timothy: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
10. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (Timothy 3:1-7).
11. "Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us. This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:13-15).
12. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). An analysis of the Greek of this verse indicates that the phrase "having itching ears" modifies "they"-the church members-not teachers. That is, the Christian believers have fickle ears for new teachers that please them.
13. "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:3-4). Paul warns not merely of erroneous teachings, but of scheming leaders. Those "certain men" were not foreordained in the premortal world to lead people from the truth. Rather, during their mortal lives they were ungodly men who had been condemned for false teachings.
14. The apostle Peter prophesied in language so plain that none may fail to comprehend, concerning the heresies that would be preached as doctrine in the period of the apostasy; and he reminds the people that there were false teachers in olden times, even as there would be in times then future: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not" (2 Peter 2:1-3).
15. "For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord's; and the others shall say: I, I am the Lord's; and thus shall every one say that hath built up churches, and not unto the Lord-And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance" (2 Nephi 28:3-4).
16. "Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins. O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches unto yourselves to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? Behold, look ye unto the revelations of God; for behold, the time cometh at that day when all these things must be fulfilled. Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you" (Mormon 8:32-34).
Brother Talmage also chronicled the persecution of early Christians that hastened the great apostasy and described the primitive church as changing internally in several respects. He argued that the simple principles of the gospel were mixed with the pagan philosophical systems of the day such as Oriental or asceticism (i.e., hatred of the body, of sexuality, of the physical world), Gnosticism (belief that salvation came through knowledge), and Greek Christianity (the philosophies of Plato: God does not have a body, man cannot become divine). The rituals were changed and added to in unauthorized ways (simple early Christian rites were replaced by complex pagan-influenced ceremonies). Baptism by immersion was lost. The baptism of infants was introduced. Sacrament or communion was changed. And the church organization was altered (the apostles and prophets, the necessary foundation of the Church of Christ, were martyred, leaving a void that could not be filled by bishops; thus the medieval church showed little similarity to the organization or practices of the New Testament church).
LDS teachings on the early Christian apostasy have received additional support in the twentieth century as some scholars have argued that the primitive church began as a centralized Judaic organization, was faced with the challenge of multiple other philosophies including Greek Christianity and Oriental ascetic Christianity, and Gnostic Christianity, and it became like its enemy in order to compete.
The Church of Christ Established During His Mortal Sojourn
Christ ordained twelve men to the apostleship whose purpose it was to preach the gospel and administer the affairs of his church. He sent them forth to preach. Their message was that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 10:7). We also read of "the seventy" who were instructed in terms almost identical with those of the apostles (Luke 10). Both the apostles and the seventy were given power and authority. The apostles also called seven "honest men" to administer the disciples' common ownership of material things (Acts 6:3).
Peter was given the keys of presidency, and it is clear that he, along with James and John constituted a special subgroup of apostles akin to the First Presidency today. The Lord said to Peter: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). The primacy (authority to preside) of Peter was not held by him exclusively, however. When the Master was to meet with and be "transfigured" in the presence of the ancient prophets, Moses and Elias, he took with him, onto the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James, and John; and in their presence met within the manifest glory of God, Moses, and Elias. The same three-Peter, James, and John-were taken by Christ to be present at the healing of Jairus's daughter: "And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter and James and John, the brother of James" (Mark 5:36). In the darkest hour that fell upon him in Gethsemane, the Christ again took with him these special "three," apart from the other apostles to watch with him while he prayed (Matthew 26:36).
While the Church of Jesus Christ did not reach its full flower until after Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, we know that it was established during his mortal ministry. The Savior alluded to his church while he was yet with his apostles: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew 18:15-18, italics mine). The Savior here refers to his church that contemplates the exercise of the power to judge between brethren offended with each other; to determine wherein the fault lies and to render decision as to what shall be done by the one found in fault, and if he refuse to abide the decision then he is to be cast out of the church-to "become as an heathen man and a publican."
The Church After Christ's Crucifixion and Ascension
After Christ's ascension, the eleven apostles who remained faithful, assisted by a group of disciples, one hundred twenty in all, chose Matthias to fill the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26). It is clear that the apostles viewed their quorum complete with the addition of Matthias. We read of no other apostles subsequently chosen to fill vacancies in the council of twelve. Paul received a special manifestation, in which he heard the voice of the risen Lord declaring "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest" (Acts 9:5), and thereby he became a special witness of the Lord Jesus, and as such was in truth an apostle. We have no definite scriptural record, however, that he was ever made a member of the council of twelve, but he was ordained by the laying on of hands (Acts 13:1-3). Also another apostle appears in the writings of Paul who is "James the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:19). Of him also there is no mention of membership in the council of twelve.
Immediately after the Savior's resurrection, thousands of Jews and later tens of thousands of Gentiles converted to Christianity. The church that the Lord established started strong and thereafter flourished.
From the early chapters of Acts we learn much about the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles had been filled with the Holy Ghost, Peter preached to the assembled Judeans, and about three thousand were baptized (see Acts 2:4; Acts 2:14; Acts 2:41). The success from proselyting Jews was remarkable.
The book of Acts then shifts its focus to the history of Gentile Christians in the area. Cornelius was the most notable of the Gentile converts (see Acts 10), but he was probably not the first. Nicolas of Antioch, one of the seven who was chosen to manage the temporal affairs of Christians in Jerusalem, may have been the first (Acts 6:2-6). In Acts 6:5, Nicolas is called "a proselyte," meaning that he had been a Gentile convert to Judaism before he became a Christian. It was in Antioch, the capital of Syria (there is also an Antioch in Asia Minor), that Gentiles first joined the church in large numbers (Acts 11:20-21).
To better understand the organization of the church we need to understand the duties of New Testament bishops. They were appointed and supervised by apostles then sustained by the vote-the "common consent"-of the whole church. After the apostles had passed away, then "other men of repute" made the nominations and the people sustained them as at first. They presided in a defined area, assisted by such local officers as deacons (see Philippians 1:1). Other officers in the church, mentioned in the New Testament, include high priests (Hebrews 5:1-5), elders (Acts 14:23; Acts 15:6; 1 Peter 5:1), evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). The duty of the bishop was to care for the church as a shepherd did his flock. Paul probably meant bishops when he referred to "pastors" (Ephesians 4:11). The "Pastoral Epistles," Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, name the qualities to look for in bishops. A bishop must be respected by both Christians and non-Christians, a successful family man with good judgment in social situations, a leader of absolute integrity and personal self-control, and one happily involved with people who also reads and has the capacity to teach (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9). It would seem that when a bishop was not available, the elder or presbyter presided over a specific congregation.
Paul and Barnabas preached at Antioch for a year (see Acts 11:26). Proselyting success among Antioch's Gentiles led in part to the Jerusalem conference, which was called to discuss whether Gentile converts needed to live the law of Moses, particularly the rite of circumcision. Peter figured prominently in the decision that Gentiles could become members without having to obey the law of circumcision.
Paul's missionary journeyings are well documented. After Antioch, Peter spent some time in Rome. John worked out of Ephesus during the last half of the first century, following Paul's death.
We know relatively little about the Christian community at Rome. We can safely say that the church would not have been firmly established there until after AD 54 when Jews, who had been banned from the capital by an imperial edict in AD 49, were allowed to return. For the next ten years, the church grew in size and importance until Nero took grim notice of it in AD 64. The first New Testament mention of the church in Rome occurs in Paul's epistle to the Romans, written about AD 58 or 59. By that time, there was a substantial group of Christians in the city. We can infer from the way Paul arranges his greetings that at least five separate congregations or branches met in the homes of various members of the church (see Romans 16:3-5; Romans 16:10-11; Romans 16:14-15). Since no Christian meetinghouses were built until long after the first century, it would have been natural for branches to meet in private homes for worship. We realize from Paul's letter that the branch of the church in Rome was made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
After Paul's letter to the Romans, the sources fall silent about the Christians in Rome until about AD 96, when Clement wrote to the church at Corinth. In the letter, called 1 Clement, he hints that the Roman members had gone through sporadic persecutions in recent years but that they had increased in numbers and devotion (1 Clement 1).
The Documentation of the Great Apostasy
For documentation of the events surrounding the great apostasy, we look to the "patristic" writings-the writings of the early Christian fathers. One group among these writers are the so-called "Apostolic Fathers." These are Christian leaders and authors writing soon after the apostles. They were not apostles, but were known to have had personal relations with some of the apostles. Thus, their writings are considered to contain echoes of genuine apostolic teachings. They wrote at the end of the first century and in the beginning of the second century AD, and all were bishops in the church. The list of authors included under this title has varied. Chief in importance are the three first-century Bishops:
1. Clement, Bishop of Rome. He is considered by the Catholics to be the "third successor of Peter in the Papacy" (behind Peter, Linus, and Cletus). According to the historian Irenaeus, Clement "had seen the blessed Apostles [Peter and Paul] and had been conversant with them." His writings date ca. AD 97.
2. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch was, according to the historian Eusebius, "the second successor of Peter in the See [bishopric] of Antioch," and during his life in that center of Christian activity may have met with others of the apostles. An accepted tradition, substantiated by the similarity of Ignatius's thought with the ideas of the writings of John the Revelator, suggests that he was a disciple of John. His writings date from AD 110 to 117.
3. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was according to the historian Irenaeus "instructed by Apostles"and had been a disciple of John whose contemporary he was for nearly twenty years. His writings are dated AD 110-120.
Besides these, whose rank as Apostolic Fathers in the strictest sense is undisputed, there are two first-century writers whose place with them is generally conceded:
4. Author of the Didache (written in Egypt or Syria around AD 80-100). This is a manuscript of uncertain authorship discovered in 1883. This manuscript is sometimes called "The Writings of the Apostles." The author asserts that his teachings are of the apostles, and the content of the writings gives credence to that claim.
5. Barnabas, the companion of Paul and the probable author of the "Epistle of Barnabas," dated AD 96-98 and written in Alexandria.
Others who are sometimes included among the Apostolic Fathers include:
6. The Shepherd of Hermas, a Bishop of Rome who is believed to be the one referred to by Paul (Romans 16:14). He wrote about AD 150.
7. Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, was the author of the writings of which we now have only meager fragments, the "Expositions of the Discourses of the Lord," written about AD 150. He may have been a disciple of John according to the historian Irenaeus.
The writings of these Apostolic Fathers are available and are most informative. There are common threads that run through their writings. They all express the same pessimism about the church that marks the close of the New Testament. They battle problems that threaten the church, but they do not voice confidence that it will survive. Most of the Apostolic Fathers were martyred, and they went to their deaths willingly preferring a death in Christ to the apostasy that was inevitable.
Other Christian fathers or writers followed the Apostolic Fathers. These are referred to as the early Christian Apologists or the Ante-Nicean Fathers. The best known of these include:
1. Justin Martyr (died ca. AD 165)
2. Irenaeus (AD 130 200), Bishop of Lyons
4. Clement of Alexandria (AD 160-215)
5. Origen (AD 185-251)
6. Eusebius. Born AD 260, probably in Caesarea. Known as the "father of church history." He distinguished himself as a scholar while young. He was imprisoned for his religious views in AD 309 and again in 311. In AD 314 he became Bishop of Caesarea. He was a thorough and accurate writer who produced no fewer than forty-six works. He died in AD 339 or 340, two or three years after the death of the Emperor Constantine, whom he admired greatly and whom he had baptized. One of his major endeavors was the ten-volume Ecclesiastical History, probably written just prior to AD 326, in which he records the events in the church from the death of the apostles to the "triumph" of Constantine.
Other historians which will be cited in this article include:
1. Dr. J. L. von Mosheim, chancellor of the University of Gottingen. He was a German writer noted for his contributions to church history. He is the author of an exhaustive six-volume work on Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, dated 1755.
2. Reverend Joseph Milner wrote The History of the Church of Christ (4 volumes, revised and somewhat extended by the Reverend Isaac Milner, D.D., F.R.S.) It is recognized that Joseph Milner wrote his great work to counteract the influence of Mosheim's Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, which Milner, with other, considered too frank in its statements of the perversions and abuses of the Christian religion. Thus, Milner's History should really be regarded, no so much as a history of the church, as a history of piety.
Significant Causative Factors in the Great Apostasy
Persecution of the saints. It is difficult to assess precisely what role persecution played in the destruction of the church. We know that to some extent, persecution only serves to test, consolidate, and strengthen the faith of those being persecuted. Certainly there were some Christians who turned against the church when they were threatened with death, and they returned to their former allegiances, whether Judaistic or pagan. Such instances of apostasy from the church may be regarded as individual desertions and are of comparatively little importance in their effects upon the church as a whole.
Apostasy from the church is insignificant as compared with the apostasy of the church. As the church slipped irrevocably into apostasy as a body, the record of martyrs also tells us that many others remained firm in their testimonies of the resurrected Lord. One proverb declares that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
Persecutions of the church came largely from Judaism and paganism. The Jews were bitter in their opposition to Christianity, which they regarded as a rival religion to their own. Moreover, they recognized the fact that if Christianity ever came to be generally accepted as the truth, their nation would stand convicted of having put to death the Messiah.
Opposition to the church from the Jews was predicted by Jesus during his mortal ministry (see Mark 13:9; John 15:18-20; 16:2-3). In the early stages of their ministries, several of the apostles were imprisoned (Acts 5:18), and the Jewish leaders sought to take their lives (Acts 5:33). Stephen, a faithful disciple of Christ, was stoned to death because of his testimony (Acts 6:8-15; Acts 7:54-60). James, the brother of John and the son of Zebedee, was executed by the sword in AD 44 by order of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2), and Peter was saved from a similar fate only by a miraculous intervention-he was delivered out of prison by an angel and escaped from Jerusalem (Acts 12:3-10). James, the "brother of the Lord," was slain in AD 62. That Peter would eventually be numbered with the martyrs was made known by the resurrected Lord (John 21:18-19). Paul compared the apostles to a parade of men "appointed to death," a spectacle in the world's theater on their way to execution (1 Corinthians 4:9), and that persecution was their heritage (1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 6:4-5). Not only did the Jews wage relentless persecution against the saints, but they sought also to stir up opposition on the part of the Romans. To accomplish this end they charged that the Christians were plotting treason against the Roman government.
In the latter half of the first century, the scene of Judaistic persecution of the church shifted from Jerusalem to the outlying provinces. The cause of this was the general exodus of Christians from the city whose destruction had been decreed. The Lord's predictions as to the fate of Jerusalem and his warnings to the people (Luke 21:5-9; Luke 21:20-24) were generally heeded. Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, book 3, chapter 5) wrote that the body of the church had moved from Jerusalem into the provinces beyond the Jordan, and thus largely escaped the calamities of the Jews who remained. These calamities culminated when Rome sacked and leveled Jerusalem in AD 70.
Jewish opponents of Paul hounded his footsteps during much of his ministry (see Acts 14:19; Acts 17:13; 2 Corinthians 11:24-26). Paul also suffered at the hands of Gentiles (see Acts 16:19-23; 2 Corinthians 11:26).
The first serious governmental persecution of the Christians occurred in Rome in AD 64 during the reign of the emperor Nero. Though attacks on the Christians were limited to that city, its effects were felt throughout the entire church. The outbreak of torture and murder under Nero stemmed from a fire that broke out in some shops in the southern part of the city. The fire burned out of control for six days and seven nights, sweeping generally northward. It then broke out afresh on the estate of Tigellinus, Nero's close friend. Because of this suspicious new fire and because Nero was reportedly delighted over the conflagration, Tacitus and Suetonius, two later Roman historians, accused Nero of starting the fire so that he could rebuild the crowded city according to a grander, more organized scheme. Nero himself placed the blame for the fire on the city's Christians, a hated and misunderstood sect whom many considered to be apostate Jews.
Nero inflicted the most exquisite tortures on the early Christians. They died in torment, embittered by insults and derision. Some were nailed on crosses; others sewn up in the skins of wild beasts and exposed to the fury of dogs; others smeared over with combustible materials and burned as torches to illuminate the darkness of the night. (Tacitus Annals, Oxford translation, Harper's Classical Library, book 15, chapter 44.)
Tacitus condemned Nero for this injustice. He, along with the Christian writer Clement of Rome, described what they had learned of the Christians' horrible suffering. Clement, writing some thirty years after Nero's death, attributed the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in AD 67 to Nero's persecution (1 Clement 5-6). Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified. Apparently Peter's wife was put to death shortly before her husband. In a most poignant passage, Eusebius quotes Clement: "We are told that when blessed Peter saw his wife led away to death he was glad that her call had come and that she was returning home, and spoke to her in the most encouraging and comforting tones, addressing her by name: 'My dear, remember the Lord.' Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their consummate feeling towards their dearest."
The second officially appointed persecution under Rome began in AD 81 or 82 in the reign of Domitian. Both Christians and Jews came under his displeasure because they refused to reverence the statues he had erected as objects of adoration. Also the emperor was persuaded that he was in danger of losing his throne, in view of a reported prediction that from the family to which Jesus belonged there would arise one who would weaken if not overthrow the power of Rome. With this as his ostensible excuse, this wicked ruler waged terrible destruction on an innocent people. Happily, the persecution thus started was of but few years duration. It is believed that while the edict of Domitian was in force the apostle John suffered banishment to the isle of Patmos.
The third persecution of the Christian church took place in the reign of Trajan, who occupied the imperial throne from AD 98 to 117. He was and is regarded as one of the best of the Roman emperors, yet he sanctioned violent persecution of the Christians owing to their "inflexible obstinacy" in refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods. If the Christians would not renounce their faith, they were put to death by order of the emperor Trajan. John outlived the other apostles but was not seen after the "times of the Roman emperor Trajan."
It is said that, in all, there were ten major periods of persecution of the Christians at the hand of Rome. The first three have been mentioned above, and we will make no attempt to describe all ten. A few more will be mentioned for historical interest, though it is clear that by the time of the fourth, by Marcus Aurelius, the state of apostasy of the Church of Jesus Christ was complete. The Christian church was quite different than the church over which the apostles had ministered.
Marcus Aurelius reigned from AD 161 to 180. He was noted as one who sought the greatest good of his people, yet under his government the Christians suffered added cruelties. Among those who met the martyr's fate at that time were Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and Justin Martyr, known in history as "the philosopher." The persecutions of Christians under the pagan emperors sprung from political rather than religious motives. While the Roman rulers were usually very tolerant, allowing all forms of worship among their subjects, still they required that men of every faith should at least recognize the Roman gods, and burn incense before their statues. This, the Christians refused to do. It was believed by the Romans that this angered their gods and placed them in danger of divine retribution.
Later persecutions occurred under Severus (AD 193-211), Maximim (AD 235-238), Decius Trajan (AD 249-251), and others.
Diocletian reigned from AD 284 to 305. At first he was tolerant of Christian beliefs and practices. Indeed, it is of record that his wife and daughter were Christians, though "in some sense, secretly." Later, however, he turned against the church and undertook to bring about a total suppression of the Christian religion. To this end he ordered a general destruction of Christian books, and decreed the penalty of death against all who kept such works in their possession. This was the last of the great persecutions brought by pagan Rome against Christianity.
Diocletian sought at first to destroy the "Christian superstition" by overcoming the constancy of the leaders; but, meeting with more resistance than he anticipated, he at last issued an edict, directing the magistrates to compel all Christians, irrespective of age, sex, or official position, to offer sacrifice to the gods; and he ordered that they employ tortures to compel that compliance. The magistrates yielded strict obedience to the edict of the emperor, and the Christian church was reduced to the last extremity (Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, book 2, century 4, part 1, chapter 1, 209). The scenes of suffering from tortures and bloodshed throughout the empire defy description. "Thousands, men and women and children," says Eusebius, speaking of those who suffered in Egypt, "despising the present life for the sake of our Savior's doctrine, submitted to death in various shapes. Some, after being tortured with scrappings and the rack, and the most dreadful scourgings, and other innumerable agonies which one might shudder to hear, were finally committed to the flames: and some plunged and drowned in the sea; others voluntarily offering their own heads to their executioners, others dying in the midst of their torments, some wasted away by famine, and others again fixed to the cross. Some, indeed, were executed as malefactors usually were; others, more cruelly, were nailed [to the crosses] with head downward, and kept alive until they were destroyed by starving on the cross itself" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, book 8, chapter 8). Such descriptions of cruelty and suffering could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Streams of Christian blood flowed in every province of the empire, excepting in Gaul where Constantine governed.
So general and effective was the Diocletian persecution, and so destructive its effect, that at its cessation the Christian church was thought to be forever extinct. One monument raised to the emperor's zeal honors him "for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ; for having extended the worship of the gods."
The fact that Rome was the principle pagan aggressor against the church is a bit surprising in view of Rome's general tolerance toward her subservient peoples. It is probable that intolerant zeal on the part of the Christians themselves had much to do with their unpopularity among heathen nations. The Christians dared to ridicule the absurdities of the pagan superstition, and they were aggressive in trying to gain proselytes to the truth.
During the periods of persecutions, the responses of the Christians varied from apostasy and turning back to former religious allegiances to a frenzied clamoring for martyrdom. This latter response likely had its origins in the practice of martyr worship that crept into the church. Those who returned to their practices of paganism often went immediately to sacrifice to the heathen gods to prove themselves heathens. Some, under the pressure of persecution, were allowed, by some provincial governors to purchase certificates or "libels" as these documents were called, which attested that the holders of these documents had complied with the laws and sacrificed to the Roman deities. By producing these false declarations, the timid Christians were enabled to purchase immunity from persecution and, at the same time, maintain a semblance of standing in the church. Much dissension arose, however as to whether those who had thus shown their weakness could ever be received again into communion with the church.
The death of the apostles. Persecutions without ceasing hounded the saints from the very beginning. There is no question that the early persecutions were directed most particularly against the leaders of the church. Persecutions of and eventual martyrdom of the early church's leaders was certainly the mechanism by which persecution had its major destructive effect on the church itself.
As has been described above, it is an accepted historical fact that all of the apostles were killed, except John the Revelator. The loss of the Lord's apostles fatally severed the line of authority, leaving the church bereft and alone without authority and divine direction.
What we find at the end of the first century is a church full of dissensions. All the apostles were gone, save John, and no one could appeal to the voice of God that comes through his appointed servants. In fact Eusebius, writing in the fourth century, knew of "only one person by the mid-second century who possessed the gift of prophecy"-a man named Quadratus (Ecclesiastical History, 3.37.1).
It is apparent that there was no apostolic succession. The church was left bereft of central leadership-thus without means to oversee and preserve the doctrine. Without presiding authority, each bishop became independent.
In the patristic writings we learn that as soon as the apostles were killed, "the deceit of false teachers" moved into the vacuum with a counterfeit message. It is clear that in the apostasy there is much of deliberate striving by some to lead others to the truth. It seems to be a characteristic of the "natural man" for certain members of the church to exalt themselves, to step into the limelight and gather their own group of followers: "Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Nephi of old may have labeled it something else ("priestcraft"), but he outlined the same basic ingredient of apostasy-that of pride: "He [the Lord] commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion" (2 Nephi 26:29).
It is notable that apostasy often comes from within the covenant community. John the Beloved wrote: "They [the anti-Christs] went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:19). The apostle Peter had written: "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 1:21 through 2 Peter 2:1-2).
Eusebius cites the testimony of an earlier writer named Hegesippus who lived during the days of the apostles:
The same author [Hegesippus], relating the events of the times, also says, that the Church continued until then as a pure and uncorrupt virgin; whilst if there were any at all that attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combinations of impious error arose by the fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth. Such is the statement of Hegesippus (Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 32.)
The historian Mosheim addressed the same subject: "Not long after the Savior's ascension, various histories of his life and doctrines, full of impositions and fables, were composed by persons of no bad intentions, perhaps, but who were superstitious, simple, and piously fraudulent; and afterwards various other spurious writings were palmed upon the world, falsely inscribed with the names of the holy apostles" (Mosheim's Institutes, volume 1 book 1, century 1, part 2, chapter 2.)
Did Peter become the first bishop of Rome and pass on his apostolic authority? The Roman Catholic scholars claim that the bishops at Rome were empowered to exercise superior jurisdiction. It is claimed, by the Roman church, that Peter became the first bishop of Rome and later transmitted and bestowed upon one Linus his own primacy, which carried with it the universal jurisdiction over the church, the ordination conferring divine authority, and the apostleship-the mission Peter had received from the Christ. They contend that after himself, Peter made Linus supreme head of the church in all the world; with whom, and his successors ever afterwards, all must be in union in order to be in the fold of Christ.
Irenaeus wrote that "the blessed apostles [Peter and Paul] upon founding and erecting the church [at Rome], committed the office of administering the church on Linus." There is no evidence that Peter was ever the bishop of Rome and no evidence that Peter and Paul conferred upon Linus any apostolic powers, much less the primacy and mission of Peter. In the writings of the earliest bishops of Rome there is no intimation that their writings in any way bound the other Christian communities. Bishops Clement (bishop of Rome) and Ignatius (bishop of Antioch) did express concern and give advice by letter to other churches, but there is never any assertion of the primacy of one bishopric over another. It is also unthinkable that Peter became bishop of Rome for another reason. Becoming a bishop of Rome would mean that he would have become a local officer in the church. The office of apostle "implies a world commission," while the office of bishop is a local calling over a restricted district. Is it logical that Peter would have been called from a universal apostleship to become bishop of a city? This would be derogatory to the great and high commission that Peter, with the other apostles, had received from the Master.
Consider also for a moment the following historical dates: It is claimed that Peter suffered martyrdom at Rome in 67 AD. Linus is said to have succeeded him the same year. Cletus succeeded Linus 78 AD and Clement became bishop of Rome in AD 90. Consider also John, the apostle "whom Jesus loved," and who evidently participated in such primacy as Peter may have held, as implied by his association in the special ways and privileges with Peter and James, during the lifetime of the Lord. Though we know that he became a translated being, John is said in Christian history to have died at Ephesus in AD 96-six years after the appointment of the last of these several alleged bishops of Rome. So that he lived, according to Catholic history, twenty-nine years after the martyrdom of Peter, and six years after the alleged appointment of Clement. Where does John stand in the church of God during all that time according to the Roman Catholic theory? Is it really plausible that he was under the jurisdiction, and in subordination to Bishops Linus, Cletus, and Clement of Rome? The Catholic theory is clearly a situation that never obtained.
We know that the apostle John was receiving revelation for the church on the Isle of Patmos when he wrote the book of Revelation (AD 90) and even subsequently when he wrote his gospel and his letters. In the early chapters of the book of Revelation, John provides inspired counsel to the seven churches of Asia through their presiding officers, in some cases, doubtless, their bishops; who were reproved, instructed and encouraged. This counsel did not come through Linus, or Cletus, or Clement, but through the apostle, John, as should have been the case.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Linus ordained his successor; or that Clement ordained his successor, and so on down the line. The departing bishops of Rome have not ordained those who succeeded them. And so there has been no unbroken transmission of the primacy and other special powers of Peter that have come down the line of the bishops of Rome.
It is interesting to note that in the list of popes taken from the Vatican's official yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, we read the following: "That Peter was in Rome is not now much disputed; it is, however, anachronistic to refer to him as 'Bishop' of Rome." In the same publication, the following comments are found on the first few "Bishops of Rome." Linus (AD 67-76): "Probably an historical person, but still not technically a bishop." Cletus (AD 76-88): "His name indicates that he was a Greek, possibly a slave." Clement (AD 88-97): "A leading Christian spokesman in Rome, but still not a bishop." In commenting on the tenth "pope," Pius I, the Annuario Pontificio reads, "The first leader of the Roman church reasonably identifiable as a bishop."
Without the benefit of continual revelation from God to his appointed apostles and prophets (Amos 3:7), the children of men struggled to interpret and administer a correct theology. As a result, many doctrines and practices entered into the church that were not in concert with the gospel of Jesus Christ as he established it. Simple principles of the gospel were mixed with pagan philosophical movements of the day. Thus, the church of medieval times, which resulted from these changes in doctrines and ordinances, became less and less like the church that Jesus Christ established during his earthly ministry.
With the loss of the apostles, the spiritual gifts of the gospel were lost to the church. By spiritual gifts, we mean those gifts enumerated in the New Testament such as healing the sick, casting out devils, the working of miracles, prophesying, discerning of spirits, diverse kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues, "the spirit dividing to every man severally as he will" (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). While it is usually asserted that these spiritual gifts were lost generally by the close of the second century, it seems clear that they disappeared by the end of the apostolic age. "With the close of the New Testament records," says Dr. Phillip Smith, "and the death of the last surviving apostle, the history of the church passes from its sacred to its purely human phase. The miraculous gifts which attested the divine mission of the apostles ceased; not indeed by any formal record of their withdrawal, but by the clear evidence that they were possessed no longer" (Students' Ecclesiastical History, Smith, volume 1, 62).
Preconceived religious and other biases among the early saints. One historian commented on the schisms and dissensions by which the church was rent in the latter part of the first century-the period immediately following that of the apostolic ministry:
It will easily be imagined that unity and peace could not reign long in the church, since it was composed of Jews and Gentiles, who regarded each other with the bitterest aversion. Besides, as the converts to Christianity could not extirpate radically the prejudices which had been formed in their minds by education, and confirmed by time, they brought with them into the bosom of the church more or less of the errors of their former religions. Thus the seeds of discord and controversy were easily sown, and could not fail to spring up soon into animosities and dissensions, which accordingly broke out and divided the church (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, Century 1, Part 2, chapter 3:11).
The historian Mosheim wrote of controversies which resulted from the religious biases which some new members of the church were unable to rid themselves of in those early days:
The first of these controversies, which was set on foot in the church of Antioch, regarded the necessity of observing the law of Moses [including the necessity of circumcision] (Acts 15) . . . The most weighty and important of all these controversies was that which certain Jewish doctors raised at Rome, and in other Christian churches concerning the means of justification and acceptance with God, and the method of salvation pointed out in the word of God. The apostles, wherever they exercised their ministry, had constantly declared all hopes of acceptance and salvation . . . [to be] . . . founded on Jesus the Redeemer, and his all-sufficient merits; while the Jewish doctors maintained the works of the law to be the true efficient cause of the soul's eternal salvation and felicity. This latter sentiment not only led to many other errors extremely prejudicial to Christianity, but was also injurious to the glory of the divine Savior. (Ecclesiastical History, Century 1, Part 2, 11:12).
The sequence of apostate ideas. Brother Hugh Nibley has provided insight into the sequence in which apostate doctrines crept into the church:
Once the apostles were gone and the doctrine came under the control of the doctors and philosophers and schools, the first casualty was literalism. While the earliest Christian fathers were very literal in their interpretations, later on the literal sense became repugnant for every principle of faith and reason. The idea became fashionable that one must never take anything literally in the Bible. The doctors and philosophers deemed themselves secure and invulnerable behind the ample veil of allegory. Allegory has the luxury of different meanings. You can say a thing one way and mean another. Some classic examples from the scriptures include instances where they speak of God coming and going. It can't possibly really mean that. God cannot move. Also that God has eyes. It doesn't really mean that he has eyes; it just means there's an awareness there. When it says we are in his image, they would say that is allegorical. The very first of the fathers that started this were Origen and Irenaeus. Their favorite term was the "visible image of the invisible God." He is in the image of man, but he is invisible. Of course, an image is something that you can see. But an invisible image is what God is, they claimed. It is like saying soundless music or odorless perfume. In is a contradiction of terms to say an invisible image. Behind the veil of allegory is where they have lived ever since. Joseph Smith came along and gave us a very different story. He says he really saw the angel and gives us a clinical account, how he looked, where he stood, etc. There were times when those Christians who stuck to the idea of literalism were referred to as old-fashioned liberalizers.
Actually no doctrine is offensive if you don't take it literally. There is nothing offensive about "Thou shalt not commit adultery" if you don't take it literally.
Next, the philosophers came to regard anything physical as loathsome and evil. Perhaps they had a legitimate reason for this idea in that day because of the way everyone was acting. It was a period of moral decline. They took it for granted that if people had bodies, they would misbehave and do anything that felt good. The idea thus crept in that anything material was absolutely defiling. So, God could not have a body and he could not have created a physical world. This concept added to importance of not interpreting anything literally. If anything is described in the Bible as being physical, then, of course, it must simply be allegory. Thus they laughed at the anthropomorphisms in Christian doctrine. Also, the idea of a physical resurrection became repugnant. Lactantius wrote, "Whoever desires the highest good, let his desire to live without a body, for matter is evil." St. Hilary claimed that a physical resurrection is only for the wicked, and they deserve it.
Eusebius combined the concept of the repulsiveness of literalism with the wickedness of the physical and claimed that God never did literally take upon himself flesh, and hence he did not really die. He applauded the nobility and good taste of the Greeks and Romans, the pagans, for interpreting their own deities allegorically. "We Christians should take a lesson from them and interpret our gods the way they do." He also maintained that it was the simple, old-fashioned Christians who believed in the old literalism. "We are much too intellectual form them; we leave that all behind. We don't need that anymore." Also St. Augustine went all the way, "Christ is with us if we believe. His dwelling in you is more real than if he were outside you before your eyes."
Jerome acknowledged that that we must be resurrected physically because the scripture says we will. So you will rise up with your body, but as soon as it is completely incorporated and put together, it will start to melt and dissolve and presently go away so you won't be bothered with it anymore. He says, "All things will be without bodies for they will have no need of them, and all matter will return to the nihilum [the nothing] from which it was once made. All matter came out of nothing originally, and with the resurrection will all be restored, and then it will return to nothing." Many of the early Christian fathers discouraged any type of pilgrimage to the holy shrines, as they smacked of desiring a contact with the physical (Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price, a FARMS publication, lectures one and two).
Apostate philosophies crept into the Church from without. It would seem that the relative independence of the separate churches and the lack of immediate and continuous contact with the apostles, the presiding officers of the church, were factors in allowing apostate ideas to take root and then flourish among the saints even while the apostles still lived.
The perversion of true theology which developed within the church was traceable to the introduction of both Judaistic and pagan fallacies.
We read of the sorcerer Simon, who professed belief and entered the church by baptism, but who was so devoid of the true spirit of the gospel that he sought to purchase by money the authority and power of the priesthood. This man, though rebuked by Peter, and apparently penitent, continued to make trouble for the church by inculcating heresies and winning disciples within the fold. His followers were distinguished as a sect or cult down to the fourth century; and, writing at that time, Eusebius says of them: "These, after the manner of their founder, insinuating themselves into the church, like a pestilential and leprous disease, infected those with the greatest corruption, into whom they were able to infuse their secret, irremediable, and destructive poison" (Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, chapter 1). This Simon, known in history as Simon Magus, is referred to by early Christian writers as the founder of heresy, owing to his persistent attempts to combine Christianity with Gnosticism (see the discussion of Gnosticism below). It is with reference to his proposition to purchase spiritual authority that all monetary traffic in spiritual offices has come to be known as simony.
In the book of Revelation, John reproved some of the churches of his day for doctrines taught within them by false prophets. There was the doctrine of Balaam and the associated doctrines of the Nicolaitans (see Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:14). These doctrines were associated with a woman whom John branded as Jezebel, who led some into "the depths of Satan" (2:24). The exact nature of these doctrines is unknown, but we can make some general observations. For instance, we know something of Balaam. This Old Testament prophet-turned-apostate introduced into Israel the worship of Baal with its orgiastic perversions (see Numbers 22:1-25:9; 31:16). The use of his name suggests that false prophecy was also an issue. It would appear that the Nicolaitans were spiritual libertines working within the church in Asia Minor. They set up a prophetic tradition standing opposite that of John and those associated with him. They refused to recognize his authority, or that of authorized representatives of the Lord. They introduced a malignant growth into the true church. Many of the saints were persuaded by the new seduction, not only leaving the truth, but also fostering the evil. Based on Numbers 25:1-2 and 31:16, where the doctrine that Balaam preached is theologically defined, apparently the Nicolaitans and the self-styled prophetess were preaching a form of idolatry that included spiritual fornication. The phrase "to eat meat offered to idols" (verse 20), associated with both the Nicolaitans and Jezebel, referred not only to food consecrated to an idol, but also to participation in pagan feasts with its rites. Therefore, it would seem that Jezebel and the Nicolaitans were part of the same heretical group working within the cloisters of the church to pull people to their salacious ways. Their doctrine probably appealed to spiritual prostitution rather than physical, but the imagery depicting extreme sensuality gives an accurate feel for their allure. Doctrine and Covenants 117:11 warns Newell K. Whitney to "be ashamed of the Nicolaitane band and of all their secret abominations." The language is strong, suggesting that whatever the heresy was, the Lord considered it abhorrent.
Judaistic converts to Christianity sought to modify and adapt the tenets of the new faith so as to harmonize them with their inherited love of Judaism, and the result was destructive to both. Our Lord had indicated the futility of any such attempt to combine new principles with old systems, or to patch up the prejudices of the past with fragments of new doctrine. "No man," said he, "putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles; else the bottles break and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved" (Matthew 9:16-17). The gospel came as a new revelation, marking the fulfilment of the law. It was no mere addendum, nor was it a simple re-enactment of past requirements; it embodied a new and an everlasting covenant. Attempts to patch the Judaistic robe with the new fabric of the gospel could result in nothing more favorable than a hideous rent. Judaism was belittled and Christianity perverted by the incongruous association.
Paul is perhaps the best witness of the eroding forces washing away the foundation of the church. One impression that his letters give is that he and his companions spent considerable energy trying to smother the flames of apostasy. Struggles over points of doctrine and policy continually persisted and festered (Galatians 1:6-12; Galatians 3:1-5; Hebrews 2, 4; 2 Timothy 1:15).
Revelation 2 and 3, written about AD 90, consisted of letters to specific congregations in cities near the west coast of Asia Minor. Of the seven that John addressed, five had serious problems with dissension and apostasy.
Major doctrinal disputes in the church often centered on the very foundational doctrines of Christ's ministry, his atonement, and resurrection. These, of course, were the very points on which the apostles were charged to testify (Acts 1:8; Acts 1:21-22). We thus see how serious were the effects of the inaccessibility of the apostles. One misunderstanding of the resurrection occurred early on, in Ephesus. Paul wrote to Timothy concerning two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus, "who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some" (2 Timothy 2:17-18). Rather than denying the physical resurrection, as did later Corinthians, these two men taught that Christians had already experienced the renewal of life, presumably through baptism, and need not look forward to the resurrection.
The Corinthians seemed to have had long-term problems with accepting the resurrection. Paul's first letter to members in Corinth centers on the reality of a physical resurrection, and his second letter bears fervent testimony of that doctrine (2 Corinthians 4:11-14; see also 1 Clement 24-27).
Significant alteration of the doctrines of the church occurred because of the corrupting of the simple principles of the gospel by the admixture of the so-called philosophic systems of the times.
Much of the misunderstanding about the resurrection may be attributed to the apostate philosophy of Docetism and the related philosophy of Gnosticsm which came to be more and more influential during the second century. The term docetism derives from the Greek verb dokeo, which means "to seem" Docetism maintained that Jesus had only seemed to live among men, to suffer, and to die. In reality, they said, the heavenly Christ did not come into contact with the world of matter, for that would have defiled his divine nature. This view denies that salvation comes as a result of Jesus's suffering, death, and resurrection.
The Gnostics subverted the doctrine of salvation into the idea that Christ was merely a special messenger who brought to earth secret knowledge that would allow the elect to escape this corrupt world and to make their way back to the presence of the Father. This special knowledge was called gnosis, and those who held such a view of the Messiah were knows as Gnostics.
The Gnostics put forth the boastful claim that they were able to teach a full comprehension of the Supreme Being, and a knowledge of the true relationship between Deity and mortals. They had the conviction that a direct, personal, and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings, and, moreover, that the attainment of such knowledge constituted the supreme achievement of human life; that knowledge being the key to salvation. A prime characteristic of the Gnostics was their propensity for claiming to be keepers of secret teachings, gospels, traditions, rituals, and successions within the church-sacred matters for which many Christians were (in Gnostic opinion) simply either not prepared or not properly inclined.
The Gnostics held that a certain being had existed from all eternity. This was the "unknown god," manifested as a radiant light diffused throughout space which they called the Pleroma. "The eternal nature, infinitely perfect and infinitely happy, having dwelt from everlasting in a profound solitude, and in a blessed tranquility." This was not a personal being or god. They further believed that this divine being was somehow a duality, a union of two disparate natures, that is, a combination of two beings-"two minds of a different sex, which resembled their supreme parent in the most perfect manner. From the prolific union of these two beings, others arose, which were also followed by succeeding generations; so that in process of time a celestial family was formed in the Pleroma. This divine progeny, immutable in its nature, and above the power of mortality, was called, by the philosophers, Aeon-a term which signifies, in the Greek language, an eternal nature. How many in number these Aeons were was a point much discussed among the oriental sages" (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, Century 1, part 2, 1:7.) The Gnostics apparently prayed to both a divine father and mother.
Then one of the Aeons created this world, and arrogantly asserted dominion over the same, denying absolutely the authority of the supreme parent. This creator god claimed to have made man's mortal body out of nothing-ex nihilo-and claimed also to own man. He was considered to be a lying demon and not god at all. Gnostics called him by many names-all of them derogatory-names like "Saklas." the blind one; "Samael," god of the blind; or "the Demiurge," the lesser power.
The Gnostic doctrine declares man to be a union of a body, which, being the creation of the Demiurge, is essentially evil, and a spirit, which, being derived from Deity, is essentially divine. The spirits thus imprisoned in evil bodies will be finally liberated, and then the power of the creator god will cease, and the earth will be dissolved into nothingness.
Early efforts were made to accommodate the tenets of this system to the demands of Christianity. Christ and the Holy Ghost were declared to belong to the family of Aeons provided for in this scheme. This led to the extravagant absurdity of denying that Jesus had a body even while he lived as a man; and that his appearance as a corporeal being was a deception of the senses wrought by his supernatural power. Christ, they believed, did not save; they did not believe in the atonement. Rather, Christ was simply a messenger, a teacher, who brought into the world those truths, that knowledge, which alone can save.
That the doctrines of the Gnostics were unsatisfying even to those who professed to believe therein is evident from the many cults and parties that came into existence as subdivisions of the main sect; and it is interesting to note that in modern times certain free-thinkers have prided themselves in assuming a title expressing the full antithesis of the name Gnostics, i.e. Agnostics. Agnostics profess the belief that the essential facts about God and the universe are unknown and unknowable.
The practical manifestations of the principles of Gnosticism in the lives of its adherents were strangely diverse. One division of the sect followed a life of austerity, embracing rigorous self-denial, and bodily torture, in the vain belief that the malignant body could thus be subdued, while the spirit would be given added power and increased freedom. Another cult sought to deny and demonstrate the unimportance of the element of morality in human life. These abandoned themselves to the impulses of the passions and the frailties of the bodily nature without restraint, on the assumption that there was no such relation between body and spirit that would cause injury to the spirit through bodily indulgences and excesses.
Another sect or school of thought whose doctrines were amalgamated with those of Christianity was that of the New Platonics. The ancient sects of Platonists or Platonics, the followers of the Greek philosopher Plato, held that unorganized matter has existed from all eternity, and that its organizer, God, is similarly eternal. As God is eternal, so also his will or intelligence is without beginning, and this eternal intelligence existing as the will or intent of Deity, was called the Logos.
As the principles of Christianity became generally known, certain leaders in the sect of Platonics found in the new doctrine much to study and admire. By this time, however, Platonism itself had undergone much change, and the more liberal adherents had formed a new organization and distinguished themselves by the appellation New Platonics. These professed to find in Jesus Christ the incarnation of the Logos, and accepted with enthusiasm the declaration of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:1; John 1:14). According to the New Platonic philosophy, the "Word" referred to by John was the "Logos" described by Plato.
The Platonic conception of the Godhead consisted of the Deity (the Father) and the Logos (the Son). It was enlarged in accordance with Christian tenets to embrace three members, the Holy Ghost being the third. There arose bitter and lasting dissension as to the relative powers of each member of the Trinity, particularly the position and authority of the Logos or Son. The many disputes incident to the admixture of Platonic theory with Christian doctrine continued through the centuries, and in a sense may be said to trouble the minds of men even in this modern age.
There are several instances in the New Testament where the apostles were already trying to combat the false conceptions of the Savior which had its roots in Gnosticism. Both 1 and 2 John were written to warn of and correct such ideas (see 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7). Paul's first letter to Timothy contains an explicit attack on Gnosticism: "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge [gnosis], for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith" (1 Timothy 6:20-21, Revised Standard version).
So how have these non-Christian philosophies impacted the doctrines of Christianity? One of the heresies of early origin and rapid growth in the church was the doctrine of antagonism between body and spirit. The body was regarded as a curse. From the foregoing, this will be recognized as one of the perversions derived from the alliance of Gnosticism with Christianity. A result of this grafting in of heathen doctrines was an abundant growth of hermit practices, by which men sought to weaken, torture, and subdue their bodies, that their spirits or "souls" might gain greater freedom. Many who adopted this unnatural view of human existence retired to the solitude of the desert, and there spent their time in practices of stern self-denial and in acts of frenzied self-torture. Others shut themselves up as voluntary prisoners, seeking glory in privation and self-imposed penance. It was this unnatural view of life that gave rise to the several orders of recluses, hermits, and monks.
Obviously the Savior had such practices in mind when he warned: "Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold he [Christ] is in the desert, go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers, believe it not" (Matthew 24:26).
After the middle of the fourth century AD, there sprang up many orders of recluses who "maintained that communion with God was to be sought by mortifying sense, by withdrawing the mind from all external objects, by macerating the body with hunger and labor, and by a holy sort of indolence, which confined all the activity of the soul to a lazy contemplation of things spiritual and external. The Christian church would never have been disgraced by this cruel and unsocial enthusiasm, nor would any have been subjected to those keen torments of mind and body to which it gave rise, had not many Christians been unwarily caught by the specious appearance and the pompous sound of that maxim of the ancient philosophy: 'That in order to the attainment of true felicity and communion with God, it was necessary that the soul should be separated from the body, even here below; and that the body was to be macerated and mortified for this purpose'" (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, century 4, Part 2, chapters 3, 12, 13). The fruit of this ill-sowing was the growth of numerous orders of monks, and the maintenance of monasteries.
Celibacy was taught as a virtue-a form of self denial-and came to be made a requirement of the clergy, as it is in the Roman Catholic Church today. An unmarried clergy, deprived of the elevating influences of home life, fell into many excesses, and the corruption of the priests has been a theme of reproach throughout the centuries. "The Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help-meet for him" (Genesis 2:18), and again "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Paul proclaimed: "Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11). Nevertheless, an apostate church decrees that its ministers shall be forbidden to follow the law of God.
The historian Eusebius wrote: "Clement [of Alexandria] . . . gives a list of those of the apostles who were married. This he does on account of those who condemn marriage. He says, 'Will they also condemn the apostles? For Peter and Philip had children, and Philip gave his daughters to husbands. In deed, Paul does not hesitate to address his wife in one of his letters. It was to facilitate his mission that he did not bring her around with him.'" Eusebius also quotes from Irenaeus , Bishop of Lyon: " . . . the people called Encratites [the self-controlled] preached against marriage, thereby rejecting the ancient plan of God and silently condemning the creator of male and female whose purpose was the begetting of human kind. . . . They also denied the salvation of the first man. This was introduced by them when a certain Tatian became the first to propound their blasphemy. He had been a disciple of Justin, and as long as he remained in his company he produced nothing of this kind; but after Justin's martyrdom he apostatized from the church. He grew exalted with the idea of becoming a teacher. He became puffed up, believing himself superior to the others. He fabricated his own brand of doctrine, telling tales of invisible eons . . . and . . . he denounced marriage as corruption and fornication."
These passages are most interesting, showing that the early leaders strongly opposed the doctrine of celibacy. They also demonstrate that this deviation from the truth was beginning to spring up within the membership of the church.
As early as the fourth century, certain pernicious doctrines embodying a disregard for truth gained currency in the church. Thus, it was taught "that it was an act of virtue to deceive and lie, when by that means the interests of the church might be promoted" (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, century 4, part 2, chapter 3:16). Also sins, other than those of falsehood and deceit, were justified when committed in the supposed interests of church advancement, and crime was condoned under the specious excuse that the end justifies the means. Many of the fables and fictitious stories relating to the lives of Christ and the apostles, as also the spurious accounts of supernatural visitations and wonderful miracles, in which the literature of the early centuries abound, are traceable to this infamous doctrine that lies are acceptable unto God if perpetrated in a cause that man calls good. Certainly what remained in alleged "Christendom" in the fourth and subsequent centuries, in relation to spiritual and miraculous happenings, of visions and healings and the like, are so co-mingled with the relics of alleged saints and martyrs, and shrines and trumperies that they become like babbling childishness in comparison with the spiritual powers of the New Testament and apostolic times. The church was, even in the early centuries, beginning to cherish only the forms of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
Constantine the Great and the Conference at Nicea in AD 325
About the middle of the third century, Sibellius, a bishop of the church in Africa, began to strongly advocate a doctrine of the Godhead known as "trinity in unity." He claimed that the divine nature of Christ was no distinct nor personal attribute of the man Jesus, but merely a portion of the divine energy, an emanation from the Father, with which the Son was temporarily endowed; and that in like manner the Holy Ghost was a part of the divine Father. We can easily see the musings of pagan philosophies in these expressions. These views were as vigorously opposed by some as defended by others, and this disagreement was rife when the emperor Constantine so suddenly changed the status of the church, and brought to its support the power of the state.
Constantine the Great became emperor of Rome in AD 306 and reigned thirty-one years. Early in his reign he espoused the hitherto unpopular cause of the Christians and took the church under official protection. A legend grew up that the emperor's conversion was due to a supernatural manifestation, whereby he saw a luminous cross appear in the heavens with the inscription, "By this sign conquer." The actuality of this sign is doubtful. It is felt that the story of this sign was concocted as a means to encourage the popularity of Christianity at the time.
It is felt by many historians that Constantine's so-called conversion was rather a matter of policy than a sincere acceptance of the truths of Christianity. He remained unbaptized until shortly before his death. But whatever his motives may have been, he made Christianity the religion of state, issuing an official decree to this effect in AD 313. He also made the cross the royal standard. Early in the fourth century the dispute over the doctrine of the Godhead assumed a threatening aspect in a bitter contention between Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and Arius, one of the subordinate officers of the same church. Alexander proclaimed that the Son was in all respects the equal of the Father, and also of the same substance or essence. Arius insisted that the Son had been created by the Father, and therefore could not be co-eternal with his divine Parent; that the Son was the agent through whom the will of the Father was executed, and that for this reason also the Son was inferior to the Father both in nature and dignity. In like manner the Holy Ghost was inferior to the other members of the Godhead.
Arianism, as Arius's doctrine came to be known, was preached with vigor and denounced with energy; and the dissension thus occasioned threatened to rend the church to its foundation. The opponents of Arianism were eventually led by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria. This controversy came to be called the Athanasian-Arian controversy. At last the emperor Constantine was forced to intervene in an effort to establish peace among his contending churchmen. He summoned a council of church dignitaries which assembled in the year AD 325, and which is known from its place of session as the Council of Nicea (now in Turkey). This council condemned the doctrine of Arius, and pronounced sentence of banishment against its author. What was declared to be the orthodox doctrine of the universal or Catholic Church respecting the Godhead was promulgated as follows:
We believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, the maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, (that is) of the substance of the Father; God of God, Light of Light; Very God of Very God; begotten not made; of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, that are in heaven and that are in earth: who for us men, and for our salvation, descended and was incarnate, and became man; suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into the heavens and will come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit. But those who say there was a time when he [the Son] was not, and that he was not before he was begotten, and that he was made out of nothing, or affirm that he is of any other substance or essence, or that the Son of God was created, and mutable, or changeable, the Catholic Church doth pronounce accursed.
This is the generally accepted version of the Nicene Creed as originally promulgated. In form it was somewhat modified, though left practically unchanged as to essentials, by the council held at Constantinople in AD 381. What is regarded as a restatement of the Nicene Creed has been attributed to Athanasius, one of the chief opponents of Arianism, though his right to be considered the author is questioned by many and emphatically denied by some authorities on ecclesiastical history. Nevertheless, the statement referred to has found a place in literature as the "Creed of Athanasius," and whether rightly or wrongly named it persists as a declaration of belief professed by some Christian sects today. It has a present place in the prescribed ritual of the Church of England. The "Creed of Athanasius" reads as follows:
We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated; but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty; and yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and yet they are not three Gods but one God.
As one studies these statements, it is clear that, underlying the words, is the idea that the human intellect cannot hope even to approach remotely the slightest inkling of an idea of the true nature of God. "The great Athanasius himself," wrote Gibbon, the author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, "candidly confessed that whenever he forced himself to meditate on this doctrine of the Godhead, his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves; that the more he thought, the less he comprehended: and the more he wrote, the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts" (440-41). It is clear that the concept of God as "one pure being," "immaterial," "without form," "without parts," and "without passions" had its origins in pagan philosophy and not in Jewish or Christian revelation. So-called "orthodox Christianity's" doctrine of God is a perfect example of apostasy. In all of this incomprehensible wordiness, they have wandered well out of the light and into the darkness of the mysticisms of the old pagan philosophies. They are not in fact worshiping the true and living and personal God, the Father of us all. How refreshingly simple and true are the words of the Savior: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3, italics mine).
The emperor Constantine himself was the real head of the church. Suddenly in Rome the office of bishop became more highly esteemed than the rank of general. It became unpopular and decidedly disadvantageous in a material sense to be known as a non-Christian. Pagan temples were transformed into churches, and heathen idols were demolished. Twelve thousand men and a proportionate number of women and children were baptized into the church at Rome alone within a single year. Few, it seems, were true spiritual converts of Christianity. Most joined the church for expediency and for social advantage. Constantine removed the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium, which city he re-named after himself, Constantinople. Thus Constantinople, later to become Istanbul, the present capital of Turkey, became headquarters of the state church. How different was the church under the patronage of Constantine from the church as established by Christ and as built up by his apostles. The church had already become thoroughly apostate as judged by the standard of its original organization.
It is a popular error to assume that the decay of the church as a spiritual institution dates from the early part of the fourth century. The church was saturated with the spirit of apostasy long before Constantine took it under his powerful protection by according it official standing in the state.
Unauthorized Additions to the Ceremonies of the Church and the Introduction of Vital Changes in Essential Ordinances
One purpose of the Lord's true church in any age has been to prepare saints through participation in sacred ordinances to stand in the presence of Almighty God.
Soon after the conference at Nicea, the philosopher Augustine (AD 354-430), while studying the philosophies of the Neoplatonists, was impressed to become a Christian and to work at defining and refining Christian beliefs. The ideas of "original sin" (and, therefore, the ordinance of infant baptism) and the idea of being saved wholly by the grace of God-and only at God's "good pleasure" rather than by any merit or actions of man-were not the contributions of Jesus Christ, but of Augustine.
Both Jews and heathens were accustomed to a vast variety of pompous and magnificent ceremonies in their religious worship. And as they considered these rites an essential part of religion, it was but natural that they should behold with contempt the simplicity of the Christian worship. Ridicule was heaped upon the early church by the pagans because of the simplicity of Christian worship. Judaistic critics, to whom ritual and ceremony, formalism and prescribed rites, figured as essentials of religion, also joined in this criticism. Very early in its history, the church manifested a tendency to supplant the pristine simplicity of its worship by elaborate ceremonies, patterned after Judaistic ritual and heathen idolatries.
As to such innovations, Mosheim writes as follows, with reference to conditions existing in the second century: "There is no institution so pure and excellent which the corruption and folly of man will not in time alter for the worse, and load with additions foreign to its nature and original design. Such in a particular manner was the fate of Christianity. In this century many unnecessary rites and ceremonies were added to the Christian worship, the introduction of which was extremely offensive to wise and good men. These changes, while they destroyed the beautiful simplicity of the gospel, were naturally pleasing to the gross multitude, who are more delighted with the pomp and splendor of external institutions than with the native charms of rational and solid piety, and who generally give little attention to any objects but those which strike their outward senses." Mosheim also explains that the bishops of that day increased the ceremonies and sought to give them splendor "by way of accommodation to the infirmities and prejudices of both Jews and heathen" (Ecclesiastical History, century 2, part 2, chapter 4).
The officers of the church in the first and second centuries, trying to cling to their Jewish prejudice and the letter of the Mosaic law, took to themselves the ancient titles; thus, bishops became chief priests, and deacons were called Levites.
In the fourth century we find the church still more hopelessly committed to formalism and superstition. The decent respect with which the remains of the early martyrs had been honored degenerated or grew into a superstitious reverence amounting to worship. This practice was allowed in deference to the heathen adoration paid to deified heroes. Pilgrimages to the tombs of martyrs became common as an outward form of religious devotion; and the ashes of martyrs as well as dust and earth brought from places said to have been made holy by some uncommon occurrences were sold as sovereign remedies against disease and as means of protection against the assaults of malignant spirits. The near deification and worship of saints crept into the church.
The form of public worship was so changed during the second and third centuries as to bear little resemblance to the simplicity and earnestness of that of the early congregations. Philosophic discourses took the place of fervent testimony bearing, and the arts of the rhetorician and controversial debater supplanted the true eloquence of religious conviction. Applause was allowed and expected as evidence of the preacher's popularity.
The burning of incense, at first abhorred by Christian assemblies because of its pagan origin and heathen significance, had become common in the church before the end of the third century.
In the fourth century the adoration of images, pictures, and effigies, had been given a place in the so-called Christian worship; and the practice became general in the century following.
Let us now consider the most essential ordinances of all-baptism and the sacrament of the Lord's supper.
Baptism. In what did the ordinance originally consist, as to purpose and mode of administration, and what changes did it undergo in the course of progressive apostasy through which the church passed? That baptism is essential to salvation calls for no demonstration here; this has been generally held by the Christian church in both ancient and modern times. The purpose of baptism was and is the obtaining of a remission of sins; compliance with the requirement has been from the first the sole means of securing admission to the Church of Christ.
In the early church, baptism was administered on profession of faith and evidence of repentance, and was performed by immersion at the hands of one invested with the requisite authority of priesthood. The symbolism of baptism was clearly that of a burial and a resurrection-of a death and a birth-of a death unto sin, a birth unto righteousness.
The writings of early Christian historians provides us with ample proof that in the first century after the death of Christ, baptism was administered solely by immersion. Tertullian thus refers to the immersion ceremony common in his day: "There is no difference whether one is washed in a sea or in a pool, in a river or in a fountain, in a lake or in a channel; nor is there any difference between those whom John dipped in Jordan, and those whom Peter dipped in the Tiber. . . . We are immersed in the water."
Justin Martyr describes the ceremony as practiced by himself. First describing the preparatory examination of the candidate, he proceeds: "After that they are led by us to where there is water, and are born again in that kind of new birth by which we ourselves were born again. For in the name of God, the Father and the Lord of all, and of Jesus Christ, our Savior, and of the Holy Spirit, the immersion in water is performed; because the Christ hath also said, 'Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.'"
Several other more modern scholars have commented upon the original mode of baptism. Concerning the baptismal practices of the early Christians: "They led them into the water and laid them down in the water as a man is laid in a grave; and then they said those words, 'I baptize (or wash) thee in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.' Then they raised them up again, and clean garments were put on them; from whence came the phrases of being baptized into Christ's death, of being buried with him by baptism into death, of our being risen with Christ, and of our putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, of putting off the old man, and putting on the new" (Bennett). "That the apostles immersed whom they baptized there is no doubt. . . . And that the ancient church followed their example is very clearly evinced by innumerable testimonies of the fathers" (Vossius). "Burying as it were the person baptized in the water, and raising him out again, without question was anciently the more usual method" (Archbishop Secker). "Immersion was the usual method in which baptism was administered in the early Church. . . . Immersion was undoubtedly a common mode of administering baptism, and was not discontinued even when infant baptism prevailed" (Canon Farrar).
There is a practical agreement among the authorities as to sprinkling's not becoming a customary form of baptism until the third century. No less an authority than Cyprian, the learned bishop of Carthage, advocated the propriety of sprinkling in lieu of immersion in cases of physical weakness; and the practice thus started, later became general. Immersion, typifying death followed by resurrection, was no longer deemed an essential feature, and sprinkling with water was allowed in place thereof.
During the second century the baptismal symbolism of a new birth was emphasized by many additions to the ordinance; thus the newly baptized were treated as infants and were fed milk and honey, the food of infants, in token of their immaturity. As baptism was construed to be a ceremony of liberation from the slavery of Satan, certain formulas used in the freeing of slaves were added. Anointing with oil was also made a part of the ceremony. In the third century the simple ordinance of baptism was further encumbered and perverted by the ministrations of an exorcist. This official indulged in "menacing and formidable shouts and declamation" whereby the demons or evil spirits with which the candidate was supposed to be afflicted were to be driven away. "The driving out this demon was now considered as an essential preparation for baptism, after the administration of which the candidates returned home, adorned with crowns, and arrayed in white garments, as sacred emblems-the former of their victory over sin and the world; the latter of their inward purity and innocence" (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, century 3, part 2, chapter 4:4). It is not difficult to see in this superstitious ceremony the evidence of pagan adulteration of the Christian religion. In the fourth century it became the practice to place salt in the mouth of the newly baptized member, as a symbol of purification, and the actual baptism was both preceded and followed by an anointing with oil.
The practice of administering baptism to infants was recognized as orthodox in the third century and was doubtless of earlier origin. Christian historians have been vocal about the doctrine of infant baptism. "The baptism of infants, in the first two centuries after Christ, was altogether unknown. . . . The custom of baptizing infants did not begin before the third age after Christ was born. In the former ages no trace of it appears; and it was introduced without the command of Christ" (Curcullaeus).
"It is certain that Christ did not ordain infant baptism. . . . We cannot prove that the apostles ordained infant baptism. From those places where baptism of a whole family is mentioned (as in Acts 16: 33; 1 Corinthians 1:16) we can draw no such conclusion, because the inquiry is still to be made, whether there were any children in the families of such an age that they were not capable of any intelligent reception of Christianity; for this is the only point on which the case turns. . . . As baptism was closely united with a conscious entrance on Christian communion, faith and baptism were always connected with one another; and thus it is in the highest degree probable that baptism was performed only in instances where both could meet together, and that the practice of infant baptism was unknown at this (the apostolic) period. . . . That not till so late a period as (at least certainly not earlier than) Irenaeus, a trace of infant baptism appears; and that it first became recognized as an apostolic tradition in the course of the third century, is evidence rather against than for the admission of its apostolic origin" (Johann Neander, a German theologian who flourished in the first half of the nineteenth century).
"Let them therefore come when they are grown up-when they can understand-when they are taught whither they are to come. Let them become Christians when they can know Christ" (Tertullian, one of the Latin "Christian Fathers." He lived from AD 150 to 220). Tertullian's almost violent opposition to the practice of "pedobaptism" is cited by Neander as "a proof that it was then not usually considered an apostolic ordinance; for in that case he would hardly have ventured to speak so strongly against it."
Martin Luther, writing in the early part of the sixteenth century, declared: "It cannot be proven by the sacred scriptures that infant baptism was instituted by Christ, or begun by the first Christians after the apostles."
In a prolonged disputation as to whether it was safe to postpone the baptism of infants until the eighth day after birth-in deference to the Jewish custom of performing circumcision on that day-it was generally decided that such delay would be dangerous, as jeopardizing the future well-being of the child should it die before attaining the age of eight days, and that baptism ought to be administered as soon after birth as possible. A more infamous doctrine than that of the condemnation of un-baptized infants can scarcely be imagined, and a stronger proof of the heresies that had invaded and corrupted the early church need not be sought. Such a doctrine is foreign to the gospel and to the Church of Christ, and its adoption as an essential tenet is proof of apostasy.
There was also no delay in administering the ordinance after the eligibility of the candidate had been shown. For example, one may note the promptness with which baptism was administered to the believers on that eventful day of Pentecost; the baptism administered by Philip to the Ethiopian convert immediately following due profession of faith; the undelayed baptism of devout Cornelius and his family; and the speedy baptism of the converted jailor by Paul, his prisoner. The only pre-requisites to receiving this ordinance were sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and sincere repentance of all sin. As soon as the candidate professed these qualifications he was admitted into the church by baptism (Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:35-40).
In the second century, however, priestly mandate had restricted the baptismal ordinance to the times of the two church festivals, Easter and Whitsuntide, the first being the anniversary of Christ's resurrection, and the second the time of Pentecostal celebration. A long and tedious course of preparation was required of the candidate before his eligibility was admitted; during this time he was known as a catechumen, or novice in training. According to some authorities a three years' course of preparation was required in all but exceptional cases.
Sacrament of the Lord's supper. The sacrament has been regarded as an essential ordinance from the time of its establishment in the Church of Jesus Christ. Yet in spite of its sanctity it has undergone radical alteration both as to its symbolism and its accepted purpose. The sacrament, as instituted by the Savior and as administered during the days of the apostolic ministry, was as simple as it was sacred and solemn. Accompanied by the true spirit of the gospel its simplicity was sanctifying. As interpreted by the spirit of apostasy its simplicity became a reproach. Hence we find that in the third century, long sacramental prayers were prescribed, and much pomp was introduced. Vessels of gold and silver were used by such congregations as could afford them, and this with ostentatious display. Non-members and members "who were in a penitential [repentant] state" were excluded from the sacramental service-in imitation of the exclusiveness accompanying heathen mysteries. Disputation and dissension arose as to the proper time of administering the sacrament-morning, noon, or evening; and as to the frequency with which the ordinance should be celebrated.
At a later date the doctrine of Transubstantiation was established as an essential tenet of the Roman church. This, briefly summarized, is that the bread and wine used in the sacrament, lose their character as mere bread and wine, and become in fact the flesh and blood of the crucified Christ. The transmutation is assumed to take place in such a mystical way as to delude the sense; and so, though actual flesh and actual blood, the elements still appear to be bread and wine. This view, so strongly defended and earnestly reverenced by orthodox members of the Roman church, is vehemently denounced by others as "an absurd tenet" (Milner). The historian Mosheim wrote that the Catholic doctrine of the eucharist-the belief that they actually and literally eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ-originated because of concept of literal sacrifice in the Mosaic law. This same historian denounces the belief in the eucharist as a "monstrous and unnatural doctrine."
There has been much discussion as to the origin of this doctrine, the Roman Catholics claiming for it a great antiquity, while their opponents insist that it was an innovation of the eighth or ninth century. According to Milner it was openly taught in the ninth century. It was formally established as a dogma of the church by the Council of Placentia AD 1095, and it was made an essential article of creed, belief in which was required of all, by action of the Roman ecclesiastical court about AD 1160. An official edict of the pope, Innocent III, confirmed the dogma as a binding tenet and requirement of the church in AD 1215. It remains practically in force in the Roman Catholic Church today. The doctrine was adopted by the Greek church in the seventeenth century.
The consecrated emblems, or "host," being regarded as the actual flesh and blood of Christ, were adored as of themselves divine. Thus, "a very pernicious practice of idolatry was connected with the reception of this doctrine. Men fell down before the consecrated host, and worshiped it as God; and the novelty, absurdity, and impiety of this abomination very much struck the minds of all men who were not dead to a sense of true religion" (Milner, Church History, century 13, chapter 1.) The "elevation of the host," i.e., the presentation of the consecrated emblems before the congregation for adoration, is a feature of the present day ritual of worship in the Roman Catholic Church.
A further perversion of the sacrament occurred in the administration of bread alone, instead of both bread and wine as originally required.
Thus was the plain purpose and assured efficacy of the sacrament hidden beneath a cloud of mystery and ceremonial display. Contrast such with the solemn simplicity of the ordinance as instituted by our Lord. He took bread and wine, blessed them and gave to his disciples and said, "This do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19-20). Of the bread he said, "This is my body." Of the wine, "This is my blood." Yet at that time his body was unpierced and his blood was unshed. The disciples ate bread, not flesh of a living man, and drank wine, not blood; and this they were commanded to do in remembrance of Christ. The church had changed the sacrament from being a simple memorial observance to a "mystical" rite. The perversion of the sacrament is evidence of departure from the spirit of the gospel of Christ, and when made an essential dogma of a church is proof of the apostate condition of that church.
Just when and how the idea of the "Mass," meaning sacrifice, got worked into the early church is difficult to determine. The Mass contains the idea that there is no mere remembrance or symbolizing of the Savior, but rather that he is literally sacrificed anew at each service. The Mass seems to be the result of one heresy piled onto another. The fact that the emblems of the sacrament were really changed to the body and blood of the Christ, made available his body to be sacrificed at each service. Once the Mass was in place, the reproach that the Christians had no altars, no victims, and no sacrifice in their religion would be removed, and their reproach among the pagans taken away.
Behold, "they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:4-6).
Unauthorized Changes in Church Organization and Government
A comparison between the organizational plan of the primitive church and that of the ecclesiastical system which took its place will provide us with valuable evidence as to the true or apostate condition of the modern church. The primitive church was organized with apostles, pastors, high priests, seventies, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons (see Luke 6:13 and Mark 3:14; Ephesians 4:11; Hebrews 5:1-5; Luke 10:1-11; Acts 14:23; Acts 14:15:6; I Peter 5:1; 1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:7; Revelation 1:6; Acts 13:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-12). We have no evidence that the presiding council of the church, comprising the twelve apostles, was continued beyond the earthly ministry of those who had been ordained to that holy calling during the life of Christ or soon after his ascension. Nor is there record of ordination of any individual to the apostleship beyond those who's calling and ministry are chronicled in the New Testament, which, as a historical record, ends with the first century.
Certainly the church was organized with the expectation of its perpetuation. It seems likely that the apostles were aware of the inevitability of the loss of the church and gospel from the earth after they were gone. They did not, in fact, expect the church to endure. It is clear, however, that the apostles were surprised at the speed with which apostasy began to overtake the church. Paul wrote in his letter to the branches of the church in Galatia: "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" (Galatians 1:6). Addressing the issue of the absence of any written instructions left by the apostles as to how the fledgling church should be guided in their absence, Hugh Nibley opined: "It is hard to conceive of such a colossal oversight if the founders had actually envisaged a long future for the church." The early church was an example of "arrested development." It never did reach a fulness of organization. Had it done so, we may expect that a formal quorum of twelve apostles may have been maintained, so as to provide continuous central leadership to the various branches of the church.
Ecclesiastical history apart from the holy scriptures informs us, that wherever a branch, or church, was organized, a bishop or an elder (presbyter) was placed in charge. There is no doubt that while the apostles lived, they were recognized and respected as the presiding authorities of the church. As they established branches or churches, they selected the bishops; and submitted their nominations to the vote of the members. As already stated, the principle of self-government, or common consent, was respected in apostolic days with a care amounting to sacred duty. We read that the bishops were assisted in their local administration by presbyters and deacons.
After the apostles were gone, bishops and other officers were nominated by, or at the instance of, the existing authorities. The affairs of each church or branch were conducted and regulated by the local officers of that church. None of the separate churches claimed supremacy over the others, except as to the deference voluntarily paid to those churches that had been organized by the personal ministry of the apostles. These would have included the churches at Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. These churches were appealed to in controversies on points of doctrine, "as most likely to know what the apostles taught," but the appeal had no other significance than that. Throughout the first and the greater part of the second century, "the Christian churches were independent of each other. They were not joined together by association, confederacy, or other bonds but those of charity. Each Christian assembly was a little state, governed by its own laws, which were either enacted, or, at least, approved by the society" (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, century 2, part 2, chapter 2:2).
Similarly, among the bishops, there was a recognized equality among them. Late in the second, and throughout the third century, however, marked distinctions and recognition of rank arose among the bishops. Those of large and wealthy cities assumed authority and dignity above that accorded to the bishops of the country provinces. The bishops of the largest cities or provinces, took to themselves, initially the title of "archbishop," and later the distinguishing title of Metropolitans (see Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, century 2, part 2, chapter 2:3; also century 4, part 2, chapter 2:3, and compare century 1, Part 2, chapter 2:14) and assumed power of presidency over the bishops of more limited jurisdiction. The Metropolitans presided over all the bishops of a "province" which was a civil division of the Roman Empire.
The second century was marked by the custom of holding synods or church councils. The practice originated among the churches in Greece, and thence became general. These councils grew rapidly in power, so that in the third century we find them legislating for the churches, and directing by edict and command, in matters which formerly had been left to the vote of the people. Needless to say that with such assumptions of authority came arrogance and tyranny in the government of the church. As the form of church government changed more and more, many minor orders of clergy or church officers arose. Thus, in the third century we read of sub-deacons, acolytes, ostiars, readers, exorcists, and copiates. As an instance of the pride of office, it is worthy of note that a sub-deacon was forbidden to sit in the presence of a deacon without the latter's express consent.
Rome, so long the "mistress of the world" in secular affairs, arrogated to herself a pre-eminence in church matters, and the bishop of Rome claimed supremacy. It is doubtless true that the church at Rome was organized by Peter and Paul. Tradition, founded on error, said that the apostle Peter was the first bishop of Rome, and those who successively were acknowledged as bishops of the metropolis claimed to be, in fact, lineal successors of the presiding apostle. The high, but none the less false, claim is made by the Catholic Church in this day, that the present pope is the last lineal successor-not alone to the bishopric but to the apostleship.
The scriptural basis for the Catholic Church's claim that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and hence the first Pope is, of course, Matthew 16:13-18: "When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The question is what or who is the "rock" upon which the Savior will build his church? The Roman Catholics claim that it was Peter, the Protestants claim that is was the Savior himself, and our church claims it was the rock of revelation. Joseph Smith was addressing himself to the elders of the church in 1843 on the subject of "revelation." In the course of which he remarked: "Jesus says: 'Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' What rock? Revelation" (HC, 5:258). Elder B. H. Roberts wrote of the anxiety Jesus had that his apostles should have the benefit of the Holy Ghost to assist them in their work. He wrote: "Why this anxiety about having his apostles endowed with the Holy Ghost, thence the promise of it, and the realization of it, extended to all that are called to obey the gospel, as we have seen? Because the Holy Ghost is the Spirit and the means and the power of revelation; the principle and power on which, and not on man, the Christ is going to found his church; the principle that will reveal that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God! The principle which can make both individuals and the organization-the church-secure against the gates of hell" (Falling Away, 97).
The claimed supremacy of the bishops of Rome-Roman pontiffs as they came to be known-was early questioned. When Constantine made Byzantium, or Constantinople, the capital of the empire, the bishop of Constantinople claimed equality. The dispute divided the church, and for five hundred years the dissension increased, until in the ninth century (AD 855) it developed into a great disruption, in consequence of which the bishop of Constantinople, known distinctively as the patriarch, disavowed all further allegiance to the bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Roman pontiff. This disruption is marked today by the distinction between Roman Catholics and Greek Catholics.
The election of "pontiff," or bishop of Rome, was for some time left to the vote of the people and clergy; later the electoral function was vested in the clergy alone. In the eleventh century the power was lodged in the college of cardinals, where it remains today.
The Roman pontiffs strove with unremitting zeal to acquire temporal as well as spiritual authority. Their influence had become so great that in the eleventh century we find them claiming the right to direct princes, kings, and emperors in the affairs of the several nations. It was at this, the early period of their greatest temporal power, that the pontiffs took the title of Pope, the word meaning literally papa, or father, and applied in the sense of universal parent. The power of the popes was increased during the twelfth century, and may be said to have reached its height in the thirteenth century.
Not content with assumed supremacy in all church affairs, the popes "carried their insolent pretensions so far as to give themselves out for lords of the universe, arbiters of the fate of kingdoms and empires, and supreme rulers over the kings and princes of the earth" (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, century 11, part 2, chapter 2:2). They claimed the right to authorize and direct in the internal affairs of nations, and to make lawful the rebellion of subjects against their rulers if the latter failed to keep favor with the papal power.
Compare this arrogant and tyrannical church of the world with the Church of Christ. Unto Pilate our Lord declared, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). And on an earlier occasion, when the people would have proclaimed him king with earthly dominion (John 6:15), he departed from them. Yet the church that boasts of its divine origin as founded by the Christ, who would not be a king, lifts itself above all kings and rulers, and proclaims itself the supreme power in the affairs of nations.
In the fourth century the church established what has been since been regarded as a disgrace. "Errors in religion, when maintained and adhered to after proper admonition, were punishable with civil penalties, and corporeal tortures" (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, century 4, part 2, chapter 3:16). The enforcement of this egregious practice rule became more and more atrocious with the passage of the years. In the eleventh century, and later, we find the church imposing punishment of fine, imprisonment, bodily torture, and even death, as penalties for infraction of church regulations.
Constantine, the first "Christian" emperor did, by his edicts, put the ancient religion of the empire under the ban of the law. By acts of violence he destroyed some of its temples, and closed the rest by imperial decree, that the pagan gods might not be worshipped.
Indeed the church that bore the name of Christ became a persecuting religion. Eusebius wrote: "The emperor [Constantine] proceeded to act with great vigor, gave the government of the provinces chiefly to Christians, and when any 'Gentiles' were made governors they were prohibited to sacrifice [that is to the Pagan deities], which law comprehended not only presidents of provinces but also higher officers, and even the praetorian praefects. . . . Soon after that two laws were published at one and the same time: (1) one prohibiting the detestable rites of idolatry hitherto practiced in cities and country places; and that for the future none should erect statues to the gods, nor perform the vain arts of divination, nor offer up any sacrifices. (2) The other law was for enlarging Christian oratories and churches, or for rebuilding them more grand and splendid" (Life of Constantine, Eusebius, book 2, chapter 44). When contrasting the course of the first "Christian" emperor with the pagan emperors, Eusebius says: "They commanded the temples to be magnificently adorned. He [Constantine] demolished them to the foundation, especially such as were most respected by superstitious people" (Ibid., chapter 14). Later he expressly says that "throughout the whole Roman empire, the doors of idolatry were shut to the commonalty and to the soldiery," and that "every kind of sacrifice was prohibited." Again he says, that there were several laws published for these purposes, forbidding sacrifices, divinations, raising statues, and the secret mysteries or rites of initiation. And he says further, that "in Egypt a sort of priesthood, consecrated to the honor of the Nile, was entirely suppressed" (Life of Constantine, Eusebius, book 4, chapter 23, 25).
On the foundation of intolerance laid by Constantine, others hastened to build. In the succeeding reign, among the first laws enacted was this one against Pagan sacrifices: "Let superstition cease; let the madness of sacrificing [i. e. to the pagan gods] be abolished. For whoever shall presume contrary to the constitution of our father, a prince of blessed memory, and contrary to this command of our clemency, to offer sacrifices, let a proper and convenient punishment be inflicted, and execution presently done upon him" (Lardner's Works, volume 8, 169).
It is probably not necessary to pursue this subject further. It may be fairly said, in summary, that during the fourth century, by following the policy of suppression inaugurated by this first "Christian" emperor, "Christianity" was changed from a persecuted to a persecuting religion. Without restraint from the ecclesiastical authorities, the "Christian" emperors issued edicts against the pagan religion, proscribed its followers, destroyed its temples, and confiscated its property to the uses of the rival religion.
The circumstance of the church, changed by Constantine to becoming a persecuting church, is strong evidence of its paganized state. The true Christian religion is not a persecuting religion. The true Church of Christ is not a persecuting church. When the Samaritans would not receive the Messiah, some of the apostles would have them consumed by fire from heaven, but the Master turned and rebuked them, saying, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:54-56).
Indulgences. More infamous even than the persecutions or punishments leveled against those guilty of heresy by the Christian church was the providing for mitigation or annulment of such sentences on payment of money. This led to the shocking practice of selling indulgences or pardons, which custom was afterward carried to the awful extreme of issuing such before the commission of the specific offense, thus literally offering for sale licenses to sin, with assurance of temporal and promise of spiritual immunity.
The granting of indulgences as exemptions from temporal penalties was at first confined to the bishops and their agents, and the practice dates from about the middle of the twelfth century. It remained for the popes, however, to go to the blasphemous extreme of assuming to remit the penalties of the hereafter on payment of the sums prescribed. Their pretended justification of the impious assumption was as horrible as the act itself, and constitutes the dreadful doctrine of supererogation.
As formulated in the thirteenth century, this doctrine was thus set forth: "That there actually existed an immense treasure of merit, composed of the pious deeds and virtuous actions which the saints had performed beyond what was necessary for their own salvation, and which were therefore applicable to the benefit of others; that the guardian and dispenser of this precious treasure was the Roman pontiff, and that of consequence he was empowered to assign to such as he thought proper a portion of this inexhaustible source of merit, suitable to their respective guilt, and sufficient to deliver them from the punishment due to their crimes" (As cited by Mosheim; see Ecclesiastical History, century 12, part 2, chapter 3:4).
Compare the awful fallacies of supererogation with the declaration of the Savior: "But I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). And with the words of his inspired apostle, seeing in vision the day of awful certainty: "And I saw the dead, small and great stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead that were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works" (Revelation 20:12-13). The scriptures proclaim the eternal fact of individual accountability. The church in the days of its degeneracy declares that the merit of one may be bought by another and paid for with money.
As an example of the indulgences sold in Germany in the sixteenth century, we have the record of the doings of John Tetzel, agent of the pope, who traveled about selling forgiveness of sins. Milner described: "Myconius assures us that he himself heard Tetzel declaim with incredible effrontery concerning the unlimited power of the pope and the efficacy of indulgences. The people believed that the moment any person had paid the money for the indulgence he became certain of his salvation; and that the souls for whom the indulgences were bought, were instantly released out of purgatory. . . . John Tetzel boasted that he had saved more souls from hell by his indulgences than St. Peter had converted to Christianity by his preaching. He assured the purchasers of them, their crimes, however enormous, would be forgiven; whence it became almost needless for him to bid them dismiss all fears concerning their salvation. For, remission of sins being fully obtained, what doubt could there be of salvation?" (History of the Church, century 16, chapter 2).
A copy of an indulgence written by the hand of Tetzel, the vendor of popish pardons, has been preserved to us as follows: "May our Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon thee and absolve thee by the merits of his most holy passion. And I, by his authority, that of his Apostles Peter and Paul, and of the most holy pope granted and committed to me in these parts, do absolve thee, first from all ecclesiastical censures, in whatever manner they have been incurred; and then from all the sins, transgressions, and excesses, how enormous soever they may be, even for such as are reserved for the cognizance of the holy see; and as far as the keys of the holy church extend, I remit to thee all the punishment which thou deservest in purgatory on their account; and I restore thee to the holy sacraments of the church, to the unity of the faithful, and to that innocence and purity which thou possessedst at baptism; so that when thou diest, the gates of punishment shall be shut, and the gates of the paradise of delight shall be opened; and if thou shalt not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when thou art at the point of death. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" (Ibid., century 16, chapter 2).
By way of excuse or defense, it has been claimed for the Roman Catholic Church that a profession of contrition or repentance was required of every applicant for indulgence, and that the pardon was issued on the basis of such penitence, and not primarily for money or its equivalent; but that recipients of indulgences, at first voluntarily, and later in compliance with established custom, made a material offering or donation to the church. It is reported, moreover, that some of the abuses with which the selling of indulgences had been associated were disapproved by the Council of Trent (AD 1545-1563). Nevertheless, the dread fact remains that for four hundred years the church had claimed for its pope the power to remit all sins, and that the promise of remission had been sold and bought.
The sin of blasphemy consists in taking to one's self the prerogatives and powers of God. Here we find the pope of Rome, the head of the only church recognized at the time, assuming to remit the punishments due in the hereafter for sins committed in mortality. Is this not a fulfilment of prophecy of those things which would occur prior to the second coming of Christ?: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
It should be noted that 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 was written by Paul to the Thessalonians after they had become alarmed that the end of the world was at hand. Paul, in order to allay their fears, assures them that a great apostasy or defection of the Christians from the true faith and worship must happen before the coming of Christ. It should also be noted that most all Protestant scholars view this scriptural passage as applying to the popes and to the church of Rome.
Forbidding the reading of scripture. Another abuse perpetrated by the councils through which assemblies the supreme pontiffs exercised their autocratic powers, is seen in the restrictions placed on the reading and interpretation of scripture. The same Council of Trent (AD 1545-1563), which had disclaimed authority or blame for the acts of church officials regarding the scandalous traffic in indulgences, prescribed most rigid regulations forbidding the reading of the scriptures by the people. Thus: "A severe and intolerable law was enacted, with respect to all interpreters and expositors of the scriptures, by which they were forbidden to explain the sense of these divine books, in matters of faith and practice, in such a manner as to make them speak a different language from that of the church and the ancient doctors. The same law further declared that the church alone (i. e. its ruler, the Roman pontiff) had the right of determining the true meaning and signification of scripture. To fill up the measure of these tyrannical and iniquitous proceedings, the church of Rome persisted obstinately in affirming, though not always with the same imprudence and plainness of speech, that the holy scriptures were not composed for the use of the multitude, but only for that of their spiritual teachers; and, of consequence, ordered these divine records to be taken from the people in all places where it was allowed to execute its imperious demands" (Mosheim, Ecclestical History, century 16, part 1, chapter 1:25).
Obviously, the papacy was of human and not divine origin. Psalm 127:1 reads: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." The Church of Christ had long since ceased to exist. In place of a priesthood conferred by divine authority, a man-created papacy ruled with the iron hand of tyranny and without regard to moral restraint.
In a scholarly work Dr. John W. Draper gives a list of pontiffs who had stood at the head of the church from the middle of the eighth to the middle of the eleventh centuries, with biographical notes of each (Intellectual Development of Europe, volume 1, chapter 12, 378-81). And what a picture is there outlined! To win the papal crown no crime was too great, and for a period of centuries the immoralities of many of the popes and their subordinates are too shocking for detailed description. Dr. Draper recounts murders, tortures, debauchery, adultery, cruelty, and corruption all wrought by the pontiffs of Rome for their own selfish benefit. Dr. Draper subsequently comments:
More than a thousand years had elapsed since the birth of our Savior, and such was the condition of Rome. Well may the historian shut the annals of those times in disgust. Well may the heart of the Christian sink within him at such a catalogue of hideous crimes. Well may we ask, Were these the agents of God upon earth-these, who had truly reached the goal beyond which the last effort of human wickedness cannot pass? Not until several centuries after these events did public opinion come to the true and philosophical conclusion-the total rejection of the divine claims of the papacy. For a time the evils were attributed to the manner of the pontifical election, as if that could by any possibility influence the descent of a power which claimed to be supernatural and under the immediate care of God. . . . No one can study the development of the Italian ecclesiastical power without discovering how completely it depended on human agency, too often on human passion and intrigue; how completely wanting it was of any mark of the Divine construction and care-the offspring of man, not of God, and therefore bearing upon it the linaments of human passions, human virtues, and human sins (Ibid., volume 1, 382).
By its changes and unauthorized alterations in organization and government, the earthly establishment known as "the church," with popes, cardinals, abbots, friars, monks, exorcists, acolytes, etc., lost all similarity to the church as established by Christ and maintained by his apostles. The Catholic argument that there has been an uninterrupted succession of authority in the priesthood from the apostle Peter to the present occupant of the papal throne, is untenable in the light of history, and unreasonable in the light of fact.
One of the severest blows given both the temporal and the spiritual authority of the popes, was the removal, in AD 1309, through the influence of the French king, Philip the Fair, of the papal chair from Rome to Avignon, in Provence, near the frontier of France. Here it remained for a space of about seventy years, an era known in church history as the Babylonian Captivity. While it was established here, all the popes were French, and of course all their policies were shaped and controlled by the French kings. The discontent awakened among the Italians by the situation of the papal court at length led to an open rupture between them and the French party. In AD 1378 the opposing factions each elected a pope, and thus there were two heads of the church, one at Avignon and the other at Rome. The spectacle of two rival popes, each claiming to be the rightful successor of St. Peter, and the sole infallible head of the church, very naturally led men to question the claims and infallibility of both. Finally, in AD 1409, a general council of the church assembled at Pisa, for the purpose of settling the quarrel. The council deposed both popes, and elected Alexander V as the supreme head of the church. But matters, instead of being mended hereby were only made worse. Neither of the deposed pontiffs would lay down his authority in obedience to the demands of the council, and consequently there were now three popes instead of two. In AD 1414 another council was called, at Constance, for the settlement of the growing dispute. Two of the claimants were deposed and one resigned. A new pope was then elected-Pope Martin V. In his person the Catholic world was again united under a single spiritual head. The schism was outwardly healed, but the wound had been too deep not to leave permanent marks upon the church. The rupture between the French and Italian factions is known in history as the Great Schism. It may be regarded as the decisive beginning of decline in the temporal power of the popes.
Authority to speak and act in the name of God, power to officiate in the saving ordinances of the gospel of Christ, the high privilege of serving as a duly commissioned ambassador of the court of Heaven, these are not to be had as the gifts of princes, nor are they to be bought for money, nor can they be won as trophies of the bloody sword. The history of the papacy is the condemnation of the Church of Rome.
The Time Line of the Great Apostasy-the Temporal Sequence
The question may well be asked, "By what date was the great apostasy of the Church of Christ complete?" A precise answer would require a complex definition of what constitutes complete apostasy. We can easily recognize the brightness of day-early in the period when the living apostles presided over the church. We can also point out the darkness of night-when the Church of Rome was in full flower. The twilight period is more difficult to evaluate. We have learned that significant apostasy from Christ's teachings had occurred even during the lives of the apostles. Orson Pratt observed:
The great apostasy of the Christian church commenced in the first century while there were yet inspired apostles and prophets in their midst. Hence Paul, just previous to his martyrdom, enumerates a great number who had "made shipwreck of their faith," and "turned aside unto vain jangling," teaching "that the resurrection was already past," giving "heed to fables and endless genealogies," "doubting about questions and strifes of words whereof came envyings, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness." This apostasy had become so general that Paul declares to Timothy, "that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me;" and again he says, "at my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me." He further says that "there are many unruly, and vain talkers, deceivers, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." These apostates, no doubt, pretended to be very righteous; for, says the apostle, "they profess that they know God: but in words they deny him, being abominable and disobedient and unto every good work reprobate" (Orson Pratt's Works, 139-40).
By the end of the first century all of the apostles were dead save for John the Revelator, and no provision had been made to replace them. Thus by that time the fate of the church was sealed. There was no chance for the continuation of the priesthood authority or the unifying and restraining effect of that apostolic body. Without authority and without central prophetic leadership, the deterioration of the gospel proceeded rapidly.
Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, wrote of the condition of the church in the middle of the third century. Speaking of the Christians he said:
Each had been bent on improving his patrimony [inheritance received from father]; and had forgotten what believers had done under the apostles, and what they ought always to do. They were brooding over the arts of amassing wealth. The pastors and the deacons each forgot their duty. Works of mercy were neglected, and discipline was at the lowest ebb. Luxury and effeminacy prevailed. Meretricious [flashy or vulgar] arts in dress were cultivated. Frauds and deceit were practiced among brethren. Christians . . . could swear not only without reverence, but even without veracity. . . . They despised their ecclesiastical superiors. They railed against one another with outrageous acrimony. . . . Even many bishops, who ought to be guides and patterns to the rest, neglected the peculiar duties of their stations, gave themselves up to secular pursuits, deserted their places of residence and their flocks, traveled through distant provinces in quest of pleasure and gain, gave no assistance to the needy, but were insatiable in their thirst of money. They possessed estates by fraud and multiplied usury (as quoted by Milner, Church History, century 3, chapter 8).
Eusebius characterized conditions in the second half of the third century:
But when by excessive liberty we sunk into indolence and sloth, one envying and reviling another in different ways, and we were almost, as it were, on the point of taking up arms against each other, and were assailing each other with words, as with darts and spears, prelates inveighing against prelates, and people rising up against people. . . . But some that appeared to be our pastors, deserting the law of piety, were inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, only accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalry, hostility, and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselvesl
The heavy hand of God's judgments began softly, by little and little, to visit us . . . but we were not at all moved with his hand, not took any pains to return to God. We heaped sin upon sin, judging like careless Epicureans, that God cared not for our sins, nor would every visit us on account of them. And our pretended shepherds, laying aside the rule of godliness, practiced among themselves contention and division. . . . The dreadful persecution of Diocletian was then inflicted on the church as a just punishment, and as the most proper chastisement for their iniquities (Ecclesiastical History, book 8, chapter 1).
Eusebius also "speaks of the ambitious spirit of many, in aspiring to the offices of the church, the ill-judged and unlawful ordinations, the quarrels among confessors themselves. . . . How sadly must the Christian world have declined which could thus conduct itself under the very rod of divine vengeance? It was not Christianity, but the departure from it, which brought on these evils" (Eusebius is quoted by Milner, Church History, century 4, chapter 1.)
General Availability of the Bible Led to the Great Reform Movement
The period of time between the 900s and the 1400s AD is known as the dark ages and was characterized by stagnation in the progress of the arts, sciences, fine arts, and letters, and by a general condition of illiteracy and ignorance among the masses. Ignorance is a fertile soil for evil, and the Roman church during this period sank to a thoroughly apostate and corrupt condition. The papal power was generally supreme and ruled the nations with an iron hand.
The "crusades" were religious wars carried on in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, between the Christian nations of the West and the Muslims of the East. Christian pilgrims had for ages made pilgrimages to Palestine to visit the various places hallowed by the presence of Messiah during his earthly sojourn. But then the Turks captured Jerusalem, towards the close of the eleventh century. Then the Christian pilgrims were met with insult and cruelty. The western nations, under the fervent preaching of "Peter the Hermit," a native of France, who had witnessed the atrocities practiced upon Christians in the Holy Land, were lashed into a fury of resentment against the Turks. Pope Urban II, took up the cause, and advocated wresting the Holy Land from the dominion of the infidels. Europe responded by concluding that "God wills it," and preparations were made for the "holy war." The process of raising money for this war resulted in selling off some of the lands included in the former feudal system of land holding. The feudal system had made near slaves of the tenants. Therefore, preparations for war resulted in a greater freedom for the people.
John Wycliffe was born in the 1300s and was a professor at Oxford University in England. He boldly assailed the ever-growing and greatly abused power of the monks, and denounced the corruption of the church and the prevalence of doctrinal errors. He was particularly emphatic in his opposition to the papal restrictions as to the popular study of the scriptures, and gave to the world an English version of the Holy Bible translated from the Vulgate. He lived almost two hundred years before the Reformation, and was indeed a man ahead of his time. Historians have called Wycliffe the "Morning star of the Reformation." The church expelled Wycliffe from his teaching position at Oxford, and forty-four years after his death, the pope ordered his bones exhumed and burned. Intense persecution stamped out his followers and teachings.
The mid 1400s AD marked the beginning of the "awakening" or the "revival of learning." It was during this period that the struggle for freedom from church tyranny began. Literature, science, and art seemed to spring into active life. The invention of gunpowder [it was invented by Schwartz in 1320], had completely revolutionized the modes of warfare; making the peasant more nearly equal with the master. The employment of the mariners' compass made ocean navigation less dangerous; the discovery of a new passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope, by Vasco da Gama, and the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492 greatly enlarged the commerce of Europe and increased the comforts of life. Painting in oil came into vogue about this time and filled Europe with masterpieces of art; engraving on copper, invented early in the same century, multiplied and diffused them. Paper made of linen also came into common use. Finally, between AD 1436 and 1452, printing was invented, which gave to the modern world the intellectual riches of the ancients.
With the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s, the Bible became available to many people who previously had been denied it. Until then it was forbidden for anyone but a Catholic priest to have or to read the Bible. As a result, people began to note distinct differences between Bible teachings and the policies and actions of the established church. People began to form their own ideas of how the gospel ought to be administered and interpreted.
On the continent of Europe the agitation against the church was carried on by John Huss and by Jerome of Prague, both of whom were martyred as the harvest of their righteous zeal. Obviously, though the church had long been apostate to the core, there were men ready to sacrifice their lives in what they deemed to be the cause of truth.
Conditions existing at the opening of the sixteenth century have been concisely summarized by a modern historian as follows: "Previous to the opening of the sixteenth century there had been comparatively few-though there had been some . . . like the Wycliffites, in England, and the Hussites, in Bohemia-who denied the supreme and infallible authority of the bishop of Rome in all matters touching religion. Speaking in a very general manner it would be correct to say that at the close of the fifteenth century all the nations of Western Europe professed the faith of the Latin or Roman Catholic Church, and yielded obedience to the Papal See" (P.V.N. Myers, General History, 520).
The beginning of the sixteenth century, however, marked the beginning of the Reformation, a "protest" (hence Protestant) movement that started with great reformers, especially Martin Luther (Lutheran) and John Calvin (Presbyterian and Puritan).
About AD 1517 in Germany, Martin Luther was a monk of the Augustinian order and an instructor in the University of Wittenberg. His studies soon revealed to him a wide discrepancy between the religion of the scriptures and that of the church. A journey to Rome brought him in contact with the corruption of the Italian clergy. That visit to Rome dispelled much of the veneration in which he had held the "Holy See." Luther publicly opposed and strongly denounced Tetzel, the shameless agent of papal indulgences. Luther was conscientious in his conviction that the whole system of church penances and indulgences was contrary to scripture, reason, and right. He contended that the supremacy of the Roman pontiffs was of human, not divine right. It was a human arrangement. In line with the academic custom of the day-to challenge discussion and debate on disputed questions-Luther wrote his famous ninety-five theses against the practice of granting indulgences, and a copy of these he nailed to the door of Wittenberg church, inviting criticism thereon from all scholars. The news spread, and the theses were discussed in all scholastic centers of Europe. Luther then attacked other practices and doctrines of the Roman church. Among other things, Luther criticized the church for communion in which the sacramental cup was denied the laity, imposing celibacy on the clergy, private masses, auricular (private verbal) confession, legendary traditions, monastic vows, and lastly, the excessive power of the church. In respect to this last "abuse," a discrimination was drawn between civil and ecclesiastical power, and Luther insisted that neither should infringe upon the domain of the other.
The pope, Leo X, issued a "Bull" or papal decree against Luther, demanding an unconditional recantation on pain of excommunication from the Church. Luther publicly burned the pope's document, and thus declared his open revolt. Luther denounced the pope as "anti-Christ" and as the "man of sin" of Paul's writings. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced.
Pope Leo X called upon the emperor of Germany, Charles V, to vindicate his title of "Advocate and Defender of the Church" by inflicting due punishment upon that "rebellious member, Martin Luther." Luther was summoned to appear before the "diet" or council which assembled at Worms in 1521. The diet was a great council of the German empire, consisting of the princes, provincial rulers and the chief dignitaries of the church. It was usually assembled only for the consideration of very important matters pertaining to the empire. Luther spoke passionately before this body and was eventually allowed to return to Wittenberg and, at the same time, condemned as "an heretic misled by his own folly."
In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli led in the movement toward reform. He was accused of heresy, and when placed on trial, he defended himself on the authority of the Bible as against papal edict, and was for the time successful. The contest was bitter, and in AD 1531 the Catholics and Protestants of the region engaged in actual battle, in which Zwingli was slain, and his body brutally mutilated.
John Calvin next appeared as the leader of the Swiss reformers, though he was an opponent of many of Zwingli's doctrines. He exerted great influence as a teacher, and is known as an extremist in doctrine. He advocated and vehemently defended the tenet of absolute predestination, thus denying the free agency of man. In France, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland leaders arose and the Protestants became strong in their opposition to the Roman Church. However, the several divisions were antagonistic to one another on many points of doctrine.
One effect of this Protestant uprising was the partial awakening of the Roman church to the need of internal reform, and an authoritative restatement of Catholic principles was attempted. The movement was largely accomplished through the famous Council of Trent (AD 1545-1563), which body disavowed for the church the extreme claims made for "indulgences" and denied responsibility for many of the abuses with which the church had been charged. But in connection with the attempted reform came a demand for more implicit obedience to the requirements of the church.
Cardinal Gibbons described the Roman Catholic view of the Protestant Reformers:
The Reformers of the sixteenth century affirm that the church did fall into error; that the gates of hell did prevail against her; that from the sixth to the sixteenth century she was a sink of iniquity. The Book of Homilies of the Church of England says that the church "lay buried in damnable idolatry for eight hundred years and more." The personal veracity of our Savior and of the Reformers is here at issue, for our Lord makes a statement which they contradict. Who is to be believed, Jesus or Reformers?
If the prediction of our Savior about the preservation of his church from error be false, then Jesus Christ is not God, since God cannot lie. He is not even a prophet, since he predicted falsehood. Nay, he is an imposter, and all Christianity is a miserable failure and a huge deception, since it rests on a false prophet.
But if Jesus predicted the truth when he declared that the gates of hell should not prevail against his church-and who dare deny it?-then the church never has, and never could have fallen from the truth; then the Catholic Church is infallible, for she alone claims that prerogative, and she is the only church that is acknowledged to have existed from the beginning (Faith of Our Fathers, Gibbons, 86-7).
Near the end of the fifteenth century, in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the court of the Inquisition, then known as the Holy Office, had been established in Spain. The prime purpose of this secret tribunal was the detection and punishment of heresy. Of this infamous institution as operative in Spain, Myers says: "The Holy Office, as the tribunal was styled, thus became the instrument of the most incredible cruelty. Thousands were burned at the stake, and tens of thousands more condemned to endure penalties scarcely less terrible. Queen Isabella, in giving her consent to the establishment of the tribunal in her dominions, was doubtless actuated by the purest religious zeal, and sincerely believed that in suppressing heresy she was discharging a simple duty, and rendering God good service. 'In the love of Christ and His Maid- Mother,' she says, 'I have caused great misery. I have depopulated towns and districts, provinces and kingdoms'" (General History, 500).
Now, in the sixteenth century, in connection with the attempted reform in the doctrines of Catholicism, the terrible Inquisition, "assumed new vigor and activity, and heresy was sternly dealt with." Consider the following as throwing light on the conditions of that time: "At this point, in connection with the persecutions of the Inquisition, we should not fail to recall that in the sixteenth century a refusal to conform to the established worship was regarded by all, by Protestants as well as Catholics, as a species of treason against society and was dealt with accordingly. Thus we find, in England, the Anglican Protestants waging the most cruel, bitter, and persistent persecutions, not only against the Catholics but also against all Protestants that refused to conform to the Established Church" (Ibid., 527).
Once started upon the policy of suppressing by force those of a different religion, "Christianity" did not stop there. Also punishment was inflicted upon so-called heretics within the church, by those who were considered orthodox. War was waged against these Christian heretics in the name and for the glory of Christ. It is this practice which constitutes the darkest page of ecclesiastical history.
Gibbon wrote: "We shall conclude this chapter by a melancholy truth, which obtrudes itself on the reluctant mind: that, even admitting, without hesitation or inquiry, all that history has recorded, or devotion has feigned, on the subject of martyrdoms, it must still be acknowledged that the Christians, in the course of their intestine dissensions, have inflicted far greater severities on each other than they have experienced from the zeal of infidels" (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, volume 2, chapter 16, 284).
Gibbon later adds: "In the Netherlands alone more than one hundred thousand of the subjects of Charles the Fifth [emperor of Germany] are said to have suffered by the hand of the executioner; and this under a religious persecution. . . . The number of Protestants who were executed in a single province and a single reign, far exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of three centuries in the Roman empire" (Ibid., chapter 16, 285). In one single persecution, of one "Christian party" against another, and within one country, and within a few years, more executions-"Christian" martyrdoms-took place, than in all the three centuries of pagan persecutions! Also in one of the phases of this "war" of persecution, a massacre took place in France; its victims being variously estimated from 25,000 to 100,000 in number. "At Rome," writes Motley, in his Rise of the Dutch Republic (volume 2, 60)-"on the contrary, the news of the massacre created a joy beyond description!" "The pope," he continues (the infallible head of an infallible church! The supposed viceregent of God on earth, holding the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, successor of St. Peter), "accompanied by his cardinals, went solemnly to the church of St. Mark to render thanks to God for the grace thus singularly vouchsafed to the Holy See and to all Christendom; and a Te Deum was performed in the presence of the same august assembly" ( volume 2, 60).
What shall be said of a church that seeks to propagate its faith by such methods? Are fire and sword the weapons with which truth fights her battles? Are torture and death the arguments of the gospel? However terrible the persecutions to which the early church was subjected at the hands of heathen enemies, the persecutions waged by the apostate church are far more terrible. Can such a church by any possibility be the Church of Christ? Heaven forbid!
In the revolts we have noted against the Church of Rome, notably in the Reformation, the zeal of the reformers led to many fallacies in the doctrines they advocated. Luther, himself, proclaimed the doctrine of absolute predestination and of justification by faith alone, thus nullifying belief in the God-given rights of agency, and impairing the importance of individual effort. Calvin and others were no less extreme. Nevertheless their ministry contributed to the awakening of individual conscience, and assisted in bringing about a measure of religious freedom of which the world had long been deprived.
At the time of Martin Luther's revolt against the Church of Rome, Henry VIII reigned in England. In common with all other countries of western Europe, Britain was profoundly stirred by the reformation movement. The king openly defended the Catholic Church and published a book in opposition to Luther's claims. This so pleased the pope, Leo X, that he conferred upon King Henry the distinguishing title, "Defender of the Faith." This took place about AD 1522, and from that time to the present, British sovereigns have proudly borne the title.
Within a few years after his accession to this title of distinction, we find King Henry among the bitterest enemies of the Roman church. Henry desired a divorce from his wife, Queen Catherine, to give him freedom to marry Anne Boleyn. The pope hesitated in the matter of granting the divorce, and Henry, becoming impatient, disregarded the pope's authority and secretly married Anne Boleyn. The pope thereupon excommunicated the king from the Church. The English parliament, following the king's directions, passed the celebrated Act of Supremacy in AD 1534. This statute declared an absolute termination of all allegiance to papal authority, and proclaimed the king as supreme head of the church in Britain. The Act of Supremacy allowed people other than the pope to reform the church' s teachings and was the catalyst for further reformation by splinter groups attempting to restore the New Testament church. Thus originated the Church of England, without regard for or claim of divine authority, and without even a semblance of priestly succession.
At first there was little innovation in doctrine or ritual in the newly formed church. It had originated in revolt. Later a form of creed and a plan of organization were adopted, giving the Church of England some distinctive features. During the reigns of Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, persecutions between Catholics and Protestants were extensive and violent.
Within the various Protestant groups, there began to be widespread disagreement over points of doctrine, the form of liturgy, church government, and other issues. These disagreements led to the formation of many splinter denominations. For example, the Anglican Church broke away from the Church of England. Then a group of people called Separatists, eventually called Congregationalists, broke away from the Anglican Church because they did not think they could reform the church from within. Another group of Separatists went to the Netherlands under the direction of John Smyth and became known as the Baptists. Later, in the 1700s, John Wesley, unable to reform the Anglican Church to his satisfaction, began the movement known today as the Methodists. From among these groups came the notable colony of the Pilgrim Fathers, who crossed in the Mayflower to the shores of the then recently-discovered continent, and established themselves in America.
Some churches seemed to begin spontaneously. Pentecostal churches, for example, originated at revivals in 1901 at a Bible college in Topeka, Kansas, where people spoke in a language they had never learned (that is, they spoke "in tongues"). Today individual Pentecostal denominations differ greatly in interpretations of matters of faith and prophecy. As a result, there are now more than thirty separate Pentecostal denominations in the United States and Canada, each believing in its own approach to worship and evangelism!
Other churches were formed by government acts. For example, the United Church of Canada, established in 1925 following an act of Canadian Parliament, was originally a conglomeration of three theologies: Methodism, Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism. Another church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church, later joined the United Church of Canada.
The above examples are only a small representation of the fragmenting and dividing of churches through reform. By the early 1800s, literally hundreds of churches had been organized to express the individual religious desires and biblical interpretations of the people. As these churches spread to other countries, further reformation produced groups that were markedly different from their parent religious groups. Even through the 1800s and into this century, religious division has continued. This division is a fulfillment of the prophecy in 2 Thessalonians that there would be a "falling away" from the church Christ established during his mortal ministry (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
It may be said that there are three great "reproaches" or faults of the great Reformation movement. These include:
1. The evil of the multiplication of sects. The Reformers broke away from the authority of the Church of Rome and set up the Bible and their own interpretation of it, as the final court of appeal in religious matters. On this basis, where was division and subdivision or multiplication of sects to halt? If Reformers could cast off the authority of the Church of Rome and interpret the Bible for themselves and to their own liking, how could they, legitimately, prevent others in turn, from casting aside the assumed authority of the Reformed churches, interpret the Bible for themselves, and found new churches? Essentially, the reformers broke with spiritual authority, enthroned private interpretation of the Bible as a rightful means of determining true doctrine, and then hoped vainly to maintain some conformity and uniformity in their doctrine. Consider the following few quotations from early reformers:
Capito, minister of Strasburg, writing to Forel, pastor of Geneva: "God has given me to understand the mischief we have done by our precipitancy in breaking with the pope. The people say I know enough of the gospel. I can read it for myself. I have no need of you" [ministers or priests]. In the same tone Dutith writes to his friend Beza: "Our people are carried away with every wind of doctrine. If you know what their religion is today, you cannot tell what it will be tomorrow. In what single point are those churches which have declared war against the pope agreed amongst themselves? There is not one point which is not held by some of them as an article of faith, and by others as an impiety." In the same sentiment, Calvin, writing to Melanchthon, says: "It is of great importance that the divisions which subsist among us should not be known to future ages: for nothing can be more ridiculous than that we, who have broken off from the whole world, should have agreed so ill among ourselves from the very beginning of the Reformation" (End of Religious Controversy, letter 8, 101).
2. Tyranny or persecution. Protestants have persecuted "heretics" from their own doctrines; and also they have persecuted Roman Catholics and others, when they possessed the power; and when time, place and their own interests seem to make it to their advantage to do so; or when hatred or revenge prompted them to do it.
The great error which the reformers made was in not giving full application to their principle of the right of private judgment in matters of religion. They claimed the right to revolt from the Catholic Church, to interpret the Bible for themselves, and to found their mode of worship upon their own conceptions of what was required by the revelations of God. But when others differed from them and desired to exercise the same liberty, the reformers were themselves intolerant, and attempted to compel men by force to accept their religious faith and modes of worship. It is this intolerance which is the chief "reproach" applied to the Reformation by its enemies, and it must be admitted that it somewhat sullies the glory of its achievements.
It is clear that the Protestants became a persecuting body. History confirms the fact. It is sustained by the persecution of Catholics in England under the Protestant reigns of Henry VIII, of Edward VI, and Queen Elizabeth (William Smith's History of England, 1878, 135, 136, 156). The hanging of Catholics at Tyburn bears grim witness against the Protestant reformers and of the damnable cruelties these religionists practiced upon each other.
Calvin, the leading reformer of France, is generally held responsible for the burning of Servetus at the stake for heresy, and the "gentle Melanchthon," who of all the leading reformers detested violence most, approved the act (Calvin's Epistle, 147, edition Geneva, 1575). Calvin again in his letter to the Earl of Somerset, speaking of the papists and of the fanatical sect of the "gospellers," says "They ought to be repressed by the avenging sword which the Lord has put into your hands (Calvin's Epistles, 67).
"The Roman Catholics, as their system rested on the decisions of an infallible judge, never doubted that truth was on their side, and openly called on the civil power to repel the impious and heretical innovators who had risen up against it. The Protestants, no less confident that their doctrine was well founded, required with equal ardor the princes of their party to check such as presumed to impugn or oppose it. Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Knox, the founders of the 'Reformed' church in their respective countries, inflicted, as far as they had power and opportunity, the same punishments, which were denounced by the Church of Rome, upon such as called in question any article of their creed" (History of Civilization, Guizot, volume 1, lecture 12, 266).
3. The Reformation was not a genuine religious reformation at all. Not only did it not restore primitive Christianity or the Christianity of the Apostolic Church; but doctrinally it did not improve on the doctrine of the Roman Church. It is true that the Protestants did not pursue some of the "abuses" of the Roman Catholic system, but in the great fundamental things or doctrines of the gospel, they did not improve on the theology of Rome.
The Reformation resulted in no change in the doctrine of God as conceived by Roman Catholic theology. They adopted largely the Roman Catholic creeds of the first few Christian centuries. Thus, they define God as "incorporeal," without "body, parts or passions." The truth of Christ's resurrection is as Christ himself presented it: "A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have;" and he ate material food in their presence (Luke 24:36-43; Acts 10:40; Acts 10:41).
Neither did the Reformation restore a church after the pattern of the Apostolic Church with the same organization, priesthood, revelation, visitation of angels, and gifts of the Spirit.
Beginning with Luther, the Reformation movement has been dominated by the idea that justification, and hence salvation, comes by faith alone, a faith which man has no part in generating, but which comes only through the grace of God. Works are regarded as of no consequence. This has obviously led to considerable abuse. This doctrinal "reformation" is considered to be among the most vital of doctrinal reformations.
The Great Reformers Never Believed their Church to be the One "True Church"
It is informative to review the attitudes and positions of the great reformers in relation to the movements their protestations founded. Did they seek to establish the one "true church"? Did they think they had the power to act in God's name and to administer the ordinances as clearly manifest by the apostles in the New Testament? They did not.
Martin Luther was surprised and disappointed to find that his efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church had instead founded a new church. Moreover, he did not want his name on any church because he felt that the church should take its name only from Christ, yet this new church was named after him! Luther simply stated in his writings that he wanted to reform the church according to the holy scriptures and that the Catholic Church had failed in its responsibility to preserve Christianity.
First an Anglican priest, then a Puritan sympathizer, Roger Williams, founder of the state of Rhode Island and of the Baptist Church in the Americas, was at heart, a separatist. He firmly believed that the authority to act in the name of God was taken from the earth and that none in his day held that sacred right. Williams had great faith in Jesus Christ and knew that he would not withdraw himself from the world completely, but would, in time, send "new apostles to recover and restore all the ordinances and churches of Christ out of the ruins of anti-Christian apostasy" (Donald Skaggs, Roger Williams' Dream for America, 43). Christ urged his followers to establish an environment that would permit God to "pour forth those fiery streams again of tongues and prophecy in the restoration of Zion" (Ibid., 49).
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an ordained priest in the Church of England who tried to reform the church in accord with biblical principles. His Methodist societies were mere study groups within the Church of England until 1784 when Wesley was forced to begin his own sect in order to provide ministers to the Methodist societies in New England. Like Luther, Williams, and others, Wesley recognized that divine administrative authority had indeed been taken from the earth through apostasy.
After the passing of these and other reformers, their churches were left in much the same state in which they were founded. Nevertheless, to preserve and perpetuate their philosophies, each of these religious organizations eventually established colleges where those choosing a career in the ministry could be trained. In these special universities, students were taught the religious dogma of their own faith-doctrine based on a mixture of biblical scripture and the philosophies of men. Once they had been trained for the ministry, these new pastors went forth to expound their individual interpretations and to win converts to their unique brand of religious philosophy.
Regarding the apostasy of the early Christian church, it should be noted that Protestant writers are obliged to support the theory that the Christian church survived all the abuses and corruptions which beset it, otherwise they would have no logical ground for the sixteenth century "Reformation" to stand upon. Hence, we may not expect to find a full statement of the corruptions of early Christianity and their consequences in either Catholic or Protestant writings. Both are equally interested in preserving the notion of the perpetuity of the early church.
It goes without saying that the Roman church and Catholic historians are fully committed to the idea that the primitive church did survive to the present day. Brother Hugh Nibley has reported on an astonishing argument used by some Catholic apologists. Brother Nibley says:
Where no rhetorical cunning could bridge the gap between the views of the fourth century and those of the early church, the latter were frankly discounted as suitable to a state of immaturity beyond which the church had happily progressed, emancipated from the "childish tales and vaporings of old grandmothers" (Chrysostom, Exposition on Psalm 110.4). The learned fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries boast that the wise and noble who shunned the primitive church are now safe in the bosom of a Christian society which preaches and practices things that would have frightened off the rude converts of an earlier day, and invoked the eloquence of Demosthenes against the [crude simplifications] of the literal minded (Jerome, Against John the Jerusalemite, 11-12). This has been the official line ever since, and modern churchmen duly shudder at the thought of being "at the mercy of the primitive Church, its teachings, its life, its understanding" (Krister Stendahl, "Implications of Form-Criticism and Tradition-Criticism for Biblical Interpretation," Journal of Biblical Literature 77 :34) and, "and congratulate themselves on having outgrown the "fond imaginings of the Apostles" (A. C. Cotter, "The Eschatological Discourse," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 1 : 205) (When the Lights Went Out, 24-25).
At the time of Joseph Smith's early childhood, the only church venturing to assert authority by succession was the Catholic Church, which has been shown to be wholly without priesthood or divine commission. If the "Mother Church" be without divine authority or spiritual power, how can her children derive from her the right to officiate in the things of God? It is difficult to support the absurdity that man can originate for himself a priesthood which God shall honor and respect. Granted that men may, can and do, create among themselves societies, associations, sects, Bible study groups, and churches if they choose so to designate their religious organizations. Granted that they may formulate laws, prescribe rules, and construct elaborate plans of organization and government, and that all such laws, and rules and schemes of administration are binding upon those who voluntarily assume membership. But whence can these human creations obtain the authority of the holy Priesthood, without which there can be no Church of Christ?
It is instructive to note that the weakness of the Protestant sects' claim to divine appointment and authority, is recognized by those churches themselves. The Church of England, which, as shown, originated in revolt against the Roman Catholic Church and its pope, is without foundation of claim to divine authority in its priestly orders, unless, indeed, it dare assert the absurdity that kings and parliaments can create and take unto themselves heavenly authority by enactment of earthly statutes.
The Roman Catholic Church is at least consistent in its claim that a line of succession in the priesthood has been maintained from the apostolic age to the present, though the claim is utterly untenable in the light of a rational interpretation of history. But the fact remains that the Catholic Church is the only organization venturing to assert the present possession of the holy priesthood by unbroken descent from the apostles of our Lord. The Church of England, chief among the Protestant sects, and all other dissenting churches, are by their own admission and by the circumstances of their origin, man-made institutions, without a semblance of claim to the powers and authority of the holy priesthood.
As late as 1896 the question of the validity of the priestly orders in the Church of England was officially and openly discussed and considered, both in England and at Rome. Lord Halifax, chairman of the English Church Union conferred with the Vatican authorities to ascertain the possibility of bringing about closer union between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. This involved the question of the recognition of the priestly orders of the Anglican Church by the pope and Church of Rome. The movement was favored in the interests of unity and peace by the English premier, Mr. Gladstone. The pope, Leo XIII, finally issued a decree refusing to recognize in any degree the authority of the Anglican orders, and expressly declaring all claims to priestly authority by the Church of England as absolutely invalid.
Assuredly the Church of Rome could take no other action than this and maintain the consistency of its own claim to exclusive possession of the priesthood by descent. Assuredly the Church of England would have sought no official recognition of its priestly status by the Church of Rome had it any independent claim to the power and authority of the priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church declares that all Protestant denominations are either apostate organizations, or institutions of human creation that have never had even a remote connection with the church that claims succession in the priesthood. In short, the apostate "Mother Church" aggressively proclaims the perfidy (faithlessness or treachery) of her offspring.
The fact of the great apostasy is admitted. Many theologians who profess a belief in Christianity have declared the fact. A secular Christian Bible Dictionary states: "We must not expect to see the Church of Christ existing in its perfection on the earth. It is not to be found thus perfect, either in the collected fragments of Christendom or still less in any one of those fragments" (Smith's Dictionary of the Bible).
John Wesley, who lived from AD 1703 to 1791, and who ranks as chief among the founders of Methodism, comments as follows on the apostasy of the Christian church as evidenced by the early decline of spiritual power and the cessation of the gifts and graces of the Spirit of God within the Church:
It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian, and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby heaped riches and power and honor upon Christians in general, but in particular upon the Christian clergy. From this time they [gifts of the Holy Spirit] almost totally ceased, very few instances of the kind being found. The cause of this was not, as has been supposed, because there was no more occasion for them, because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christians. The real cause of it was that the love of many, almost all Christians, so-called, was waxed cold. The Christians had no more of the spirit of Christ than the other heathens. The Son of Man, when He came to examine his Church, could hardly find faith upon earth. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian church-because the Christians were turned heathens again, and only had a dead form left" (John Wesley's Works, volume 7, 89:26-27).
The Church of England makes official declaration of degeneracy and loss of divine authority in these words: "Laity and clergy, learned and unlearned, all ages, sects, and degrees, have been drowned in abominable idolatry most detested by God and damnable to man for eight hundred years and more" (Church of England "Homily on Perils of Idolatry," 3). The "Book of Homilies," in which occurs this declaration by the Church of England, dates from about the middle of the sixteenth century. According to this official statement, therefore, the religious world had been utterly apostate for eight centuries prior to the establishment of the Church of England. The fact of a universal apostasy was widely proclaimed, for the homilies from which the foregoing citation is taken were "appointed to be read in churches" in lieu of sermons under specified conditions.
To the faithful Latter-day Saint, a concluding proof of the universal apostasy and of the absolute need of a restoration of Priesthood from the heavens will be found in the divine reply to the inquiry of the boy prophet, Joseph Smith, as to which of all the contending sects was right: "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof'" (JS-H 1:19).