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Early Church History Newsletter: July 3, 2008 - Fighting for the Truth
July 04, 2009
Dear Friends,

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I am repeatedly amazed at the nonsense that is passed around as true Christian history.

Just yesterday I read that the Council of Nicea changed baptism from "Jesus name to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (they didn't). A few days ago someone asked a question on Yahoo about the Council of Nicea, and they were told:

  • They came to a conclusion that Jesus and God were one and the same
  • Saint Nicholas was at this council, and he slapped Arius across the face
  • The council destroyed all the Celtic sacred circles and planted ugly buildings over the sites, then plagiarized the Celtic belief system to create Christmas.

None of these things are true, and a couple of them are silly. Nonetheless, people who know absolutely nothing about the history of Constantine and the Council of Nicea gave authoritative answers to someone with a question.

Gnostic Histories

It has become very popular to rewrite history from a gnostic perspective.

Most popular of all was The Da Vinci Code. It--like all other gnostic histories--suggests that the apostles did not have the true message of Christ. Instead, everything was symbolic, and the apostles missed it.

The Da Vinci Code has the exciting message that salvation is through sex, and the author, Dan Brown, is careful to leave you with the impression that his fiction book is based on non-fiction facts.

It's no surprise the book was so popular.

Dan Brown is not the only one rewriting history. Elaine Pagels, Hugh Schonfield, and Bart Ehrman are others insisting that their version of history deserves a hearing.

Reasons the Traditional Version of Christian History is Correct

1. The gnostics couldn't keep anything straight.

Every version of gnostic history is different. The only consistent thing in the gnostic belief system is that the apostles got it wrong.

Tertullian used this fact to bring out a very pertinent point:

It is supposed that schisms seldom happen among heretics because even when they exist, they are not obvious. Their very unity is a schism!
    … every man … modifies the traditions he has received. just like the man who handed them their traditions did.
    … In short, all heresies, when thoroughly looked into, are found harboring dissent on many points even from their own founders.
   The majority of them don't even have churches. Motherless, houseless, creedless, outcasts, they wander around in their own essential worthlessness. (Prescription Against Heretics 42, c. A.D. 200)

Speaking of False Histories

There are some home church Christians who will be thrilled to read "the majority of them don't have churches" and that they were "houseless" and "creedless."

Those people, those particular home church Christians will suggest, are the true Christians. They must have been persecuted by the catholic churches.

Wishful thinking does not make for accurate history.

It's important to remember of whom we're speaking. These "houseless" and "creedless" people believed that the God of Israel, the Creator of all, is a secondary, ignorant God whose commands should be ignored as useless, capricious, and selfish.

Every new generation and every new teacher of gnosticism invented new truth. Tertullian asked, "Truth had to wait for certain Marcionites and Valentinians to set it free?" (ibid. 29).

In other words, if Marcion or some other gnostic is correct, what happened before they arrived on the scene to discover their new truth? Was the truth unknown to the world until Marcion show up in the late 2nd century to restore it.

Irenaeus, about 20 years earlier, argued the same thing, referencing some new gnostic teacher whose name he does not give:

Iu, Iu, Phew, Phew! Well may we utter these tragic exclamations at such a pitch of audacity in coining names … It is most obvious that he admits that the things he's said are his own invention and that he himself has given names … which have never been previously suggested, so that unless he had appeared in the world, the truth would still be destitute of a name. (Against Heresies I:11:3-4)

2. The Apostles Churches Had a Unity Only Explainable by Truth

The flip side of his argument is also true. The apostles' churches did have unity.

In the light of the situation in the second century, there is no explanation for the unity of the apostolic churches except that they were faithfully holding to what the apostles taught.

Tertullian explains:

Is it likely that so many churches ... went astray into one and the same faith? ... Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various results. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. (Prescription Against Heretics 28)

Those early churches had no hierarchy. Each church was independent (though churches did write and speak to one another to keep each other accountable). They were spread across the vast reaches of the Roman empire, north into uncivilized, barbarian country, and east into Persia and even India.

Nonetheless, Irenaeus was able to boast that even the barbarians, who were illiterate, still understood and preached the same Gospel.

Those barbarians who believe in Christ ... without paper or ink ... carefully [preserve] the ancient tradition. ... They are barbarians, so far as regards our language, but in regard to doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed. (Against Heresies III:4:2)

Irenaeus considered these things "a priori proof that the church is immoveable, and that the theories [of the gnostics] are but a tissue of falsehoods" (ibid. I:9:5).

Standing Against "Tissues of Falsehoods" Today

It is not only The Da Vinci Code that tries to produce a false history.

First, there's the Roman Catholics, who try to use apostolic succession to argue that their doctrine and hierarchy has existed since the apostles.

Then there's numerous groups that have written books trying to trace their history back to apostolic times. The Baptists have produced Trail of Blood, and home churches have produced The Torch of the Testimony. There's another I read two decades ago called The Pilgrim Church, but I don't remember its premise, so I won't include it with the others.

Trail of Blood, however, and The Torch of the Testimony I know to carry a history that cannot be true. There were no Baptist-type believers before the Reformation (began 1517) because numerous important Baptist doctrines had never been conceived of prior to that point. (For example: eternal security, the Baptist version of salvation by faith alone, asking Jesus into your heart, baptism that's symbolic, etc.)

Baptismal Regeneration

Don't get too caught up in my comments on baptism in this section. I'm just telling you history, and that history is true.

However, it is obvious that God has seen fit to regenerate (i.e., make "born again") many people apart from baptism. He did it first with Cornelius in Acts 10, knowing that had he not done otherwise, Peter would never have baptized Cornelius, a gentile.

The fact that God in his mercy has seen fit to save people in response to a sinner's prayer--rather than baptism, the original "appeal to God for a good conscience" (1 Pet. 3:21)--doesn't give us the right to change history.

The Torch of the Testimony argues directly that there have always been churches who were led by elders of equal authority, allowed free participation, and didn't over-emphasize baptism. Then the author searches for any group he can find about which little is known and asserts that they were like this.

Nonsense. That's not history.

Baptism was never a non-issue before about 1700. Prior to that time, everyone knew that baptism was the way you sealed your commitment to Christ. Therefore, none of them balked at the words baptismal regeneration. Those words were simply normal. God gives us new birth, and baptism is the entrance to that new birth.

Obviously, that being true, everyone would have been shocked at someone with the audacity to forego baptism! There were no groups teaching it wasn't important.

We are told in Jude 3 to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

It's beginning to seem a bit complicated to do that, isn't it? How do you sort between all these histories and doctrines?

In the next newsletter, I'm going to give you the easy way: the uncomplicated, simple, straightforward, you-can't-get-this-wrong way back to the doctrines of the apostles.


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