Church history reveals the changes men have made in the plan revealed through Jesus and His apostles. The Inspired Scriptures reveal the church as God would have it. By comparing the two we understand how the present religious confusion developed. We may learn the lessons of history either by reading its pages or by repeating its mistakes.
Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). It came into being on the first Pentecost following His resurrection. See Acts, chapter two. All who are in the proper relationship with Christ comprise His church. Note Galatians 3:26-27 and Ephesians 5:23.
During the first century, believers came together as assemblies, or congregations, in each community for the purpose of worship, study, and encouragement. Each congregation was self-governing (Acts 14:23). There were no centralized governing agencies.
The Lord's Supper was commemorated on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 11:24-26). God was praised in song (Colossians 3:16) and prayer was offered (1 Timothy 2:2). The Scriptures were the basis for all teaching (Acts 2:42). Each member was to give as he had purposed in his heart (2 Corinthians 9:7).
The apostles warned of a "falling away" (Acts 20:28-30). This apostasy occured with a gradual shift in the concept of the church to that of a universal, or "catholic," organization. This was accompanied by a succession of doctrinal changes which were not from God.
The clergy and laity distinction began when the concept of the priesthood was borrowed from Judaism. Jesus taught equality among His followers (Matthew 23:8-9). Peter wrote of a priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9).
The Roman emperor, Constantine, saw a political advantage in Christianity and brought about an end to persecution with the Edict of Toleration in 313 AD. Many pagans became "Christians" in name only; some were paid to be baptized. Pagan rituals were introduced into worship. Images of saints and martyrs became popular. The Lord's Supper was changed from a memorial to a sacrifice in the Latin Mass. The adoration of the Virgin Mary took the place of the pagan worship of Venus and Diana.
Controversy over the nature of the Godhead led to the innovation of the church council with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Other innovations were holy water, monasticism, the Papacy, instrumental music, penance, extreme unction, purgatory, celibacy, indulgences, confession, and sprinkling instead of baptism. A division between eastern and western Catholicism occured in 1095 AD.
Widespread corruption in the Roman Catholic Church caused priests Huss (1373-1416), Savonarola (1452-1498), and Luther (1483-1546) to attempt reforms. Martin Luther's associates eventually called themselves Lutherans.
In England, Henry VIII broke with Rome resulting in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America. Emphasis upon spirituality by Charles and John Wesley resulted in Methodism. From Methodism have come several groups, each with its own special emphasis.
The Reformation in Scotland, led by John Knox, resulted in Presbyterianism. The name was derived from the organization of the congregation under presbyters.
Baptist churches are named for their emphasis upon baptism as immersion. The term "Baptist" as a denominational name appeared in 1644.
Most Protestant groups have been influenced by the writings of John Calvin, the systematizer of Reformation thought. Calvin's system has five main points: (1) Total inherited depravity -- Adams's sin inherited, (2) Unconditional election -- God has selected those who will be saved, (3) Limited atonement -- Christ died only for the elect, (4) Irresistible grace -- direct operation of the Holy Spirit, (5) Perseverance of the saints -- once saved; always saved. These five points as a whole make up a system of thought through which the Scriptures are interpreted. However, when each point is compared individually with the Scriptures each one can be seen as contradictory to the Scriptures.
A unity movement on the American frontier was led by preachers from the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist denominations who advocated a return to the Bible as the rule of faith. Denominational creeds, names, and practices were discontinued. Adherents were known as Disciples and Christians. Many congregations were formed with the determination to follow only the Bible. Each congregation usually identified itself as a congregation belonging to Christ -- a church of Christ.
The Bible should be studied and followed closely. This seed, planted in sincere hearts, produces Christians today just as it did in the first century. The spiritual body of Christ continues with each member in union with Christ the head of the body, the church.
Those who are obedient to Christ will want to assemble with other Christians to worship, edify, and make provision for the Lord's work to be done.
Additional details may be found in the following books:
Schaff, Philip. History of theChristian Church. 8 vols.
Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity.
West, Earl Irvin. The Search for the Ancient Order. 3 vols.
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Published 1981 by Robert L. Schales. This data file may be copied for personal use only. All copies must contain this notice. This file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, nor included in products for sale.