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The Early Centuries of the Pilgrim Church
20 December 2014
The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent.
In the first article, I gave an introduction to The Pilgrim Church. And although I am not counting it as part of this series, in my last article — The Empire Strikes Back — I did quote briefly from this book as well.
You may be wondering why I am sharing such extensive extracts from a book of Church history. What does it matter for followers of Yeshua (Jesus) today? There are a number of very important reasons.
A handful of the paragraphs below were already shared in The Pilgrim Church introductory article, but are repeated here because they fit into the flow of what is being shared in this article. Besides, what Mr. Broadbent wrote is so important that it can’t hurt to read it again.
Please note the author’s particular use of the word “primitive” when referring to the early churches. He is using it in the specific sense of “being the first or earliest of the kind or in existence,” and NOT in the more general sense of “uncivilized, savage, simple, unsophisticated, crude, or unrefined.”
The means adopted to counter these attacks and to preserve unity of doctrine negatively affected the Church even more than the heresies themselves, for it was largely due to them that the episcopal power and control grew up along with the clerical system which began so soon and so seriously to modify the character of the churches.
As the churches increased, the first zeal flagged and conformity to the world and its ways increased. This did not progress without protest. As the organization of the catholic group of churches developed, there were formed within it circles which aimed at reform.
Some churches separated from it; others, holding to the original New Testament doctrines and practices in a greater or less degree, gradually found themselves separated from the churches which had largely abandoned New Testament doctrines and practices.
The fact that the Catholic Church system later became the dominant one puts us in possession of a great body of its literature, while the literature of those who differed from it has been suppressed, and they are chiefly known to us by what may be gleaned from the writings directed against them.
It is thus easy to gain the erroneous impression that in the first three centuries there was one united Catholic Church and a variety of comparatively unimportant heretical bodies. On the contrary, however, there were then, as now, a number of divergent lines of testimony, each marked by some special characteristics, and different groups of mutually-excluding churches. Montanists. The use of the name of some prominent man to describe an extensive spiritual movement is misleading, and although it must sometimes be accepted for the sake of convenience, it should always be with the reservation that, however important a man may be as a leader and proponent, a spiritual movement affecting multitudes of people is something larger and more significant.
In view of the increasing worldliness in the Church, and the way in which, among the leaders, learning was taking the place of spiritual power, many believers were deeply impressed with the desire for a fuller experience of the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit, and were looking for spiritual revival and a return to apostolic teaching and practice.
In Phrygia, Montanus began to teach (AD 156), he and those with him protesting against the prevailing laxity in the relations of the Church to the world. The Montantist hoped to raise up congregations that should return to the primitive piety, live as those waiting for the Lord's return, and especially give to the Holy Spirit His rightful place in the Church.
The Catholic system obliged the bishops to take increasing control, while the Montanists resisted this, maintaining that the guidance of the churches was the prerogative of the Holy Spirit, and that room should be left for His workings. These differences soon led to the formation of separate churches in the East, but in the West the Montanists long remained as societies within the Catholic churches, and it was only after many years that they were excluded from or left them. Constantine, the name of Cathars, or Puritans, though it does not appear that they took this name themselves.
The name Novatians was also given to them, though Novatian was not their founder, but one who, in his day, was a leader among them. They ceased to recognize the Catholic churches or to acknowledge any value in their ordinances. Donatists in North Africa were influenced by the teaching of Novatian. They separated from the Catholic Church on points of discipline, laying stress on the character of those who administered the sacraments, while the Catholics considered the sacraments themselves as more important.
In their earlier years, the Donatists, who were given this name after two leading men among them, both of the name of Donatus, were distinguished from the Catholics generally by their superior character and conduct. In parts of North Africa they became the most numerous of the different branches of the Church.
However much the churches were divided in view and practice, they were united in suffering and victory. Then in AD 312 Constantine issued an edict bringing the persecution of Christians to a sudden end. This was followed a year later by the Edict of Milan, by which all men were given freedom to follow whatever religion they chose.
In later times those churches which, faithful to the Word of God, were persecuted by the dominant Church as heretics and sects, frequently refer in their writings to their entire dissent from the union of Church and State in the time of Constantine and of Sylvester, then bishop in Rome.
They trace their continuance from primitive scriptural churches in unbroken succession from apostolic times — passing unscathed through the period when so many churches associated themselves with worldly power — right down to their own day. For all such, persecution was soon renewed, but instead of coming from the pagan Roman Empire, it came from what claimed to be the Church, wielding the power of the Christianized State.
When the Donatists, being very numerous in North Africa, appealed to Constantine in their strife with the Catholic party, he gave his decision against the Donatists, who were then persecuted and punished. But this did not allay the strife, which continued until both Donatists and Catholics were blotted out by the Islamic invasion in the seventh century. The first general council of the Catholic churches was summoned by Constantine in 325, and met in Nicea. The principle question before it was the doctrine taught by Arius. Although the decision reached was right, the way of reaching it, by the combined efforts of the Emperor and the bishops and enforcing it by the power of the State, showed the departure of the Catholic church from Scripture.
Not only the first, but the first six General Councils, of which the last was held in 680, were occupied to a large extent with questions as to the divine nature. In the course of endless discussions, creeds were hammered out and dogmas enunciated in the hope that the truth would by them be fixed and could then be handed down to succeeding generations.
It is noticeable that in the Scriptures this method is not used. From them we see that mere letter cannot convey the truth, which is spiritually apprehended, neither can it be handed from one to another. Each one must receive and appropriate it for himself in his inward dealings with God, and be established in it by confessing and maintaining it in the conflict of daily life. Augustine (353-430), whose teachings have left an indelible mark on all succeeding ages. His view of what the City of God is led him into teachings that have given rise to unspeakable misery, the very greatness of his name accentuating the harmful effects of the error he taught.
He, beyond others, formulated the doctrine of salvation by the Church only, by means of her sacraments. To take salvation out of the hands of the Saviour and put it into the hands of men, to interpose a system of man’s devising between the Saviour and the sinner, is the very opposite of the Gospel revelation. Christ says: “Come unto Me” and no priest or church has authority to intervene.
Augustine, in his zeal for the unity of the Church and his genuine abhorrence of all divergence in doctrine and difference in form, lost sight of the spiritual, living, and indestructible unity of the Church and Body of Christ, uniting all who are sharers by the new birth in the life of God.
Consequently, he did not see the practical possibility of the existence of churches of God in various places and in all times, each retaining its immediate relation with the Lord and with the Spirit, yet having fellowship with the others, and that in spite of human weakness, of varying degrees of knowledge, of divergent understandings of Scripture and differences of practice.
His outward view of the Church as an earthly organization naturally led him to seek outward, material means for preserving, and even compelling, visible unity. His teaching incited and justified those methods of persecution by which papal Rome equalled the cruelties of pagan Rome. So a man of strong affections and quick and tender sympathies, departing from the principles of Scripture, though with good intentions, became implicated in a vast and ruthless system of persecution.
Sacerdotalism would make salvation to be found only in the Church and by means of its sacraments administered by its priests. In the early centuries of Church history, of course, the Church meant the Roman Church, but the doctrine has been applied to themselves, and still is, by many other systems, larger and smaller.
Nothing is taught more clearly and insistently by the Lord and the apostles than that the sinner’s salvation is by faith in the Son of God, in His atoning death and resurrection. A church or circle which claims that in it alone salvation is to be found; men who claim for themselves the power of admission to or exclusion from the kingdom of God; sacraments or forms that are made into necessary means of salvation — all give rise to tyrannies that bring untold miseries on mankind and obscure the true way of salvation that Christ has opened to all men through faith in Him.
Circumstances in the world, devastation by barbarians, and in the Church, deflected from its proper testimony in the world, made them hopeless either of fellowship with God in daily life or of fellowship with other believers in the churches. So they retired into desert places and lived as hermits, in order that, freed from the distractions and temptations of ordinary life, they might by contemplation attain to that vision and knowledge of God for which their souls craved.
As the popes of Rome gradually came to dominate the Church and to occupy themselves in intrigue and fighting for worldly power, the monastic system drew to itself many of those who were spiritual and who had desires after God and after holiness.
A monastery, however, differed widely from a church in the New Testament sense of the word, so that those souls that felt themselves impelled to flee from the worldly Roman Church did not find in the monastery what a true church would have provided. They were bound under the rules of an institution instead of experiencing the free workings of the Holy Spirit.
Beginning with poverty and severest self-denial, the monastic orders became rich and powerful, relaxed their discipline, and grew into self-indulgence and worldliness. Then a reaction would induce some to begin a new order of absolute self-humiliation, which in its turn traced the same cycle.
Even worse, the religious orders came to be active instruments in papal hands for the persecution of all who endeavored to restore the churches of God on their original foundation. The gradual transformation of the New Testament churches from their original pattern into organizations so different from it that its relation to them came to be scarcely recognizable, seemed as though it might continue until all was lost.
The effort to save the churches from disunion and heresy by means of the episcopal and clerical system not only failed but brought great evils in its train. The expectation that the persecuted churches would gain by union with the State was disappointed. Monasticism proved unable to provide a substitute for the churches as a refuge from the world, becoming itself worldly.
There never ceased to be congregations, true churches, which adhered to the Scriptures as the guide of faith and doctrine, the pattern both for individual conduct and for church order. These, though hidden and despised, exercised an influence that did not fail to bear fruit.
Except for books like The Pilgrim Church, these lies and errors have never been corrected, and are therefore the accepted version of history. The Wikipedia articles I have referenced promote this same false history. That is why it is so vital to get your own copy of The Pilgrim Church so you can read for yourself the true history of Yeshua’s Ekklesia.
This series on the history of Yeshua’s faithful ones continues in the following parts:
This article is 61st a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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