Since the first century faithful Christians have met on the first day of the
week to “break bread” (Acts 20:7; Hebrews 10:25). >From the Scriptures and
historical in- formation we know that there was a great “falling away,”
which developed into the Catholic Church, with its Pope, who is worshiped
and is said to be the “Vicar of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4). We also
understand that the Scriptures indicate that the faithful church, the bride
of Christ would be invisible to the world for some one thousand, two hundred
and sixty years. She “fled into the wilderness” and became unseen for this
great length of time (Rev. 12:6,14). Nevertheless, we believe Christians
continued to worship according to the Holy Ordinances given by the Lord’s
Apostles through all that time.
We have a few historical glimpses of God’s people through the Dark
Ages–little bands of Christians meeting here and there holding to the Lord’s
commandments no matter what the cost. Oh yes, the campaign of Satan to
exterminate God’s people that we read about in the New Testament continued
on relentlessly. Although persecuted, they shared the joy of the apostles
in suffering for the Christ; See Acts 5:40,41; 9:16; 1 Peter 4:14-16; 2
Timothy 3:12. (Sometime, if given the opportunity, read Foxe’s Book of
At the close of the Dark Ages there came a period known as the Reformation
movement. Through the centuries the Catholic church had embraced change
after change. Eventually, there was little left that resembled the church
in the New Testament. Many corrupt and sinful practices had crept in
through the years. But finally there arose some among them who, having
access to the word of God, began to recognize some things wrong in the
Catholic Church both in doctrine and practice. Some of these men began to
urge a reforming of the church. When they would discover and abandon one
error they unwittingly would continue to embrace others. Over and over
groups pulled off forming one denomination after another.
Toward the close of the 1700s there were men who arose out of the
denominations who saw the futility of trying to reform the old Roman
Catholic Church with all of its sins and errors. These men began to
encourage everyone to return to the original New Testament pattern and to
followthe teaching of Jesus and His Apostles without change. Their work in
Europe and mainly in America became known as the Restoration Movement.
These Restorers saw that Jesus said the seed of the kingdom is the word of
God (Luke 8:11), and they reasoned that as long as the seed remained the
Lord’s kingdom would remain. They saw that when the seed of the kingdom was
planted in good and honest hearts in the New Testament it brought forth
Christians only, therefore, they concluded, when the seed of the kingdom is
planted in good and honest hearts today it will bring forth Christians
only. They also saw that when people in the New Testament became saved that
the Lord added them to His church, and concluded that if people today are
saved in the same way that the Lord will add them to His church.
They began to urge men to come out from denominationalism and be Christians
only. They would say something like, “When the Scriptures speak, we speak,
when the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.... Let us do Bible things in
Bible ways and let us call Bible things by Bible names.” Those of us who
are older have heard these sayings and repeated them over and over.
You recall that the Apostles found it necessary to address a number of
errors in doctrine and practice that had crept into the church in its early
days. Paul had to teach the Corinthians to not follow preachers (1
Corinthians 1:11-17). He corrected them in their corruption of the Lord’s
supper with a common meal (chp. 11). Their teaching was often a matter of
confusion, but Paul told them that it was to be done to edify all hearers.
He commanded that their women were not to speak in the worship.
A number of preachers, in Paul’s day, taught that it was necessary for
Gentile Christians keep certain practices of the Law of Moses. Others
taught that Christ was totally a spirit being with no genuine human flesh.
Others taught that Christ’s return had already transpired and many had
missed it. All of these had to be corrected.
We can read from history that one of the first “innovations” brought into
the church after the passing of the apostles was that men-pleasing teachers
began to present in the worship the writings of uninspired men. Another
innovation was the placing of what they called “holy water” in the entrance
of the meeting place for “Christians” to dip their fingers in while the
non-Christians not privy to the rite would fail to do that and thus they
could distinguish between the two groups.
The apostle in 1 John 2:19 sums up all mens sins into three categories,
saying, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust
of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the
world.” You can think up anything that men can do to violate the will of
God and it can fit into one of these. Human nature hasn’t changed since
creation. For example, men have been grappling to get ahead of each other
since the beginning. So Satan through men’s pride pressed for more and more
elevated positions and recognition.
In the early church there were men who watched for the souls of the flock
called “shepherds,” “bishops,” “elders.” They were satisfied with those
terms used on the men who were overseers of the congregation. These
overseers would meet from time to time and one would preside over the
meeting so they began to advocate another title for this one. We know that
all the same men who were “elders” or “overseers” of a congregation were the
“bishops” of that congregation. They first abused this Scriptural term
applying it to one of them calling him “the Bishop” and others were simply
the “elders.” Later there were “Arch-Bishops” and “Cardinals” and, finally,
the papa himself, The Pope.
There remains in men, even among us, those who are consumed with the
unwholesome desire for elevation and recognition. Some are like the one
John referred to in 3 John 9 when he said, “I wrote unto the church: but
Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us
not.” Is this not what the inspired Apostle condemned, saying, “And these
things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos
for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that
which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another”
(1 Corinthians 4:6)?
One brother said, “Pride is going to send more people to Hell than any one
number.” That seemed too broad a statement when we first heard it. Now, we
recognize the pride that makes a person strut about and show off what they
have and can do. God hates this (Proverbs 6:19). But isn’t it pride that
keeps a man from saying “I’m sorry”? Isn’t it pride that won’t let us admit
we’re wrong? Isn’t it pride that keeps many people from confessing their
sins? Sometimes our pride is hurt so badly that we “just will not
forgive?” But remember, friend, we must forgive or we can’t gain
forgiveness. “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no
mercy.” (James 2:13)