Universal Apostasy From the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Universal Apostasy From the Gospel of Jesus Christ
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ED DECKER LIES - 6
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ED DECKER LIES - 8
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ED DECKER LIES - 10
THE BIBLE CALLS THEM "FOOLS"
EGG ON FACES
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IMAGES OF HATE -CHAPTER 1
CHAPTER 2
CHAPTER 3
CHAPTER 4
CHAPTER 5
CHAPTER 6
CHAPTER 7
CHAPTER 8
CHAPTER 9
CHAPTER 10
CHAPTER 11
CHAPTER 12
CHAPTER 13
CHAPTER 14
CHAPTER 15
CHAPTER 16
CHAPTER 17
CHAPTER 18
CHAPTER 19
CHAPTER 20
CHAPTER 21
CHAPTER 22
CHAPTER 23
CHAPTER 24
CHAPTER 25
CHAPTER 26
CHAPTER 27
CHAPTER 28
CHAPTER 29
CHAPTER 30
CHAPTER 31
CHAPTER 32
APPENDIX 'A'
APPENDIX 'B'
APPENDIX 'C'
APPENDIX 'D'
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JOSEPH SMITH
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PLURAL MARRIAGE COMMANDED BY GOD
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PLURAL MARRIAGE BROUGHT BACK BY EVANGELICALS
LORI MCGREGOR TALKS TWADDLE
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ERYL DAVIES
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A MORMON ANSWERS
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SALVATION FOR THE DEAD - A BIBLE TEACHING
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THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
ON THE HOLY TRINITY
BIBLE TEACHINGS THAT DO NOT SUPPORT THE TRINITY - 01
AN EXAMPLE OF ANTI-MORMON FOOLISHNESS
A CASE STUDY ~ ANTI-MORMON ATTITUDES
JP HOLDING'S BOOK, "THE MORMON DEFENDERS"
ARE YOU PREPARED FOR HIM?
THE STANDARD OF TRUTH
BLACK MUSEUM OF ANTI-MORMONISM
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I HAD A DREAM - A CAUTIONARY TALE
CARELESS TALK - DR MICHAEL L BROWN
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The 'Gates of Hell' did not overwhelm the Church of Jesus Christ
However, priests and people abandoned the True teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The Lord did say

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish,
neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. --John 10:28-29

  

He also said,

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God,
and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.--Isaiah 59:2

  

 




That the Universal Apostasy would come, must come, was guaranteed by Saint Paul

  

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [the Parousia] shall not come, except there come a falling away first [apostasy], and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. --2 Thessalonians 2:3

  

Apostasy in Christianity is the rejection of Christianity by someone who formerly was a Christian. The term apostasy comes from the Greek word apostasia ("ἀποστασία") meaning defection, departure, revolt or rebellion. It has been described as "a willful falling away from, or rebellion against, Christianity. Apostasy is the rejection of Christ by one who has been a Christian...."

"Apostasy is a theological category describing those who have voluntarily and consciously abandoned their faith in the God of the covenant, who manifests himself most completely in Jesus Christ."

"Apostasy is the antonym of conversion; it is deconversion."

According to B. J. Oropeza, the warning passages in the New Testament describe at least three dangers which could lead a Christian to commit apostasy:

  

  1. Temptations: Christians were tempted to engage in various vices that were a part of their lives before they became Christians (idolatry, sexual immorality, covetousness, etc.).
  2. Deceptions: Christians encountered various heresies and false teachings spread by false teachers and prophets that threatened to seduce them away from their pure devotion to Christ.
  3. Persecutions: Christians were persecuted by the governing powers of the day for their allegiance to Christ. Many Christians were threatened with certain death if they would not deny Christ.

The above categories indicate personal abandonment of the Christian faith. But the New Testament prophesies that a Universal or general apostasy from the truths of Christianity must precede the Second Coming of Jesus Christ [the Parousia] to claim the world in the last days.

Thus we are brought to recognize two distinct phases or stages of the progressive falling away from and of the Church of Jesus Christ as follows:

  

    1) Apostasy from the Church; and
    2) The apostasy of the Church.

  

We examine some evidences that point to the church-that-came-to-be being so far removed from the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ that is could no longer be considered to be the Church of Jesus Christ. I acknowledge James E Talmadge's seminal work, "The Great Apostasy," on which I have drawn freely.

  

Internal causes of apostasy include:

Imprudent zealots who invited dangers from which they might have remained exempt, others, affrighted at the possibility of being included among the victims, voluntarily deserted the Church and returned to heathen allegiances. Milner, speaking of conditions existing in the third century, and incorporating the words of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who lived at the time of the incident described, says:

"Vast numbers lapsed into idolatry immediately. Even before men were accused as Christians, many ran to the forum and sacrificed to the gods as they were ordered; and the crowds of apostates were so great, that the magistrates wished to delay numbers of them till the next day, but they were importuned by the wretched suppliants to be allowed to prove themselves heathens that very night."--(Milner, "Church History," Cent. III, ch. 8.)

In connection with this individual apostasy of Church members under the pressure of persecution, there arose among the provincial governors a practice of selling certificates or "libels" as these documents were called, which

"attested that the persons therein mentioned had complied with the laws and sacrificed to the Roman deities. By producing these false declarations, the opulent and timid Christians were enabled to silence the malice of an informer, and to reconcile, in some measure, their safety with their religion."--(Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," ch. XVI.)

A modification of this practice of quasi-apostasy consisted in procuring testimonials from persons of standing certifying that the holders had abjured the gospel; these documents were presented to the heathen magistrates, and they, on receipt of a specified fee, granted exemption from the requirement of sacrificing to the pagan gods.--(See Milner, "Church History," Cent. III, ch. 9.)

As a result of these practices, whereby under favourable circumstances the wealthy could purchase immunity from persecution, and at the same time maintain a semblance of standing in the Church, much dissension arose, the question being as to whether those who had thus shown their weakness could ever be received again into communion with the Church.

Persecution at most was but an indirect cause of the decline of Christianity and the perversion of the saving principles of the gospel of Christ. The greater and more immediate dangers threatening the Church must be sought within the body itself. Indeed, the pressure of opposition from without served to restrain the bubbling springs of internal dissension, and actually delayed the more destructive eruptions of schism and heresy. A general review of the history of the Church down to the end of the third century shows that the periods of comparative peace were periods of weakness and decline in spiritual earnestness, and that with the return of persecution came an awakening and a renewal in Christian devotion. Devout leaders of the people were not backward in declaring that each recurring period of persecution was a time of natural and necessary chastisement for the sin and corruption that had gained headway within the Church. 

As to the condition of the Church in the middle of the third century, Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, thus speaks:

"If the cause of our miseries be investigated, the cure of the wound may be found. The Lord would have his family to be tried. And because long peace had corrupted the discipline divinely revealed to us, the heavenly chastisement hath raised up our faith, which had lain almost dormant: and when, by our sins, we have deserved to suffer still more, the merciful Lord so moderated all things, that the whole scene rather deserves the name of a trial than a persecution. Each had been bent on improving his patrimony; 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 arts in dress were cultivated: Frauds and deceit were practiced among brethren.--Christians could unite themselves in matrimony with unbelievers; could swear not only without reverence, but even without veracity. With haughty asperity they despised their ecclesiastical superiors: They railed against one another with outrageous acrimony, and conducted quarrels with determined malice:--Even many bishops, who ought to be guides and patterns to the rest, neglecting the peculiar duties of their stations, gave themselves up to secular pursuits:--They deserted their places of residence and their flocks: They travelled through distant provinces in quest of pleasure and gain; gave no assistance to the needy brethren; but were insatiable in their thirst of money:--They possessed estates by fraud and multiplied usury. What have we not deserved to suffer for such conduct? Even the divine word hath foretold us what we might expect.

'If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments, I will visit their offenses with the rod, and their sin with scourges.'

These things had been denounced and foretold, but in vain. Our sins had brought our affairs to that pass, that because we had despised the Lord's directions, we were obliged to undergo a correction of our multiplied evils and a trial of our faith by severe remedies."--(Quoted by Milner, "Church History," Cent. III, ch. 8.)

 Milner, who quotes approvingly the severe arraignment of the Church in the third century as given above, cannot be charged with bias against Christian institutions, inasmuch as his declared purpose in presenting to the world an additional "History of the Church of Christ" was to give due attention to certain phases of the subject slighted or neglected by earlier authors, and notably to emphasize the piety, not the wickedness, of the professed followers of Christ. This author, avowedly friendly to the Church and her votaries, admits the growing depravity of the Christian sects, and declares that toward the end of the third century the effect of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit had become exhausted, and that there remained little proof of any close relationship between Christ and the Church.

"The era of its actual declension must be dated in the pacific part of Diocletian's reign. During this whole century the work of God, in purity and power, had been tending to decay. The connection with philosophers was one of the principal causes. Outward peace and secular advantages completed the corruption. Ecclesiastical discipline, which had been too strict, was now relaxed exceedingly; bishops and people were in a state of malice. Endless quarrels were fomented among contending parties, and ambition and covetousness had in general gained the ascendency in the Christian Church. [...]  The faith of Christ itself appeared now an ordinary business; and here 'terminated,' or nearly so, as far as appears, the first great effusion of the Spirit of God, which began at the day of Pentecost. Human depravity effected throughout a general decay of godliness; and one generation of men elapsed with very slender proofs of the spiritual presence of Christ with His Church."--(Milner, "Church History," Cent. III, ch. 17.)

If further evidence be wanted as to the fires of disaffection smouldering within the Church, and so easily fanned into destructive flame, let the testimony of Eusebius be considered with respect to conditions characterizing the second half of the third century. And, in weighing his words, let it be remembered that he had expressly recorded his purpose of writing in defence of the Church, and in support of her institutions. He bewails the tranquility preceding the Diocletian outbreak, because of its injurious effect upon both officers and members of the Church. These are his words:

"But when by excessive liberty we have 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, and hypocrisy and dissimulation had arisen to the greater heights of malignity, then the divine judgment, which usually proceeds with a lenient hand, whilst the multitudes were yet crowding into the Church, with gentle and mild visitations began to afflict its episcopacy; the persecution having begun with those brethren that were in the army. [...] But some that appeared to be our pastors, deserting the law of piety, were inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalry, hostility, and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves."--(Eusebius, "Ecclesiastical History," Book VIII, ch. 1.)

Milner quotes the following observation of Eusebius, an eye-witness of the conditions described:

"The heavy hand of God's judgment began softly, by little and little, to visit us after His wonted manner; * * * but we were not at all moved with His hand, nor 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 ever visit us on account of them. And our pretended shepherds, laying aside the rule of godliness, practiced among themselves contention and division." He adds that the "dreadful persecution of Diocletian was then inflicted on the Church as a just punishment, and as the most proper chastisement for their iniquities."--(Milner, "Church History," Cent. III, ch. 17.)

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. In support of this statement, I quote again from Milner, the avowed friend of the Church:

"I know it is common for authors to represent the great declension of Christianity to have taken place only after its external establishment under Constantine. But the evidence of history compels us to dissent from this view of things. In fact, for a whole generation previous to the Diocletian persecution, few marks of superior piety appeared. Scarce a luminary of godliness existed; and it is not common in any age for a great work of the Spirit of God to be exhibited but under the conduct of some remarkable saints, pastors, and reformers. This whole period as well as the whole scene of the persecution is very barren in such characters. [...]

Moral and philosophical and monastical instructions will not effect for men what is to be expected from evangelical doctrine. And if the faith of Christ was so much declined (and its decayed state ought to be dated from about the year 270), we need not wonder that such scenes as Eusebius hints at without any circumstantial details, took place in the Christian world. [...] He speaks also 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, and the contentions excited by young demagogues in the very relics of the persecuted Church, and the multiplied evils which their vices excited among Christians. How sadly must the Christian world have declined which could thus conduct itself under the very rod of divine vengeance? Yet let not the infidel or the profane world triumph. It was not Christianity, but the departure from it, which brought on these evils."--(Milner, "Church History," Cent. IV, ch. 1.

  

The foregoing embodies but a few of the many evidences that could be cited in demonstration of the fact that during the period immediately following the apostolic ministry--the period covered by the persecutions of the Christians by the heathen nations,--the Church was undergoing internal deterioration, and was in a state of increasing perversion. Among the more detailed or specific causes of this ever widening departure from the spirit of the gospel of Christ, this rapidly growing apostasy, the following may be considered as important examples:

  

(1). The corrupting of the simple principles of the gospel by the admixture of the so-called philosophic systems of the times.
(2). Unauthorized additions to the ceremonies of the Church, and the introduction of vital changes in essential ordinances.
(3). Unauthorized changes in Church organization and government.

It may appear that the conditions set forth in these specifications are more properly to be regarded as effects or results, than as causes, incident to the general apostasy,--that they are in the nature of evidences or proofs of a departure from the original constitution of the Church, rather than specific causes by which the fact of apostasy is to be explained or accounted for. Cause and effect, however, are sometimes very intimately associated, and resulting conditions may furnish the best demonstration of causes in operation. Each of the conditions given above as a specific cause of the progressive apostasy was, at its inception, an evidence of existing unsoundness, and an active cause of the graver results that followed. Each succeeding manifestation of the spirit of apostasy was at once the result of earlier disaffection, and the cause of later and more pronounced developments. 

Internal Dissensions During Time of Peace

As stated in the text, the early part of Diocletian's reign--the period immediately preceding the outburst of the last great persecution to which the Christians were subjected, was a time of comparative freedom from opposition, and this period was characterized by internal disturbances and dissensions within the Church. Illustrative of the tolerance shown by the emperor before he became hostile to the Church, and the accompanying decline of spiritual earnestness among the Christians themselves, Gibbon says: 

"Diocletian and his colleagues frequently conferred the most important offices on those persons who avowed their abhorrence of the worship of the gods, but who had displayed abilities proper for the service of the state. The bishops held an honourable rank in the respective provinces, and were treated with distinction and respect, not only by the people, but by the magistrates themselves. Almost in every city the ancient churches were found insufficient to contain the increasing multitudes of proselytes; and in their place more stately and capacious edifices were erected for the public worship of the faithful. The corruption of manners and principles so forcibly lamented by Eusebius, may be considered not only as a consequence, but as a proof, of the liberty which the Christians enjoyed and abused under the reign of Diocletian. Prosperity had relaxed the nerves of discipline. Fraud, envy, and malice prevailed in every congregation. The presbyters aspired to the episcopal office, which every day became an object more worthy of their ambition. The bishops who contended with each other for ecclesiastical pre-eminence, appeared by their conduct to claim a secular and tyrannical power in the church; and the lively faith which still distinguished the Christians from the Gentiles, was shown much less in their lives than in their controversial writings."--(Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," ch. XVI.) 

  

Schisms and Heresies in the Early Church.

Eusebius, whose writings date from the early part of the fourth century, cites the writings of Hegesippus, who lived in the first quarter of the second century, as follows:

"The same author [Hegesippus] also treats of the beginning of the heresies that arose about this time, in the following words: 'But after James the Just had suffered martyrdom, as our Lord had for the same reason, Simeon, the son of Cleophas, our Lord's uncle, was appointed the second bishop [of Jerusalem] whom all proposed as the cousin of our Lord. Hence they called the Church as yet a virgin, for it was not yet corrupted by vain discourses. But this made a beginning, secretly to corrupt it on account of his not being made bishop. He was one of those seven sects among the Jewish people. Of these also was Simeon, whence sprang the sect of Simonians; also Cleobius, from whence came the Cleobians; also Dositheus, the founder of the Dositheans. From these also sprung the Gortheonians from Gortheoeus; and also Masbotheans from Masbothoeus. Hence also the Meandrians, the Marcionists, and Carpocratians and Valentinians, and Basilidians, and the Saturnillians, every one introducing his own peculiar opinions, one differing from the other. From these sprung the false Christs and the false prophets and false apostles, who divided the unity of the Church by the introduction of corrupt doctrines against God and against His Christ."--(Eusebius, "Ecclesiastical History," Book IV, ch. 22.)

  

In connection with this individual apostasy of Church members under the pressure of persecution, there arose among the provincial governors a practice of selling certificates or "libels" as these documents were called, which

"[...] attested that the persons therein mentioned had complied with the laws and sacrificed to the Roman deities. By producing these false declarations, the opulent and timid Christians were enabled to silence the malice of an informer, and to reconcile, in some measure, their safety with their religion."--(Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," ch. XVI.) 

  

As to the condition of the Church in the middle of the third century, Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, offers:

"If the cause of our miseries be investigated, the cure of the wound may be found. The Lord would have his family to be tried. And because long peace had corrupted the discipline divinely revealed to us, the heavenly chastisement hath raised up our faith, which had lain almost dormant: and when, by our sins, we have deserved to suffer still more, the merciful Lord so moderated all things, that the whole scene rather deserves the name of a trial than a persecution. Each had been bent on improving his patrimony; 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 arts in dress were cultivated: Frauds and deceit were practiced among brethren.--Christians could unite themselves in matrimony with unbelievers; could swear not only without reverence, but even without veracity. With haughty asperity they despised their ecclesiastical superiors: They railed against one another with outrageous acrimony, and conducted quarrels with determined malice:--Even many bishops, who ought to be guides and patterns to the rest, neglecting the peculiar duties of their stations, gave themselves up to secular pursuits:--They deserted their places of residence and their flocks: They travelled through distant provinces in quest of pleasure and gain; gave no assistance to the needy brethren; but were insatiable in their thirst of money:--They possessed estates by fraud and multiplied usury. What have we not deserved to suffer for such conduct? Even the divine word hath foretold us what we might expect.--'If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments, I will visit their offenses with the rod, and their sin with scourges.' These things had been denounced and foretold, but in vain. Our sins had brought our affairs to that pass, that because we had despised the Lord's directions, we were obliged to undergo a correction of our multiplied evils and a trial of our faith by severe remedies."--(Cited by Milner, "Church History," Cent. III, ch. 8.)

  

Milner, who quotes approvingly the severe arraignment of the Church in the third century, cannot be charged with bias against Christian institutions, inasmuch as his declared purpose in presenting to the world an additional  "History of the Church of Christ" was to give due attention to certain phases of the subject slighted or neglected by earlier authors, and notably to emphasize the piety, not the wickedness, of the professed followers of Christ. This author, avowedly friendly to the Church and her votaries, admits the growing depravity of the Christian sects, and declares that toward the end of the third century the effect of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit had become exhausted, and that there remained little proof of any close relationship between Christ and the Church. Note his summary of conditions, previously referred to above:

"The era of its actual declension must be dated in the pacific part of Diocletian's reign. During this whole century the work of God, in purity and power, had been tending to decay. The connection with philosophers was one of the principal causes. Outward peace and secular advantages completed the corruption. Ecclesiastical discipline, which had been too strict, was now relaxed exceedingly; bishops and people were in a state of malice. Endless quarrels were fomented among contending parties, and ambition and covetousness had in general gained the ascendency in the Christian Church. [...]  The faith of Christ itself appeared now an ordinary business; and here terminated, or nearly so, as far as appears, the first great effusion of the Spirit of God, which began at the day of Pentecost. Human depravity effected throughout a general decay of godliness; and one generation of men elapsed with very slender proofs of the spiritual presence of Christ with His Church."--(Milner, "Church History," Cent. III, ch. 17.)

If further evidence be wanted as to the fires of disaffection smouldering within the Church, and so easily fanned into destructive flame, let the testimony of Eusebius be considered with respect to conditions characterizing the second half of the third century. And, in weighing his words, let it be remembered that he had expressly recorded his purpose of writing in defence of the Church, and in support of her institutions. He bewails the tranquility preceding the Diocletian outbreak, because of its injurious effect upon both officers and members of the Church. These are his words:

"But when by excessive liberty we have 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, and hypocrisy and dissimulation had arisen to the greater heights of malignity, then the divine judgment, which usually proceeds with a lenient hand, whilst the multitudes were yet crowding into the Church, with gentle and mild visitations began to afflict its episcopacy; the persecution having begun with those brethren that were in the army. [...]  But some that appeared to be our pastors, deserting the law of piety, were inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalry, hostility, and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves."--(Eusebius, "Ecclesiastical History," Book VIII, ch. 1)

  

Eusebius, who was, we must remember, an eye-witness of these conditions said:

"The heavy hand of God's judgment began softly, by little and little, to visit us after His wonted manner; * * * but we were not at all moved with His hand, nor 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 ever visit us on account of them. And our pretended shepherds, laying aside the rule of godliness, practiced among themselves contention and division." 

Paul's prophecy that 'evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived' had come fully to fruition, alas! How then sorry was the Church and the Gospel that Jesus Christ and the Apostles had reposed in it for safe keeping and practice.

Mosheim, writing of conditions attending the closing years of the third century, says:

"The ancient method of ecclesiastical government seemed in general still to subsist, while, at the same time, by imperceptible steps, it varied from the primitive rule and  degenerated toward the form of a religious monarchy. [...] This change in the form of ecclesiastical government was soon followed by a train of vices, which dishonoured the character and authority of those to whom the administration of the Church was committed. For, though several yet continued to exhibit to the world illustrative examples of primitive piety and Christian virtue, yet many were sunk in luxury and voluptuousness, puffed up with vanity, arrogance and ambition, possessed with a spirit of contention and discord, and addicted to many other vices that cast an undeserved reproach upon the holy religion of which they were the unworthy professors and ministers. 

This is testified in such an ample manner by the repeated complaints of many of the most respectable writers of this age, that truth will not permit us to spread the veil, which we should otherwise be desirous to cast over such enormities among an order so sacred. The bishops assumed in many places a princely authority, particularly those who had the greatest number of churches under their inspection, and who presided over the most opulent assemblies. They appropriated to their evangelical function the splendid ensigns of temporal majesty.

A throne, surrounded with ministers, exalted above his equals the servant of the meek and humble Jesus; and sumptuous garments dazzled the eyes and the minds of the multitude into an ignorant veneration of their arrogated authority. The example of the bishops was ambitiously imitated by the presbyters, who, neglecting the sacred duties of their station, abandoned themselves to the indolence and delicacy of an effeminate and luxurious life. The deacons, beholding the presbyters deserting thus their functions, boldly usurped their rights and privileges, and the effects of a corrupt ambition were spread through every rank of the order sacred."--(Mosheim, "Ecclesiastical History," Cent. III, Part II, ch. 2:3, 4.)

  

Other Causes of Apostasy

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 Jesus Christ had powerfully indicated the futility of any attempts to combine new Gospel principles with old Mosaic systems, or to patch up the prejudices of the past with fragments of new doctrine.

"No man 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."--(Matt. 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 sightly than a hideous rent. The new wine of the covenant could not be bottled in the time-eaten leathern containers of Mosaic libations. Judaism was belittled and Christianity perverted by the incongruous association.

Among the early and most pernicious adulterations of Christian doctrine is the introduction of the teachings of the Gnostics. These self-styled philosophers put forth the boastful claim that they were able to lead the human mind to a full comprehension of the Supreme Being, and a knowledge of the true relationship between Deity and mortals. They said in effect that a certain being had existed from all eternity, manifested as a radiant light diffused throughout space, and this 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 produced at length from itself, 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 controverted among the oriental sages."--(Mosheim, "Ecclesiastical History," Cent. I, Part II, 1:7.)

 Then, it was said, one of the Aeons, distinctively called the Demiurge, created this world, and arrogantly asserted dominion over the same, denying absolutely the authority of the Supreme Parent. The Gnostic doctrine declares man to be a union of the body, which, being the creation of the Demiurge, is essentially evil, and a spirit, which, being derived from Deity, is characteristically good. The spirits thus imprisoned in evil bodies will be finally liberated, and then the power of the Demiurge will cease, and the earth will be dissolved into nothingness.   

The justification for introducing here this partial summary of Gnosticism is the fact that early efforts were made to accommodate the tenets of this system to the demands of Christianity; and that 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.

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, viz. Agnostics.   

 The practical effect of the principles of Gnosticism in the lives of its adherents is 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 minimize the fundamental difference between right and wrong, by denying the element of morality in human life; and 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 soul as would cause injury to the latter through bodily indulgences and excesses.

 Another sect or school whose doctrines were in a measure amalgamated with those of Christianity was that of the New Platonics, also called Neo-Platonism. The ancient sects of Platonists or Platonics were allied in some points of doctrine with the Epicureans, and were rivals if not opponents of the Stoics. The early Platonics 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_. Such precepts had been taught long before the Christian era, and the philosophy professed by some of the contending sects among the Jews in the time of Christ had been influenced thereby.

 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, such as earlier propounded byn Philo the influential Jew of Alexandria, Egypt, and accepted with avidity the declaration of St. 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, 14.)

According to the Eclectic or New Platonic philosophy, the "Word" referred to by St. John was the "Logos" described by Plato. The Platonic conception of the Godhead as consisting of the Deity and the Logos, was enlarged in accordance with Christian tenets to embrace three members, the Holy Ghost being the third. Thence 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.

 It is wholly beyond our purpose to classify or describe the hybrid offspring resulting from the unnatural union of pagan philosophy and Christian truth; nor shall we attempt to follow in detail the dissensions and quarrels on theological points and questions of doctrine. Our purpose is achieved when by statement of fact and citation of authority, the reality of the apostasy is established. We shall consider therefore only the most important of the dissensions by which the Church was troubled.

 About the middle of the third century, Sibellius, a presbyter or bishop of the church in Africa, strongly advocated the doctrine of "trinity in unity" as characterizing the Godhead. 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. These views were as vigorously opposed by some as defended by others, and the disagreement was rife when Constantine so suddenly changed the status of the Church, and brought to its support the power of the state. Early in the fourth century the dispute 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 the doctrine came to be known, was preached with vigour and denounced with energy; and the dissension thus occasioned threatened to rend the Church to its foundation. 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 325, and which is known from its place of session as the Council of Nice. 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 half a century later. 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, 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." 

The Council of Nicea is known in ecclesiastical history as one of the most famous and important gatherings ever assembled as an official body concerned with church administration. Not only was the Arian dispute disposed of, so far as ecclesiastical decree could dispose of a question vitally affecting the individual conscience, but many other subjects of controversy were similarly quieted for the time. Thus the long-standing dispute as to the time of celebrating Easter was settled by vote, as was also the question agitated by Novatus and his followers--as to the propriety of re-admitting repentant apostates to the Church; and the schism caused by Meletius, a bishop of Upper Africa, who had refused to recognize the superior authority of the bishop of Alexandria.

From the number and diversity of the questions brought before the Nicene Council for adjudication, we may safely conclude that the newly reconfigured Christian Church was not characterized by overall unity of purpose or by harmony of action. However, compared with the bitter contentions that follow, the dissensions in the reign of Constantine were but the beginnings of ecclesiastical sorrows.

 The moral effect of the potent spirit of apostasy operating through the first three centuries of the Church's existence and nourished by the contributions of heathen philosophy, proved, as was inevitable, highly injurious and evil. Some of the most pernicious of these effects it becomes our duty to consider.   

  

Perverted Views of Life

One of the heresies of early origin and rapid growth in the Church was the doctrine of antagonism between body and spirit, whereby the former was regarded as an incubus and a curse. From what has been said 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.

 Think you not that the Saviour had such practices in mind, when, warning the disciples of the false claims to sanctity that would characterize the times then soon to follow, He said:

"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."--(Matt. 24:26.)

 When the Church came into the favour of the state under Constantine in the fourth century, 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 labour, and by a holy sort of indolence, which confined all the activity of the soul to a lazy contemplation of things spiritual and external." Mosheim, the author just quoted, continues: "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, "Eccl. Hist.," Cent. IV, Part II, ch. 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, and came to be made a requirement of the clergy, as it is in the Roman Catholic church to-day. 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,"--(Gen. 2:18.)

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."--(Verse 24.)

  

His inspired apostle proclaimed:

  

"Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord."--(I Cor. 11:11.

See also 1 Tim. 4:3.)

  

Nevertheless, the newly risen apostate church decreed that its ministers are strictly forbidden to follow the law of God to mankind to 'multiply and replenish the earth,' by introducing celibacy that it referred to as a 'higher form of Christianity' which has been the cause of many ills and sexual abuses down the centuries. 

  

Disregard for Truth

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, "Eccl. Hist.," Cent. IV, Part II, ch. 3:16.)

  

Needless to say, 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 to God if they are perpetrated in a cause that some man or other calls 'good.'