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Where Is God’s Church Today?
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Jesus said, “I will build My Church…” There is a single organization that teaches the entire truth of the Bible, and is called to live by “every word of God.” Do you know how to find it? Christ said it would:

  • Teach “all things” He commanded
  • Have called out members set apart by truth
  • Be a “little flock”
About the Author
David C. Pack 

Founder and Pastor General of The Restored Church of God, Editor-in-Chief of The Real Truth magazine, and voice of The World to Come program, David C. Pack has reached many millions around the globe with the most powerful truths of the Bible—unknown to almost all. He has authored 80 books and booklets, personally established over 50 congregations, and appeared as a guest on The History Channel. Mr. Pack attended Ambassador College in Pasadena, California, entered the Worldwide Church of God ministry in 1971, and was personally trained by its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong.

Where Is the True Church?

and Its Incredible History!

by David C. Pack

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ built His Church—and promised that it could never be destroyed (Matt. 16:18)!

Although foretold to remain small and persecuted, and to appear in seven phases, this Church—with faithful leaders and members in every age—has endured and continued. And it has been recognizable to those knowing what earmarks and signs to look for.

Where has this Church been for nearly two millennia? Can it be found in history and traced to the present day? How is it identified?

As compelling and gripping as anything you will read, here is the astonishing, inspiring and fascinating true story of the Church of God!

Introduction

Jesus Christ declared, “I will build My Church; and the gates of hell [the grave] shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). This Church—Christ’s Church—the true Church—was foretold to never be extinguished—to never die out. Although it might have seemed to disappear, as it ebbed and rose over the centuries, Christ, who has been actively guiding it, has ensured that there would always be at least a few faithful servants, called and empowered by His Spirit, to keep it alive.

Unrecognized and discounted as a cult or a fringe sect on the edge of supposed Christianity, the Church of God has endured every trial and storm it has faced. This book identifies it, and is the account, straight from history, of the true Church of God.

For nearly 2,000 years, almost everyone has been looking in the wrong place for God’s Church. The true Church was called out of this world—out of its religions, creeds, customs, beliefs and traditions. The word translated throughout the New Testament as “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia, meaning to be “called out”—and Christ’s Church has come out of the world. This has made it more difficult for traditional historians to locate it. Unlike historians within the Church, they simply did not know what to look for.

Since the Bible states that the entire world is deceived (Rev. 12:9), blinded (II Cor. 4:4) and cut off from God (Isa. 59:1-2), it is evident that civilization as a whole could never be greatly influenced by the truth or by the true Church that always strove to uphold it. This helps explain why so few would become converted in this or any previous age. In fact, it is evident from just this next passage that the true Church of God would never be large. Notice how Christ addresses His Church in Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

The respected and accepted churches of this world are so because they teach the popular doctrines and traditions, familiar to the masses. By no means could any of these well-known denominations of professing Christianity be considered a “little flock.” Instead, many of them are comprised of millions, or even hundreds of millions of members. One has over a billion.

Exploring Hidden History

This book will also take the reader on a truly extraordinary journey through generally untraveled corridors of history, from the beginning of the Church of God in AD 31 to the present. Before embarking on this journey, there are three terms or concepts that need to be briefly explained. This will help as we begin.

(1) The Church that Jesus built has always called itself the Church of God. This name is found twelve times in the New Testament.

(2) In the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, are messages to seven respective “Churches.” When understood, these are actually eras spanning the entirety of New Testament Church history, from AD 31 until the Return of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that Christ has worked with His Church through seven separate and successive eras. In these two Bible chapters, Christ briefly describes each era or phase of His Church. The first five eras (with the exception of the second) are described as having their own unique set of doctrinal and spiritual problems that eventually led to their downfall. Each time this happened, God raised up a new leader to establish the next era. These seven eras are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

Originally, these were seven cities that lay close together (in the above order) on a mail route in Asia Minor (now western Turkey). Each city reflected corresponding attitudes that would exist in the seven eras that they represented. Christ was able to use these cities to show a spiritual pattern that would span the history of His Church over the next 2,000 years, from AD 31 until His Return.

The dates assigned to these successive eras are “best estimates” and we cannot be absolutely dogmatic about every tiny detail, event and date included. But the prophecies about these eras are most certain—past, present and future—and history has borne this out. We will carefully examine the description in Revelation 2 and 3 that pertains to each of these seven eras.

Christ gave various specific identifying descriptions of each of these eras, creating a series of earmarks allowing the discerning, observant historian and Bible student enough information to successfully locate God’s Church at any point in history.

(3) The lost tribes of ancient Israel, or “lost sheep” of the House of Israel, referenced in this book, pertained to the northern Kingdom of Israel, which went into captivity in about 718 BC. Separated from the Kingdom of Judah, these tribes later lost their own identity. The apostles were sent to these scattered Israelites, because many of them were to be called by God into His Church.

First notice this incredible quote of many to follow. It is from members of the true Church who lived in AD 1404: “We do not find anywhere in the writings of the Old Testament that the light of truth and of holiness was at any time completely extinguished. There have always been men who walked faithfully in the paths of righteousness. Their number has been at times reduced to a few; but has never been altogether lost. We believe that the same has been the case from the time of…Christ until now; and that it will be so unto the end. For if the Church of God was founded, it was in order that it might remain until the end of time…We do not believe that the Church of God absolutely departed from the way of truth; but one portion yielded, and, as is commonly seen, the majority was led away to evil” (Hist. of Waldenses, Comba, pp. 10-11).

Like No Other Story

This book is completely unlike any other that you have ever read, or possibly ever will. Its pages present a truly dramatic—and largely untold—story! The identifying marks of the true Church, and the facts of history recorded here about it, are more compelling than any novel, and this volume only barely begins to cover what can be known about the true people of God.

The person who encounters and comes to understand the record of the true Church of God is left stunned—permanently changed by the experiences, learning, suffering, conviction and sheer determination of its figures—great and small. Once you start reading this book, you may find it difficult to put down. And when you have completed it, you will never again be able to view the history of ordinary, mundane events—or even current events—the same! This journey leads to a single Church still in existence today, inseparable from the story of its history.

Chapter One – Where Is God’s Church Today?

In one of the most powerful, dramatic and profoundly important statements in the Bible, Jesus Christ declared, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). He did not say “churches,” “fellowships,” “sects,” “denominations” or “communities of believers.” No matter how men try to place an interpretation on it, this passage speaks of a single Church—of one, undivided organization! Jesus continued, “and the gates of hell [the grave] shall not prevail against it.” He promised that His Church could never be destroyed.

Over 2,000 different professing Christian organizations have been “built” by men just in the United States. Another is started every three days. Estimates place the number of professing Christians at above two billion. While attendance seems to be growing, it is not growing as fast as the confusion surrounding the question of which is the right church.

While it has been said, “They can’t all be wrong,” it is more correct to say, “They cannot all be right.” If Christ built His Church as He said, then it can be found somewhere on Earth today—and it is the only right Church. But we must ask: How do we find it—what do we look for—how do we identify it—and how do we know it if we see it?

Early “Religion”

My mother required her three children to read many books when growing up. I spent many summers reading her assigned “book a week.” I enjoyed most of them and am very thankful she did this. On occasion, perhaps two or three times, I picked up the Bible and attempted to read it. But I never got far, because it made no sense to me. I simply could not understand the Bible.

Despite this lack of understanding, upon turning sixteen, I was “confirmed” into the church that I had been born into. I recall having to appear briefly before a panel of “deacons” to answer some questions, which I no longer remember. I do recall making some kind of general affirmation about this denomination, but I also remember that I was not concerned in the least with whether or not I was in the right church, or if I was fulfilling the Bible definition of a Christian.

Neither of these questions remotely interested me. I did vaguely believe God existed, but He was not real to me. I had certainly never attempted to build a personal relationship with Him or to find His one Church. I did not pray or study His Word for guidance or doctrinal instruction. These concerns did not enter my mind until some years later, in 1966, when I heard a powerful voice on the radio introduce me to Christ’s statement in Matthew 16:18. I began to question where I could find this true Church. I immediately realized that it had to exist because, through just basic study, I came to understand Christ’s promise that it would remain and could not be destroyed.

Traditions of Men

Jesus declared something almost none seem to believe or even know about: “But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). In Mark’s parallel account of this statement, He continued, “Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (7:9).

The world’s Christianity is filled with traditions. One of the largest is the traditional view of the New Testament Church. Most ministers, theologians and religionists typically define the church this way: “All those who sincerely believe in Jesus Christ, and accept Him as their Savior, comprise the true Church.” This is often followed with the familiar statement, “There are many routes to heaven” or “There are many spokes on the wheel of salvation.” Though the Bible does not teach that heaven is the reward of the saved, the clear implication of these clichés is that people can believe what they want, or be a part of any group or organization they choose, and still be Christians—still receive whatever is salvation. While people may sincerely believe these traditional ideas, they are sincerely wrong!

My research led me to absolute proof of where the Church was that Christ promised to build. I learned that this Church, foretold to span seven eras or phases, could be carefully traced through almost 2,000 years of New Testament history. I was shocked. I could not believe the Bible was so clear on a subject that confuses so many.

Your Bible declares, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints [the context shows this refers to all congregations of the true Church, not all of the many organizations of men]” (I Cor. 14:33).

God’s Church (composed of many congregations of saints) was to reflect peace—not confusion. You need not be confused about its identity—about the location—of the true Church. God commands, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21). While this certainly refers to scriptural matters (not the car you drive or house you buy), it does say that “ALL things,” not “some things,” should be proven! Surely God would not exclude something of such magnitude—such supremely vital importance—as the matter of where His true Church is found. And He would never emphatically tell people to prove things that cannot be proven!

The more I studied the other doctrines of the Bible, the more I learned that the churches of this world were wrong—on virtually everything! One plain scripture after another contradicted each traditional “Christian” idea I had been taught. I was amazed—actually stunned—at how easy it was to find direct, clear, undeniable proof that even the most popular—the most widely believed—traditions of the big denominations were not based on the Bible—at all!

Each time I studied a Bible doctrine—salvation, baptism, who and what God is, the gospel, death and hell, law and sin, grace, being born again, the Christian Sabbath, the true origin of supposed “Christian” holidays, where the modern-day tribes of ancient Israel are found today, the sequence of prophetic events preceding Christ’s Return and so much more—I gained undeniable proof of what the Bible really taught! I was excited and fascinated. I found that the churches of this world were confused on every one of these and many other plain points of Bible teaching. I came to realize that there had to be a church that correctly believed and practiced all of the doctrines of the Bible, including perhaps the most central—what is the true Church.

I learned that this Church existed, and that the proof identifying it and setting it apart from all the churches of recognized, mainstream Christianity were no different from the proof of any other biblical doctrine. I also learned that the scope of the proof—the sheer volume of facts about God’s Church—was vast, almost overwhelming in amount.

A Persecuted “Little Flock”

When speaking to His disciples about the importance of seeking the kingdom of God, Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). By no stretch can any church comprised of millions, let alone over two billion collectively, be considered a “little flock.”

Jesus understood that His Church—His little flock—would be persecuted and despised by the world. Just before His crucifixion, He warned, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). In the preceding verse, Jesus had reminded His disciples that “I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Of course, Christ was persecuted, to the point of horrible torture and crucifixion. Therefore, the true Church could also expect to be persecuted—and hated! Those in it are not “of the world.” The world senses this and hates them for it (John 17:14; Rom. 8:7). Christ used the apostle Paul to record, “Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). The word “all” means what it says!

Consider what we have just discussed. How many churches can you name that are small, persecuted, not of this world—and even hated because of it? Think about those you are familiar with. Do any fit this description? Surely not many!

The Importance of the Name of the Church

The world’s churches have many different names, which are derived in various ways. These include the particular doctrines they teach, the names of the men who founded them, the humanly-devised type of church government that they espouse, their location, or their intended scope and size, such as universal or catholic—in order to be thought of as all-encompassing and therefore being a BIG flock.

On the night of His betrayal, Christ prayed for His Church. Here is what He said:

“Holy Father, keep through your own name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one, as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name ...I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth” (John 17:11-12, 14-17).

There are 12 separate places where the New Testament records that the true Church has been kept in the name of the Father—meaning God. The first five refer to the entire Church, or Body of Christ, as a whole. The next four speak of a specific local congregation, while using the same term “Church of God.” This may refer to the Church of God at Judea or Corinth, etc. The final three references speak collectively of all the individual local congregations combined. All these references use the term “Churches of God”:

(1) Acts 20:28: This verse is instruction to the elders to “feed the church of god.”

(2) I Corinthians 10:32: “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of god.”

(3) I Corinthians 11:22: “...or despise you the church of god, and shame them that have not?”

(4) I Corinthians 15:9: Paul wrote the same thing to two congregations: “For...I persecuted the church of god.”

(5) Galatians 1:13: “I persecuted the church of god.”

(6) I Corinthians 1:2: “the church of god which is at Corinth.”

(7) II Corinthians 1:1: “the church of god which is at Corinth.”

(8) I Timothy 3:5: Paul references any elder in a local congregation: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of god?”

(9) I Timothy 3:15: “...behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living god.” This verse adds a descriptive word to God by using the term “living.”

(10) I Corinthians 11:16: “...We have no such custom, neither the churches of god.”

(11) I Thessalonians 2:14: “For you...became followers of the churches of god which in Judea are in Christ Jesus.”

(12) II Thessalonians 1:4: “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of god.”

In the modern age, for corporate reasons, God’s Church may use an additional descriptive name to distinguish itself from other “Churches of God”—those merely appropriating God’s name, but not obeying His commandments, believing all His true doctrines or doing His Work. Herbert W. Armstrong, the twentieth-century leader of the Church, chose the name Worldwide Church of God and before that, Radio Church of God. Because of circumstances in our time, we have chosen the name The Restored Church of God.

Just as various mainstream denominations may have a few correct doctrines mixed with much error, some appropriate to themselves the name of God’s Church. This chapter will later explain why some few churches may even have a significant amount of truth, but choose to accept a variety of false doctrines. Only one church on the face of the earth has the correct name and teaches all the additional many true doctrines that the Bible teaches! Recall that Christ prayed, “Sanctify them [meaning set them apart] through Your truth: Your word is truth.” The Church that Jesus Christ works through, directs and guides is sanctified—set apart—by its belief of the plain truth of God’s Word!

In addition to carrying the name “Church of God,” we have seen that the true Church has come out of the world, is small and persecuted, even to the point of being hated by it. This Church is then also set apart by its beliefs and practices—which are in complete agreement with the truth of the Bible!

Unified Through God’s Word

Men have their own differing definitions of what the Church actually is—and these could be listed almost without end—but only the Bible definition—God’s definition—matters. Read it for yourself. Paul wrote to Timothy, “...that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). In the end, no other definition, devised by men, is acceptable. This description of the Church Christ built will guide us throughout the remainder of this chapter. God’s Church has and teaches “the truth.”

We have discussed how this world’s churches are in confusion, divided by endless disagreement over doctrine and practice. Amos 3:3 asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” The answer is NO!

This world’s churches do not practice the principle of “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4), exactly as written. Instead, since they follow the many differing traditions and ideas of men, endless disagreements separate, divide and create more and more churches of men. These organizations generally do not “walk together,” because they do not “agree”—either with each other or with God! (And we have seen this starts with the very definition of what is the New Testament Church.)

God’s Church is different. Many New Testament verses show that the Church Christ built is unified—with all its members and congregations walking together in complete agreement with each other, and with God and Christ.

An important point, revealing the kind of unity to be seen in the true Church, emerges from Christ’s same prayer of John 17, on the night of His betrayal. Notice:

“And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified [again, set apart] through the truth...That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that You have sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them, as You have loved Me” (vs. 19, 21-23).

These are powerful statements! Christ intended that His Church be unified—“one”—bound together—no less than were He and His Father! There is no room for disagreement in a Church that is this unified. These verses describe a perfect oneness through the truth—the same kind that the Father and Christ enjoy. It is this kind of unity that allows true Christians to be “in” them—be in Christ and in the Father (vs. 21).

Even in the Old Testament, David recorded, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity ” (Psa. 133:1).

We will in the next chapter examine several New Testament passages to see if, in fact, this kind of wonderful unity was apparent after the New Testament Church came into existence. We will see if God’s servants teach and administer this kind of agreement, and learn how that unity is achieved.

Now notice this earliest picture of Christ’s Church. On Pentecost, with the disciples gathered in “one accord” (Acts 2:1) on the day the New Testament Church was formed, 3,000 converts were baptized. They formed the very beginning of Christ’s building of His Church. The initial description given was “...and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (vs. 42), “...all that believed were together” (vs. 44) and “...they, continuing daily with one accord...did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart” (vs. 46).

From these verses, we clearly see that the Church Jesus Christ built was unified. It was in agreement over doctrine, and was together. Notice verse 47: “And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved.” In the Church Christ guides and directs, He is the One who adds to it, and builds it!

So then, are there verses—plain statements!—making absolutely clear that Christ constructed but one Church, built only one, unified “House”—one organization? There are many…

Chapter Two – Only One Organization

The New Testament speaks of the Church of God as the same thing as “the Body of Christ.” This introduces remarkable understanding.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul recorded that the Church had many separate members (individual brethren), and this was likened to various parts of the human body, in that these members were connected. A careful study of chapter 12 brings understanding. Verses 12 to 14 state, “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body ...For the body is not one member, but many.”

When one is converted—has repented, been baptized and received God’s Holy Spirit—this verse reveals that he has actually been placed into the Body of Christ as well as into the Church of God.

Many have been confused by what this means. In other words, exactly what is the Church or Body of Christ into which one has been baptized? When Jesus Christ walked the earth, His preaching of the gospel and other teachings, and all the miracles and works that He did, were done through and from His physical body. Of course, after crucifixion and burial, Christ’s body was later resurrected as Spirit, before ascending to heaven, requiring that His work and preaching be transferred to another entity, His Church—which Scripture makes plain that Jesus Christ still considers to be His “Body” continuing on Earth what He started.

The context of I Corinthians 12 then uses the analogy of hands, feet, eyes, ears and the mouth to show how different parts of a human body (Christ’s body was once human) are connected within the same person. Paul continues, “But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body” (vs. 18-20).

The Popular Belief

Let’s further understand what this means. The “Christian” world teaches that the Body of Christ—Jesus’ Church—consists of many denominations, fellowships or communities of believers, said to all be connected by the Holy Spirit working in believers wherever they are affiliated. (Many, many sources attest to this popular thinking.) But this is totally contrary to what the Bible teaches about the Body of Christ. This substitute idea—a very clever counterfeit!—asserts, in effect, that Christ and His Body are divided among many groups or organizations. We will see that this is not true.

I Corinthians 12 cannot be “spiritualized away” by human reasoning. It does not describe an amorphous, disconnected, “spiritual” body of disagreeing people and organizations throughout professing Christianity. Any foot, eye or ear that is taken from a human body dies! No severed body part can live for very long without blood supply and the connective tissue necessary to secure it to the body. God created the human body, so He obviously understands the analogy that He inspired.

Further Meaning of “Body”

For further proof of the meaning of body, consider two additional scriptures, written to two separate congregations under Paul’s leadership.

Notice his statement to the Colossian congregation: “And He [Christ] is the head of the body, the Church” (1:18). Now see the first of Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian congregation. Speaking of what God placed under Christ’s control, Paul wrote, “...and gave Him [Christ] to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body” (1:22-23). The Bible definition of the Body of Christ is the Church! They are the same.

Further, in chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul went on to admonish the brethren there to be “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body [Church], and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (3-6). Again, there must be no confusing the all-encompassing unity and agreement that this verse requires of God’s people. Recall how Christ prayed for this kind of oneness and unity.

A few verses later, Paul described the importance of a faithful ministry, actively working with and teaching Christ’s Church. Carefully read and comprehend the following lengthy, important passage:

“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (vs. 11-16).

Type of Christ’s Human Body

The Church is a type of Christ’s own physical Body when He was on Earth and, as its Head, He governs, directs and builds it, adding to it daily (Acts 2:47). The above verses describe that Body as being unified in both doctrinal truth and love. (A later chapter explains how these two overarching points work together.) In phrase after phrase, this passage demonstrates that the entire Church (“whole body” and “every part”) must be walking together in complete doctrinal agreement under Christ’s authority. And He works through His true ministers to keep the Church from drifting into “every wind of doctrine.” But further understanding of this must wait until another great truth about the Church is understood.

The New Testament Temple of God

We cannot leave the subject of the Body of Christ until another vitally important connection to all that the Church is becomes clear. The New Testament Church of God, which we have seen to be the same as the biblical Body of Christ, is also described as the “temple of the Lord.” There are a number of New Testament passages that make this plain, and they are crucial to understand. Recognize that in the Old Testament the magnificent physical temple (first built by Solomon, and later rebuilt by Zerubbabel, with a still later renovation by Herod) was the place where God dwelled. Everyone understood this. The Old Testament Temple, as we will see with the New, was also often referred to as the “House of the Lord.”

The term “temple” is used in a host of contexts throughout the New Testament. This word appears literally scores of times through the gospels and epistles of Paul, as well as in various places in the book of Revelation, usually there referring to the Temple of God around God’s throne in the third heaven.

The English word “temple” generally derives from three separate Greek words that can correctly be translated as “temple.” These are oikos (oy’ kos): “a dwelling, by implication a family home, household or temple”—hieron (hee-er-on’): “a sacred place, that is, the entire precincts of the temple (at Jerusalem or elsewhere)”—and naos (nah-os’): “a feign shrined temple—the central sanctuary itself.”

Let’s examine passages that remove all doubt about what—more correctly, who—is the Temple of God today.

John 2:19-21 is the place to start. It offers important proof that the Body of Christ is the same as the Temple of God. As you read, realize that Christ’s words are the Bible interpreting the Bible, and they provide the best introduction to the subject of the New Testament Temple. Note especially the final part of the passage: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building [the renovated second temple built after Solomon’s had been destroyed], and will you rear it up in three days? But He spoke of the temple of His body.”

If you understand that Christ’s “body” is also His “temple”—and that the “temple” is “His body”—obviously the same as the term “Body of Christ”—you cannot get confused. All you must do is take Christ’s words at face value. The Bible will continue to be seen to interpret itself. As you read, recognize that you are receiving astonishing understanding known to but the tiniest few alive on Earth today!

What Paul Recorded

Paul recorded much more than any other biblical writer about the New Testament Temple. Let’s start with his foundational statement in Ephesians 2:19-21: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord.”

He also wrote this to the Corinthians: “For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (I Cor. 3:9).

Note this. Unlike the custom of today’s English, the King James translators carefully used “ye” whenever the intent was plural and “you” when it was singular. The ye here means all of the Ephesians and all of the Corinthians, or thus the whole Church, collectively. It will become clearer as we proceed that individual members are not the Temple of God, but rather the entire Church as a whole comprises the Temple.

We will later come to understand how the Bible describes—the specific term that it uses for—individuals within that Temple. I cannot overstress that this is supremely important understanding for all who seek to serve God in the manner and in the place that He requires.

A few verses later in I Corinthians 3 Paul added this: “Know ye not that ye are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in ye? If any man defile the Temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the Temple of God is holy, which Temple ye are” (vs. 16-17).

Placed together, these verses reveal that God sees His people—the true Church—as both His Building and His Temple. Understand that God is building a Temple—or a House. Almost identical, I Corinthians 6:19 does add a little more, making clear how serious it is if those called of God treat lightly the incredible privilege it is to have God dwelling in them—if God’s people do not conduct themselves in a manner that reflects this.

But the second epistle to the Corinthians adds significantly more understanding. Let’s notice: “And what agreement has the Temple of God with idols? for ye [notice the plural pronoun is used throughout] are the Temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (6:16).

The last part of this passage is a quote from Leviticus 26:12. Its use here demonstrates God has always planned—“has said” from the beginning—that His Church, those in whom He would in the future personally dwell, would be the greatest—truly the most glorious—temple of all. Realize that Leviticus was recorded long before either Solomon’s or Zerubbabel’s temple was built.

There is a powerful message for everyone in the preceding verses leading up to II Corinthians 6:16, quoted above. For those who desire to be in God’s Temple, there exists no room—none!—for doctrinal compromise with any of the false, pagan teachings of counterfeit Christianity—summarized as “unrighteousness” and “darkness” (vs. 14). Christians are to “touch not the unclean thing” (vs. 17)—anything that is sin.

Pause to read verses 14 and 15. Then take the time to read each phrase in Ephesians 5:6-11, followed by verses 23 and 30. The first group of verses condemn all compromise with every form of unrighteousness. The latter two verses tie Christ as Head of “the Church” to those in it being what He considers the individual “members of His Body, of His flesh, and of His bones.”

Let this understanding of exactly what it means to be in the Body of Christ sober you!

Church, Body and Temple—Three Critical Verses

One final proof (there are several others) that the Church of God, the biblical Body of Christ, the Temple or House of God are the exact same thing is understood by carefully comparing three additional passages in Paul’s epistles. Follow very closely the incredible connection between these important verses.

Do not miss what they reveal!

Let’s begin by looking at I Timothy 3:15. This crucial but we saw largely ignored bedrock passage provides the New Testament definition of the true Church of God. Notice the Church is there called “the house of God...the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (Take more than a passing interest in the fact that this verse directly ties the Church to where “the truth” is—not “some of the truth” or “much of the truth” or even “most of the truth”—and certainly not “truth mixed with error”—but rather simply “THE TRUTH”!)

Then, get clear in your mind that the Church is called “the house of God.” (It is also more than interesting that this is virtually the same term used from the beginning regarding Solomon’s Temple—which was generally referred to as the “House of the Lord,” or “God’s House,” as in I Kings 6:37-38.)

Jesus taught in Matthew that “a house divided…cannot stand” (12:25). Why do those who teach the New Testament Church is scattered among many organizations never reference this verse? Christ went on to explain that even the devil realizes his “kingdom” cannot survive divided.

Surely Christ is at least as wise as the devil. Like Paul, I “speak as a fool” (II Cor. 11:23).

Also recall that in Ephesians 2:19-21 Paul called the Temple of the Lord a “building fitly framed together.” Here is the point not to be missed. Later, in chapter 4 of Ephesians, he said almost the identical thing about the Body of Christ. Notice: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted [I Corinthians 12:24 adds “tempered together”] by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part…” (vs. 16).

The phrases translated “fitly framed together” and “fitly joined together” derive from the exact same Greek word sunarmologeo’. It means “to render close-jointed together, i.e. organized compactly, be fitly framed (joined) together (in the sense of laying).” Paul obviously had the same thing in mind whether he was discussing the Church, the Temple (or House of God) or the Body of Christ.

Sunarmologeo’ offers truly fascinating meaning. The beginning and last portions of the definition—“render close-jointed” and “together (in the sense of laying)”—carry the obvious meaning of laying individual bricks or stones that are mortared or put “close-jointed” beside each other (“together”) as one would lay them in rows within a building. (Take a moment to read in Acts 2:42-47 how the first 3,000 baptized into the New Testament Church were bound together in all that they did.)

Since we saw that the Temple is also called God’s “building,” there is no possible way to read these passages and conclude that the true Church of God could be anything other than one undivided organizationa single building! Do not let anyone tell you that God’s Temple (and Christ’s Body) is anything less than this! His Building cannot be “spiritualized away”—as do professing Christian ministers with every doctrine in God’s Word—into a “temple” that is ill-defined, disconnected, amorphous—and meaningless.

Now let’s look more closely at what are the “bricks” or “stones” used in building—exactly what or who it is that lies together “close-jointed.” At this point the knowledge presented in this chapter becomes personal.

An Astonishing Passage in I Peter!

The apostle Peter put an exclamation point—a capstone if you will—on all that Paul wrote about the New Testament Temple.

This first of his general epistles declares this to what would include all true Christians through the ages: “If so be ye [plural again] have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To Whom coming, as unto a living stone [referring to Christ], disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively [living] stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices [on God’s altar], acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on Him shall not be confounded” (I Pet. 2:3-6).

It is obvious the living stones (Christ being the Chief Corner Stone) are the individual Christians in the Temple lying “close-jointed” or “fitly framed” together. And note that it was only the priests who could enter and serve in Solomon’s Temple (II Chron. 23:6). Also, it is important to recognize that verse 5 should carry the stronger rendering of the positive command “be ye [BE YE!] also living stones,” as is found in the margin of many Bibles.

This is absolutely incredible understanding, for those able to receive it. Get it firmly in mind before continuing. Everyone who wishes to receive God’s Spirit should give much more than mere pause in determining whether they will fulfill this meaning—will obey what is a command!

Peter wrote more, and our understanding cannot be complete without it: “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the Stone which the builders disallowed [or “rejected”], the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (vs. 7-9).

The world has never been willing to accept the true Jesus Christ! Neither will they accept the Church He built—and is still building. They “stumble” at His doctrines, and reject—“disallow”—Him as the Head of the Church—any Church. In His place they have brought a cold, dead Jesus (called “another Jesus”) on a cross, who brings dead understanding (empty pagan doctrines), and who builds dead churches out of dead stones!

The Tragedy

Most will not hold precious the true Jesus Christ of the Bible. Neither will they hold to His teachings (of course, most will not even study them). They will not yield to His government. Neither will they come to His Church, nor support the Work of that Church. And they will not permit Him to head their lives—and build them into His House. Blind to their actions, they keep themselves outside the Temple He is constructing. They have unwittingly chosen not to be placed next to the “living stones” with which He is building.

Get this. If God is calling you, you will be judged on this knowledge! The apostle Peter also said two chapters later: “Judgment is now on the house of God” (4:17).

The Church has long understood that the “House of God” is His Church. By now you know this is the same as saying “His Temple”—of which you were called to be a “living stone,” one “closely joined” with all the others in God’s unified “Building.”

Why will not most people accept that God’s Church—the Body of Christ—His House or Temple—is obviously one, undivided organization ruled by Jesus Christ as Head under the government of God—and doing His Work?

What could be more important for you to understand than these points? What could be more important to you than allowing yourself to be placed by Christ into the Temple—into the “House of God”—recognizing that it is being judged?

What could be more important to you than capturing the basic, but all-important, knowledge, never understood by Christendom, that “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psa. 127:1)? There is but one House God could have had in mind here, the one He planned long before the Psalms were recorded. Regarding the churches of men, how could their founders think they could build their own “houses” and that Christ would submit to their lead, and follow them, instead of the other way around?

And how could so many millions blindly help them build?

Why Many Churches and Groups Today?—Some History!

The next two subheads form important related insets, the first being to help the reader understand why the supposed Christian world has so many different disagreeing and competing churches.

The universal church, centered at Rome, and teaching the false doctrine of the trinity, has always taught that the Body of Christ was solely composed of those within that church. Even though the Roman church taught doctrines that were almost entirely the tradition of men, their understanding that Christ led one undivided, organized spiritual Body, identified in a single church, was largely correct. Their error was connecting this key doctrine to themselves instead of to the true Church of God, led by the true Jesus Christ (II Cor. 11:4).

Let’s understand this by tying together several critical elements that clarify the thinking of the Protestant Reformers. When they rebelled against Rome, they were obviously no longer part of that church, and thus had departed from what they previously believed to have been the sole Body of Christ. They knew that Paul taught, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” and “For the body is not one member, but many” (I Cor. 12:13-14).

The entire world of Christendom is able to read this passage, and others, about the Body of Christ. All of these plain passages had to be “reconciled” with the fact that different groups—starting with individual reformers—had now left the Roman church and its authority. Here was their problem: They had to come up with—invent—a teaching compatible with converts and believers supposedly being truly baptized, but now into a divided, competing and multiplying picture of denominations that is the Protestant world. They had to reconcile the idea of “one Body of Christ” with the reality of hundreds of Protestant denominations—and other groups—with more appearing all the time. They were forced to conclude that Christ’s Body is composed of many organizations, denominations, fellowships and “communities of believers”—or stated more correctly, of worthy individuals within and throughout this host of differing churches.

But this is utterly false!

Built Upon Which Rock?—Peter the First Pope?

When the Protestant Reformers rejected Rome’s authority, they were simultaneously rejecting the rule of popes over the church. Let’s briefly return to Matthew 16:18—where Christ said, “I will build My Church”—this time examining His statement to Peter.

Let’s first read: “And I say also unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

This verse is the single bedrock scripture to Catholic theology regarding the supposed authority of popes, who are said to derive their authority directly from Christ’s supposed empowerment of Peter, and thus his successors in an unbroken line ever since. Over a billion Catholics today, and generations before them, have been taught that this passage designates Peter as the first pope. The verse simply does not say this, and the reader needs to understand what it does say—what Christ meant by His statement.

Breaking down the important Greek words within this verse makes it easier to understand:

Peter comes from the Greek word petros, meaning a piece of rock, but either bigger or smaller than a stone. (Note that the Greek word for “stone” is lithos, and it essentially means a medium-sized rock.) The Greek word for Rock is petra, which means a mass of rock, usually very large.

Let’s carefully examine and understand. Verse 13 mentions that Christ was speaking at Caesarea Philippi. It is significant that He chose this site to speak of His Church! Here is why.

This city is in the far north of today’s Israel, about 25 miles north of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. Located at the foot of Mt. Hermon, it is where one of the three main branches of the Jordan River originates. The area is very beautiful.

A Key—Where Christ Was Speaking

I have stood on the spot from which Christ delivered these words. This is what I saw—and what anyone would see: Immediately above where the river springs from the base of a cliff is a massive rock outcropping that dominates the topography. Its presence towers over the landscape. None who were present when Christ spoke these words could possibly have believed He was talking about building His Church on Peter, whom He compared to a little rock. The enormous physical size of the rock looming directly over Christ’s head reinforced His message that He was building the Church on a giant Rock—HIMSELF! This is, no doubt, why He picked this setting to utter His words in Matthew 16:18 to His disciples, and to Peter.

In effect, Christ was saying that Peter was a small rock. On the other hand, Jesus Christ is the large rock, or foundation stone of the Church that He built. Christ is actually distinguishing between the two. Proof that the mass of rock is Christ can be found in I Corinthians 10:4, Ephesians 2:20, Matthew 7:24 and 16:13-16.

Understand that Christ is the great Rock that the Church is built upon. This verse is absolutely not saying that Peter is either that massive rock or that the Church is built on him. I Corinthians 3:11 shows there can be only one foundation (Christ), not two. Obviously, this applies to Peter’s role. Ephesians 4:11-12 explains that apostles (Peter, Paul, John, etc.) were in offices that Christ established to serve His Church. Collectively, with the prophets, they form part of the Church’s foundation—alongside Christ (Eph. 2:20).

Think of Christ as having complimented Peter. Then there is this: If He had established Peter as the first (and infallible) pope, how could Peter almost immediately have fallen into what Christ labeled a satanic attitude in the very next verses, 21 to 23? Take a moment to read them. Would such an attitude be possible for one who was spiritually infallible? Also, there is this question: How could Peter have later denied Christ three times?

Later in the book will appear ten proofs that Peter was probably never even in Rome—and therefore could not have been the first pope. Although not the subject of this book, Peter was, in fact, the leading apostle in the early New Testament Church, but he simply was not the first pope and certainly did not even live in Rome.

Now we can return to the all-important unity so necessary to maintain in the Church Christ leads…

Unity at All Costs

A great deal can be learned by examining Paul’s instructions to various other congregations he was overseeing. He continually stressed unity and oneness within the true Church of God. Let’s now return to this central New Testament teaching.

The Corinthian congregation had many problems—including terrible division and disunity, some of it doctrinal and some of it because people were selecting “favorite ministers” and “favorite speakers.” Early in his letter to this congregation, Paul strongly admonished them to stop entertaining other doctrines and to quit playing favorites with ministers. Notice:

“Now I beseech you, brethren...that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment...Now this I say, that every one of you says, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas [Peter]; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?” (I Cor. 1:10, 12-13).

Do not miss the intent of this passage. Paul was inspired to describe, in five different ways, how completely all of God’s people—real Christians—in every age should be unified and in agreement. These verses also cannot be “spiritualized away” by deceptive human reasoning.

Where in this passage does Christ give license for multiple organizations—“churches”—to appear in His name? Where in this description is there room for hundreds, even thousands, of divided, competing groups, in disagreement over teachings—and diminished in the all-important impact of taking the gospel announcement of the kingdom of God to the world (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20)?

The answer: nowhere!

Let’s examine further. I Corinthians 1:13 begins with the rhetorical question: “Is Christ divided?” The only reason the question is not followed with the word “no” or something similar is because the answer is so obvious. Considering what he had just written, Paul knew that the thrust of his question was equivalent to asking, “Is grass green?” or “Is the sky blue?” When people ask rhetorical questions, no one actually responds, because the answer is so obvious. In Amos 3:3, even the question “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” is left unanswered for the same reason.

It was in this same letter to the Corinthians that Paul also had to write, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (14:33), followed by “Let all things be done decently and in order” (vs. 40). Real decency and order are impossible if God’s Church is divided into several organizations, let alone hundreds or thousands.

Now consider Paul’s admonition to the Philippian congregation: “...stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (1:27-28). And, “Fulfill you my joy, that you be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2:2). These passages teach that complete unity in the Church is the only condition that is acceptable to God!

Paul admonished the Colossians to be “knit together in love, and...the full assurance of understanding,” and “rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as you have been taught” (2:2, 7). There is no misunderstanding the total unity Paul is describing. Brethren walk “together,” assured of the right “understanding” that they “have been taught” by Christ’s trained and duly-appointed ministers. (We already saw how strongly Paul admonished the Ephesian congregation, in numerous ways, to strive for unity.)

The local Roman congregation was experiencing a problem with false doctrines entering the Church. Notice how Paul instructed them to address this: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark [take note of] them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. For they...by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (16:17-18).

Protecting Unity

The last passage contained very strong language. It introduces the truth of the biblical doctrine of disfellowshipping (sometimes described as shunning or excommunicating) those who depart from the truth into false doctrines and seek to take others with them, and to divide the Church. This principle demonstrates how important it is to God that His people not stray from the truth into manmade doctrines.

A number of additional scriptures address and amplify this same Bible principle. See Titus 3:10-11, I Corinthians 5:1-8 and I Timothy 6:1-5. Together, these passages represent a vital Bible doctrine that the true Church must practice in order to maintain unity. In addition to ignoring God’s instruction, churches that will not practice this doctrine are full of division, discord and disagreement—which inevitably leads to splits within the church or congregation.

Fulfilling the instruction to disfellowship is neither abusive nor an act of hate! It is actually a form of God’s love being administered to people who have drifted into error—and it is designed to wake them up. At the same time, it protects the remaining brethren in the Church. It certainly requires a greater level of faith—that most find too difficult—to obey God’s instruction to protect the Church in this way. Persecution can result. However, obeying God yields the fruits of peace, joy and unity in the Church (I Cor. 14:33, 40; Prov. 22:10).

The apostle Peter also taught the all-important need for Church unity and oneness. He wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (I Pet. 2:9). The four phrases in this verse are in the singular—meaning one, not several, of each term referenced. If a nation is split into several nations, no one would consider it to be a single nation—it would be multiple nations, not “a” nation. The same is true of God’s Church.

There is but one!

Christ Left No Doubt

Also, Christ Himself taught the following on the vital importance of unity in the Church:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand [survive]” (Matt. 12:25). Recall that Paul asked in I Corinthians 1:13, “Is Christ divided?” This is CHRIST’S own answer. His instruction is even more fascinating when the reader considers that He is describing Satan’s kingdom in this account! Jesus taught that even the devil is smart enough to know that his kingdom cannot be divided and survive! Surely, the great God of heaven and Jesus Christ are at least as wise as Satan the devil. Of course, they are infinitely wiser! They both understand that their Church also cannot be divided and expect to survive (“stand”).

Consider. Can a divided marriage continue indefinitely? Could even the most powerful company survive if its board of directors were divided? Could a winning professional football or soccer team remain in existence if the coach continually challenged and opposed the decisions, policies and judgment of the corporate leadership and management of the team? Could a school survive if every decision made by the principal was attacked and repudiated by senior teachers on the faculty, and groups of teachers regularly broke away from the school to form another one?

Certainly not!

Again, Jesus Christ plainly stated that Satan’s kingdom is unified (Matt. 12:25-26). Why, then, do professing Christians accept the idea that the most important organization on Earth—the Church of God—can be divided into hundreds and thousands of competing, disagreeing denominations? Why do they presume that God cannot “figure out” what even the devil understands?

We are left to ask: How long could God’s people survive in a state that members of a family, a company, a sports team or a school could not begin to endure—and would not even be foolish enough to think they could?

Just before His crucifixion, Jesus gave vital instruction to His disciples. In John 15, He explained the well-known analogy picturing Himself as the “Vine” and individual Christians as “branches” (vs. 1). Here is what He instructed, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches...for without Me you can do nothing” (vs. 4-5).

The obvious purpose of this passage is to explain that individual Christians must be connected to Christ, meaning to His one, organized, unified Church, to grow—to produce fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Read and reread all that you have read so far until it becomes crystal clear in your mind—and until it is impossible to misunderstand what is at stake in which church you enter. Remember, the true Christ is not divided—meaning there is only one true Church of God, and one true Work of God! Until you find that Church—the one, unified Body of Christ and Temple of the Lord—you cannot have contact with the living Christ who heads it, and only it!

But there are so many other unique and fascinating truths only taught by the Church of God…

Chapter Three – Many Vital Truths

How did mankind get into the state of confusion, division, war, competition and disagreement existing all over the earth today? Of course, this includes religion. God’s original command to Adam was, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

In the next chapter (3:6), Eve, with Adam following, rebelled and ate of this wrong tree. Notice that this tree represented knowledge that was both “good and evil.” In other words, the tree was not entirely evil—it contained a mixture of true and false knowledge! It is the same with the churches of this world. Some do have small amounts of true (“good”) doctrinal “knowledge,” mixed with much false (“evil”) doctrinal “knowledge.” For 6,000 years, God has told His servants to avoid mixing truth with error. He warned Adam that eating of the wrong tree would result in death. It did.

The warning is the same for us today!

When I was first learning the truth, I heard an analogy that I had never considered before—but have never forgotten since: Think of a delicious cake laced with either arsenic, cyanide, ricin or strychnine, while otherwise containing nothing but good and healthy ingredients. Eating such a cake would always result in death.

The good ingredients would not be sufficient to overcome the poison hidden in the cake. Likewise, God’s Church does not and cannot mix truth with error. As with the cake, the result for those who do is deadly!

I have already explained some of the true doctrines taught by the Church Christ built. This book could scarcely contain a simple listing of all of them, let alone a detailed scriptural explanation proving them and explaining why God teaches them. However, the following sections list and briefly examine some of the major doctrines of God.

Who and What Is God?

David wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God” (Psa. 53:1). The single most important biblical truth is the identity of the true God! God does exist. His existence can be proven! (You may wish to read our booklet Does God Exist?) The first of the Ten Commandments requires people to worship the true God only. (You may also read our book The Ten Commandments – “Nailed to the Cross” or Required for Salvation?)

The ancient Greeks served 30,000 different gods. Some believe that the Hindus serve 5 million gods. Judaism teaches that God is one single Person. Many people believe God is a kind of “inner goodness” within everyone. Others believe He is a “metaphysical idea.” Most of the churches of traditional Christianity teach that God is a trinity—that He is one God, but three Persons.

The God of the Bible said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). When God said this, He was not talking to Himself. Nor was He confused. God is plainly more than one Person. The Hebrew word used here is elohim. It is a uni-plural word—in this case, one God, but meaning more than one Person. God and Christ represent two separate Beings, composing the Godhead. Together, they represent the “Us” and “Our” of this verse.

John 1 contains an absolutely amazing statement about the true nature and identity of God. It states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God...and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (vs. 1-2, 14).

The only way the Word could both be God and be “with” God is if there were two separate Beings. One Person or Being, the Word who became Jesus Christ, came to earth and “dwelt among men,” until His crucifixion as the Savior of mankind. The other Person or Being, the Father, remained in heaven and was the One to whom Jesus Christ prayed. He (the Father) was the One who resurrected Him from the dead so that He could return to His throne in heaven.

The Godhead now has two separate beings—Father and Son! If God were a trinity—three Persons or Entities in one Being (with the Holy Spirit as the supposed third Person)—Christ’s death would have actually been impossible.

God is not conjoined triplets where one-third of one Being can die—without affecting the other two-thirds of the single Being. This entire idea (often called a “mystery that cannot be understood”) denies God’s master purpose for mankind. If the trinity doctrine were true, it would deny God’s plan, because mankind would have no Savior. It pictures Him as a mysterious, closed, triune God with no room for expansion in His Father/Son family relationship! (Take time to read my thorough and powerful book The Trinity – Is God Three-In-One?)

Christ’s Church understands and teaches the identity of the true God.

Mankind’s Great Purpose

We just read, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” Why did God do this? It is not within the scope of this book to disprove the pure science fiction of evolution and to prove the truth of a literal creation. (You may wish to read our extensive and thoroughly illustrated brochure Evolution – Facts, Fallacies and Implications.) The fact is that God did create man. But we must ask, why? For what purpose did He do this?

The popular belief of nearly all professing Christians is that they will “die and go to heaven.” Yet, Christ stated, “...no man has ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). It was not until I came into contact with the true Church that I learned the belief that “heaven is the reward of the saved” is a fable!

Here is what Christ taught: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”—spoken in His very first recorded sermon (Matt. 5:5). He understood that Christians do not inherit heaven—they inherit the earth! Actually, Christ was quoting the Old Testament—Psalm 37:11 states exactly the same thing. It has always been God’s Plan to give rulership of earth to Christ and the resurrected saints, who will reign with Him. It has never been His Plan to have people “roll around heaven all day,” “ride clouds,” “play harps” or merely “walk the streets of gold, in front of the pearly gates.”

God’s purpose for humanity is infinitely greater than the inventions of deceived men!

The book of Revelation, which is Christ’s revealing of events prior to, including and following His Return to earth, says of the saints, “And has made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10).

Many refer to Christ as King of kings, but never question who are the other “kings.” These are the resurrected saints! Also see Daniel 7:18, 22, 27, which all reveal that Christ and the saints inherit all the kingdoms of this world at His Coming.

God the Father says that Christ is “His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Do you recognize the implications of this statement? Many more sons and daughters will soon be added to God’s Family. They will enjoy the same things that God Himself enjoys. God is a Family—a Household! (See Ephesians 3:15 and I Timothy 3:15.)

True Christians have the Spirit of God. This—the Holy Spirit—makes them sons of God: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). Now consider the following verse: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2).

Christ is called the firstborn among many brethren (the true Christians who follow later), because those who are added to God’s Family—in the resurrection to occur at Christ’s Return—are going to be “like Him.” They are not going to be “like” something else. Christ is God. Being “like Him” means that we will be part of the God Family with Him.

God is a Father who now has one (born) Son. But He will later have many more sons. God is reproducing Himself by developing His character in yielded, conquered, Spirit-begotten and led human beings (God begets His children just like any human father).

Remember, Paul said that the ministry teaches and edifies the Church so that it can grow into the “stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). A Christian copies and builds the character of Jesus Christ, so that he can later enjoy membership in the God Family with Christ and the Father. What a sobering yet exciting opportunity and future responsibility!

The truly incredible human potential that is offered to everyone who repents and believes, and goes on to practice God’s many marvelous truths is that they will be born into the very Family of God. May God help you understand what He has offered to all who seek Him first—above all else!—in their lives (Matt. 6:33). How glorious is the future of Christians!

The true Church teaches that this incredible human potential lies ahead for every one of God’s people—that it is the vital key to the knowledge of God’s supreme purpose for all mankind—to be born into the God Family! (Take the time to read my most vital book The Awesome Potential of Man.)

The True Gospel

Notice that Revelation 12:9 states, “Satan...deceives the whole world.” This is a staggering statement! Surely the truth about a subject as vital as the gospel brought by Christ would not be excluded from this deception.

The first recorded words spoken by Christ are, “Repent you, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

But what is the real gospel? Is there more than one? Those who would be true Christians are told that they must believe the gospel. The previous verse (14) states, “Jesus came...preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” There is no other gospel but the kingdom of God. Of course, the world focuses on the Person of Jesus Christ, rather than on the message He brought. It is almost entirely ignorant of the kingdom of God—the governing Family of God that is coming to earth at the Return of Christ, with His saints. Professing Christendom has assumed the belief of numerous manmade gospels.

In fact, this becomes one of the greatest distinctions between the many denominations and sects of the world and the true Church. Rather than focusing on Himself, or teaching a gospel about Himself, Jesus came to reveal the Father to His followers. Yet, the Father and His role as Supreme Head of the divine Family of God, is overlooked and almost entirely excluded. As Savior and High Priest, Jesus brought access—reconciliation—to the Father, saving us by His resurrection (Rom. 5:10). The true Church understands Christ’s vital role as mediator to the Father, but also has Him in proper perspective. It does not overly focus on Him by constantly talking about “adoring Jesus,” “the Lord,” “our Master,” “His precious blood.” Neither does it see Him as merely dead on the stake or a baby in the manger, among other popular views that almost always reduce Christ, as do those who do not understand that the true Jesus Christ brought a message about coming world government—the kingdom of God!

Paul warned those who would believe or teach another gospel, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9).

Satan does not talk directly to human beings. He works through his servants—his ministers. The Bible teaches that Satan does have his ministers, and they invariably teach a false gospel. Paul warned the Corinthians that they had been “beguiled” into accepting “another gospel”—accompanied by “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:3-4). He went on to describe the cunning ways through which Satan’s ministers successfully deceive.

Notice: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (vs. 13-15).

The true Church has always had to be careful—vigilant—about the dangers of false ministers entering it and perverting the doctrines of God. This will be addressed at the end of this chapter.

There is only one true gospel. All others are counterfeits designed by Satan to replace the enormous, awesome truth of God’s soon-coming kingdom.

As the one who deceives the whole world, Satan is called the “god of this world.” Notice: “In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (II Cor. 4:4). The world does not know of this gospel. God, for His own supreme purpose, has opened the truth of the gospel and its meaning to only a very few—and has put them into His Church. The rest of the world remains blinded for now. The devil does not want human beings to enjoy what is forever denied to him—membership in the God Family.

Matthew 24:14 states, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached [Mark 13:10 says, “published”] in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” The Church that Christ built has the knowledge of His true gospel—the kingdom of God. That Church will always be found preaching it (Matt. 24:46), until the end of this age comes. You have been permitted to come into contact with the knowledge of the true gospel—and the understanding that you can be a part of God’s Church now—and His soon-coming kingdom—His governing Family—later!

But first comes a life of testing for true Christians. These tests come in various ways.

The Sabbath Test Command

The churches of the world will often admit to making an effort (however half-hearted) at keeping nine of the Ten Commandments. Typically, they will acknowledge that it is wrong to steal, kill, covet, bear false witness, and commit adultery. They will also acknowledge that honoring one’s father and mother, avoiding idolatry and taking God’s Name in vain—while at least claiming to follow the God described in the First Commandment—are basically good things to do. However, most do a poor job of actually keeping these nine Commandments, and officially teach that Christ did away with them and “kept them for us” and “nailed them to the cross.” But most at least tacitly agree that these nine Commandments are “nice principles.”

There is one commandment that people almost universally will not obey. Almighty God states that this command sets His people apart from everyone else. The Sabbath, the Fourth Commandment, becomes the test Command (Ex. 16). Notice this in chapter 20 of Exodus: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God: in it you shall not do any work” (vs. 8-10).

God gave the Sabbath from Mount Sinai, through Moses, to ancient Israel. While most people are familiar with this story, they are not aware that God commanded the Sabbath to be kept forever! It was never meant to be “just for the Jews” or “just for ancient Israel.”

The nation of Israel continually refused to remain faithful to God’s Sabbath. They had periods when they did observe it, before neglecting it and falling into the practices of the nations around them.

God told Israel, “Moreover also I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they walked not in My statutes, and they despised My judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and My Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out My fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them” (Ezek. 20:12-13).

Mankind has been rebelling against the Sabbath ever since. Yet it still remains the sign between God and His true people (vs. 20).

The God of the Old Testament declares, “For I am the Lord, I change not,” (Mal. 3:6). Paul was inspired to record, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Be not carried about with various and strange doctrines” (Heb. 13:8-9).

Almost none recognize that the God of the Old Testament was the same Person known as “the Word” in John 1:1-2, 14, who came to earth as Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 10:4 identifies Christ as the “Rock” of the Old Testament. In other words, Jesus Christ is the One who inspired both Malachi in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament to record that He is a God who does not change! His people are to hold to the truth, avoiding all wrong (“strange”) doctrines, as we have seen.

This permanence applies to the Sabbath. This is why, in the New Testament, Christ said, “Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).

Theologians and religionists have long taught that the true Sabbath of the Bible is the seventh day. Saturday, not Sunday, is the seventh day of the week. Any good dictionary explains this. The weekly cycle has never been changed. (You may read my book Saturday or Sunday – Which Is the Sabbath? to see an entire chapter of proof of the unchanged weekly cycle since the time of creation.) However, the ministers of this world have had to carefully devise seductive “explanations” that dismiss or ignore the many clear scriptures about God’s plain command to keep His Sabbath. They justify Sunday-keeping—even though God’s Word has never justified this!

Instead of letting the clarity of God’s Word change cherished beliefs to conform with His truths, they change the meaning of the Bible to make it fit their beliefs!

Sunday is commonly thought of as the day that Christ was resurrected from the dead. It can be clearly proven that the Bible does not teach this. But there is an important reason theologians and many others must conclude that the resurrection occurred on Sunday.

Sunday is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Day.” While the true Lord’s Day of the Bible is actually the Day of the Lord—the Day of His Wrath (Joel 2:1-11; Rev. 1:10; 15:1, 7; and other places)—the term, The Lord’s Day, has become synonymous with Sunday. But why? The reason is simple. If Sunday can be established as the day that Christ was resurrected, it can be a means of validating and “authorizing” the unauthorized keeping of Sunday by the churches of the world—in place of the true Sabbath!

You have already seen several scriptural references to the Sabbath. God hallowed it at creation—long before there were any Jews or Israelites to keep it (Gen. 2:1-3). The Sabbath was to be kept “forever”—“continually”—and “throughout your generations” by Israel, God’s intended model nation (Ex. 31:12-17). Jesus observed it (Luke 4:16) and said that He was Lord of it, and that it was “made for man” (Mark 2:27-28). He did not say it was “only made for the Jews.” Paul also kept it (Acts 13:42, 44; 17:2; 18:4).

Much more than just the Good Friday-Easter Sunday tradition collapses if Christ was really in the grave for 72 hours (starting late Wednesday afternoon and ending late Saturday afternoon) instead of the traditionally taught 36 hours between late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning. The biggest single reason for the unscriptural tradition (recall Mark 7:7) of Sunday-keeping collapses at the same time. God has always said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). He has never said, “Remember Sunday to keep it holy—and just call it the Lord’s day!”

It was once said, “More than the Jews having kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews”! This could just as easily have been said of the true Church of God, which has been under siege through the ages, in part because of its faithful Sabbath-keeping. One of the single most vital keys that identify the one true original Church of God, founded by Jesus Christ, is God’s Sabbath. Think about this. Prove it for yourself. Sabbath-keeping, as God’s command for true Christians, is a large subject requiring its own extensive book to prove. (Take time to carefully read the above referenced book proving God’s Sabbath.)

The Annual Holy Days

In Ezekiel 20:12-13, God said, “I gave them My Sabbaths.” The word Sabbaths is plural. The weekly Sabbath is not the only Sabbath that God ordained to be kept forever. Leviticus 23 describes seven annual Holy Days—annual Sabbaths—that God commanded Israel to keep “forever” (stated four times). Like the weekly Sabbath, this subject requires its own lengthy booklet in order to properly outline the proofs that these annual Sabbaths must still be kept today. (Read our booklet God’s Holy Days or Pagan Holidays?)

Leviticus 23:1-2 calls these Sabbaths “feasts of the Lord.” The terms Holy Day, High Day and Feast Day are all found in the Bible and are synonymous with one another. They are all terms for the annual Sabbaths. They picture the Plan of God, as they are kept each year in sequence.

The two Holy Days known as the First and Last Days of Unleavened Bread were kept by the early New Testament Church (Acts 12:3; 20:6) in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper—the New Testament Passover. (See our booklet How Often Should the Lord’s Supper Be Taken? to learn more about the Passover and the spring Holy Days.) In late spring is the Day of Pentecost.

Four more annual Sabbaths are kept in the fall. They are known as the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah to the Jews), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth) and the Last Great Day.

When understood, these days depict important events within God’s Plan.

The Passover shows God’s mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is the one feast that is not an annual Sabbath. Immediately following, the seven Days of Unleavened Bread depict the Christian coming out of sin, just as Israel came out of Egypt after the first Passover of Exodus 12. The first and last days are Sabbaths. Pentecost, or the Feast of Firstfruits, representing the early spring harvest in Israel, portrays the first resurrection—of true saints (the firstfruits of God’s Plan)—at Christ’s soon-coming Return.

The Feast of Trumpets depicts Christ’s Return—with the seven accompanying trumpets of Revelation 8, 9 and 11:15-19 describing what happens when each of these trumpets are blown. The Day of Atonement (“at-one-ment”) pictures the whole world finally “at one” with God, because Satan will have been bound and cast into “the bottomless pit” (Rev. 20:2-3), where he can no longer deceive the nations.

The Feast of Tabernacles depicts Christ’s 1,000-year reign on Earth with the saints—and a time of peace, happiness, abundance and prosperity for a world that has not known this for 6,000 years. This seven-day feast is immediately followed by the Last Great Day, which represents a time at the end of the millennium when all human beings who have ever lived will be given a full opportunity to know God’s truth and Plan of Salvation. (My book The Awesome Potential of Man presents a detailed overview of God’s Master Plan!)

Those few being called in this age (John 6:44) have an opportunity to be part of the early spring harvest of Pentecost, while the world learns the truth later, during the time pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day.

The Church Christ built teaches the truth about God’s weekly Sabbath and annual Holy Days, and the scriptures that support their observance.

Other Important Truths

I have mentioned that when God first called me I was amazed at how many plain doctrinal truths the Bible taught that I had never heard. As explained, this book could not contain them all. But here are some others.

I learned the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Yet, I had always been taught that there was an “ever-burning hell,” where “bad people” went because they were still alive after death. I had been taught that people have immortal souls that survive death. Yet, Ezekiel 18:4, 20 states, “The soul that sins, it shall die,” and Matthew 10:28 states, “Fear Him [God] which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna: “lake of fire,” which burns up the wicked (Mal. 4:3)].”

Countless millions have feared going to an ever-burning “hell” that does not exist! The Greek word for hell is hades, meaning “the grave.” Again, Christ’s Church teaches the truth about death and hell and the scriptures that explain them. (My booklet The Truth About Hell presents scriptures on the subject virtually none consider, and they are plain.)

I came to understand that Christmas and Easter (as well as Valentine’s Day, Halloween, April Fool’s, New Year’s and certain other popular observances) are not Bible customs. Rather, they are completely pagan in origin, and have nothing to do with God!—and are in fact condemned in scripture in the strongest possible terms. (You may wish to read our booklets The True Origin of Christmas and The True Origin of Easter, and articles about others of these days to learn more about these holidays that men have used to replace the true Holy Days.) The true Church teaches the truth about the pagan origin of all these days and the scriptures that condemn them.

I also came to see how Satan the devil “deceives the whole world,” including the deception about who and what he is—and that he is the “god of this world.” (You may read our booklets Who Is the Devil? and A World in Captivity to learn about his role in God’s Plan.) I also learned that one-third of the original angels (now demons) joined Lucifer (Satan) in rebellion against God’s government—and that the faithful angels are God’s ministering spirits. Once again, the true Church of God teaches the truth about the devil and the scriptures that support this understanding.

When Is One “Born Again”?

The vast majority of professing Christians believe that conversion makes them “born again.” In regard to when this occurs, I came to understand that what Jesus really taught was “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). I had been taught that people could be born again in this life, while they are still made of flesh. No one told me that Jesus Christ, only after His Resurrection, was called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18). No wonder He said that those who are born again are spirit—they are no longer composed of flesh. God’s Holy Spirit has “changed” them (I Cor. 15:50-52) from “flesh and blood” to spirit. Then I understood why Romans 8:29 described Christ as “the firstborn among many brethren.”

My studies led me to understand that I could be one of those “many brethren”—if I qualified! Again, the Church built by Christ teaches the truth about these doctrines and the many scriptures that support them. (You are urged to read our thorough booklet What Does “Born Again” Mean? to learn more about this.)

The Definition of Sin

I learned that “sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4), and that the law of God was “holy, just, good” and “spiritual” (Rom. 7:12, 14). I had been told that Christ had “done away” with the law. Instead, I found that He said this:

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets [I had also been told that the Old Testament, which contains the writings of the prophets, was basically “done away”]: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled,” and that “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom...but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom” (Matt. 5:17-19).

I came to recognize that, when people keep the law of God, it keeps them! This is because it is a law. And I also learned that, again because it is a law, when people break it, it breaks them! If the whole world were keeping this law, it would be a very different place. Again, the true Church teaches the truth about law and sin and the many scriptures that explain them. (Read our book The Ten Commandments – “Nailed to the Cross” or Required for Salvation?)

Baptism and Conversion

It became clear that the Bible method of baptism is immersion, and that God says that no other form of baptism is acceptable to Him. (Read our booklet What Do You Mean “Water Baptism”?) I learned that proper baptism must be preceded by repentance and recognition of what human nature really is—where it came from and why it needs to be repented of. (Read our booklet Did God Create Human Nature?) I came to understand that “the laying on of hands” immediately follows baptism and that it is the only way a person can receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The true Church teaches the truth about proper baptism and the scriptures supporting it.

Feeding the Flock

I learned that God’s Church protects and feeds His Flock. Christ said (three times) to Peter that if he loved Christ, he would “Feed My [Christ’s] sheep” (John 21:15-17). I also learned, as we have seen, that there is loving authority in the Church Christ built under God’s form of Church government. Hebrews 13:7, 17, Acts 16:4, II Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6 and numerous other places explain that God gives His true ministers necessary authority over His Flock—partly so that they are better able to protect it. Of course, God’s Church teaches the truth about this understanding and the scriptures supporting it.

Financial Laws

I learned God’s principle of tithing (Hebrew means “tenthing”) on one’s income because “the tithe belongs to God” (Lev. 27:30). Also, in Malachi 3:8-10, God declares that He considers those who do not both pay Him His tithes and give Him His offerings to be “robbers”! I also learned that in these same verses God promised to “open the windows of heaven” and pour out tremendous blessings on those who were willing to “prove Him” regarding this promise—and that this is the way He finances His Work of preaching the gospel of the kingdom to the world and the warning message to the modern descendants of ancient Israel. I found that Christ affirmed the tithing law in Matthew 23:23, and that other places in the New Testament confirmed Christ’s words. (The booklet End All Your Financial Worries carefully explains these things.) And again, the true Church teaches the truth about tithing and the many scriptures supporting it.

False Church

I learned that there is a great false religious system that the Bible calls “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:5), which masquerades as Christianity. It is pictured as a “mother church” who has protesting “daughters” who left it, but who are still part of her system. This system has carefully counterfeited all of the doctrines of God and has continually tried to penetrate, capture and destroy the true Church of God.

I learned that the Bible warns God’s people about being swept into the deadly deception perpetrated by this large false church. And by studying true Church history, I learned that this false woman invariably finds a way to enter the true Church (seen in this book’s later chapters), causing those who are determined to hold fast to the full truth of God to have to flee her seductive intrusion and influence! (Read our extensive companion booklet The White Horse – “Many Shall Come in My Name…” to learn more about this system.)

Finally, the true Church of God teaches the truth about all of these doctrines and the many scriptures supporting them! It never compromises even one doctrine—not ever.

Another Crucial Truth

At this point, an additional Bible doctrine must be re-introduced so that it can be seen in a different context. First, we saw that the Bible teaches, in Revelation 2 and 3, that God has worked with His Church through seven separate and successive eras. This understanding has been in fact established, well-known doctrine in God’s Church.

While we saw that Laodicea means “the people rule, judge, decide,” they are still God’s people, but in a weak and confused condition. However, they do not represent His true Church, and are outside His Body and Temple. They have formed their own organizations, and Jesus Christ cannot rule them! (It is important to note that the false leaders who succeeded Mr. Armstrong of course found it necessary to throw out the doctrine of Church eras. This paved the way for people to be conditioned to fall into a thinking and era they were once prepared to resist when it came. In the end, because they either forgot the doctrine of Church eras, or forgot its importance, they slid into its thinking.)

Those who wished to remain completely faithful (those wishing to continue the Philadelphian thinking and standard) without compromising any true doctrines or practices, slowly found themselves again having to flee their new organizations in order to do this.

This part of the book would be incomplete without at least briefly describing these events, because they ultimately led to the forming of The Restored Church of God. This Church does not compromise on even one of God’s many, many doctrines. Just as Jesus foretold, it is a small, persecuted “little flock” that God has kept in His Name. It is powerfully continuing God’s Work—taking the true gospel of the kingdom of God to the world and the special warning to the modern descendants of ancient Israel, before this age ends. Its fruits are evidence of God’s blessings. It is growing rapidly and has members and ministers scattered in countries around the globe. The very fact that you are reading this book means you have come in contact with it—just as I was privileged in 1966 to come into contact with the true Church and learn the truth of the Bible for the first time.

Christ’s Unwavering Promise

Not only did Christ promise to build His Church, and that it could not be destroyed, He also promised—and it would be absolutely necessary that He did—that when false leaders, whom He refers to in John 10 as “thieves and robbers,” have been able to get into the Church, “the sheep hear His [Christ’s] voice: and He calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out.” Jesus’ voice is defined as “the truth” (John 18:37).

Christ goes on to say, “…He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him: for they know His voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers” (10:4-5). He continues by describing the behavior of certain ministers. Notice: “The hireling flees, because he is an hireling, and cares not for the sheep” (vs. 13).

This remarkable promise shows that Jesus Christ will never abandon His sheep and will always protect those who hear His voice and willingly follow Him—when they are in spiritual danger!—to where He has restored the truth, to where He has re-established His Work and placed His name!

Before examining the history of the true Church, we must first address an important element of whether Christians should give “truth” or “love” higher importance…

Chapter Four – “Truth” or “Love”—Which Comes First?

The apostle John repeatedly taught the importance of both Bible truth and godly love. To understand the identity of the true Church, it is vital to recognize which of these is the foundation for the other.

The large, respected, well-known church of this world in which I grew up was comprised of millions of “believers”—people who believed in and talked about Jesus. No doubt, most of them were sincere. They also talked much about “Christian love.” Many sermons had this topic as their theme. Sometimes it seemed that “Jesus” and “love” were the only two subjects preached. In fact, this describes the diet served every week from pulpits in tens of thousands of churches.

Of course, these are both critically important topics! The Bible has hundreds of verses that refer to Jesus Christ and to the importance of demonstrating real godly love. But I saw that many people had a hollow love, and that no one really believed what Christ taught. No real love was evident in their lives. It was not until later that I learned why—and that there was a connection.

Does this sound familiar—Christ’s name on people’s lips but the truths that He taught not evident in their lives? Lots of talk about love, but little, if any, being practiced in their lives?

John has been called the “Apostle of Love,” because he spoke about this subject much more than all the other New Testament writers combined. Check any concordance, and you will see this to be true. What is not realized is that he also wrote more about the importance of “truth” than all the other New Testament writers combined. John could as easily have been known as the “Apostle of Truth”! Just a superficial look at his gospel and three epistles could leave you wondering if he wrote about anything other than these two subjects. Strangely, despite John’s dozens of references to the importance of truth, this emphasis is ignored by almost everyone!

In God’s infinite wisdom, He knew that He could not have one apostle stress truth and a different one stress love. This would have more easily left the impression that people could “choose their favorite apostle,” depending upon whether they felt truth or love deserved greater emphasis. (It was this very kind of division that plagued the Corinthian Church – I Cor. 1:10-14.) The result is that each group would feel superior to the other because it has the “more proper” emphasis. Many denominations today feel that they merely need to stress “love”—and without explaining the Bible definition—with little emphasis on correct doctrine. The churches that think this way have a well-honed set of passages they use in an attempt to establish their position.

The Role of Love

Two of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible come from John. Both speak about love. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” People who know little—or nothing—about the Bible usually know of this verse.

John 13:34-35 states, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another.” It is easy to see, from just these two passages, why so many believe they are Christians if they just “have love”—all the while feeling no need to be concerned about right doctrines or truth. Notice the phrase, “By this [love] shall all men know that you are My disciples.” It is true that an outward demonstration of love does make an important impression on people. In a selfish, unhappy, confused world, people practicing genuine love—the way of give, of out-going concern, instead of getdo stand out from all those around them!

A basic question arises. How does Christ know if you are His disciple? We are not asking how men know, but how Christ knows. John also answers, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If you continue in My word, then are you My disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Did you notice the phrase “IF you continue in My word, THEN are you My disciples…”? This is a key point! (We will see later how love is directly connected to this.) “Continuing in [Christ’s] word”—remaining free of error—signifies to Christ that we are His disciples.

This is what Christ looks for!

The Role of Truth

Holding to truth would never be a sign to men. People are usually turned off by what true Christians believe “because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). The truth is not attractive to anyone not called by God (I Cor. 2:14). However, seeing people show genuine concern for one another turns no one off and is attractive to all. Anyone reading this book who doubts this may attempt to “cast” a few “pearls” (of Bible truth) at someone (Matt. 7:6). Watch the reaction. Then try showing love to them when they do not expect it. The lesson will be learned.

Consider! True Christians are led by the Holy Spirit—called the “Comforter” and the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13). This same Spirit of truth “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). That is the only Church where both God’s Spirit of truth and the Christian can be “comfortable.” The Holy Spirit will also lead all true Christians into the knowledge of real godly love. Galatians 5:22 reveals that love is a “fruit of the Spirit.” Romans 5:5 explains that such fruit is possible in a Christian’s mind only because God’s Spirit has put it there.

Romans 13:10 states, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” I John 5:3 adds this, removing all doubt: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” It will be clear to others that you have love, because they will see you fulfilling God’s laws toward your fellow man. Understanding real Christian love—what it is—how it is expressed—its relationship to law—its part in being the light of the world—is in itself also a great truth!

Let’s now carefully examine an important verse: “He that says, I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I John 2:4). Pause and consider this before continuing. Verse 5 speaks about people who claim to be Christians—to “know Him”—but who neither keep the commandments nor have “truth” in them. The world is filled with professing Christians who claim to “know Jesus in their heart” but who have no interest whatsoever in understanding the true doctrines of the Bible. Now, focus carefully on John’s words: “But whoso keeps HIS [Christ’s] word; in him [that person] verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.”

Real love cannot be perfected in those who are not keeping Christ’s word—His recorded instruction—the truth. The true love of God is only perfected in people who ARE doing this! Remember John 8:31. God’s servants must always “continue in” or “keep” God’s word. No wonder Jesus taught, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).

The Greek word for “keep,” tereo, means “to watch or to guard (from loss or injury) by keeping the eye upon…to detain in custody.” Will you determine to keep the truths of God’s Word in your “custody”? Will you then be prepared to “guard” it from “loss or injury”? Are you becoming convicted about keeping your “eyes” continually upon it? If so, then you will later (at baptism) be “sanctified” by that Word of truth (John 17:17). Only in this way can you first become and then remain Christ’s disciple!

Remember! Truth is the umbrella that stands over love. Love springs from truth—not the other way around! It is no coincidence that Matthew 22:37-39 says, “love your neighbor as yourself,” after the verse says, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Certainly, none who reject God or His truth love Him. Therefore, genuine love for “neighbor” will also be absent.

Many Churches Claim to Have “Love”

I ask: What about all the churches that profess the importance of love and having a “relationship with Christ”—while in ignorance of God’s doctrines or while neglecting or abandoning the ones they may have? Can love be perfected in them? The Bible says this is impossible! (Recall I John 3:4.) The only thing such people and organizations “perfect” is the ability to talk about love. So says God! While many churches have honed “lovespeak” into a fine art, this is nothing more than empty, hollow, selfish talk!

This is why the church of my childhood was filled with talk of “love” and “Jesus,” while it demonstrated no real love of God and had no knowledge of the true teachings of Christ. Checking the Handbook of Beliefs of this denomination (as I did) would show that it matches what almost every other denomination and branch of traditional Christianity says when there is doctrinal disagreement within their churches. They all say something like this: “We must agree in love to disagree. Love is primary. Doctrine and opinion about Bible truth is secondary. Let us all just have love. Let us submerge our differences under ever more love.”

The problem is that, in the end, this breeds more division and doctrinal confusion in these churches and a complete disregard and neglect of doctrinal truth. This wrong premise puts the “love” cart in front of the horse. The true Church continues in truth and then is able to walk in love. Remember, real love, the kind seen in God’s Church, springs from first having the truth! John stated that he “rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you [them], even as you walk in the truth.” Seeing this within fellow Christians was John’s greatest joy (III John 3-4).

How Love, Truth and Blessings Work Together

There is a final, important, related point. What role do blessings and growth play within the formula of truth and real Christian love? Do their presence—or absence—tell the true Christian anything?

They should!

I John 3:18 states, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” John explains that this gives Christians confidence toward God in their prayers, while eliminating the conscience problems that hinder them. Now verse 21: “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” Answers and blessings flow from obedience, pleasing God and application of His truth: “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (vs. 22).

This principle is made plain through paraphrasing three verses. Let’s notice. Isaiah 58:13-14 explains that Israel was promised wonderful blessings if they kept the Sabbath properly. Malachi 3:8-10 shows that they were also promised great blessings—but only if they tithed faithfully. Exodus 15:26-27 directly connects the promises of good health and healing to full obedience to God’s commands. These and many other verses containing promises show that the Christian can know when he is in harmony with God. Conscience problems vanish when people follow all of God’s commands and instructions.

God’s people must recognize and never forget that a real Christian’s path is not easy or pain-free. However, if our ways please Him, God will continually give blessings and growth. This becomes a sign to us of His happiness and pleasure with us. When blessings, fruit and growth are continually lacking, God is not pleased! We know—either way.

First, belief and continuance in the truth tells Christ who His disciples are (and real love will always be evident anyway). Next, love tells people who Christ’s disciples are. Finally, blessings, fruit and growth tell the individual Christian whether he or she is pleasing God and continuing in His Word.

If I were the devil, I would speak endlessly of love and “Jesus,” while de-emphasizing right doctrine—Christ’s teachings—truth!—and their connection to growth and blessings. If this is what you are hearing, beware!

There is a Church that understands the connection between these things. We are now ready to take a close look at the history of the Church that is unlike any other on the face of the earth…

Chapter Five – The Ephesian Era

The Church of God began with what is often called the “Apostolic Era,” and this period lasted until about AD 98. This was the first phase of the “Ephesian Era.” Christ inspired the apostle John to describe this era in Revelation 2:1-3: “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; these things says he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars: and have borne, and have patience, and for My name’s sake have labored, and have not fainted.”

The Beginning of the Church—The Apostolic Era

Some background: The story of the Church of God began on the day of Pentecost, AD 31. When talking for the final time to His disciples, just prior to His ascension, Christ described the significance of that event in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Then, Acts 2:1 reads, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” God then sent His Holy Spirit to 120 disciples, which was witnessed by many thousands gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. So moving were the events and so convicting was Peter’s sermon that 3,000 were baptized into the Church on that day. The number soon increased to 5,000 (Acts 4:4).

The apostles performed wonders and signs from the outset. Many devout Jews were converted in the beginning months. The Church enjoyed unity of doctrine and fellowship. Its only opposition at this early stage were threats from the religious establishment. Feeling themselves threatened by such powerful miracles and wonders by the apostles, certain officials called Peter and John before their council and asked by what power they had done a miracle of healing a lame man (Acts 4:7). With great boldness, Peter told them that the miracle was done in the name of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified and God had raised up. The council then called for a private conference, in which they acknowledged among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle has been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it” (vs. 16).

In this instance, the apostles were only threatened before being released.

Upon being reunited with the brethren, they gave account of the threats against them. The Bible records that the brethren then prayed in one accord and with great fervor. Verses 29-30 continue: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto Your servants, that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching forth Your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Your holy child Jesus.” After their prayer, “the place was shaken,” that is, the ground trembled with an earthquake. “…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (vs. 31).

The record is that God was with the early Church in tremendous—and miraculous—power.

Later, the apostles were imprisoned. Through another extraordinary miracle, an angel opened the prison door and directed them to continue to speak and teach in the temple. This carried over into the next day and the religious leaders sent the authorities to detain them again. But these men had to be careful to treat the apostles with respect because “they [the authorities] feared the people, lest they should have been stoned” (Acts 5:26). The majority of Jews in Jerusalem, though not converted, stood in awe of the apostles, again because of the many miraculous healings that they performed.

Respite, Then Persecution

The advice of Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the law, gave the apostles some precious additional time to continue preaching the gospel in Jerusalem: “…Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; lest haply you be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).

As the apostles were released, this time they were threatened and beaten. Yet, they departed “…rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His [Christ’s] name” (Acts 5:41). Such was the zeal of this first era.

After the arrest and martyrdom of Stephen, the first intense persecution arose against the Church at Jerusalem. Except for the apostles, the brethren fled to various regions of Judea and Samaria. But this scattering resulted in the spreading of the gospel beyond the regions that had been covered at that time. Things were beginning to develop. Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, was called and converted, and prepared for his special commission. He was miraculously transformed from a vicious persecutor of the Church into a special instrument that God would use mightily.

Within the first few years of the Church’s development, God had revealed to the apostle Peter that the door was opened for Gentiles to be called, and he personally baptized the first Gentile converts. (This was the Italian Cornelius of Acts 10, with his family.) This occurred as Paul was being specially trained, during a three-year period, by the resurrected Christ in Arabia (Gal. 1:15-18).

In AD 42, the apostle James, John’s brother, was killed by Herod, and Peter was miraculously delivered from prison by an angel. And the momentum of the Church was strong in spite of dangers of persecution. The posture of the Church at this point is best summarized by this brief description in Acts 12:24: “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”

By AD 45, Paul and Barnabas had begun their first journey to preach in Cyprus and southern Asia Minor. This yielded great success with terrible hardships, such as Paul’s stoning at Lystra. Quite possibly, he was raised from death in this incident. So bold and determined was Paul, that he returned to Lystra, as well as the other cities, to reassure the new converts and prospectives. Acts 14:22 explains that he was “…confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

The council at the Headquarters Church in Jerusalem, in AD 49, is related in Acts 15. Verse 6 shows the apostles and elders gathered to consider the matter of circumcision. Peter led the council in their discussion and the decision was pronounced by James, Christ’s brother, and accepted by all present as the judgment bound on Earth and in heaven. The Church was still in unity, despite serious clarifications that would yet have to be made. It is significant that this council was the last time all or most of the apostles came together. The rest of the book of Acts describes Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.

Before addressing where the twelve apostles went, some observations must be made concerning the work among the Greeks. These were the people that Christ selected to preserve the New Testament Scriptures through the turbulent decades and centuries that lay ahead. Here are some of the reasons. Unlike the Jews, the Greeks were not under persecution. They were in a position to remain in their own homeland indefinitely, as they have done for millennia.

Though the Greeks, as a nation, were not converted, they had the intent and capability of preserving and protecting the New Testament. The Greek people treasured these manuscripts partly because this was akin to a heritage. Of course, even the briefest overview reveals that many scriptures addressed Greek converts—in Greek territory. The Greeks were to preserve, and meticulously copy, these manuscripts through the centuries. God’s Church was to be under constant persecution and would be in no position to do this. The Greek nation was safe and secure and the best candidate for the task. But, preserving the New Testament was assigned to the Greek peoples rather than the Greek converts in the Church (Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course [ACBCC], les. 49, p. 7).

The Commission to the Original Apostles

We now focus on the twelve apostles’ ministries. Notice what Christ instructed them in Matthew 10:5-6: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

And again in Matthew 15:24: “But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then Jesus made this promise to the twelve disciples in Matthew 19:28: “You which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Now notice this greeting in James 1:1: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”

The original apostles were sent to the lost tribes of Israel after initially working in the area around Jerusalem and in Judea during the formative years of the early Church. The remainder of the book of Acts only relates the accounts of Paul and his mission to the Greek and Roman areas. Shortly after James, John’s brother, was martyred, the apostles went to the lost tribes of Israel—their primary mission. And these pioneering servants spent most of the remainder of their lives in these areas.

James, Christ’s younger brother, also functioned as an apostle. We do know that a number of other men were later ordained apostles, with one likely filling the position that James (John’s brother, who was martyred) had held. We will encounter various reliable secular sources that name a number of other loyal servants who later went on to hold the office of apostle. Later in this chapter, a summary chart will address this subject.

Before considering the areas to which the lost tribes of Israel were dispersed, it is helpful to view the twelve apostles’ commission in a broader perspective. The book of Acts, along with the other manuscripts that were canonized into scripture, dealt primarily with the eastern Mediterranean area, extending from Judea, in the east, to Rome in the west, with the Greek world near the geographical center.

Most people have the misconception that this particular area comprised most, if not all, of the converted peoples of the first century Church. In view of the fact that, from the early AD 40s, the apostles departed to the lost tribes of Israel, an observation can be made. Over the next thirty years, about ten times the manpower of top leadership was devoted to these lost tribes, compared to the eastern Mediterranean. It is reasonable to project that no more than 20 percent or 30 percent of the first century Church were in these “traditional areas.” That leaves 70 to 80 percent from the areas of the lost tribes. Any account of history omitting this commission of the apostles is therefore terribly incomplete.

An obvious question at this point would be: If this is true, then why has it not been made known? The answer is anchored to the issue of why Israel’s identity was lost in the first place. It was God’s intended purpose to keep the identity of the lost tribes hidden through the ages. To document in Scripture exactly where certain apostles went, would have compromised this purpose.

Notice this from page 2 of Herman Hoeh’s 1964 article, “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”: “Luke was not permitted by Christ to include in Acts the final journeys of Paul’s life. It would have revealed the whereabouts of the children of Israel! It was not then God’s time to make that known. But the moment has now come, in this climactic ‘time of the end,’ to pull back the shroud of history and reveal where the twelve apostles went.”

(To better understand the “time of the end,” carefully read our booklets Are These the Last Days? and Revelation Explained at Last!)

Where the Lost Tribes Were Located

When Israel was first taken into captivity, they were relocated into the areas in and around Assyria and Media. Their domain came to include Parthia, Scythia and Armenia. Within a few centuries, many had already begun to migrate toward the northwest. At the time of the apostles, there were still many Israelites living in the original areas where their captors had placed them.

In fact, as the greetings in James’ letter acknowledged the twelve tribes scattered abroad, another reference addresses some of these Israelites, specifying their locations. I Peter 1:1 says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” All of these areas were non-Greek, and were located in northern (upper) Asia Minor. The greater area of Galatia, mentioned above, was in the north of Asia Minor.

The Greeks of southern Galatia were those whom Paul had previously ministered to. Paul had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit from entering Mysia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). This would have been an area heavily inhabited by Israelites, because their numbers were significant around the coastal areas of the Black Sea in Upper Asia Minor. But they were in a mode of transition toward the northwest. Hence, Peter addressed these Israelites in Upper Asia Minor as sojourners—or “strangers”—among the Gentiles. Paul’s commission at that time was to go to the Gentiles. But Peter and the other eleven were commissioned to go to the lost tribes. As coordinator, Peter traveled to many more areas where the Israelites were located than did any of the other apostles.

Regarding the areas of ancient Parthia to Armenia, notice this observation by the Jewish historian, Josephus: “…but then the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country [the ten tribes having never returned to their native Israel]; wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans [Judah and Benjamin], while the ten tribes are beyond [the] Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers” (Antiquities of the Jews, book XI, chap. V, sec. 2).

Although Josephus was well aware of the very large number of Israelites living from Parthia to Armenia, he would not have necessarily been aware that some of them had already migrated to the northwest.

Other Destinations

The chart “Where the Twelve Apostles Went” lists most of the apostles, with the locations of their ministry. The sources (which are not exhaustive) are listed on the right, with the order of listing according to locations—east to west.

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WHERE THE TWELVE APOSTLES WENT

Besides these eight men, there were three other apostles’ ministries, whose locations were only preserved through tradition. (Remember, James, John’s brother, was martyred in AD 42 before the others were sent to the tribes of Israel, leaving only eleven original apostles.) When specific documentation is lacking, there always remains a reasonable doubt. However, the destinations of these men were to remain concealed to the world. Perhaps some did a better job of retaining their anonymity with the outside world than did others. One of these apostles, not specifically documented, was John. He reappears after having been absent from the eastern Mediterranean from about the AD 40s until the AD 90s, having spent this last period on the island of Patmos, recording the book of Revelation.

According to French tradition, Mary, Christ’s mother, lived the rest of her life in Gaul (France). John had been assigned the responsibility to provide for her (John 19:26-27) after Jesus’ death (ACBCC, les. 49, p. 10). It is likely John spent the intervening decades in France, since many Israelites lived there.

The other two apostles linked to a particular area only by tradition were Jude (also named Libbaeus Thaddaeus) and Matthias, added to replace Judas. Jude was claimed to be in Parthia, while Matthias was to have been in Dacia (modern Romania). The source for this information and the chart is “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”, Hoeh, pp. 3-7.

Apostles in Britain

Now examine some amazing statements that all have to do with the commission of the apostles. We begin with several from The Incredible History of God’s True Church, by Ivor Fletcher, chapters 4 and 5, pertaining to the first century Church in Britain. The first statement mentions two of the original apostles, plus Paul, and two loyal servants who were also later ordained apostles. Sources below indicate that Aristobulus was already in that office by the time he arrived at his assignment in Britain. This most likely could have also been the case with Joseph of Arimathea. A number of sources give strong indication of his eminent position of authority and Paul’s responsibility in this region and elsewhere.

Consider the following: “The true Christian Religion was planted here [Britain] most anciently by Joseph of Arimathea, Simon Zelotes, Aristobulus, by St. Peter, and St. Paul, as may be proved by Dorotheus, Theodoretus and Sophronius [highly acclaimed historians of that period]” (Remains of Britain, William Camden, 1674, p. 5). In this particular quote, the names of these servants were apparently arranged in the chronological order of their service in Britain.

There are many (often long) accounts documenting the works of Joseph of Arimathea in Britain. Only two shorter quotes are given here. Cressy, in his Church History of Brittany, writes: “‘Joseph was buried near the little wattle church he built [at Glastonbury].’ The lid of the sarcophagus said to have contained his remains bore the simple inscription: ‘To the Britons I came after I buried the Christ. I taught, I have entered my rest.’”

The next quote, by Bishop Godwin, in his Catalogue of Bishops, is an ideal summary quote about the story of Joseph: “‘The testimonies of Joseph of Arimathea’s coming here are so many, so clear, and so pregnant, as an indifferent man cannot but discern there is something in it.’”

The following source helps to establish the time frame of the early Church in Britain in which Joseph of Arimathea played so vital a role: “It is the opinion generally received among our later writers, as one of them tells the world, ‘That the conversion of the British nation to the Christian faith was performed towards the latter end of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,’ i.e. about thirty seven years after Christ’s nativity” (Antiquities of the British Churches, by Stillingfleet, p. 1).

The date referenced here would have been late AD 34—the beginning of the gospel to Britain! Fletcher observed that the above information had proved to be quite an embarrassment to the Roman Catholic Church, since Paul’s arrival in Rome was not until about twenty years later.

Here are two quotes on another first century servant of Christ in Britain. In his Church History of Brittany, Cressy writes, “St. Aristobulus [Romans 16:10], a disciple of…St. Paul in Rome, was sent as an Apostle to the Britons, and was the first Bishop in Britain, he died in Glastonbury, A.D. 99.”

The Church in the Far East

Most do not realize that the apostles even spread the truth to the Far East. Eusebius recorded that the apostle Thomas was sent to Parthia (Ecclesiastical History, bk.3, ch.1). As the apostles were dispatched to the lost tribes of Israel in about AD 42, they initially ministered to the tribes of Israel and afterward to the indigenous peoples of these regions who were also coming into the Church. It was recorded that Thomas was martyred in AD 72, after being in the Far East for about 30 years. During that time, he brought the true gospel not only to the region of Parthia, but to other locations as well.

Even before the arrival of Thomas, the Far East had already been represented by various Jews and other Israelites from Parthia and nearby Media on the Day of Pentecost AD 31, when the New Testament Church was first established (Acts 2:8-9). Although the gospel was first brought to these eastern peoples during the Ephesian era, the Church in those areas was not persecuted later during the Smyrna and Pergamos eras in the same way that had occurred in the Western regions, where the Roman Catholic system was strong. However, being in Satan’s world, persecution was inevitable and emerged from other sources. By the late 1500s, late in the Thyatiran era, the tentacles of the Roman System did bring persecution to the Far East. The following was primarily obtained from Truth Triumphant by B.G. Wilkinson (ch.19-22).

An important factor that helped in the spreading of the truth to the Far East was the Aramaic language. Aramaic and Greek were well-established languages in Judea and Syria. Josephus, the famous Jewish author in the days of the apostles, wrote his works first in Aramaic and later in Greek. This was because of the large Aramaic reading constituency in the East, including the Parthian Empire.

At this point, it is helpful to understand that the true Church in the eastern regions was sometimes referred to as the Syrian Church in order to distinguish it from the Roman Church of the west. The true Church’s doctrinal stance was correctly associated with Lucian’s position [described in a later inset] of Antioch, Syria, and labeled accordingly. Sometimes the term “Nestorian” was also used to identify the eastern true Church. Nestorius was a scholar of Syria who opposed the trinity, and the true Church in opposition to the trinity was thus labeled “Nestorian.” Another term often used was the “Church of the East,” although this included a larger set of believers beyond the true Church.

The book Early Spread of Christianity by Mingana reveals that the apostle Thomas’ travels and efforts in India were well established. Notice: “It is the constant tradition in the Eastern Church that the apostle Thomas evangelized India, and there is no historian, no poet, no breviary, no liturgy, no writer of any kind who, having the opportunity of speaking of Thomas, does not associate his name with India.”

In his work Christianity in China, Tartary, and Tibet, the author L’Abbe Huc presented some other interesting points: “The circumstances of St. Thomas having preached at all in India has been frequently called into question by writers deserving of attention; but we find it supported by so much evidence, that it seems difficult for an unprejudiced mind to refuse credit to a fact guaranteed by such excellent historical authorities. All the Greek, Latin, and Syriac monuments proclaim that St. Thomas was the apostle of the Indies [India] who carried the torch of faith into the remote regions where he suffered martyrdom. Some writers have affirmed that he prosecuted his apostolic labors as far even as China…”

In A History of the Holy Eastern Church by Neale, it states, “There is a constant tradition of the church that the gospel was first preached in India by the apostle St. Thomas…he arrived in Cranganor…where the most powerful among the princes who ruled in Malabar then resided. Having here wrought many miracles, and established a church, he journeyed southward to city of Coulan. Here his labors were attended with equal success and after traversing the peninsula he arrived at Meliapour, a town more close to the more celebrated city of Madras. Sailing from this port he preached Christianity in China…”

Briefly consider some additional interesting points, compiled from a variety of sources, providing links with the travels of the apostle Thomas and elements of the true Church having existed in China.

(1) The period of the imperial Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) was the most brilliant and prosperous of all the Chinese dynasties. In 1625, a remarkable stone was unearthed near the city of Changan that dated from the Tang Dynasty. This famous monumental stone provided evidence of the impact of true Christianity in China. Many who have written about this stone call it the Nestorian stone—relating this link to a larger set of believers, which included the true Church. The stone monument explicitly recognizes the head of the Church in the East, and names the patriarchs of the church located in Baghdad and in Persia. The Chinese called Christianity the “luminous religion,” a term that appeared in the stone. This stone is said to rank in importance with the Rosetta stone of Egypt or the Behistun inscription in Persia in its confirmation of recorded Chinese history.

(2) It is believed that the teachings of the Old Testament came to China by way of India, which had been evangelized by Thomas. One statement by an Ante-Nicene theologian and scholar, Arnobius, in about AD 300, was that China was one of the Oriental peoples among whom the Church was established (Against the Heathen, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6, p. 438).

(3) Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire states, “The Christianity of China, between the seventh and the thirteenth century, is invincibly proved by the consent of Chinese, Arabian, Syriac, and Latin evidence” (ch. 47, note 118).

(4) About 1284, two young Chinese scholars, Marcos and Sauma, made a historic journey by caravan across Asia to Persia (headquarters of the Church of the East at that time) and from there on to view Jerusalem. Their journey occurred about the same time as the famous travels to the Orient by Marco Polo, headed in the opposite direction (Truth Triumphant, B.G. Wilkinson, ch. 22).

(5) Marco Polo, of Venice, Italy, made his famous travels to the Orient from 1271 to 1295. As a devout Catholic, here are some of his observations, colored by his Catholic interpretation of the world:

“Mosul is a large province inhabited by various descriptions of people, one class of whom pays reverence to Mohammad, and are called Arabians. The others profess the Christian faith, but not according to the canons of the church, which they depart from in many instances, and are denominated Nestorians, Jacobites, and Armenians. They have a patriarch whom they call Jacolite, and by him archbishops, bishops, and abbots are consecrated and sent to all parts of India, Baghdad, and Cathay [China], just as the pope of Rome does in Latin countries” (The Travels of Marco Polo, Komroff, p. 29).

The information we have about the Church in China is very sketchy. But we do know that the truth was taught there and a significant number of converts had to exist as a result. Certainly, the true converts, as always, were vastly outnumbered by many sympathizers who appreciated the results of applying these right principles.

The reader is left to ponder these astonishing facts of true Church history!

Then, elaborating on the work of Aristobulus, the Greek Martyrologies inform us that “Aristobulus was one of the seventy disciples, and a follower of St. Paul the Apostle, along with whom he preached the Gospel to the whole world, and ministered to him. He was chosen by St. Paul to be the missionary bishop to the land of Britain, inhabited by a very warlike and fierce race. By them he was often scourged, and repeatedly dragged as a criminal through their towns, yet he converted many of them to Christianity. He was there martyred, after he had built churches and ordained deacons and priests [bishops or elders] for the island.”

Another dedicated servant of the early Church in Britain was Elvanus [also known as Elfan in Welch sources]. This brief quote summarizes his service: “Bale saith that Elvanus Avalonius was a disciple to those who were the disciples of the Apostles, and that he preached the Gospel in Britain with good success...” (Antiquities of the British Churches, Stillingfleet).

As mentioned, Peter, as chief coordinator, was required to travel to areas where the Israelites were located. The following quotes help to establish more documentation of Peter’s work, as well as that of other apostles. These next four quotes, with their original sources, are from “Where Did the Twelve Apostles Go?”, Hoeh, pp. 4-6: “…Peter was…a long time in Britain where he converted many nations to the faith” (Antiquitates Apostolicae, Cave, p. 45).

Those converted to the faith in the British Isles were undoubtedly of the diverse tribes of Israel in and around that location. Continuing with Dr. Hoeh’s next statement, this one taken from page 137 of Cave’s book: “Andrew ‘went next to Trapezus, a maritime city on the Euxine [Black] Sea, whence after many other places he came to Nice, where he stayed two years, preaching and working miracles with great success…He next came to Sinope, a city situated upon the same sea…here he met with his brother Peter, with whom he stayed a considerable time…Departing hence, he went again to Amynsus and then…he proposed to return to Jerusalem.’”

Hoeh’s next source is Eusebius, who mentioned that the apostles “passed over to those which are called the British Isles.” He continued, “Some of the Apostles preached the Gospel in the British Isles” (Evangelical Demonstrations, book 3, ch. 7).

Here is the commission given to Paul before he was converted. It was actually given as Christ spoke to Ananias in a vision in Acts 9:15: “But the Lord said unto him, Go your way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” Paul taught the Gentiles in Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. He appeared before kings and rulers before and during his two-year confinement at Rome. Paul’s window of opportunity to teach the Israelites was between his release in Rome in AD 61 and his arrest in AD 68. When he traveled to Spain, there were other destinations on his agenda.

Besides William Camden’s famous quote above, which placed Paul with other apostles in Britain, there are more accounts to consider. Theodoret, another of the Greek Church historians, writes the following: “That St. Paul brought salvation to the isles that lie in the ocean” (book I, on Psalm CXVI, p. 870). This was another common term for the British Isles.

The following four quotes from A True History of the True Religion, by Dugger and Dodd, chapter 20, help to illustrate the preponderance of sources attesting to the true gospel reaching the British Isles. The last three mention Paul.

“Chrysostom, A. D. 398, mentions ‘The Britannic Isles’ as having felt the power of the Word, and says, ‘To whatever quarter you turn—to the Indians or Moors or Britons, even to the remotest bounds of the West, you will find this doctrine.’

“Clement of Rome, A. D. 96, says, ‘St. Paul preached in the East and West, leaving behind him an illustrious record of his faith, having taught the world righteousness, and having traveled even to the utmost bounds of the West.’

“Jerome, A. D. 392, says, ‘St. Paul, having been in Spain, went from one ocean to another.’ ‘His diligence in preaching extended as far as the earth itself.’ ‘After his imprisonment he preached in the western parts.’

“Venantius Fortunatus, A. D. 560, says, ‘St. Paul passed over the ocean to the Island of Britain, and to Thule, the extremity of the earth’ (See page 23, History of Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, Vol. I).” (The reference to “Thule” could have meant Greenland and/or Iceland.)

Much has been seen of the evangelization of Britain by various apostles and the abundant success they had achieved there. Most of what we know regarding the evangelization of other areas occupied by the lost tribes of Israel comes from works like Cave’s Antiquitates Apostolicae. Here is another account of the apostles’ successful ministries in these other regions. It serves as a case-in-point, representative of the work in other areas. From ACBCC, Lesson 49, p. 10 we read: “About 112 A.D., Pliny the Younger, governor [or prosecuting attorney] of Bithynia, wrote to Roman Emperor Trajan that the temples of the old gods were almost forsaken and that Christians were everywhere a multitude!” Andrew and Philip were assigned to evangelize the tribes of Israel in Bithynia.

In a related context from the source cited directly above, p. 11 reads, “When the gospel first reached each new region, there were those God had prepared to receive it. Church growth was spectacular. Soon, however, the first rush was over. Real conversions now came much more slowly, as the number of Christians in relation to the population of each region tended to reach its ‘saturation point.’ And now, side by side with success and growth, came increasing persecution.” This was an insightful observation. It must have repeatedly been the case, as the gospel was taken to the scattered regions where the lost tribes of Israel were located.

John Replaces Peter

After Peter’s death, John was eventually directed to return to the eastern Mediterranean area to oversee the Church. We now focus on certain events that occurred in the 90s about the time he wrote his three general epistles.

One account relates that the Roman Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) summoned John to Rome. He asked him about the tradition that Christ was to reign as king and would abolish all other governments. Although Domitian had certainly heard of the account of the execution and resurrection of Christ, he was investigating what appeared to be some type of seditious movement. John was questioned as to how and when Christ planned to establish His future reign.

Here is John’s reply: “You shall also reign for many years given you by God, and after you very many others; and when the times of things upon the earth have been fulfilled, out of heaven shall come a King, eternal, true, Judge of the living and the dead, to whom every nation and tribe shall conform, through whom every earthly power and dominion shall be brought to nothing, and every mouth speaking great things shall be shut” (“Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian,” pp. 560-562, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts and Donaldson).

Shortly after this event, Domitian banished John to the Isle of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea. Here he received the Revelation and the command to record it. One reason Christ allowed John to be imprisoned there may have been to give him enough time for his task. Isolated, he would be in a position to concentrate, undistracted to receive the visions and to meticulously record all the details of this great prophecy.

Upon his release, John resided in Ephesus for the remainder of his life. He is the only apostle known to have died of old age. According to tradition the Romans attempted to have him executed by immersion in boiling oil, but God miraculously preserved his life. This supposedly occurred before he was banished to Patmos and is recorded in the writings of Tertullian, whose contributions will be discussed in the next chapter.

While at Ephesus (now the Headquarters of the Ephesian Era), John was assisted by Philip and Polycarp (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, p. 774). This Philip, now an apostle, had been a deacon and later an evangelist. He is often confused with the original apostle Philip, who had been martyred in AD 54. At this late stage of John’s life, much of his focus was upon the training of Polycarp, who would be leading the Church at the outset of the Smyrna Era.

The Apostolic Era Ends

 

SUMMARY CHART OF KNOWN FIRST CENTURY APOSTLES

John’s death, in about AD 100, ended the apostolic era and what constituted most of what is considered the Ephesian Era. We have covered some of the details of where the apostles served and aspects of their work. Polycarp introduces the Smyrna Era, but we need to backtrack and summarize certain events of the Ephesian Era, and consider their implications.

For continuity, we have focused on the apostles in a general way, and concluded without interspersing other events. We will consider some of those other events in the next section. But first, this summary chart of the first century apostles is of interest. The secular references in the chart below do not carry the same authority as Scripture, but do lend much credence.

Lazarus and others may have been appointed to apostle, but little is recorded of their later lives. Lazarus, whom Christ brought back to life, labored in southern France starting in about AD 35 (according to Cardinal Baronius and others), as Joseph of Arimathea had returned to Britain.

Persecutions and Upheaval

It is important to observe certain trends and events during the growth of the first century Church. Since it was considered to be just another Jewish sect, its growth went unnoticed by the Roman authorities. The early Church certainly appeared to be Jewish to the Romans. It kept the Sabbath and the Holy Days and abided by many of the same Scriptures as the Jews. Although Roman law forbade the establishment of any new religion, by the time they recognized it as different from Judaism, it was too late. The roots of true Christianity had become firmly established.

(The source documentation in the balance of this chapter are: (1) ACBCC, Lesson 49; (2) Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [One vol. abridgement unless otherwise noted], Edward Gibbon, ch. 15; (3) AC Church History Lecture series, 1987, lecture 5 by K. Stump.)

 

JOSEPHUS
First-century Jewish historian, famous for his works Antiquities of the Jews and War of the Jews; captain in the Jewish army; captured by the Romans; compiled his historical works as a prisoner of war.

Chapters 25 to 28 of Acts relate Paul’s imprisonment in Rome as a result of trumped-up charges by fellow Jews in Jerusalem. Upon realizing that justice would be denied him, and after waiting two years in Caesarea, Paul appealed his case to Rome, exercising his rights of Roman citizenship. Upon arriving in Rome after the perilous Mediterranean voyage, Paul was placed under house arrest to await trial in about AD 59. He was released two years later, since no formal charges were filed against him at that time. This brings us to when he traveled to Spain to bring the gospel to the Gentiles (as well as some Israelites who had settled along the sea routes). Not only did Paul make at least one trip to Britain, he also taught in various other western regions as previously noted in earlier quotes.

Meanwhile, in AD 64, a great fire in Rome, which raged for six days, destroyed ten of the city’s fourteen precincts. Thousands of citizens were killed. Many historians conclude that the Emperor Nero was responsible for it, and Roman authorities suspected Nero’s guilt. But shrewd politicians, looking for someone to blame, found the perfect scapegoat in the Christians. Some had noted that they had spoken of the world being destroyed by fire. The Christians considered this fire as punishment from God upon the wicked and expected the imminent return of Christ. (Remember, they did not have the benefit of the book of Revelation at that time.) They understandably refrained from helping to extinguish the flames. Their actions placed them as prime suspects for those seeking a scapegoat. (Nero by Weigall and Annals by Tacitus.)

 

EDWARD GIBBON
English historian and scholar who wrote the multi-volume work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; perhaps the most often quoted historian in regard to the true Church.

This event led to the first governmental persecution against the true Church of God. Some of the brethren were martyred by lingering torture, while others were devoured by wild beasts in the arena. The new Church at Rome—about three or four years old—was virtually destroyed. Granted, those in the Roman congregation had received the mighty witness of Paul and others to help strengthen them against the times ahead. Perhaps some were more spiritually prepared for this time of brutal persecution. Yet, they had precious little time to ready themselves for such upheaval. Most likely, some were able to escape from Rome. We will later observe true Christians, hundreds of years later, claiming those original brethren in Italy as their predecessors. It is certain that those who died in the faith, without recanting, were triumphant—as were those that were able to successfully escape this persecution.

Although some of the apostles were brought before the emperor for trial and execution after this time, only scattered remnants of the Roman congregation existed. The reason for Paul’s return to Rome in AD 68 could well have been to confirm and encourage the surviving remnants of the congregation. The later persecutions brought against “Christians” at Rome, over the next two and a half centuries, were primarily aimed at the counterfeit church. The true Church had been scattered and driven from Rome by the time of Emperor Domitian (ACBCC, lesson 49, p. 12).

As mentioned, Paul was arrested and brought to trial in Rome. The Roman authorities found him guilty of crimes against the state and sentenced him to death. A similar fate befell Peter that same year. Though the loss of these two dynamic leaders was devastating, Christ was overseeing His Church. He allowed for this period of initial growth, though it was destined to decline. These called out ones now had to be tested through long periods of resisting false teachers and suffering persecution—often to the bitter end!

The renewed anti-Christian sentiment and resulting persecution were considered by many at the time to be the result of the Jewish rebellion in AD 66. The main cause of their rebellion was not their unpredictable fanaticism, as claimed by the Romans. The scandalous, unscrupulous Roman procurators in Judea perpetrated and encouraged outrageous provocations against the Jews. Their action of plundering the temple and looting the priests’ ornamental garments, along with other sacred treasures, proved to surpass the breaking point, and the inevitable revolt had begun (Wars of the Jews, Josephus, book II, chapters XIV-XVI). Remember! The Romans considered Christians to be nothing more than a Jewish sect, and took revenge against them and the Jews.

Sudden Deliverance

 

The City of Ephesus

 
 
 

In Judea, in AD 66, the Roman army, under General Cestius, came in sight of the walls of Jerusalem and could have easily taken the city at that time. For some unknown reason, Cestius stopped his momentum and turned back. Then the Jews took heart. Cestius had lost his chance. The Roman army later regained their momentum under General Vespasian. Their advance was suddenly halted, however, as Vespasian raced to Rome to successfully contend for the emperorship. Upon his departure, his son, Titus, assumed command.

These two delays were not random events. God’s headquarters Church was still in Jerusalem. Of course, it was only a matter of time before Rome’s mighty armies would inevitably defeat Jerusalem. Christ, who oversees His Church, was guiding and altering events to allow His people space to vacate Jerusalem before the city was taken (ACBCC, les. 49, p. 11).

Josephus gave a detailed account of various miraculous signs that occurred at the time of Pentecost of AD 69. He related that many had witnessed, shortly before Pentecost, what seemed to be formations in the clouds around Jerusalem that took the form of troops and chariots surrounding cities. “Moreover,” recorded Josephus, “at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner court of the temple...they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a multitude, saying, ‘LET US REMOVE HENCE’” (Wars of the Jews, book VI, ch. V, sec. 3).

God’s people did remove themselves from Jerusalem and Judea at that time. But without God’s intervention, they would have never been able to leave, since their fellow countrymen would have considered them as traitors for abandoning their own people during this crucial time. They had to exit in full view of many Jewish fighters, before crossing the Jordan River. Then they had to contend with Roman soldiers who were patrolling the regions east of the Jordan, as their legions were methodically advancing from the east. The new exiles proceeded, with God’s protection, northeast to the little town of Pella. Within days, after God’s people had escaped from Jerusalem, the Romans pushed into Judea and shortly set up the siege. After slightly over a year of much horrible suffering and starvation, the city fell to the Romans. The temple was destroyed.

The Final Stages of Ephesus

The Pella congregation still called itself the Jerusalem Church. A period of declining zeal seemed to characterize the Church at this stage. The Nazarenes, as they were now called by the world, were at a low ebb, partly due to the disappointment of their great expectations for the imminent return of Christ, after the escape from Jerusalem surrounded by armies.

This period of AD 70s marked the time when the organized preaching of the gospel was virtually halted. Certainly, most of the ministries in distant areas among the lost tribes of Israel still had momentum—from Britain to Parthia and beyond. But now, the organization and sense of unified mission that came from Headquarters was missing. Persecution and upheaval in Judea, in particular, crippled the momentum of the Church. By this time, many of the original apostles had been martyred, as were Paul and others.

But Christ was still guiding His Church. He would continue to infuse life into it and to prevent it from dying. After the death of James, Christ’s brother, in AD 62, Simon son of Cleopas (Luke 24:18; John 19:25) replaced him at the Headquarters Church at Jerusalem. He led the Church during the flight to Pella and continued to lead it for another 38 years. Here was a truly incredible individual who was already nine years old at the time of the physical birth of Christ. This man was a long-time disciple and also a relative of Christ who had personally known all of the original apostles. After a long life of faithful service, Simon was crucified at the age of 120 years in the year AD 107 (Ecc. Hist., bk. 3, ch. 32).

Many Leaders—Then Infiltration

After Simon’s death, thirteen Jewish leaders presided over the Jerusalem-Pella Church in rapid succession. In AD 135, the Jews were defeated in their second revolt since the Church’s inception. After putting down this rebellion, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, renaming it Aelia Capitolina, and forbidding Jews to enter the city.

At this point, the Jerusalem-Pella congregation came under the control of an Italian “Christian” by the name of Marcus. Under his dominant persuasion, the majority of the congregation renounced the Law of Moses—including the Ten Commandments. This defection gained them admittance to Jerusalem by the Roman authorities. Here is what Edward Gibbon wrote about the few who refused to follow Marcus:

“…the crimes of heresy and schism were imputed to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to accompany their Latin bishop…In a few years after the return of the church of Jerusalem, it became a matter of doubt and controversy whether a man who sincerely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, but who still continued to observe the law of Moses, could possibly hope for salvation…[the followers of Marcus] excluded their Judaising brethren from…the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and social life” (The Decline and Fall, Gibbon, ch. 15, p. 149). (Emphasis: Italics here and in all remaining quoted references is ours.)

The majority of the Church, who were so willing to give up the truth they once embraced, proceeded to shun and condemn those who held fast to what they had all formerly believed. Those “Nazarenes” who chose to remain loyal to the teaching of the apostles were accused of being divisive—deemed guilty of creating “schisms.” We will see that this pattern reappears much later, near the book’s conclusion.

“Nazarenes” came to be a contemptuous label given by the world to true Christians, especially in Judea. This term later came to include all who still acknowledged and kept the precepts of the Law of Moses—meaning the Law of God, including the Ten Commandments and Holy Days.

As early as about AD 57, the Jews had accused Paul before Felix (the Governor in Caesarea), calling him a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). The name “Nazarenes” is derived from Nazareth, where Christ had lived, and simply meant “Christian.” For keeping the Law of God, the Nazarenes were looked upon with wonder by the world:

“Nazarenes, an obscure Jewish-Christian sect…they dated their settlement in Pella from the time of the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, immediately before the siege in A.D. 70; he characterizes them as neither more nor less than Jews pure and simple, but adds that they recognized the new covenant as well as the old, and believed in the resurrection, and in the one God and His Son Jesus Christ…born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rose again, but adds that, ‘desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other.’ They used the Aramaic recension of the Gospel according to Matthew, which they called the Gospel to the Hebrews, but, while adhering as far as possible to the Mosaic economy as regarded…sabbaths, foods and the like, they did not refuse to recognize…Paul or the rights of heathen [Gentile] Christians” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Ed, Vol. 19, p. 319).

Final Description

Now read Revelation 2:4-5. Concerning the latter part of the Ephesus Era, it states: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of his place, except you repent.”

At this point, we bring the review of the Ephesus Era to a close. The era that opened with so much power and zeal declined toward the end—by about AD 100. The further the Church was removed in time from the influence of the original apostles, the more it drifted into apostasy. Part of the reason was the counterfeit movement that was gathering steam throughout the Ephesus and Smyrna Eras of the Church. The main reason was the loss of the first love, as stated in Revelation 2. Since the Ephesus Era did not repent and do the “first works,” the candlestick was moved to the next era. Yet, Christ would have never set that standard before them, had it not been attainable.

We will pick up the Smyrna Era with Polycarp leading the Church. Events in Britain during this era will also be discussed. But, to understand the subtle opposition that continually faced those of the Smyrna Era, we must review the development of the counterfeit church in the next chapter.

Chapter Six – The Counterfeit Movement

In view of the miraculous signs and wonders performed during the apostolic era of the Church, we could ask, why would anyone want to infiltrate, subvert and deceive such believers? The Jewish religious establishment, who feared and resisted the emerging young Church, used threats and brute force to achieve their end. So did the Romans, although they were initially more tolerant, but later more brutal. Only the instruments of Satan would use such insidious tactics to infiltrate and undermine. Perhaps most of these initial agents understood who and what the Church was. Others, however, were more likely unwitting tools of Satan, following the impulses of the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).

In this chapter, we chart the development of that subtle counterfeit movement.

Simon Magus

The first and perhaps most influential—and ultimately the most destructive—false teacher that we will study in relation to this false movement is Simon Magus. The word magus means sorcerer or magician. Simon the “Sorcerer” is considered by all who are familiar with this aspect of history to be the founder of the first-century heretical movement away from the truth of God. Ironically, many who branded him for his heretical practices were actually writers and historians who unwittingly followed his movement. Among them were Justin Martyr, Jerome, and various other writers of the second and following centuries, whom we will cite in discussing this subject.

To say that this Simon was the true founder of the Roman Catholic Church would be correct, but not complete. He died in AD 68. It took nearly three centuries for the system he introduced to amass the power and to evolve through all the stages of modifying and counterfeiting doctrine to come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church. The architect of the movement is not any man or men, but rather the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4)—Satan.

The account of Simon is picked up in Acts 8:9-10. Here is Luke’s description of this man: “But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.”

Simon was baptized with other Samaritans, being captivated by the miracles and signs Philip performed (vs. 13). Then, after the apostles arrived from Jerusalem, Simon offered Peter and John money for the power to lay hands on people and transmit to them the Holy Spirit (vs. 18-19). To this offer, Peter replied, “Your money perish with you, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. You have neither part nor lot in this matter: for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (vs. 20-23).

Remember that the Samaritans had been placed in the land from which the northern Kingdom of Israel had been taken captive by the Assyrians. These Samaritans had been brought from Babylon and continued to practice their ancient Babylonian religion, mixed with other religions. In particular, they picked up many of the terms from Judaism and Greek philosophy.

Josephus, throughout book II of his Wars of the Jews, illustrated how the Samaritans schemed to undermine the Jews at every opportunity—during both periods of Greek and Roman domination. From the time Judah returned to the area of Jerusalem after captivity, the Samaritans plotted to halt the rebuilding of the temple as well as the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem (Ezra 4-5; Neh. 4, 6). They were well established as Satan’s instruments in opposing any phase of God’s Work.

Gnosticism Appears

Simon, the high priest of the Babylonian Samaritan religion, was especially attracted to the philosophy of Gnosticism. As with many schools of philosophy, Gnosticism held that reality could never be understood by those uninitiated in philosophical reasoning. That approach was readily transferred to the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures that the Jews and original Christians embraced. To the Gnostics, all the recorded events of the Bible were supposedly metaphors and allegories never to be taken literally. They required interpretation by qualified scholars well versed in the Gnostic school of thought.

Gnosticism proved to be the best weapon in Simon’s arsenal of tricks, more convincing than the demoniac sorcery and magic that worked so well on his fellow Samaritans. (We will come to appreciate that those who followed the use of metaphors and allegories in the 1990s were going back to a false “faith once delivered”—by the Gnostics.)

Thus, we have such accounts as these by Edward Gibbon concerning the Gnostics:

“The Mosaic account of the creation and fall of man was treated with profane derision by the Gnostics…The God of Israel was impiously represented by the Gnostics as a being liable to passion and to error…” As to the techniques employed by the Gnostics, Gibbon explains: “Acknowledging that the literal sense is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as reason, they deem themselves secure and invulnerable behind the ample veil of allegory, which they carefully spread over every tender part of the Mosaic dispensation.” Gibbon continued: “The Gnostics were distinguished as the most polite, the most learned, and the most wealthy of the Christian name; and that general appellation, which expressed a superiority of knowledge…assumed by their own pride…The Gnostics blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets, which they derived from oriental philosophy…” (Decline and Fall, ch. 15, pp. 150-151).

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol. 25, states, in its article titled “Simon Magus,” that he identified with the “Hellenized Gnosticism of Samaria.” The article referred to him as the “Samaritan Messiah” and the “father of all heresy.” As the apostolic Church was beginning to expand into new territories, so was Simon’s work also set to expand after AD 33, when he was “baptized” and pretended to be a Christian. As Satan’s agent in inaugurating the counterfeit religion, Simon carried his message from city to city, just as Christ’s apostles spread the true gospel. He translated the doctrine of grace as license to disobey God’s law.

So in the formative decades of the true Church, we have, growing alongside it, this counterfeit movement. By the AD 50s and beyond, the writers of the New Testament would have to occasionally address this issue. Remember that Revelation 2:2 gave this message to the Ephesus Era to their credit: “I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars.”

There were many claiming to be apostles (as did Simon) who were impostors and liars. The brethren of the Ephesus Era were able to discern as much. Some of the warnings about these false apostles are apparent in the following scriptures:

II Thessalonians 2:7: “For the mystery of iniquity does already work...”

II Corinthians 11:13-15: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”

I John 4:1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Jude 3: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful…to write…and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

Before Simon Magus went to Rome, around AD 42, Peter was sent to Antioch to counteract his false preaching. Paul indicates that Peter was in Antioch at that time (Gal. 2:11). From Antioch, Simon Magus soon went to Rome. Eusebius writes, “…the enemy of salvation [Satan] devising some scheme of seizing upon the imperial city for himself brought thither Simon, whom we mentioned before. Coming to the aid of his insidious artifices, he attached many of the inhabitants of Rome to himself in order to deceive them” (The Ecclesiastical History, bk. 2, ch. 13, sec. 1).

 

COUNTERFEIT CONTRIBUTORS
The above summary chart lists some writers, philosophers, and theologians who contributed to the counterfeit movement.

Simon’s constant companion, while delivering his message, was his mistress, Helen. Justin Martyr writes of her: “A certain Helen, also, is of this class, who had before been a public prostitute in Tyre of Phoenicia, and at that time attached herself to Simon, and was called, the first idea that proceeded from him.” Eusebius also references the second century writer Irenaeus about this relationship: “they [those deceived by Simon]…falling down before the pictures and statues of this selfsame Simon and the aforesaid Helen with him, venturing to offer them worship by incense, sacrifices, and libations…they [Simon and Helen] happen in truth to be so full of amazement, folly, and madness…on account of their excessive baseness and obscenity” (ibid., sec. 6, 7).

Starting with a large population of his fellow Samaritans already in Rome, Simon managed to attract a significant following. Here, many people honored him as a god and erected a statue of him on the Tiber River. In Rome, much of Simon’s success could be attributed to his magic demonstrations, such as demon-powered levitation (ibid., sec. 3). It was these demonstrations that later earned him several audiences with Nero, in the AD 60s.

Recall that Peter’s commission was to the lost tribes of Israel. In neither his nor Paul’s letters is there any indication that Peter was ever in Rome. The Catholics have always claimed that not only was Peter the first Roman bishop, but that he was also martyred in Rome. Even if he was brought there for execution, the fact remains that Peter never served there. The false claim that the apostle Peter was the first pope was appropriately labeled “Fiction pure and simple” by the author of the well-known Halley’s Bible Handbook, page 768. The person of great “distinction” who bore the title of Peter at Rome was, in fact, Simon Magus. The title of “Peter” or “Pater” or “Patre” was a title of religious primacy that Simon Magus donned. Thus, he carried the title Simon “Peter.” The word “Pater” is of the same derivation as the word “Papa” or “Father” or “Pope.”

Now notice Christ’s direct command pertaining to such titles in Matthew 23:9: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for One is your Father, which is in heaven.” This verse forbids the use of “Father” as a religious title, as was done by the Babylonian Mystery Religion. Of course, this command does not relate to one’s father in the sense of being a parent.

The individual responsible for designating Peter as the first Pope was Hegesippus, an apostate from the true Church. He must have known that Peter, a married man (Matt. 8:14; I Cor. 9:5), was not a celibate priest and was the antithesis of what the pope represented. Hegesippus “…originally drew up the list of Roman bishops, on which Anicetus and his successors—down to the Pope today—based their claim to be the successors of a Peter” (the title claimed by Simon Magus) (ACBCC, lesson 49, p. 15).

Jude 4 summarizes the work of Simon and his followers, and is to the point: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Other Key Players of the Counterfeit Movement

Eusebius referenced Irenaeus, who had written about Simon Magus’ immediate successor. Known as Menander, he “…exhibited himself in his conduct an instrument of diabolical wickedness, not inferior to the former…He said that he was in truth the Savior sent from the invisible worlds for the salvation of men...Those who were deemed worthy would obtain perpetual immortality in this very life” (The Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius; bk. 3, ch. 26).

This teaching of the immortal soul was an integral part of the Babylonian Mystery Religion carried over into the counterfeit movement. Nicholas of Antioch is identified in Hastings Dictionary of the Bible with Nicholas of Samaria, a heretic of Simon Magus’ company. Unrestrained indulgence and promiscuity were the hallmarks of the Nicolaitanes. Christ mentioned them as He commended the Ephesus Era for sharing His attitude toward their evil actions. Notice: “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6).

Another of Simon’s successors was an influential heretic by the name of Cerinthus. This false teacher had confronted the apostle John in the AD 90s. Of Cerinthus, we find, “The Bible does not name Cerinthus, but concerns John expressed in his three epistles refer, without a doubt, to this man’s teachings and influence” (The History of the Church of God, part 2, Kelly).

One particular comment recorded by Eusebius, quoting John, well illustrates the true Church’s reception of Cerinthus. The setting involved John and Polycarp entering a public bathhouse at Ephesus, until they saw Cerinthus inside. As they immediately hastened outside, John was recorded to have said, “Let us flee lest the bath should fall in, as long as Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within” (Ecc. History, bk. 4, ch. 14, sec. 6).

Ten Proofs Peter Was Not the “Pope” at Rome

Every Catholic is taught and believes that the apostle Peter was the first Roman bishop—the first “Pope”—and that he resided at Rome. If this were true, God’s Word would state it. But, in fact, the Bible directly confirms the opposite. History seems to attest, however, and it is quite possible, that Peter was crucified in Rome. This said, here are a series of ten proofs, with scriptural support, demonstrating that Peter never resided at Rome:

(1) Rome is in Italy. This means that Gentile Italians live there. The apostle Paul was ordained to be the apostle to the Gentiles, not Peter. Paul wrote this to the Gentile Romans: “That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable…” (15:16). He also described himself to the Galatians as having the gospel of the “uncircumcision”—the Gentiles—committed to him (2:7).

(2) The Emperor Claudius had banished all Jews from Rome in AD 50. Acts 8:1 describes the “great persecution against the Church” and that “they were all scattered abroad” as a result.

(3) Peter wrote his first general epistle from the city of “Babylon” (5:13). Many have assumed that this is Rome, when it is actually the Babylon of Mesopotamia. It is interesting to note that historians generally confuse—switch—scriptural references to Babylon by applying those that do apply to Rome as though they apply to Babylon, and vice-versa—in other words, those that do not apply to Rome are assigned Roman designation.

(4) Paul told the Romans, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation” (15:20). Paul’s assertion would make no sense had Peter been resident at Rome, having established this congregation.

(5) Then, in light of the previous point, why would Paul offer the following salutation to the Roman congregation, also if Peter had been there for years?: “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that you may be established” (1:11). Think how insulting this expression would have been to “Pope Peter,” had he been in Rome.

(6) Paul concludes the Roman letter in chapter 16 with separate greetings to 30 different people in Rome—Mary, Andronicus, Junia—(these last two were probably apostles; Rom. 16:7)—Amplias, Urbane, Stachys, Apelles and 23 others—with no reference to the one who was supposedly the Pope, guiding the congregation and the entire New Testament Church from that city. No reasonable person could believe that Paul would so insult his own spiritual superior!

(7) Galatians 1:18-19 and 2:7 demonstrate that Peter was based at Jerusalem, from where he periodically traveled to places like Bithynia, Northern Galatia and Babylon, and other places where Israelites (also see #9) had migrated, from AD 38 to AD 49—the dates of these events described in Galatians.

(8) Luke 22:24 states, “And there was a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.” Here is why this passage is important. This debate took place after Christ, in Matthew 16:17-19, had supposedly designated Peter as the one who would become the first Pope. While not directly involving Rome, this provides its own proof that Christ never conferred, at least from the other apostles’ perspective, the office of “Pope” to Peter.

(9) This point proves the other side of point 1. Already referenced, notice how Paul, who first describes himself, concludes his statement in Galatians 2:7, with this about Peter: “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision [Gentiles] was committed unto me [Paul], as the gospel of the circumcision [Jews and the other tribes of Israel, referenced in #7] was unto Peter…”

(10) In II Timothy 4:11, Paul, commonly understood to be writing this epistle from Rome, states, “Only Luke is with me.” Further, in verse 10, he describes how one named Demas had “forsaken” him and gone back to the “world,” with Crescens and Titus having also transferred to other places of duty. None of this makes sense if the “Pope”—Peter—had been present.

Another leader of this heretical movement was Marcion, a contemporary of Polycarp. Irenaeus recorded that when Marcion approached Polycarp with the words, “‘Recognize us’…Polycarp displayed the same uncompromising attitude which his master John had shown towards Cerinthus and answered, ‘I recognize you as the first-born of Satan’” (Encyc. Brit., 11th ed., vol. 22, p. 22).

By the beginning of the second century, the Churches advocating the hybrid Christianity were gaining in strength. Although it would take another two centuries before they would be given substantial authority, the process of solidification accelerated in the 100s.

Interestingly, two of the first five Roman bishops, later designated in the papal lineage, had previously been part of the true Church. These were Clement of Rome and Linus, both ordained by, and assistants to, Paul. They appeared to be influenced by, if not fully caught up in, the false church’s movement.

The emerging Roman Catholic Church substituted many tenets of the Babylon Mystery Religion and the Philosophies for the true doctrines of Christ and the apostles. The doctrines of the Sabbath and Holy Days were dismissed as “Judaizing.” The immortality of the soul, and heaven and hell beliefs were adopted and the doctrine of the future millennial rule of the kingdom of God was gradually phased out. The strange doctrine of the trinity, as presented by demented pagan philosophers-turned-theologians, was gradually accepted. Image worship and Mary worship were “in” and the second commandment was “out.” Adherence to the Holy Scriptures to do God’s will was replaced by following the precepts of the “duly ordained authorities.”

In addition to those listed in an earlier chart, a host of later writers, theologians and scholars also contributed to the ongoing development of Catholic doctrines through the centuries. Some noteworthy contributors were Jerome (340-420), Augustine (354-430), and Erasmus (1466-1536). Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, called the Vulgate version. Augustine molded such distorted doctrines as the Catholic Church fulfilling the prophecy of the kingdom of God on Earth. Erasmus, who followed over a millennium later, was a scholar and reformer who encouraged critical examination of the source of one’s beliefs. He was critical of the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church, and the priests, in particular. Thus, Erasmus laid the egg that Martin Luther later hatched—the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, to be discussed later.

Some Techniques Used to Legitimize Sunday—A Case in Point

There was a particular meeting between Polycarp, the leader of the true Church of God at the onset of the Smyrna Era, and the Bishop of Rome, regarding the Roman church’s erroneous actions of changing the time of the Passover observance to a Sunday. This encounter will be discussed in Chapter Seven. The tactics that the counterfeit movement had used to establish precedent were scandalous and unscrupulous, as the following account reveals. We pick up this account after the above-mentioned meeting.

After Polycarp had left the meeting, an unusual letter appeared. This letter is considered by most scholars to have been a deliberate forgery: “Pope Pius, who lived about 147, had made a decree, that the annual solemnity of the Pasch [this Greek word is derived from the Hebrew word pesach] should be kept on the Lord’s day [Sunday] and in confirmation of this he pretended, that Hermes [Hermas] his brother, who was then an eminent teacher among them, had received instruction from an angel, who commanded that all men should keep the Pasch on the Lord’s day” (Antiquities of the Christian Church, Joseph Bingham, pp. 1148-1149).

“One of the letters forged in the name of Pius, where one Hermas [Hermes] is mentioned as the author; and it is stated that in his book a commandment was given through an angel to observe the Passover on a Sunday” (Apostolical Fathers, James Donaldson, p. 324). If this letter was invented after Polycarp’s time in an effort to lend weight to the position of Anicetus, then it was a deliberate forgery. Otherwise, Pius himself was the author of this deceptive letter. Pius died just before the visit of Polycarp to Rome.

Suppose this incident was not a forgery (notwithstanding, most scholars readily acknowledge that it was) and, in fact, did happen. Suppose Hermes or Pope Pius (or Anicetus) was not lying this time around, and that Hermes did receive instructions from an angel to change the observance of a time that God had established. Would this have opened the door to legitimize those instructions from the “angel,” in God’s view? We must merely look in Galatians 1:8 to establish whether instructions from an angel carry precedence over God’s instructions through His apostles or prophets: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

The account above was chosen to illustrate the Roman Catholics’ underhanded schemes in adopting their hybrid doctrines. They claimed the power to supersede and change the laws of God when deemed necessary.

Early Catholic View of the Sabbath

Now for some statements from some of the original architects of Catholic thought, concerning the Sabbath. Justin Martyr’s position exposes their true feelings and ignorance. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi skillfully condenses the philosophy of Justin Martyr in the following summary statement on page 186 of his book, From Sabbath to Sunday: “The Sabbath for Justin is a temporary ordinance, derived from Moses, which God did not intend to be kept literally, for He Himself ‘does not stop controlling the movement of the universe on that day.’ He imposed it solely on the Jews as ‘a mark to single them out for punishment they so well deserved for their infidelities.’” Justin Martyr’s rank anti-Semitism would almost be humorous, were it not for the deadly persecution, to both Jews and true Christians, that it led to.

 

ANCIENT MAIL ROUTE
The seven Church eras of Revelation 2 and 3 are named after these seven ancient cities, which were once connected along a mail route.

The next viewpoint is that of Tertullian (made in AD 200), which is also telling: “…if for these and other such rules [for Sunday observance] you insist upon having positive scriptural injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them—custom as their strengthener and faith as their preserver…” (De Corona, ch. 4).

In view of the above quote, it would be appropriate to quote one 20th century Roman Catholic theologian, Cardinal Gibbons, from Faith of Our Fathers, p. 89, 1917 edition:

“A rule of faith, or a competent guide to heaven, must be able to instruct all the truths necessary for salvation. Now the Scriptures alone do not contain all the truths which a Christian is bound to believe, nor do they explicitly enjoin all the duties which he is obliged to practice. Not to mention other examples, is not every Christian obliged to sanctify Sunday and to abstain on that day from unnecessary servile work? Is not the observance of this law among the most promising of our sacred duties? But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.”

(You may wish to read our extensive book Saturday or Sunday – Which Is the Sabbath? to see a great many more admissions from the Catholics and various Protestant denominations emphasizing what Cardinal Gibbons stated. This also demonstrates that the weekly cycle has never been broken.)

In Summary

To conclude this chapter in the development and character of the counterfeit church, here are some classic quotes and observations from perceptive historians concerning the conspiracy that beset the early Church.

The Lutheran historian Mosheim expresses what could be the most well-directed and powerful observation by any scholar regarding the apostasy of the early Church. It is a short but profound statement: “Christian churches had scarcely been organized when men rose up, who, not being contented with the simplicity and purity of that religion which the Apostles taught, attempted innovations, and fashioned religion according to their own liking” (Ecclesiastical History, Mosheim, Vol. 1).

“Robinson, author of the ‘History of Baptism,’ speaks as follows: ‘Toward the latter end of the second century, most of the churches assumed a new form, the first simplicity disappeared; and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with new converts, both Jews and Gentiles, came forward and new-modeled the cause.’—Eccl. Researches, Chap. 6, p. 51, 1792” (A History of the True Religion, Dugger and Dodd, ch. 5, p. 60).

Here is another classic quote, from Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, who refers to the period immediately following the time setting of the book of Acts as the “Age of Shadows.” He states, “...of all periods in the history, it is the one about which we know the least…For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul” (The Story of the Christian Church, p. 33).

Chapter Seven – The Time of Smyrna

The beginning of the Smyrna Era takes us back to about the turn of the first century with the death of the apostle John and the beginning of the active ministry of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. Smyrna began where Ephesus left off—as the landscape of true Christianity had been devastated by defections and heresy.

At this time, in the Asia Minor city of Smyrna, lived the surviving custodian of the truth, and of the faithful remnants of the Church of God. Having been a disciple of John for many years, Polycarp was well anchored in the faith. He devoted his life to the preservation of the truths handed down from the apostles. This made him a tremendous, stabilizing force in the true Church for many decades, as had been his predecessor. In the initial decades of the Smyrna Era of God’s Church, the defections of many who joined the counterfeit movement were a constant source of agony for the faithful. To add to these hardships, the Roman government was increasing its persecution against those called Christians—both true and false.

Polycarp and Polycrates Lead the Early Smyrna Era

Here is what the apostle John wrote concerning the defectors from the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19). This principle must have been well understood by Polycarp, given his many years of training under John.

Polycarp spent many frustrating years trying to redeem various defectors back to the faith. Possibly his rationale could have been based on certain scriptures which encourage the redemption of those in such danger. One is found in James: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (5:19-20). Another is found in Jude: “And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (vs. 23).

Polycarp must have been keenly motivated by such altruistic principles, to risk constant trouble to redeem those who had departed from the truth. His efforts appear to have yielded significant success, as shown later in the quote from Eusebius. But the vast majority of those who left the fold were unmoved by Polycarp. Perhaps God intended that His servant Polycarp give them ample, merciful warnings of the seriousness of their actions. This he did.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, clearly portrayed Polycarp’s uphill battle with the heretics. The article on “Polycarp” states this: “The steady progress of the heretical movement in spite of all opposition was a cause of deep sorrow to Polycarp, so that in the last years of his life the words were constantly on his lips, ‘Oh good God, to what times hast thou spared me, that I must suffer such things!’” (Vol. 22, p. 22).

Polycarp in Rome

Historical records document much about Polycarp’s visit with Anicetus, Bishop of Rome, to point out his error in changing the time of the Passover observation—in effect, espousing the pagan celebration of Easter. Here is the account: “Polycarp, a man who had been instructed by the apostles, and…[had conversed]…with many that had seen Christ, and had also been appointed bishop by the apostles in Asia, in the church at Smyrna...The same Polycarp, coming to Rome under the episcopate of Anicetus [bishop of Rome around AD 154], turned many from the...heretics to the church of God, proclaiming the one and only true faith, that he had received from the apostles” (Ecclesiastical History, “Eusebius,” bk. 4, ch. 14, sec 3, 5).

In this meeting, Anicetus was unable to persuade Polycarp not to observe the Passover. Polycarp had always observed it with John, and other faithful servants with whom he had associated.

Polycarp had presided over the Church for over fifty years after John’s death. Irenaeus (the main source quoted by Eusebius) indicated that Polycarp had written many letters to various congregations and individuals, as Paul and other apostles had done. His efforts of admonishing and encouraging the brethren must have been of vital importance at this crucial period. Equally encouraging as his letters, was his example of boldly standing up for the truth when so many had given in to heresy. Eusebius further indicated that within a few months of the meeting with Anicetus, Polycarp was burned at the stake at Smyrna, in AD 155. According to this account, the fire did Polycarp no harm, and it was only by the thrust of a sword that he so valiantly died (Ecc. History, book 4, chap. 15, sections 38-39).

Polycrates to Rome

Polycarp’s successor, Polycrates, carried forward in the same tradition and courage. In AD 195, Polycrates journeyed to meet with Victor, Bishop of Rome, to persuade him to observe Passover in the Scriptural manner.

That account was recorded as follows: “We…therefore observe the genuine day; neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom. For in Asia great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again in the day of the Lord’s appearing, in which he will come with glory from heaven, and will raise up all the saints; Philip, one of the twelve apostles [Author’s note: This was the other Philip, as the original apostle Philip had died in 54 AD.]…Moreover, John, who rested upon the bosom of our Lord…also Polycarp…All these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith” (Ecclesiastical History, “Eusebius,” bk. 5, ch. 24, sec. 2, 3, 6).

Victor was less tolerant of the truth than Anicetus. After his meeting with Polycrates, he proceeded to excommunicate all the churches of Asia Minor. Only by Irenaeus’ persuasion, did he relent from this action. Of course, to be excommunicated from the false church was a moot point.

Irenaeus was the source for Eusebius’ documentation of the controversy between Polycarp and Anicetus. He was also the main source of information of Polycrates’ confrontation with Victor. Irenaeus was in a unique position since he was acquainted with all parties in the controversy, having been an apostate from the true Church and currently in league with the Bishops of Rome (he was Bishop of Lyons, France). He tried to reconcile the division between those loyal to the true apostolic Church and those leading the false movement, which was taking control. His efforts proved futile.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, recaps the accounts involving Polycarp and Polycrates’ discussions with the Roman bishops. Certain other interesting sidelights appear in this article:

“There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or i