Ask Your Preacher
I have been struggling with something lately. I grew up in the Catholic church and left it because there were many things I couldn't find biblical (purgatory, papal infallibility, unmarried priests, and so on). I became Baptist and have bounced between various churches, but all of them were churches that believed in grace and being saved versus earning heaven through works. I did miss the history and tradition of Catholicism but still didn't agree with the doctrines. I have been reading/listening to podcasts on Orthodox Christianity (Greek, Russian, etc.), and it seems like everything I like about Catholicism but none of the things I saw as made up. According to their history, they are the original church, and Catholics broke off about one thousand years after Christ, basically as a power grab in Rome. (Papal infallibility came in handy with that.) I have been reading about Martin Luther and the reformation also. Sooo, what I am trying to get at is... if the churches I am going to are the grace-based evangelical/protestant/whatever-you-call-them churches didn't really come around until over 1500 years after Christ, I am led to believe this is not the church of the New Testament that the apostles established. My next logical assumption would be to seek out the true church that still performs church the way Jesus taught them… if that exists. Any thoughts or guidance would be much appreciated.
Searching For The Original
Dear Searching For The Original,
We absolutely love your attitude! If only everyone wanted to be a part of God’s original church. You are on the right track by seeking to find a church that performs what Jesus taught – the question is: how do we do that? Almost every church professes to be the right church, and almost every church professes that God wrote the Bible… so the way to tell which church is really God’s church is to compare their behavior to what the Bible says. The Bible is the pattern that every sound congregation should follow (2 Tim 1:13). The Catholic church is one of the oldest churches, but as you mentioned, their behavior doesn’t match the Bible’s teachings. Greek Orthodox churches also have a lot of history behind them, but it is a history of tradition, not a history of biblical purity. What you want to do is find a group of people that are dead-set on doing only what the Bible says, no more, no less.
Everything a church does (worship, membership, the steps they teach for salvation, how they spend their money, even their name) needs to have Bible verses backing them up (1 Tim 3:15). A church needs to be able to explain the reasons for why they do what they do (1 Pet 3:15).
As an example, our congregation here in Monroe goes by the name ‘Monroe Valley church of Christ’ because ‘church of Christ’ is a Biblical name for a congregation (Rom 16:16). We worship by singing (Col 3:16), studying the Bible (1 Tim 4:13), praying (2 Thess 3:1), taking communion (only on Sundays – Acts 20:7), and taking up a collection (also only on Sundays – 1 Cor 16:1-2). We teach that you must hear God’s Word (Rom 10:17), believe God’s Word (Jhn 3:16), repent of your sins (Mk 6:12), confess Jesus as your Savior (Lk 12:8), and be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38, 1 Pet 3:21). We do all these things because they are practices found in the Bible. As you said, you don’t want to go to a church that offers their own thoughts – you want God’s thoughts.
There are other congregations like ours scattered across the country and the world. Most of them use the name ‘church of Christ’, but then again, many churches that use that name aren’t faithful. A Bible name for a church isn’t enough to make it faithful... but it is a beginning. We have helped others, like yourself, looking for New Testament Christianity find faithful congregations in their area by contacting other preachers and christians that we know. We’d be happy to do the same for you. If you feel comfortable, just let us know what general area you live in, and we will try and get you in touch with a congregation that lives like your Bible reads (our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org).
Who are the Knights Templar?
The Knights Templar was an order of knights that were endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1129 and fought during the Crusades. They were also known for building large fortifications across Europe. There is a modern mystique surrounding the Knights Templar because they were a very secretive religious society… but all historical sources point toward them going out of existence centuries ago.
In any case, the Knights Templar have absolutely nothing to do with the Bible. The Bible was completed over a thousand years before the Knights Templar were created by the Catholic church. The Crusades and the Knights Templar are both good examples of how the Catholic church did (and does) things that have zero connection to the Word of God. God tells us to never add or subtract from His Word (Rev 22:18-19). All faithful churches take that command very seriously.
To follow up on your response about calling men ‘father’ (the post entitled “Parental Paradox”), are you saying it is all right to refer to men as ‘father’ as long as you are not putting them above God? Including, not only a biological parent but even a person of spiritual fatherhood? Some folks in my Lutheran congregation refer to our pastor as ‘father’ or ‘reverend’ or even ‘brother’ but never revere him above God as you pointed out in your post.
Dear Taking Titles,
In order to understand why it is wrong for religious leaders to take the name of ‘father’, we need to put that statement in context. Jesus said to not call anyone ‘father’ (Matt 23:9) at the same time as He condemned the scribes and Pharisees for loving the praise and honor of men (Matt 23:4-6). When ‘father, ‘rabbi’, and ‘master’ are given as titles of prestige and honor, this is exactly what Jesus was condemning. The titles you mentioned are often used in exactly the same manner – ‘reverend’ especially. The word ‘reverend’ is never even found in the Bible. The only one who deserves our reverence is God (Heb 12:28). Anytime that religious leaders take on titles like these, it is a sign that they are seeking to distinguish themselves from other christians. This is the exact opposite of what the apostles did (Acts 10:25-26).
(This question is a follow-up to “Constantinian Shift”)
I am glad you have corrected your statement about Constantine "forcing" all to convert to Christianity. There is a very fine line between statements of historical truth and statements meant to lead a reader to a conclusion by implication and exaggeration. My only issue with your line of reasoning has to do with how you determine what is historically reliable and what is not. You cannot have things both ways. When presented with historical sources and actual named witnesses to a questioner laying a foundation of an organized church before Constantine, you rejected the history outright and claimed it was contradictory and unreliable (see your response to "A History Of Error" in the Catholic archive). Then in response to other topics (canon of New Testament and Constantine's activities), you relied on extra-biblical historical accounts. So on one hand, you are relying on history to make some points, while on the other hand, you are rejecting history to disprove other points. I am hoping you see this contradiction as I really don't want you guys to keep sawing off the very branch you are sitting on in an attempt to influence your readers away from a faith you don't agree with. Why do you accept the testimony of the witnesses to Constantine's subtle ways of influencing conversion? What makes you think those extra-biblical accounts are reliable? How do you know the early church historians (bishops and clergy) that attest to an organized church before the famous edict are unreliable?
Cite Your Sources Please
Dear Cite Your Sources Please,
We appreciate your concern over our use of extra-biblical history. Let's see if we can quickly clarify. We use historical resources as reliable sources in regards to Constantine because that is the ONLY history of Constantine we have. The Bible never directly deals with Constantine; therefore, we are left to use secular history as our only guide. You may have misunderstood our statements about Constantine – we do believe Constantine forced people to obey his state-run religion. As we mentioned in the last post, he forced them by using inducements.
The times that we have stated that the early church historians were being unreliable or contradictory is when we do have a biblical account to compare it to. The Bible is always the first and foremost guide in church history, and the Bible soundly condemns Catholicism's practices. Therefore, people who lived and taught anything in opposition to the Bible are wrong, no matter whom they are. There were early church historians that were beginning to move toward the Catholic way of functioning before the era of Constantine (Constantine simply is the historical demarcation point when things began to quickly move downhill), but the fact that early church writers taught things contradictory to Bible teachings discredit them in doctrinal matters. We can trust early historians in secular history unless they prove otherwise (i.e. contradict the majority of historians); we can trust early historians in religious history unless they prove otherwise (i.e. contradict Scripture). Hopefully, that gives you some clarity as to why it seems like we are "cherry picking" the history that we want. Everything gets compared to Scripture – even early church writers.
In a previous post, you stated "Both the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church trace their history back to the days of Caesar Constantine. …Constantine made Christianity the national religion and forced all people to join it. By forcing people to join Christianity, Constantine removed all traces of the volunteer Bible-based faith that Christ died for."
The edict of Milan issued by Constantine only proclaimed religious toleration in the Roman Empire. There is no historical record of Constantine "forcing" anyone to become christian. Constantine was actually against conversion by coercion: “It is one thing voluntarily to undertake the conflict for immortality, another to compel others to do so from fear of punishment”. As a student of history, could you please clarify for me your historical sources for your previous statements regarding this period of Christianity?
Cite Your Sources Please
Dear Cite Your Sources Please,
You are correct that the edict of Milan only proclaimed toleration and that Constantine is on record as saying that conversion by coercion was a bad thing, but like all good politicians, what Constantine said and what he did were two different things.
Constantine issued the edict of Milan legalizing Christianity and then subsequently began to provide “inducements” to conversion. These inducements included:
- Government-conferred benefits for church leaders (this included immunity from military service)
- Cash gifts to congregations
- Building elaborate buildings for churches
- Christians received career advancements within the government over and above pagans
- Exile of preachers that upset him (even subsets of Christian beliefs – such as Arianism)
These inducements are well-documented in various sources, but one good book to look at is “Christianizing the Roman Empire” by Ramsay MacMullen. It is also important to note that the edict of Milan, which legalized tolerance, was only the beginning of a movement to make Christianity a state religion. The edict of Milan promoted tolerance in 313 AD, but by 380 AD, emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official state religion, and in 392 AD, all other worship was made illegal. Constantine was the tip of the spear for a movement to turn Christianity into a government entity (eventually Catholicism) over the next hundred years.