After the time of the Apostles, the Christian Church continued to thrive and grow. However, due to the ongoing persecutions and doctrinal divisions, it also proved to be a difficult period. As mentioned in the last section the false teachings of the Judaizers and the Gnostics had infiltrated the churches causing divisions. However, after the fall of Jerusalem the Judaizers essentially disappeared.
From this time on, because most of the new converts were coming from the gentile world the mystical teachings of the Gnostics are what flourished. In an effort to refute the Gnostic teachings, the Christians produced many clarifying writings on the Scriptures. They also compiled the Gospel Testimonies and the Letters of the Apostles in order to provide a basis for their arguments. This compilation became known as the New Testament.
As the Church grew in the gentile world, the gentile’s longstanding pagan culture also became a problem. Because religious articles such as rituals and relics had been foundational to the pagan way, the gentile converts struggled to let them go. Instead of giving them up, many were simply adding them to their new faith. Although these practices were also sharply refuted by the Church elders, the cultural influence was simply too strong and the pagan articles were eventually incorporated into the Church.
Pagan corruptions in the Church’s social structure also began to develop. In the original Church pattern, the elders were simply the older Christian family men who lived godly lives. Indeed, in order to be considered a Church elder, they had to have been proven faithful husbands and good fathers. These men were to have worked regular jobs for their living, and have been considered honest in their business dealings. Moreover, they were not to be drinkers of much wine. These elder Christians were called to lead the younger Christians mainly through their good example. Some of the elders were also called to “oversee” the Church gatherings to assure that the activities (preaching, teaching, etc…) remained in a godly form. These elders were simply to oversee the gatherings…not to dominate them. But alas, due to the onslaught of some pagan corruptions and other extenuating circumstances, the position of the elder was radically changed.
During the Roman persecution, the Christian elders were sought out and killed in an effort to stop the movement. These fallen elders became rallying points for the persecuted Christians, and the position of elder became overly admired and revered. Moreover, many Christians began to worship these martyrs by clinging to their relics (a popular pagan practice). As a result of this new found esteem, some elders began to exalt themselves in lordship positions by establishing a clergy (called of God) and laity (the common people) system in the Church. The clergy movement soon became the standard despite the Apostle’s clear instruction on the proper practices of an elder:
“…Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock…” 1 Pet 1:5
As the clergy practice took hold and spread, even more drastic changes came to the Church. The new prominent standing of the elder soon fostered another new practice of positioning the more influential elders over other elders. Hence, the “overseer” took on a completely different role as the top office of a hierarchy. Soon the most powerful elders were positioned over the elders of other churches, making those churches subservient and no longer autonomous (self governing).
With the new clergy system came new corruptions. The two memorials of baptism and the Lord’s Supper ceased from being simple devotional acts observed by all, and became official Church rituals to be administered by the elder (Bishop) only. These administrations were named “Sacraments”. The word sacrament means “the loyalty”, relaying the message that the loyal acts of the sacraments alone produced the power for salvation. Hence salvation was no longer a matter of simple faith—rather, the rituals performed by the elder became the necessary vehicle to obtain salvation. Because the sacraments were now administered by the elder only, they took on an elite and magical value. Accordingly, the elders began to wear lavishly embellished robes and use elegant utensils to bolster their magical appeal. The role of the elder became so ritualistic that it was given the new title of Priest.
As time went on, the Priests altered the simple memorials even more. Originally only adults who had confessed Jesus could receive baptism. However, infant baptism was soon introduced, giving the notion that salvation came through the Priest’s administration of Baptism. Moreover after baptism it was further subscribed that only the administration of Lord’s Supper by the Priest maintained that salvation.
Soon thereafter, the administration of the Lord’ Supper became even more corrupted. In true pagan form but mingled with the Old Testament sacrifice system, the Priests claimed to transform the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus, in a magical ritual called the “Mass”. During the Mass, the Priest must recite an incantation over the bread and wine in order for them to become effective. Once the incantation is recited properly, the bread and wine magically become the actual body and blood of Jesus for the congregants to partake. Hence, because only an ordained priest may perform the ritual, the Christian must continually come to the Priest in order to obtain the magical sacrament needed to maintain their salvation. Understandably these magical rituals were intimidating to the common man and created an environment of reverence and dependence on the Priest. Moreover because the Priest had become the focus of the meetings, the Church no longer functioned as a body where all may participate; rather the Mass was now the main purpose of the gathering. Thus, the Church ceased from being a simple fellowship and became a spectacle dependent on the performance of one man.
Moreover, through the Mass, the once spiritual elements (the temple, priesthood and sacrifices) of the fulfilled Law that were provided to the individual to utilize inwardly through the Holy Spirit, were taken away and put back into a corporate and physical form. Indeed, the New Jerusalem had taken the form of the Old Jerusalem—but much worse in that it was also thoroughly mixed with the paganism.
Along with the adaptation of the priesthood, other elements of the Old Covenant Law were also adapted. Sunday became the new Christian Sabbath in honor of the day Jesus was resurrected. This change was not a fulfillment of the Sabbath Law…it was simply a change of the day. Indeed, the Apostle Paul specifically said that no physical day or Sabbath day should be made obligatory. Rather, both Jesus and Paul explained that the fulfillment of the Sabbath came through Resting in Christ. (1)
Naturally, the Tithe Law was also implemented; but like the Sabbath Law—it too was simply altered. In the Old Testament, the Tithe (tenth of the harvest) was to be eaten by the Israelite and his family in the presence of God (at the Temple). Then, every third year the Israelite was to bring his Tithe to the Levites who were to eat it, and to also share it with the poor. However, the Christian priests demanded the third year Tithe all year—every year; thus establishing a well paid clergy system. (2) Just like their Sabbath, the Christian’s new Tithe system was not a spiritual fulfillment—but only a physical change.
Now well financed, the Church quickly gained immense strength. Moreover, by wielding their power as the only institution through which one could obtain and maintain salvation, they held absolute control over the hearts and minds of the people. This Church system became known as the Catholic (universal) Church.
Most information for this summary were drawn from A Summary of Christian History By Robert A. Baker (1st addition) 1959. Information was also drawn from various encyclopedias.
(1) The fulfillment of the Sabbath Law:
“…One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord…” Rom 14:5
“…Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow (foreshadow) of what was to come…” Col 2:16
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath: Matt 11:28– “…Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Sabbath). “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (Sabbath) for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light…”At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Today (in the Spirit of Jesus) is our Sabbath rest: Hebrews 4:4- “…For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His (Spirit) voice, do not harden your hearts…”
(2) The Tithe Law: “…You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. “You shall eat (the tithe) in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. “If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. “Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you. “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. “The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do…” Deuteronomy 14:22-29