Go to a large public library and check out a book on church history. Begin to read and you will soon learn about Roman persecutions against everyone claiming to be Christian, both a little flock of Bible believers and imposters alike, off and on for some 250 years after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. You will find that the early church is discovered and set forth mostly as that found in the major political centers of the Roman Empire, such as Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, Caesarea, etc., and that of the various men who occupied political and ecclesiastical positions in such cities. In your search for a little flock, you will discover the writings of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Cyprian, Clement, Tertullian, Origen, and other "church fathers," some pastors of churches, some theologians, particularly those of the school of theology of Alexandria, Egypt. You will discover that a great change took place in the "Christian" church around 312AD, when Constantine, son of British General Constantius, defeated General Maximius and declared the Empire to be "Christian." With this political paradigm shift, which ended the old religious persecutions, the history of the church coalesces into two clearly visible streams. One stream welcomed a flood of pagan beliefs and practices of heathenism, and embraces the corrupted bibles of Alexandria, Egypt. The other much smaller stream, that "little flock" (Luke 12:32), also called "the flock of God" (1Pet. 5:2), is alone given the kingdom. Though imperfect, she alone preserves the Scriptures and contends through every generation for the apostolic faith once delivered to the saints. Christian, which will you stand with today -- that compromised stream called "Christian," with her corrupt bibles and heathen practices, or that little flock, who alone preaches the "gospel of the Kingdom" (Matt. 24:14; Acts 1:6) and preserves the true Scriptures and pure doctrines? Where can we find that little flock in time and history?
by Jerry Gentry
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
"But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim. 3:15).
The history of the church of God is a tricky subject. Satan has seen to it that truth is obscured, and deceptions rule, for the most part. That would be expected, because "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2Cor. 11:14), "which deceiveth the whole world" (Rev. 12:9). It is a point of deception for many to think otherwise. Such is far from the case, for Bible believers who make up that little flock in time and history. May the true church of Christ stand up and be accounted for, to the glory of God! Satan's light of this world is darkness, into which every soul is born, and from whence every genuine Bible believer must emerge, "to . . . turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18). That little flock is instructed: "cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light" (Rom. 13:12). The light of God has always worked in a little flock.
There have been impostors since the very first century, men who would in the name of Christ perform miracles for gain, who would if it were possible buy with money the power of the Holy Spirit. One such man is the well known Simon the Sorcerer, who "offered them [the apostles] money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost" (Act 8:18-19).
"But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money" (v. 20).
"Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God" (v. 21).
"Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee" (v. 22).
"For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (v. 23). Church history identifies this imposter as "Simon Magus," who continued his sorcery in the name of Christ and was instrumental in sowing the seeds of a great false church.
The true church of God, that little flock, that "pillar and ground of the truth," was born amidst the poverty and persecution of the first three centuries. This church saw the realization of the New Covenant, whereby the God of Israel would "put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Hebr. 8:10). Those who reject God's laws are not part of the New Covenant. It is against the law of God that one stream of church history rails, "Because the carnal mind [without the Spirit] is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). In our search for a little flock, that church Jesus would build in every generation, we are looking for Bible believers whose hearts have rejected pagan philosophy and who are subject to "the Spirit of truth. . . [who] will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). True Christianity is based on truth alone that sets men free, as Jesus taught a little flock of his generation: "ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Without submission to the inerrant truth found only in the Word of God, no man is free, and no man is part of a little flock, good as he may be otherwise.
Submitted Bible believers always experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That little flock has from the beginning preached the Word of God, which is as inseparable from the Spirit of God as are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit inseparable members of the Godhead. That little flock thrived and expanded, as an illegal religion, during the bloody persecutions of the first three centuries. Yet even then, the seeds of corruption were being sown within it, particularly in the metropolitan cities of Rome and Alexandria. Foundations for the later pagan "state church" were being laid in Rome as early as 150AD, when Easter had already replaced the Christian Passover some fifty years after the death of the Apostle John. Easter is a pagan day of worship, imported from Mithraism. Passover is a festival of the Bible.
Polycarp and Polycrates were pastors opposed by Rome over their stand in favor of the Law of God expressed in the famous Passover/Easter controversy. By Bible definition, these were New Covenant men, because their faith led them to defend and keep the law of God. These facts can be easily discovered in any good treatise on what is called the "Quartodecimen" controversy. It was in Antioch, Syria, where all the books of the New Testament were pulled together and preserved, some say as early as 115AD. It is a well known fact among modern scholars that "the earliest name for the new Bible, with all that it involves as to its relation to the old and briefer Bible, is traceable as far back as Ignatius (AD115), who makes use of it repeatedly (e. g., 'ad Philad.' 5; 'ad Smyrna.' 7)" (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, B. B. Warfield, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1948, p. 411).
Another modern church historian tells us: "The history of the New Testament is here only given up to the beginning of the third century [200AD]; for at that time the New Canon was firmly established both in idea and form, and it acquired all the consequences of an unalterable entity [emphasis ours]" (The origin of the New Testament, Adolph von Harnack, Williams & Norgate, Ltd., Edinburgh, 1925, p. v).
Another Bible historian tells us: "Before the middle of the second century, the greatest part of the books of the New Testament were read in every Christian society throughout the world, and received as a divine rule of faith and manners. . .We are well assured, that the four gospels were collected during the life of St. John. . . and why may we not suppose that the other books of the New Testament were gathered together at the same time?" (Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, John Lawrence Mosheim, N. Bangs & T. Mason, New York, for the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, 1821, pp. 93-94).
The liberal school of theology of Alexandria, Egypt, welcomed pagan philosophy, and mixed it with Bible teachings. Most early "Christian" writers failed to identify and teach the tenets of the New Covenant. Irenaeus [c. 150-200AD] was a pastor in Lyons who embraced Easter, though he preferred compromise and "peace" to the controversy regarding Passover/Easter. Justin Martyr [c. 110&emdash;165AD] spoke openly in favor of Plato, a homosexual, whose Greek philosophy Justin mixed with Christianity. He died at the stake, a great "Christian" martyr, never having found the New Covenant, never having discovered that little flock. Tertullian [c. 155-225AD], Bishop of Carthage, commonly known as the Father of Latin Christianity, gave us the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration," a false doctrine ascribing to the waters of the baptismal font supernatural powers of regeneration. He fell out against Rome, and ultimately joined the Montanist sect. These, and many other men, are held up by church historians, catholic and liberal protestant alike, as admirable men. Without them, these church historians claim, we today would never have had the sense to understand Scripture. What error!
Satan has deceived the Christian world into believing that we got our Bible from the Council of Carthage, 297AD, which met and "approved" our present canon. It was through these men and others, well meaning as they may have been, that Satan has established his counter church history. The "state church" was promoted by endowments from Emperor Constantine, given to the coffers of the Roman Bishop Sylvester. With that event, the two streams of church history -- the false and the true -- further widened. It is within the political halls of Rome and Constantinople that an unsaved man (Constantine the Great) built his "kingdom of god" on earth, and launched a new persecution against those who protested his apostasy. The church Constantine championed had lost the guiding light of the pure Word of God.
"It rose from the stakes and massacres of Diocletian, to begin a new career, in which it was destined to triumph over the empire which thought that it had crushed it. Dignities and wealth now flowed in upon its ministers and disciples, and according to the uniform testimony of all the early historians, the faith which had maintained its purity and rigor in the humble sanctuaries and lowly position of the first age, and amid the fires of its pagan persecutors, became corrupt and waxed feeble amid the gorgeous temples and the worldly dignities which imperial favor had lavished upon it." (History of Protestantism, J. A. Wylie, Cassell & Company, Limited: London, Paris & New York, 1878, p. 16).
It was the statesman Constantine, whose religious conscience was not unfavorable to heretic Arius, who sent forth a royal summons to his churchmen, mostly from the East, and brought them together at Nicea in 325AD. These men would debate the unorthodox doctrine of Arius, against the orthodox doctrine of Athanasius, both men having studied at Alexandria, Egypt. On the one side, the doctrine of Arius proposed that Jesus Christ was a created being, who had come into existence, having a finite beginning. He was not eternally God, Arius claimed. This false doctrine was spreading like wildfire across Christendom. A variation of his heresy is taught today by Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and other cult and semi-cult groups. It is a heresy that never quite appeals to that little flock of God, who puts off such heretical teachings like dirty garments!
Constantine perceived the need for political unity. "His great aim was the peace and unity of his empire, and the good name of the new faith which he had espoused. . . whether in the event it proved to be Arian or Athanasian. . . Unanimity there was to be, if not in the Council, certainly after it: nonconforming bishops would be deposed: the majority opinion would thenceforward constitute orthodoxy: . . Truth would surely be found on the side of the many, the voice of the majority would be the voice of God." (A History of Creeds and Confessions of Faith in Christendom and Beyond, by William A. Curtis, T. & T. clark, Edinburgh, 1911, p. 66).
It was through Constantine that Satan dealt a death blow to the law of God as the foundation for social order of the New Covenant. Constantine promoted a gospel of "peace and safety," for all who would comply with his goals, with anathemas to all others. It was through the various church councils at Nicea (325AD) and Laodicea (337AD) that the inerrant Word of God was compromised in favor of tradition, for establishing doctrine. It was in these very councils that the Christian Sabbath was replaced with the pagan Sunday, as a day of rest and worship. Sabbath keepers were anathematized. It was by these very councils that men set up their "canons" of scripture in opposition to the laws of God. It was in these councils that men usurped and polluted ever so subtly the great creeds of the faith, such as the Nicean Creed. Even as they rightly stood against Arianism, they fell into other noisome heresies, the greatest of which was to close the door to freedom of Christian conscience.
Decades earlier, every right element of Christ's eternal Godhead had been preserved by a remnant believer, Lucian of Antioch. His creed, preserved to this day, sets forth in the clearest language possible the nature of all three members of the Godhead. It was against Lucian's teachings, preserved at Antioch from the days of the apostles, that Rome and Alexandria railed. Further, the Nicean Creed's phrase "baptism for the remission of sins," promotes the false doctrine of "baptismal regeneration." That phrase has been has been used to defend "baptismal regeneration," by Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike. Lucian's creed merely enjoins the baptism of Scripture.
At Nicea, it would appear as though the true faith would depend on the decisions of these fallible men. Would Arius' persuasive rhetoric convince the majority that Jesus was a created being? Would Athanasius golden tongue persuade the Bishops of the eternal existence of the Savior?
Ultimately, and for a short period, orthodoxy reigned. Athanasius was vindicated and Arius was declared a heretic. Ironically, however, it seems that Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, ultimately sided with Arius, and used her position to help depose Athanasius, bishop of Constantinople and the Arian heresy later became the official doctrine of the Empire for a while.
Something is wrong, terribly wrong, with this picture, but what is it? What is wrong is the failure of Constantine's conversion to Christianity. He had witnessed a vision of a cross in the sky. Such a "miracle," even if genuine, is not in keeping with preaching of the gospel, the only means whereby men are saved. "For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1Cor. 1:2). Seeing such a miracle is not to be equated with hearing and receiving the Word of God, by which men are saved. By his own personal testimony, he lived an unsaved life, and submitted to a deathbed baptism of water, believing it would wash away his sins! Constantine was no man of faith. He had called upon Origen of Alexandria, a scholar who rejected the received text of the New Testament, preserved by Lucian of Antioch. Origen served up to Constantine his Hextapla, a polyglot of unholy scriptures, based on the same corrupted Alexandrian texts touted highly today by the Westcott and Hort school of higher criticism.
"Under his [Constantine's] auspices, well-intentioned but essentially pagan, coercion entered the Christian Church, and invaded in the name of Christ the very shrine of Christian liberty of conscience. Under his auspices, an exaggerated awe and authority attached themselves to the findings of so-called Ecumenical Assemblies, the occasions not seldom of disgraceful tumult and faction, of arrogant presumption, of gross uncharitableness. . . [Bishop] Nazianzus declared: 'I flee from every assembly of bishops, for I have never seen that a Synod has come to a good end, or that the evils of the Church have been removed instead of being increased; for indescribable quarreling and rivalry reign there.'" (Ibid. p. 66-67).
It is axiomatic that the church can be no better than the Scriptures it holds. Corrupt bibles produce corrupt churches, always; whereas, God uses only His pure Bible to build that little flock, His church. It is axiomatic that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The corrupted power of this unsaved "Christian" Emperor Constantine, backed by the corrupt Hextapla bible of Origen, produced a corrupted "state church," that immediately began persecutions of the little flock of faithful believers. Few will doubt that Emperor Constantine, who thought of himself as the "bishop of the realm" held absolute power over his subjects, even to the point of ultimately executing his own mother!
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, was Constantine's historian. He promoted the idea which Emperor Constantine accepted, and Augustine later developed and taught in his "City of God," that the 1000 year reign of Christ was then underway, with the "advent" of Emperor Constantine, also called Pontifex Maximus! Can God's little flock ever hold political sway over the world? Not until Christ returns and restores the kingdom to Israel. It is against this political and ecclesiastical backdrop that we must study church history and find that little flock, that remnant of Israel, the true church of God, in every century from the first until now.
To be continued. . .