(Photo of ancient church ruins in Philadelphia of Revelation 3:7-13 & a Mosque in between) Even Philadelphia eventually left it’s first love. (see Rev. 2:4-5)
The ruins of columns of an ancient Byzantine church in the ancient city of Philadelphia, now called Alashehir, Turkey. The Turks did not live in the modern land what is called “Turkey” today; in the NT days it was Asia Minor, Anatolia, Galatia, Cappodocia, Bythinia, Pontus, Phrygia, and Armenia. The Seljuks Turks first came to Turkey in the east in 1071 and defeated the Byzantines at the battle of Manzikert near Van. The Arab Muslims had been trying in the late 600s – 700s to conquer Turkey, after they already conquered the Levant Middle East and Egypt and North Africa and Persia. (634-900s AD) Then the Ottoman Turks defeated the Byzantines in Contstantinople in 1453 after the many wars and battles of the Crusades period of 1095-1299 and beyond. Notice the Islamic minaret in between the ancient church ruins. Like the church at Ephesus, the church in Philadelphia eventually left its first love also. ( Revelation 2:4-5) Even though, at the time, Jesus commended that church, along with Smyrna. But all the churches of Rev. 2-3 and Galatia and Colossea and Cappodocia were eventually wiped out by Islam. Every generation is responsible for the great commission in their own time. Just because a land had the gospel before in history, does not mean that it should not have the gospel preached again to that same land, because the people are different; different ethnicities, and different generations.
The early church had “quickly deserted Him who called you by His grace” (Galatians 1:6) and eventually, the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3 did the same thing. Note also how quickly the Hebrews turned away from the true and living God in Exodus 32:8, to make a golden calf and call it “Yahweh”, the God who brought them out of Egypt.
They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a cast metal calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”Exodus 32:8
As Protestant Evangelicals committed to God’s Word and our local churches, and wanting to understand church history from a Biblical perspective, we need to be reminded of several things:
1. Individual local churches and whole denominations have later failed, become apostate, or were conquered or destroyed in history; and that does not contradict the promise of Matthew 16:18. That even in the Scriptures, at that time in history, individual churches were very quickly drifting away from the truth of the gospel. Galatians 1:6-9
The promise of Matthew 16:18 is to the Universal Invisible Church of all true believers in every generation. Ephesians 3:21; Rev. 5:9; 7:9; Ephesians 1:22-23 – “the fulness of Him who fills all in all” = all kinds of people in all kinds of places / or all times of history. Ephesians 5:25 – the church was purchased by Christ. (Acts 20:28; Rev. 5:9) As the gospel goes forth through evangelism, missions, church planting, the church is spreading out in history into all kinds of people in all kinds of places at all times.
As Athanasius said about the Arian heretics who had taken over the churches, to encourage the true believers in the faith: “they (the Arian heretics) have the places (buildings), but you have the faith” (Festal Letter 29)
This shows that they can drift and cease to be true churches. God warned all the churches by His warning to the first church there in Revelation 2, Ephesus: “If you don’t repent, I am coming in judgment and I will remove your lamp stand, unless you repent.” (see Rev. 2:4-5) All the churches in Revelation 2-3 were eventually conquered, first by the Goths, then by Islam. Smyrna (modern Izmir) goes back to Polycarp and Rev. 2; but today, it is gone. There are others very small, house churches, alive, biblical churches, underground, evangelical, Protestant, refugee minorities in other parts of Turkey. There are those that have gone to reach out to the Turkish and Kurdish Muslims. And refugee minority churches among Iranians are very numerous and alive. Indeed, a claim to faith without the good works of evangelism and missions is a dead faith. The older churches of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, because of their Dhimmi status under Islam, compromised a long time and don’t do much outreach to the Muslims.
Liberal churches and denominations today who don’t believe in the Deity of Christ or the Virgin conception of Christ, or the literal resurrection of Jesus, or affirm the LGBTQ agenda and don’t think homosexuality is a sin, they also have left the faith, even though they may have some people, “pastors” and buildings.
– “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed!” Galatians 1:6-9
2. Sola Scriptura is taught in principle here in Galatians chapter 1. The fact that the apostle Paul considered his letter, by him writing it, and using these words, ” . . . so I say to you now . . . “ (v. 9) shows that he is communicating in the same way that Jesus did when Jesus said, “have you not read what God said to you?” ( see Matthew 22:31). The Scriptures are “God speaking”. Paul considered his letters, as “God speaking”, as “God-breathed”. (see also I Corinthians 2:13; 4:6; 7:40; and 14:37) That, and along with the fact that this gospel and his apostleship was not from men or humans or by the agency of man” (verse 1), shows that he knew His letters were authoritative and had the God-breathed quality of Scripture. This demonstrates, in principle, that the canon existed before being called “canon”, that is, the historical ontological existence of the books of Scripture was at the time of writing (48-70 AD or 48-96 AD) “canon” (which was a measuring rod that eventually meant, “standard”, “rule”, “principle”, “criterion”, “law”, before it meant “list”. See Galatians 6:16; and a textual variant at Philippians 3:16 for this meaning of the Greek word, “kanon”.); and was before the human process of the early church of discerning, sifting, and putting all the 27 books “under one cover”, so to speak.
Luther says on this text: “Here then is a plain text like a thunderbolt, wherein Paul subjects both himself and an angel from heaven, and all others, doctors, teachers, and masters, to be under the authority of the Scriptures.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, quoted in Tabletalk Magazine, January, 2009, p. 29.)
“In spite of this emphatic denunciation so many accept the pope as the supreme judge of the Scriptures. “The Church,” they say, “chose only four gospels. The Church might have chosen more. Ergo the Church is above the Gospel.” With equal force one might argue: “I approve the Scriptures. Ergo I am above the Scriptures. John the Baptist confessed Christ. Hence he is above Christ.” Paul subordinates himself, all preachers, all the angels of heaven, everybody to the Sacred Scriptures. We are not the masters, judges, or arbiters, but witnesses, disciples, and confessors of the Scriptures, whether we be pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or an angel from heaven.” Luther, Galatians, at 1:9, see, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/luther/galatians.iv.html
3. Remember Sola Fide, the heart of the gospel. “Alone” (Sola) in the phrase, is the same as “apart from the merit and condition of works”. We should celebrate Luther’s insight by reminding ourselves of it – this is dramatically illustrated by the old Black and white movie of Martin Luther from 1953.)
The Roman Catholic Church had drifted from the Scriptures and the truth of the gospel and replaced it with ceremonies, relics, indulgences, prayers to saints and Mary, exalting Mary too much; the treasury of merit, purgatory, baptismal regeneration as the ex opere operato work that causes regeneration and initial justification, mortal vs. venial sin categories of being able to loose real justification; and good works as conditions for regaining and keeping justification, and other “sacramental treadmill” works such as transubstantiation and confession to a priest. The result being that no one could ever be sure they were even justified or saved. The Eastern Churches also “left their first love” (Rev. 2:4-5) and replaced true faith and true doctrine with icons, mysticism, philosophy (Colossians 2:8), man-made traditions (Mark 7:1-14), ceremonies, rituals, and unBiblical ideas of man’s ability to choose and original sin (the east did not accept Augustine’s theology of original sin); icons and prayers to Mary, exalting Mary, etc. Although the East was not as bad on some things like the western Roman Catholic doctrines on the Papacy, Purgatory, indulgences, and the East allowed clergy to be married; they still had many problems and false doctrines.