Addendum: (June 15, 2015) (putting this up front; on June 13 it is at the bottom of article)
I think that Ephesians 3:20-21 prevents us from saying the church totally apostatized completely (until the new Lutheran, Reformed, and other Protestant churches were formed and then the Council of Trent (1545-1563) made the Roman Catholic Church go into apostasy- because it anathematized the heart of the gospel by it’s rejection of justification by faith alone) – the church did not disappear before then, because of the phrase, “in the church in all generations”.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
Rod Bennett and I were pretty good friends, but I was not the Evangelical friend who went with him to see the “Fields of the Woods”. (you have to listen to his lecture to understand that reference.) Rod was closer to my brother, Scott, but when Rod converted to Rome, Rod challenged me to study the issues of church history more, because I was the seminary grad and minister-missionary and Rod challenged me on the issues. We debated informally with several long meetings, lunches, emails, phone calls, etc. from 1996-2004.
It was in 2004 that he told me not to discuss religion and RC vs. Protestant issues with him anymore. He cut me off from discussion, though he was open to keep the friendship and discussion on a C. S. Lewis- “Mere Christianity”- level and discuss Star Wars and Star Trek and other things that we enjoyed together. I miss Rod and his mind and friendship. Even though Rod converted to Roman Catholicism, I still consider Rod a friend and he is a very interesting guy and for years we loved to hang out and talk about great movies with plots of “good vs. evil”, science fiction (Star Trek and Star Wars), the Beatles music, Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis, the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart, etc.
Rod is a gifted speaker and writer; and a lot of what he says is true (and in his book). I always thought Rod was one of the smartest people I had ever met; he always made me think; and he always liked to debate (it seemed to me) and win at debating by logic and reason and forcing an “either -or” paradigm.
Unfortunately, our Southern Baptist Churches do not teach church history very well, (the one we went to together didn’t even teach about church history at all) since he got such a strange impression of that “Great Apostasy”, allegedly beginning with Constantine in 312 (conversion), 313 (stopping of persecution) or the Nicean Council ( 325 AD). I am glad Rod corrected the error of his false impression that Constantine made Christianity the state religion. No; Constantine did not. Theodosius did that later in 380-392 AD. But for a long time in the lecture, I thought he was wrongly saying the Constantine did.
The lack of proper teaching on church history at our Southern Baptist mega church left Rod vulnerable to the claims of Rome. I totally agree with him that the southern baptist culture of ours did not teach church history and did not give us a balanced and informed understanding of church history. There were other things going on also in Rod’s thinking. His bible study, called “New Vision” had failed, basically, and I think he would agree with me, because he was unprepared to deal with all the pastoral issues that came up as people came to his study and began to look to him as their pastor. Years earlier, after being rejected as a teacher to the youth group at our church, I had actually encouraged Rod to start an evangelistic bible study and he did. I did not realize what that would entail.
None of us had a proper understanding of local church Biblical authority. Our model of a mega-church pastor with no elders and no accountability, that did not do church-discipline (ignored passages such as Matthew 18:15-20; Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 5) was not a good model.
Years later, when we debated, looking back on that bible study that he just “started up”, Rod admitted to me that after people asked him, “who gave you the authority to start a bible study?”, and “What church ordained or commissioned you to do that?” – it was those questions that got him to question his authority to start a bible study. Those questions also forced Rod to think about church authority, accountability, ordination, and the proper role of church confirming people and sending them out to do ministry. (as in Acts 13:1-4) This reality, eventually lead him, along with the discovering the early church fathers, unfortunately, to think that the Roman Catholic church and it’s authority claims, is the one true church that Jesus founded.
After Rod read the early church fathers or around the same time, from my perspective, he was unprepared to deal with the arguments of Roman Catholic apologists such as Scott Hahn and his book, Rome Sweet Home; and the arguments of John Henry Cardinal Newman. He was using those and Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, and Surprised by Truth (volume 1) (Edited by Patrick Madrid) kind of material on me. I quickly bought those books and studied them. Fortunately, I had gone off to seminary a few years earlier than Rod’s New Vision Bible study, and studied church history some, so I was not so shocked at the apostolic fathers as Rod was when he first encountered them.
But I totally agree that typical southern baptists do not do a good job of helping lay people understand church history, with balance, and as Rod says, “with proportion, health, and common sense”. The informed Protestant position on church history is much more nuanced and gradual about what happened to the church in history. It was not a “BOBO” type of thing like the other “Great Apostasy” theories of cult groups and modern sects. (BOBO = “Blink on, blink off” – I got that from Ralph Winter and his articles in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement) We agree with Rod that the church did not “blink off” in 313 or 325 or even 380-392 or 900 or 1200, and did not suddenly “Blink on” again in 1517. However, somewhere between 1545- 1563 (at Council of Trent), because the Roman Catholic Church knowingly rejected and anathematized the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the Roman Catholic Church at that point became a false church. The true churches were those in the Protestant communities, however imperfect and not unified. I guess a different kind of theory of the apostasy theory happened at the Council of Trent.
The true, more scholarly Protestant position is NOT like the theory of “The Church of God of prophesy” or the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the 7th Day Adventists. Before, and around the 10:50 mark, Rod claims that Protestants and Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of God (founder A. J. Tomlinson) (but the original movement later splintered into the “Church of God” of Cleveland Tennesse” and “the church of God of prophesy”, with Tomlinson having to leave the Church of God and founded a new group, “The Church of God of prophesy”), and Pentecostalism (from the 1906 Azusa Street Revivals) , even liberal Christianity, have one dogma in common, that the original church that Jesus founded, “went bust” at the time of Constantine. Later he says things like, “the church was totally lost”. That is true of what Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses say, and the Seventh Day Adventents have a real obsession over Sunday worship, calling it “the mark of the beast”, but knowledgeable Protestants don’t judge history that way. Even knowledgeable Baptists don’t do that. Whatever “went bust” means, it means different things to a Presbyterian and a knowledgeable Baptist than to a Mormon, JW, or Seventh Day Adventist. Protestants, at least the knowledgeable ones, do not say the church went completely into apostasy. Most historically minded Protestants don’t say the Roman Catholic Church went into total apostasy until the Council of Trent, from 1545-1563, when they dogmatically and officially condemned the doctrine of justification by faith alone. So Rod is just flat out wrong on that.
Rod says that they (the “great apostasy” theories) all go back to Constantine. But that is not true for Mormons – their view of apostasy goes back farther than that. I think his analysis is flawed and he does not take into account the nuanced difference between historic Protestantism (Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist) vs. un-orthodox cults such as Mormonism. Historical Protestants greatly appreciate the homo-ousias (same substance) principle of the Nicean Creed and Nicean Council of 325 AD, as accurately reflecting what the New Testament teaches about the nature of Jesus Christ with the Father, and the 3 persons / hypostasis of the Cappodician fathers and the Council of Constantinople of 381 AD. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults see those councils and creeds as part of the great apostasy.
Protestants embrace them as proper theological development, based clearly on infallible Scripture. Informed Protestants don’t say that the early church totally went bust or ceased to exist. Informed knowledgeable protestants would say that the early church made some mistakes and interpreted Scripture wrong on some things, (like the mono-episcopate, baptismal regeneration, penance, priests), and was a mixture of good and bad, but they got other things right – The doctrine of the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, the canon of Scripture, etc.
Rod’s Four Witnesses are: 1. Clement of Rome (96 AD), 2. Ignatius of Antioch (around 107-117 AD), 3. Justin Martyr (around 165 AD), 4. Irenaeus of Lyons (around 180-200 AD) See here about Rod’s book, Four Witnesses. Rod discovered these writings one rainy day hanging out at a local Christian book store. When he started reading them, he was shocked because he did not know such writings had existed. It is true that most Evangelicals, especially in the free church traditions (Baptists, independents, Bible church, Charismatics and Pentecostals), don’t know much about church history or the early church fathers. But, those Protestants that are informed, and have taken the time to study and investigate the early church – Evangelical, Bible believing Protestants greatly appreciate Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, the Didache, Cyprian, and some things even from the heretic Origen and his strange teacher, Clement of Alexandria. We appreciate Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Ambrose also. But they were fallible humans.
Their writings have to be measured against the infallible Scriptures. From a Biblical Protestant perspective, there are some early mistakes in the early church fathers, true. Rod does not think they are mistakes, but Protestants do; and Rod mentions some of them, baptismal regeneration, apostolic succession (the way Rome defines it, is different than seeing sound doctrines of the faith passed on in the early churches), and the sacrificial nature of the Lord’s Supper. But he agrees with those; most Protestants do not, or have a different understanding of them than Rome does at least. Of course these in their early forms are not the same as later in history and not the same as how Rome defines them today. A Protestant can acknowledge some form of these early on, without believing the church went totally and completely “off the rails”. See Tim Kauffman’s excellent series on Baptismal Regeneration. I think Tim poked enough holes in that to question whether the early church really taught what Rome claims it did in the area of baptismal regeneration.
Rod claims that Clement of Rome teaches apostolic succession. Rod calls it “discipleship” and says that the Bible had not existed yet. Well, all the NT books were written by that time, in separate scrolls, and Clement even mentions Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians. (1 Clement 47) What he means that the individual books and letters of the New Testament were not yet collected under one cover or list, as those books which are inspired, God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), and therefore canonical (“canon”, meaning “standard”, “criterion”, “rule”, “law”, for sound doctrine and practice) I don’t think Clement of Rome taught apostolic succession in the way that Rome and Rod defines it today. Clement did teach that churches should not rebel and be jealous and get rid of their elders, yes. (1 Clement, especially paragraphs 1-6, 14, 44-47) But that is not apostolic succession.
Rod points out that Ignatius of Antioch taught that there was one bishop over the college of presbyters and that they were key to a true local church. That is true, Ignatius is the first to teach that, which we refer to as the “mono-episcopacy” (one bishop). Ignatius is the first person to use the phrase, “kata holicos” (κατα ‘ολικος ) which is a combination of two words, which meant, ‘according to the whole” or “universal” and would apply to “all the nations” and “all within the known Roman Empire” at the time. The phrase actually is used in Greek in the New Testament in Acts 9:31 – “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.” Greek: ἡ μὲν οὖν ἐκκλησία καθ’ ὅλης – you can see Kath’ holeas καθ’ ‘ολης there.) This later morphed into the one word, “catholic”. But before Ignatius (107 AD), in the earlier writing such as Clement of Rome, the Didache, and the Shepherd of Hermas, and the even earlier NT books, there was no such thing as a mono-episcopacy. Each church had a plurality of elders. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-7; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-5 and the elders are to do the work of overseeing (being a bishop, watching over, leading), and shepherding (pastoring).
Rod claims that Justin’s description of a church service is like a Catholic mass. Except Justin Martyr was clearly describing believer’s baptism, and so, would seem against infant baptism. He writes that those who partake of the Lord’s supper have had to first understood, been taught, repented, believed, and have been baptised. That part sounds more like Baptists. Granted, on other issues, Justin Martyr sounds like a belief in baptismal regeneration (but see above about Tim Kauffman’s articles on that issue), and sounds like some kind of change in the Eucharist, but without the Aristotelian / Thomas Aquinas categories of Transubstantiation. See Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 66.
Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was discipled by John the apostle. For analysis of how Rod treated Irenaeus’ Against Heresies in his book, Four Witnesses, see here. The problem is cutting quotes (either too early or too late, leaving out context) at just the place that would have given a more Protestant understanding of early church father’s writings. Rod mentions the martyrdom of Polycarp, “complete with the exposition of his relics”. After Polycarp was burned at the stake, around 155 AD, they early church gathered his bones (and ashes ?) and kept them, preserving them, and would take them out a year later to honor and remember his heroic faith to the death. But Polycarp would never have approved of praying to him before his bones, or thinking they get grace by looking at them or touching them. (But see here for an analysis of what really happened to Polycarp’s remains.)
Rod says for this lecture, he wants to go beyond the Four Witnesses book. He goes into 2 areas that get exaggerated and romanticized by later desciptions of early church history as anachronistic: 1. the persecutions are exaggerated, and the Roman Empire was really “indifferent” to Christians, according to Rod, and 2. The early church was not so pure. Just a comment about anachronisms: Roman Catholic art is almost always anachronistic, painting early church father’s in bishops hats, and clothing and buildings of the time that the painter or sculpturor lived in. So, there are lots of paintings of Augustine who looks like he lived in 1200, 1400, or 1700 rather than 354-430 AD.
He paints a different interpretation of what pagan Rome was, in it’s view of Christianity. He tries to say that Rome was like the modern USA and sort of libertarian and had some sort of separation between church and state. Rod calls the pagan Roman attitude toward religion as “indifference, cloaked in the language of respect”. Why did the church have to go through those some 9 periods of off and on persecutions, that Rod points out? The Emporers themselves did not always directly carry the persecutions out, and many times it was local persecutions done by the local governors and magistrates and it just happened under some Emporer’s reigns.
The first empire wide persecuation was Decius in 250 AD, and the worst was Diocletian and Galarius from 303-312 AD. Nero’s is famous because of his insanity, and the burning of Rome, and that it provides the historical backround to NT books such as 1 Peter and Hebrews, and is when Peter and Paul were martyred. (1. Nero (64-68 AD), 2. Domitian (89-96 AD), 3. Trajan (98-117 AD) (Ignatius was thrown to the beasts then), [Polycarp was executed in 155 AD, during Antonius Pius’ reign, 138-161 AD, but he is usually not listed as one of the major Emperor’s who had times of persecution during their reign. ] 4. Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) (Justin Martyr killed then), 5. Septimius Severus (193-211 AD – Tertullian wrote his famous words during this time, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”) The famous martyrs of Madaura and Perpetua and Felicity in the Roman province of Africa happened during this time, but these were probably as the result of local persecutions rather than empire wide actions or decrees by Severus. Same for the martyrdom of the bishop Pothinus in Lyons, France, with others in an arena, who was replaced by Irenaeus. 6. Maximus the Thracian (235-238 AD) 7. Decius (250 AD) (Origen suffered) 8. Valerian (256-260 AD) (Cyprian was beheaded then) 9. Diocletian and Galarius. (303-312 AD)
I understand his point to some extent, since the Romans did allow for the Jews, but the records tell us that they did honor their own Roman and Greek deities. Why did they call Christians “atheists” then? Rod is right that Constantine did not make Christianity the state religion. That is a very common misake. Constantine just made Christianity legal; that is, they would not persecute the Christians anymore. (313 AD) It is amazing to me how many people repeat that mistake, even in some church history books. Christianity was not made the state religion until Theodosius, around 390-392 AD. As Rod says about the action of Theodosius, “about 70 years later and 8 emporers later”.
Rod calls the romantic and exaggerated idea that the early church was nothing but persecution and catacombs and feed to the lions in collasium’s and theatres was an Anachronism. He is right that that period is romanticized and exagerated. There are extreme ideas of total persecution all the way from Nero to Diocletian, but it was not constant; it was sporatic and off and on. That is the myth that Candida Moss is getting at – but her point is that the histories exaggerated the persecutions.
Rod points out that the early church was not so pure. This is true. Rod lists some of the sins that are recorded about the early period. The era of the tradiatores – the handing over of copies of the Scriptures to the Roman authors and they burned them. Rod is right on that point. Rod then mentions the struggle he had with the way the Roman Catholic Church has over-exalted Mary in the Marian dogmas and practices and statues of the Roman Catholic Church. He only counsels “have patience” and that is about it. I have not seen his book on Mary, as he told me years ago he was working on that.
But Rod has another book called The Christus Experiment, which is science fiction, I think, mixed in with some church history material and time travel. I am planning to read that.
Rod read from a historian, “the sucessor of St. Peter sat upon the throne of the emperors”. What is he talking about? I wonder what Rod means by the prophesy of Isaiah 500 years earlier? Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah to come about 750 years before Jesus was born (Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6) and of His death (Isaiah 53), but is Rod implying that Isaiah 11:9 is about the Roman Catholic Church? (“the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”) That is a very grandiose claim indeed, if that is what he means.
Rod says the Greek church was the one that allowed heresies and seems to be claiming that the western church in Rome never did: Arianism ( the some 60 years, when during a lot of that time, Athanasius was exiled 5 times, after 325 AD to around 381 AD) I don’t think that is a fair judgment, as if the Greek church was totally separate from the western Latin speaking church. That really does not happen until much later, especially after Islam conquers the east in the 600s and 700s, and then they had a final breaking in 1054 AD. Monophysties – the Coptic Church in Egypt, the Jacobite-Syrian Church, the Armenian Church, did not accept the Chalcedonian Creed of 451 AD, that Christ has 2 natures. Nestorians – in 431 AD, Nestorius was condemned as a heretic and exiled, but before he died, he actually agreed with the Chalcedonian creed and the Tome of Leo 1. (in his work, the Bazaar of Heracleides, discovered in the late 1800s.) Mono-thelitism – funny he should mention that, as the most famous example of a bishop of Rome, the Pope, teaching heresy is Honorius (625-638 AD), who taught Mono-thelitism – that Christ had only one will. He was condemned by the church for over 300 years, and each succeeding bishop of Rome had to verbally curse Honorius, “Pope of old Rome”, for his heresy.
Honorius, bishop of Rome, heretic – For more on Honorius, bishop of Rome, see here.
Towards the end of his lecture, Rod mentions the miracles of church history – of Anthony, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Joan of Arc, and Francis Xavier. of Anthony – the man most credit as the father of the monastic movement and desert asceticism; Athanasius wrote a biography about him. I don’t know about the claim that Francis Xavier, the famous Jesuit missionary to India and Japan, rose someone from the dead in front of 40,000 witnesses at the time of Luther in Germany. Rod says Luther was preaching that miracles ceased. Did he really preach that? or did he preach that some of the spiritual gifts had ceased in the sense of people being able to do miracles and heal at will, as it seems they did in the New Testament era. There is a great difference in saying “all miracles have ceased in answer to prayer” and “some of the spiritual gifts have ceased as residing in one person who can exercise them at will”. To use Mark 16 as one’s text for miracles is shaky, because that passage about picking up snakes has been greatly abused, and is not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts.
“Look for proportion, health, common sense”, says Rod. Good advice. I can agree with that, but with a different application. I like the term, “balance” and what Dr. James White says, ” we can let the early church be the early church” – not Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but the early church; “catholic” with a little c, meaning universal and worldwide, spreading to all nations, but not Roman Catholic, as there was no infallible Pope (1870 is very late), nor Marian dogmas (1854 and 1950 are very late) [ Theotokos, “the bearer of God” was originally about Jesus Christ, that He was always God from conception in the womb of Mary, it was not meant to exalt Mary; and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, defended by Jerome around 400 AD, and became dogma later – I have written several articles on that issue at Beggar’s All, – some of those articles are not mine], nor Transubstantiation (800s to 1215 AD) in the early centuries.
Conclusion: Rod mentions going back to The Fields of the Woods, where, the first time he went, they were claiming to be the one true church on the monuments. Rod says now they have downplayed all that and bend over backwards to be accepted as one denomination among many. That made Rod sad, because he agrees more with A. J. Tomlinson’s first idea, the idea that there is only one true church and all others are false, and hating the idea of denominationalism.
Well Rod, the only way out of that is to go back to the days of the marriage of the church and state, to Theodosius (380-392 AD), Justinian (527-565 AD), Heraclius (610-641 AD), and the Middle Ages of executing heretics and apostates; the era of Inquistions, Crusades (but they were responses to the Islamic aggressions first), and witch-hunts, heresy trials (which are good in themselves, without torture or physical punishment, just ex-communication) and exiling the heretics to the deserts. The policies of Justinian and Heraclius are the ones that were too harsh against the the Monophysites/ Mia-physites – the Copts in Egypt, the Mono/ Mia-physites in Syria and Armenia, and caused some of the bitterness of these groups and they seemed to welcome the Muslim conquerers as liberators, at least at first. There is some truth to that, but that is not all of the truth about the Islamic invasions. I remember one Egyptian Christian telling me, “The Muslims deceived us”. They were pretty good at first, but later after instituting the Dhimmi system, it was too late and it went downhill after that. See here for more on the Islamic invasions and Dhimmism.
Addendum: (June 13, 2015)
I think that Ephesians 3:20-21 prevents us from saying the church totally apostatized completely (until the new Lutheran, Reformed, and other Protestant churches were formed and then Trent made it go into apostasy) – because of the phrase, “in the church in all generations”.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21