What Happened to the Church Jesus Built - Pt. 5
By Tommy Thornhill

From a study of God’s word we learn that the government and organization was very simple for the local church Phil.1:1. The bishops (elders) were to rule (lead) Heb.13:7, with deacons serving under the elders, and the saints willing to work with these men Heb.13:17. One of the  qualifications for an elder/bishop/pastor in the congregation, was that each of the men must be able to “hold fast the faithful word, as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” Tit.1:9. According to God’s plan responsibility for guiding the congregation and keeping them sound in the faith rested with the leadership 2.Tim.1:13.  

But, when the leadership is no longer committed to using the word of God as final authority, as per 1.Pet.4:11; Col.3:17, the door is open to allow changes in doctrine and worship. While weak-minded people, because of their lack of knowledge, might suggest changes in doctrine and worship, the responsibility for allowing such changes rested with the ecclesiastical dignitaries, the leaders who had now, without scriptural authority, melded into the clergy class, allowed the unscriptural changes to come into the church. It wasn’t long after the death of the apostles that changes in faith, doctrine and worship began to be introduced. Holy water was introduced into some congregations ca.120 AD.

This was a superstitious practice adopted from the pagans, who felt that consecrating the water gave it the power to frighten away demons, to remit venial sins (sins committed inadvertently or without forethought), to cure distraction, to elevate the mind and dispose it to devotion. Then the observance of Lent and Easter was introduced ca.140 AD in some places. This became more universally adopted almost 200 years later, ca.312 AD.  In 325 AD a council of 318 bishops were assembled at Nicea to determine if Jesus Christ was the first of all God’s created beings, by whom all other beings were created, or if He was equal to God the Father. The council ruled in favor of Jesus being equal with God and of the same substance, and the first written human creed, “the Nicean Creed,” was formulated.

But, the decision about Jesus Christ was reversed, and the Nicean creed was rewritten to conform to the reversal, at the next church council held at Constantinople in 381 AD. It was also at the council of Nicea that the official date for Easter was set, a direct contradiction of Gal.4:10-11. The Nicean council was the first of six general councils held to deal with speculative theories concerning the nature of God, of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. After the council of Nicea, 325, came the 2nd council at Constantinople 381 AD, the 3rd council at Ephesus 431 AD, 4th council Chalcedon 451 AD, 5th council Constantinople 553 AD, 6th council Constantinople 681. Another major council was the council Nicea 787 AD. Truth never changes, while human opinions do. What happened in these councils show why God never authorized them. Instead of the councils uniting those who claim to be people of God, they created human creeds and divisive practices 1.Cor.1:10; Gal.1:6-9. This is contrary to the prayer of Jesus in Jn.17:20-23. Not only did these councils and creeds bring division, many of them also lacked the dignity and decorum that one would expect in a religious assembly.

Many of the teachings they were assembled to solve, instead perpetuated and/or aggravated the situation.  As more pagans were converted they brought in some of their previous practices and ceremonies. They just transferred their purpose from pagan idol worship to Christian symbolism. They incorporated their idolatrous ideas with religious pictures, statues of saints, worship of angels, adoration of Mary (they began referring to “Mary, the mother of God,” ca 431 AD, just before the 3rd council at Ephesus). burning of incense and candles. These things did not come in without objection of some who still reverenced the word of God. As these things began to be introduced into buildings used for church services, one man, Agobard of Lyons, wrote against the adoration and worship of these images. “That we have no authority for praying even to the saints that worship, which is due to God alone, and which they were ever found to decline. It was a cunning device of Satan to bring back idolatry, and under pretext of showing honor to the saints, to draw men away from that which is spiritual and degrade them to that which is sensual.” Another man, Lactantius, ridiculed the practice of those who lighted candles for God, as superstition. He mocked the idea of lighting candles for God as if He lived in the dark. We find all of these things being practiced today in various denominational bodies Col.2:8, 20-23. This later evolved into prayers to the statues. About 157 AD the doctrine of physical punishment for penitents who had fallen away from the church and then wanted to return was first advocated by some churches. It was more fully developed ca. 411 AD, and fully adopted by the apostate Roman Catholic church in 1022 AD. “Penance is a sacrament in which sin committed is forgiven. Penance remits the eternal hell and some of the temporal purgatory.” This doctrine was a prelude to the mourner’s bench. (more in next issue).