Vol. 4, No. 6
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There are those in the church today who do a great deal of worrying about whether or not the church can survive the onslaught of liberalism, and whether or not there will be congregations of the church existing when our grandchildren have grown to the age of responsibility. We are not reflecting upon those fears in any way, but we need to be reminded of the facts that there have been heresies and apostasies in the church almost from the beginning of her existence upon this earth. One needs only to read the Book of Acts to learn that in the very early days of her history the church was deeply wounded by a heretical teaching from a group of converted Christians called "Judaizers." These people, who had been converted from the sect of the Jews known as the Pharisees, taught that unless a person desiring to be a Christian was circumcised and kept the Law of Moses he could not be saved. And though this heresy was dealt with by the Jerusalem council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these people caused a great deal of turmoil and trouble in the early church.
Hardly had this heresy begun to die out when another heresy arose, this time for the Gentile segment of the church called "Docetism." This heresy, which we gather from the writings of Paul had its beginning in the church at Colosse, continued to grow for some three hundred years until it grew into a full-blown apostasy know as "Gnosticism." The church came through these heresies and apostasies and continued to grow and develop, and does so until this day.
The seeds for the development of what we today call the "Catholic Church" had their beginning during the same period that Gnosticism was developing in the ancient church. Yet, in spite of the fact that the church was injured by the setbacks, she endured, and does endure, and will until the end of time. This promise was given to us by such Old Testament prophets as Daniel, and we can rest upon those promises.
One of the things one finds to be very interesting is the fact that as one studies the history of the church for the first five or six hundred years of her existence, there arises one heresy and apostasy after another. As a matter of fact, a great deal of the writing of the so-called apostolic fathers was in defense of, or as an answer to, the great number of heresies that developed during that period of time. Some of these were small groups who were not even known by the whole church, and some of these leaders drew only a small following. Others, on the other hand, were large and drew large segments of the church away. As a result of these things, the bishops, who were then the chief teachers in the congregations, often battled among themselves and their fights were often long and bitter. Sometimes these battles for the minds of Christians lasted until the chief proponents and the chief opponents were all dead. A cursory reading of church history shows us that the church has never been free from troubles such as we see among us today.
While these heresies and apostasies cause us to have bitter disputes and strong feelings of animosity, we must never throw up our hands in desperation and resolve to quit serving Christ. You see, the success or failure of the church does not depend upon mere humans. It depends upon the power of our God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. According to Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 15, Christ will ultimately win regardless of how the battle might look to us at any given time. During the early days of heresies, John wrote the great Book of Revelation, the theme of which is the ultimate victory of the saints. There is no way, so long as one remains true to the teaching of the Bible, that God will allow his people to be destroyed from off the face of the earth.
This is not to say, however, that he will not allow us to go into "captivity" from time to time, even as did his people in the days when they were under the Law of Moses. Any time we become lax in our service to him, and allow the idols of this world to draw us away after them, God will allow a strong enemy to come against us to teach us that we must always be faithful to him and to his Word.
Satan has one tool with which he can hurt the divine Body that is called "the church," and that tool is heresy and the resulting apostasy. He has no tool by which he can destroy that body of saints! And while the church may disappear from one area of the earth or another, not even the "gates of Hades" can completely destroy, or obliterate, the church from off the face of the earth. Since this is true, and has been promised by God himself, we should keep on believing and trusting the Word of God. We should also measure everything we do by that Word because we desire, more than anything else, to give our lives to the God of our salvation.
One seriously doubts that the heresies today are any more numerous or powerful than they were during the second, third and fourth centuries after Christ. The Body of Christ survived those ancient heresies, and she will survive the modern ones as well.