The church is the group of people in the 6th Dispensation who have accepted salvation and have access to grace. The purpose of the Church is to become the Bride of Christ in the Meaning of Life.
In this post, we begin looking at the history of the Church from a very special perspective.
In the 6th Dispensation, the Church is being sanctified in order to be a worthy bride. A big part of that sanctification is living by grace.
In addition to direct influence of the Holy Spirit, a significant aspect of Grace is the guidance that the Church gets from the Bible itself – particularly the epistles (or letters) written by the Apostles (those who had direct physical contact with Jesus) that comprise most of what we call the New Testament.
The Epistles of Jesus
Seven of the most interesting and impactful “epistles” are found in chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation. These short epistles stand out for two significant reasons.
The first (and most important) is that they come from Jesus Himself! (It would make sense that Jesus would provide direct guidance for the Church since He has a vested interest in the sanctification of His Bride).
Revelation consists of the detailed descriptions that the Apostle John was told to write of what he saw and heard when he was spiritually transported to the presence of God.
The first thing he was told to write was seven letters to seven Churches in seven cities is Asia Minor (present day Turkey).
The letters are addressed to the first century churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
These were actual cities that existed during John’s time, and they each had unique challenges and opportunities which Jesus addressed in each of His letters to them. In each letter, Jesus gave each church a “report card” of sorts consisting of:
- What they were doing well (if anything)
- Where they needed to improve
- How they will be judged if they don’t improve
- How they will be rewarded if they either improved, or continue to do well
The second reason that the letters are so provocative is because if viewed in the order written, they outline the entire history of the church in advance! From the Apostolic age to the end of the 6th dispensation!
This is the perspective from which we will examine Church history over the next few posts.
Report card on Ephesus – Strong on doctrine
In His letter to the Ephesian church, Jesus commends their hard work in His name, their intolerance of evil, and their adherence to Biblical doctrine in the face of false teachers.
Historically, this letter signifies the “Apostolic Church” – the Church that existed immediately after the advent of the Redeemer in the 1st and 2nd centuries.
When Jesus ascended to Heaven after the resurrection, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit down to empower his disciples to do His work – and He did, in a BIG way!
The empowering of the Holy Spirit transformed a group of cowardly fishermen into bold and fearless Apostles who literally changed the world by spreading the message of Salvation far and wide.
The things they said, did, and wrote formed much of the basis of Christian doctrine, discipleship, and worldview which endures to this day.
Stopping the Church in its tracks
Of course Satan wasn’t very pleased with this development since his goal was to thwart Christianity. So he went to his usual bag of tricks in an attempt to stop the growth of the nascent Church
He started by trying to eliminate the Apostles through the same Jewish leaders who conspired against Jesus during His earthly ministry.
The Pharisees used their power to intimidate, ostracize, persecute, and imprison the Apostles.
But their plans thoroughly backfired. The strife they caused only made the Church grow faster and the Apostle grow bolder.
Worse yet, one of the more preeminent young Pharisees of the day became arguably the most influential Apostle of them all!
After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, the Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, persecuter of Christians, became Paul the Apostle, and used his incredible intellectual prowess to pen profound doctrinal treatise that came to make up most of the New Testament.
If you can’t beat ’em, corrupt ’em!
With this failure, Satan tuned to his next traditional tactic, corruption and compromise.
Almost immediately after Christianity began to take hold. False doctrines were introduced to corrupt the message of Jesus and Salvation. Several of the Apostolic Epistles were written for the primary purpose of correcting heretical teachings that had crept into the Churches, such as the idea that Christians were still bound by the Law, or the blending of Christianity and pagan mysticism.
Interestingly, Paul warned the Church at Ephesus about the advent of those who would bring corrupt doctrine into the Church some 40 years before Jesus’ letter in Revelation.
Where is the love?
Apparently the Ephesians took Paul’s warning to heart because Jesus told them that they did a great job of sussing out false teachers! However, Jesus admonished the early Church for “leaving their first love”. He instructed them to remember, repent, and do the “first works”.
The term “first love” in this context refers to the emotion and exuberance we feel when we first “fall in love”. The first and greatest commandment is to love God completely. Also the primary command of Jesus to the Apostles was to go and make disciples of all men.
It would seem that the issue Jesus had with the Ephesians was that they were so focused on fighting evil and getting doctrine right that they neglected devotional time with God and worship of God, as well as discipling new Christians.
Or as one Bible commentator put it, “they were so busy doing the business of the King, they made no time for the King!”
Report card on Smyrna – Don’t let the persecution get you down
The next letter was to the Church as Smyrna. Jesus commended them for enduring persecution and poverty. He had no admonishments for them, but warned them that their suffering would continue. However if they remained faithful, they would be rewarded.
Historically, this is the Church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Having failed to stop the growth of the Church though intimidation and corruption, Satan once again turned to the Mystics to do his dirty work, beginning with the Mystics of Force – the government.
Thus the 2nd and 3rd centuries were a time of intense physical persecution for the Church as successive Roman Emperors attempted to exterminate Christianity and its claim to One True God (as opposed to the many gods of pagan Rome – including the deified Emperors themselves!)
Christians were denied citizenship and any type of legal protection. Their very existence was a violation of law and they were subjected to brutal torture and death if they refused to denounce their faith.
But even when driven underground into the catacombs of Rome and the wilderness on the outskirts of the empire, Christianity continued to grow. In fact, the more furious the persecution, the faster the Church grew as they were forced to focus more and more on God for daily provision and survival!
It got to the point that the population of the Church was so large, persecution and imprisonment became impractical for the empire!
Mystics in the pulpit
There is one more thing we need to cover before we move on to the next letter. As a postscript to the letter to the Ephesians, Jesus commends them for rejecting the hated doctrine of the “Nicolaitans”. The Nicolaitans are something of a mystery since the term does not seem to be a formal name as much as a description.
The root words in the Greek imply “those who rule over the people”. It’s been theorized that this referred to false teachers who used their religious influence to dominate the lives of their followers “in the name of Jesus”.
If true, then the Nicolaitans were probably “Gnostics”. Gnostics were local mystics in the early centuries who (in typical fashion) claimed to have special, hidden knowledge that God gave only to them.
What was this “hidden knowledge”?
This knowledge consisted of a variety of odd, often contradictory doctrines consisting of denying the physical incarnation of Jesus (He was basically a holy hologram), worshiping angels, teaching that Jesus was just a man who fathered a bunch of children, and completely rejecting the material world (not sure how you effectively do that, short of suicide or becoming an environmentalist).
They also claim to have “found” hidden epistles that contradicted the Bible, allegedly written by assorted disciples and followers such as Thomas, Philip, Judas, and Mary Magdalene. Never mind the fact all of these “epistles” were written several decades (or more) after the death of the alleged author. The fact that they claim one was written by Judas – who betrayed Jesus and killed himself immediately after – demonstrates a special level of lunacy.
Again, to their credit, the early church for the most part rejected this nonsense, but it’s important to bring it up here because subsequent letters show that later churches would accept and embrace the Nicolaitans, giving mystics an irrevocable foothold in the Church. Speaking of which…
With the failure of the Mystics of Force, Satan turned to the Mystics of Spirit to defeat the Church. In the next post, we will explore the next phase of Church history and learn how the Mystics of Spirit were MUCH more effective than their counterparts in damaging and corrupting the Church, and have in fact proven to be a dominant force in the ultimate failure of the 6th Dispensation.
The next two posts will hit close to home for many and will probably be the most controversial and inflammatory entries on this blog. I can hardly wait…
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