“Faith Apart from Works” and “Not by Faith Alone”

This is from the comments on “Faith and Works: A Brief Summary”, my June 19 blog post. I wrote this in response to a good question.

Your comment (that the only mention of faith alone in the bible is in James 2:24 where it says “not by faith alone”) is one of my favorite things to point out to those who think we can live however we want and go to heaven, but to be fair, it is not that simple. While the only occurrence of faith alone in Scripture is “not by faith alone,” we also find “faith apart from works” and “not by works” in the Bible … quite often. Thus, we do have to have a thought-out explanation. The fact is, we have been (past tense) saved “apart from works” (Eph. 2:8-9) and “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:5).

2 Peter 1:3-11 is my explanation. Verses 3-4 explain the great salvation we can receive by faith without works of any kind. We receive everything that pertains to life and godliness, we are rescued from the corruption that is in the world through lust, and we become partakers of his divine nature. This is the new creation spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 and Ephesians 2:10.

One we have received that incredible transformation, we then “diligently” add to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. If these things are in us and increasing, then we will never be barren or unfruitful, and we will never stumble. If we don’t add these things, then we are blinded, and we will soon forget that we were every rescued from our old sins.

Thus, Peter concludes, “Be diligent to make your calling and election sure because if you do these things, you will never stumble. For in this way an entrance shall be supplied to you richly into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

We are saved by faith, apart from works, and that salvation is beyond anything we can understand. Once we have that salvation, we must diligently add to our faith by the new life and Spirit that is in us, and then we will reap eternal life, if we do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9).

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What Jesus Saves Us From

I recently saw what I assume is an atheist/agnostic cartoon. In it Jesus is knocking on the door of an ancient-looking home and saying, “Open the door so I can save you.”

The voice behind the door says, “Save me from what?”

Jesus answers, “From what I am going to do to you if you don’t open the door.”

The meme would be more accurate if Jesus had given a list:

  • … from what my Father is going to do to you if you don’t change your ways;
  • … from the sin that creates devastation in far too many lives;
  • … and from your careless, self-indulgent lifestyle that does nothing to rectify the devastation in so many lives.

I understand. A lot of people don’t believe that God created people or that people are accountable to him. The devastation is overwhelming. They feel hopeless to make a difference, or they feel no sense of accountability for the problems.

Those people will perish in the everlasting fire (Matt. 25:31-46) if we do not warn them or if they do not believe our warning. Jesus tells a story about the fate of a rich man who ignored the beggar at his gate. He became a highly motivated evangelist, but only after it was too late to be one (Luke 16:19-31).

For those of us who do believe that God created us and will hold us accountable for our lives, it is wise to open the door at which Jesus is knocking, and let him save us from our comfortable and careless lives. If we do so, we will have eternity to be comfortable, with no sorrow, no crying, and no pain.

You cannot be comfortable in both places. You can be comfortable here, or you can be comfortable there, but not both. If you are a Christian, you are familiar with the beatitudes, but are you familiar with the woes?

But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger.
Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! (Luke 6:24-26, NKJV)

Anyone who has read the Bible knows the importance God attaches to helping the down and out (if they are willing to be helped). Jesus ties our judgment at the end of the age to our treatment of the down and out (Matt. 25:31-46). Though we should give priority to our brothers and sisters in the household of God, we are required to extend our purposeful goodness to all (Gal. 6:10; Tobit 2:2).

Some of the ministry I have done recently has opened my eyes to the role of hopelessness in drug addiction and broken marriages. Of course, both these things lead to children raised by one damaged, hopeless parent, extending the pattern of hopelessness and ruined lives.

You’re probably like me. You haven’t a clue how to do anything about the “dregs of society.” There are people who do, and they are looking for your help.

You may, like me, think a lot of megachurches are missing the point. Most, however, have a ministry that benefits the down and out, and that is pretty central to the point. Join them. If you have to sign a statement of faith you don’t agree with to do so, then there are other ministries and other churches that just want godly workers. You don’t have to be a ministry director. Peons (“low ranking workers,” real word, not a pun) change the world too. Brilliant ideas become reality with the labor and sweat of those who did not have the idea.

Yes, we must be born again to see the Kingdom of Heaven. If Jesus knew anything about the judgment, though, you should keep a sharp eye for the needy around you or volunteer to help someone else who is keeping a sharp eye out.

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Good People Go To Heaven; Bad People Perish

As an evangelical, I was taught that good people do not go to heaven; saved people do. Now that Jesus died, it is all about faith. Saved people go to heaven, no matter what they do, and people who do not believe in Jesus go to hell. Good or bad does not matter anymore.

It is easy to see how Protestants get that out of the New Testament. John 6:47, for example, says, “He that believes has eternal life.” Plain and simple, right?

The problem is that the same person who wrote that, the apostle John, also wrote:

One who says, “I know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in him. (1 Jn. 2:3-4)

Even more to the point, one chapter before Jesus said, “He that believes has eternal life,” He said:

For the hour comes in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice,and will come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (Jn. 5:28-29)

I am using the WEB version, and I changed the last word of that quote to “condemnation” because I believe it as a better translation than “judgment.”

The “do good and receive life” quotes are not just a few. Here are some examples:

  • who will pay back to everyone according to their works: to those who by perseverance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath, indignation, oppression, and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 2:6-9)
  • God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:7-10)
  • “Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. Some of you were such, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
  • Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.” (Eph. 5:5-6)

I could go on and on and on, but let’s pause here. Did you notice the “don’t be deceived” and “know this for sure” and “let no one deceive you” among the bolded words about doing good?

There are also bolded words about what Jesus came to do. After you believe in Jesus, you were unrighteous, like those who have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. But after Jesus’s washing, sanctification, and justification, you are not unrighteous.

Yes, saved people “go to heaven,” but that is because saved people are good and righteous people. If you are not good and righteous, then John says you aren’t really saved; i.e., you don’t know God (1 Jn. 2:3-4). Paul and Peter don’t say you’re not really saved; they just say you’re not going to have a part in God’s kingdom (above and 2 Pet. 1:5-11).

Some may ask, if we still have to do good, then why did Jesus die?

He died so that we can do good!

Jesus Died So We Can Do Good

I am not only going to talk about the atonement here, but also grace. The Scriptures lump those two things together a lot. Let’s look at two places they are lumped together:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works(Tit. 2:11-14)

This paragraph is here just to convince you to read the passage I just quoted before moving on. Notice what it says about grace and about Jesus dying for us.

Okay, next passage:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

It amazes how often people will hear me teach on this matter, then when I get to Ephesians 2:8, they say,”See! It’s grace, not works!”

Of course!

Let’s look at the New Testament pattern:

  1. We are slaves to sin and, as a result, we cannot live a life of ongoing good works, not even if God gives us a perfect law like the Law of Moses. (Rom. 3; Rom. 7; Eph. 2:1-3)
  2. Jesus died to rescue us from all this. That wonderful gift, that wonderful favor, we know as “grace.”
  3. After grace has come, teaching us that we should deny worldliness and lust (Tit. 2:11-12), we are re-created in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:10), and sin has no more power over us (Rom. 6:14). We can do good works and, in fact, we are zealous for them (Tit. 2:13-14).

Because of that New Testament pattern, we must receive saving grace apart from works. If we are slaves to sin until grace comes, then grace has to come apart from our own righteous deeds. Once it comes, however, then we can do good works.

Jesus did not come to get us to heaven without good works. He came to get us to heaven by our good works.

That is why Paul told Titus to teach Titus 2:11-14 (see above) with all authority, not letting anyone give him a hard time (Tit. 2:15). He also told him to “affirm confidently” that God’s people must be “careful” to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8).

If you are still struggling with this idea, read Romans 7. Then, when you are done, go immediately into Romans 8, and in the first four verses, notice what the difference is between being under the Law of Moses and having Jesus died for us. Under the Law, we sin. After Jesus dies for us, we fulfill the righteousness of the Law. The rest of chapter 8 tells us how to fulfill the righteousness of the Law (by the Holy Spirit).

It has always been true that those who live eternally are those who live a righteous life. Wicked people die. People who were righteous, then become wicked, also die. People who were wicked, then repent and become righteous, live. God considers this justice, and he defends that manner of judgment as just (Ezek. 18:20-30).

Jesus did not die to change that manner of judgment. As we see above it is still the same. He died so that we could do good and live eternally because of that manner of judgment.

Jesus marveled that people did not get that. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46). In another place, he said, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

Going to Heaven

I hope this does not take away from anything I have written above, but I have to touch on this. The New Testament does not use the phrase “go to heaven.” It talks about inheriting the kingdom of God (in the Gospel of Matthew, “kingdom of heaven”). The kingdom of God is coming to earth (Rev. 20), where we are going to live forever on a renewed earth (2 Pet. 3) with no tears or suffering or death (Rev. 21:4).

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You Do Not Win Battles Without Battling

This blog was a Facebook post, and the FB post was supposed to be just the quote from Micah in the next paragraph. My mind and fingers raced forward almost on their own. I sure hope that was God moving me and that this is helpful.

How shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shill I give my firstborn for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O Man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8)

The context of the familiar verse Micah 6:8 is important. Sacrifices are great for the obedient, but sacrifices, even claiming the sacrifice of Jesus, does nothing for those who do not repent and do not seek to live a life that pleases him.

King David said it well when he wrote, “For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17).

Psalm 51 ends with David offering burnt offerings, but look at what he wrote:

“*THEN* you will delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, in burnt offerings and in whole burnt offerings. *THEN* they will offer bulls on your altar.” (Ps. 51:19)

Repentance is first, even in the New Testament. James does not say “trust in Jesus’ sacrifice” to those living in sin, but “lament and mourn and weep.” Paul described his ministry as going about preaching repentance and works fitting for repentance (Acts 26:20). To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22).

What we don’t understand in today’s church is that Jesus’ sacrifice was much more to free us from sin than to forgive us from sin. God promised to forgive the repentant throughout the Old Covenant. The Jews most common praise to him was “Praise ye the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.” Mercy is not new to the New Covenant; the Holy Spirit and deliverance from the power of sin is new to the New Covenant.

Sin will not have power over you because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)

This is the great gift of grace that Old Testament saints did not have! God consigned Jews and Gentiles alike under sin so that he could deliver us from sin. Romans 7 describes what the Law could not do. It could not deliver us from the power of sin. God, however, could do what the Law could not do. He did it by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:2-4).

If you are still a slave of sin, then you need to get together with your brothers or sisters and get help. All of us need exhortation/encouragement/consolation “day by day” if we are not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13).

Let’s step up the game, brothers and sisters! Let’s obtain repentance. Let’s cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1), as a team! We grow together, speak the truth in love to one another, and need each other (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12).

You don’t win battles without battling!!

“Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may get it! … I run, therefore, not with uncertainty. I do not fight like someone boxing the air, but I discipline my body, and I bring it into subjection, lest having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”–The apostle Paul

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Faith, Works, and the Early Church Fathers

A friend told me a couple times recently that the early church fathers disagreed among themselves a lot. I hope to get a chance to finish that conversation with him because that statement is just not true. They were far more united than we are!

A missionary and bishop (head pastor) in the late second century, wrote:

“The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.” (Irenaeus, _Against Heresies_, Bk. I, ch. 10, par. 2)

Note: you can look up all my quotes from the early church fathers at www.earlychristianwritings.com.

Other Christians of that time period would give the same testimony. In fact, Irenaeus, who wrote the quote I just gave, and Tertullian, a Christian lawyer from Carthage about the same time, both argued against heretics based on the amazing unity of the Church.

“The Church” they were talking about are the churches we read about in the Bible (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, etc.) and other churches those original churches started after the time of the apostles. The “heretics” were gnostics who denied that the God of Israel was the true God.

Why Modern Christians Say the Early Church Fathers Contradict Each Other

There are two reasons Christians say that the early church fathers contradict each other.

1. They are talking about arguments that arose in the fourth century and later, which were a product of growing corruption in the church. (Carnal men are argumentative men, Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Tim. 6:1-6.)

2. They don’t like what the early church fathers taught, so they hope the early church fathers disagree with each other.

3. They don’t understand the early church fathers because they don’t understand the Bible either.

Let me explain number 3.

Contradictions in Our Interpretation of the Bible

There are two verses in the Bible that seem to absolutely contradict. They are:

Romans 3:23: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.

James 2:24: You see then that by works a man is justified and not by faith only.

Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century Reformer, offered his doctor’s cap to anyone who could reconcile those two verses. His own reconciliation of those verses was that the Epistle of James was an “epistle of straw” that had “nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.

It is obvious from the book of Acts (e.g., ch. 15) and from Galatians 2 that James did understand the Gospel and that James and Paul agreed on it. It is obvious from history that the churches of all the apostles got along just fine. They saw no conflict between Paul and James. The problem lies with Martin Luther’s understanding, not with a conflict between James and Paul.

When I first began reading the fathers I was thrilled to find this seeming contradiction in the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians:

“In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that by grace ye are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.”

and …

“But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness …”

Polycarp’s Qualifications

Polycarp was the bishop (head pastor) of the church in Smyrna. Most historians think he was appointed by the apostle John. Smyrna was one of only two churches in Revelation chapters 2-3 that was not rebuked by Jesus. His credentials as a shepherd and teacher are as good as anyone’s who has ever lived outside of the apostles themselves.

I loved this seeming contradiction in Polycarp’s letter because it made it clear that Polycarp understood the conflict between Romans 3:28 and James 2:24. Polycarp’s “contradiction” is much like the “contradiction” between Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9 and Ephesians 5:5.

In modern times, we wrestle with James 2 so much that we dare not simply repeat what James said, “So we see then that we are justified by works and not faith only.” Most evangelical churches would silence us for saying such a thing, but it is a Bible quote!

That is a problem. A big one!

The Solution

Polycarp did not have that problem. He knew that we “have been” saved (past tense) by faith apart from works, but that if we want to be raised up with Jesus on the last day (future tense), then we better have used the power of our salvation to produce good works through our life. This lines up with what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10 and explains why he could write both that passage and Ephesians 5:5.

Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace have we been saved, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 5:5: For this you know, that no immoral, unclean, or covetous person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

If you want to delve more deeply into this subject, see my article at https://christian–history-org/sola-fide.html

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Toning Down 1 John: the Docetist Proto-Gnostics

I generally avoid big words on my blog, but “proto-gnostic” is necessary to this post; so is docetist.

1 John is one of the harshest letters in the New Testament. “The one that says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar'” (2:3-4). The word “liar” is in the Bible 12 times, and 5 of them are in 1 John.

This is important: 1 John 2:3-4 is true, and therefore it applies to Christians, BUT it is not written to Christians or about Christians. That is why it uses words like “liar.”

It is well-known that John wrote his first epistle to combat docetist proto-gnosticism in the church or churches he was writing to. “Docetist” means that adherents of this doctrine believe that our flesh could not be saved, so it did not matter what we did with it. “Gnosticism” means they believed their spirit could be saved through knowledge, and “proto” just means “first.” It was the beginning. Gnosticism had not yet grown into its fullness of lunacy.

Gnosticism was almost certainly started by Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24). After Peter rebuked him, he went off teaching that Christ was a spirit (literally, an “aeon”) that abode on Jesus, but was not Jesus. When Jesus failed by being put to death, the Christ aeon had to go to someone else. That someone else, of courses, was Simon.

There is a lot of early Christian testimony claiming Simon started gnosticism. I’ll have to write an article on that someday, but for now see Wikipedia.

The point of all this is that by the time John wrote 1 John, there were people who were deceiving Christians into believing that only their spirit needed to be saved. Because the flesh could not be saved, there was no point in keeping the flesh under control.

Horrified at these teachers, John calls them liars. No one who knows God ignores his commandments and does whatever he wants. Those who know God keep his commandments.

The same is true of the verses preceding, from 1 John 1:7-2:2. Apparently, these proto-gnostics were teaching that they did not sin. They could not sin because their spirit was saved and their body did not matter. John rails against this doctrine. Anyone who says they have no sin is deceived, and anyone who says they have never sinned makes God a liar (1 Jn. 1:8, 10).

Farther into the letter, John asks, “Who is a liar but the one who denies Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son.” Again, he is storming against the docetists. The Christ was not a Spirit that rested on Jesus. Jesus is the Christ.

I think you get the point. You can read the rest of 1 John and see his war against the docetists throughout.

The real point I want to make, though, is that John would not have stood in front of a congregation of Christians and told them, “You are not keeping the commandments well enough. You are a bunch of liars.”

1 John is not about keeping the commands of God well enough. It is about keeping the commands of God, period.

This is important. It is possible to read 1 John and be terrified in a way God has no intention of terrifying you. “I sinned once, I’m going to hell,” or “I snarled when I was verbally slapped on the cheek, I’m going to hell.” This is not what John is trying to communicate. He was trying to tell them, “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s okay to live however you want. It’s not. I know you sin and stumble (1 Jn. 1:8, 10), but keep loving your brother; keep helping one another; continue keeping the commands of Jesus.”

We do need to fear God. Fearing God is beginning of wisdom and knowledge. We must not be deceived into thinking God is a harsh taskmaster. His commandments are not grievous (1 Jn. 5:3). He has given us plenty of power to overcome in this world (1 Jn. 5:4), and plenty of mercy so that we can pick ourselves up when we fall (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2).

 

 

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The Origin of the Roman Catholic Church: A Brief History

Someone suggested the Roman Catholic Church began with the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 cherry-picked a quote to prove it. Here is a quick but much more accurate description of the origin of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Theodosian Code is a big collection of edicts that was made by Theodosius II in the 5th century. The specific quote you gave is from the Edict of Thessalonica in 380. Here’s the full text (from wikipedia:

It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict.

In the late fourth century, when this was written, the honor of the bishop of Rome was at a peak. Constantius II (Constantine’s son) had ravaged the eastern churches, replacing Nicene bishops with Arian ones as often as he could. Rome was the only apostolically founded church that was out of his reach because his brother Constans reigned in the west. As a result, Julius of Rome was the great champion of Eastern bishops that had been ousted by Constantius. That mess continued until Emperor Theodosius I cleaned it up between this edict and 383.

Also, by that time, it was believed by all bishops that the unity of the Church was based on Peter. Cyprian, in the 250s, had taught that there was just one episcopate (one office of bishop) shared by all bishops. This unity of the bishops was the unity of the churches, and they all had inherited this from Peter. Late in the 250s, a bishop name Stephen arose, who counted himself the sole heir of Peter’s authority. He excommunicated churches who disagreed with him, but every one opposed this action even if they agreed with him.

The point of telling you about Cyprian and Stephen is to give the origin of the idea that the bishop of Rome was the sole heir of Peter’s role as representing the unity of the Church. Really, Cyprian is the earliest known write to say that Peter was the foundation of the unity of the Church, but he was talking about all bishops, not just Rome. Then, 70 years later came the Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea. The council did not solve the controversy only because Constantius II became emperor in the East in 337 and took up the Arian cause. He unfortunately reigned for 24 years and really caused problems in the Eastern churches. He actually became sole emperor in 350, I think, and for a decade he caused problems in the West too. He even got Bishop Damasus of Rome to recant the Nicene Creed by imprisoning him.

Anyway, by the time this decree came out, it is no surprise that an emperor (or three emperors, in this case) would write that the faith was delivered to the Romans by Peter. It does not, however, mention only the bishop of Rome, but also Peter, bishop of Alexandria. It then gives a quick description of the Trinity in line with the Council of Nicea. Under Theodosius I, the Arian Controversy would be mostly put to rest. It was only a minor annoyance after that.

This is in no way the origin of the Roman Catholic Church. That is a development. For there to be a “Roman” Catholic Church there had to be a split between Rome and the rest of the “Catholic Church.” Nowadays, the rest of the Catholic Church is usually understood to be the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The split between them and Rome happened officially in 1056. That could be said to be the origin of the Roman Catholic Church as opposed to the the rest of the Catholic Churches.

We must remember that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches only represent the Roman Empire (and later, Russia). The churches in India have their own “Catholic Church,” as did the Persian Churches, now part of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. It’s all complicated and the divisions between the various Orthodox/Catholic Churches happened at various times, and some have reunited in the last few centuries.

Anyway, the origin of the Roman Catholic Church was not some moment.. It was a process of separation from all churches outside Europe and a growth of power in Rome that began in the fourth century and did not culminate until the eleventh.

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Which Church Will the Gates of Hades Not Prevail Against?

Despite the importance the early churches put on the Eucharist (communion) meal, I stand by the following argument, which I sent in answer to an email question about which church the gates of Hades will not prevail against:

I think “church” has nothing to do with organizations. I believe it is the family of God. I wrote an article on the purpose of church at https://www.rebuildingthefoundations.org/find-a-church.html. I think Jesus was saying that if we come together, speak the truth in love to one another, get to know one another, and provoke one another to love and good works, then the gates of Hades won’t stand a chance against us (Heb. 10:24-25; Eph. 4:11-16). If anyone reads a history of the Roman Catholic Church from 900 to about 1430, and still thinks it is remotely possible that the Roman Catholic Church was the one true church carrying the authority of Jesus and Peter, then I would consider that person irrational.

It is true that most Protestant churches are not living out Hebrews 10:24-25; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12:12; etc. My encouragement to everyone is to find people you can live those things out with, even if just a few. It does not matter what branch of Christianity they are from. I would say that the Lord’s Supper is really important, but not as important as the passages I just mentioned. One day you will be judged, standing alone, not as a church, by your works. Thus, I encourage you to surrender to Jesus, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and get the empowering fellowship the Bible talks about. “Pursue faith, love, peace, and righteousness along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). In today’s messed-up age, you will have to find individuals to do that with, whether you are Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic.

May God grant you understanding of these things and a concern for the day when Jesus will tell you whether you fed him when he was hungry or whether you did not and reward you with eternal life or everlasting fire (Matt. 25:31-46). As far as I can tell, on that day, no one at all will care whether you were Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox. Instead, we will all care whether we practiced true and undefiled religion by helping widows and orphans and remaining unspotted by the world (Jam. 1:26-27).

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Quick History of the Roman Catholic Church

Someone asked me how the Roman Catholic Church “took over” from  the early apostolic church. The following response gives you a brief (and, I think, very interesting) history of the rise of the Roman papacy.

As for when the Roman Catholic Church “took over,” that is not really the right wording. The original church in Rome that was founded even before Peter and Paul, but which Peter and Paul heavily influenced, grew and was a great, truth-filled, godly church throughout the second century. As all the apostolic churches grew bigger, their bishops became more and more important, especially in Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Alexandria and Antioch became influential primarily because of their particular leadership and teaching, but Rome because it was the capitol of the empire, the strong interaction with other churches helped preserve solid teaching in it,  and it was a wealthy church that was very generous.

In the fourth century, controversy and the intervention of the emperors meant that a lot of bishops were installed by an emperor. Also, once Christianity was the official religion of the empire, the position of bishop became very powerful and attracted ambitious men. They weren’t all ambitious, but many were. Another problem was that the churches were no longer filled with only or mostly true Christians. They were filled with people for whom Christianity was merely the state religion. It could only go downhill from there.

It did not take long for there to be competition among the more important bishops for who was the greatest. Once Constantine was dedicated in 337, its bishop wanted to be the most important bishop, rather than the Roman bishop. From then on, there was a lot of conflict between the Roman bishop and the one in Constantinople. After the barbarians finished conquering the Western part of the Roman Empire, they looked to the only apostolic bishop in Europe, the bishop of Rome. Both his religious power and his secular influence over Europe grew stronger and stronger. In the tenth century (the 900s), though, barons and powerful families were in control of Rome and whichever one was in power put a bishop in Rome. It was pretty awful, and it was the start of several really awful centuries.

(You can read about Rome’s problems from 1294 to the 1420s at Christian-history.org, and I put a thorough history of the tenth century in my soon to be released book, Rome’s Audacious Claim. You can get a dose of why the tenth-century papacy was so bad by searching “Rome’s senatrix” or “Pope John XII.” A search for the “tusculum papacy” will give you a picture of the next century.)

The result of all this was a split between Europe and the Roman Empire, which was still being run by Roman emperors in Constantinople. (We call in the Byzantine Empire looking back, but it was still known as the Roman Empire for centuries after Rome was no longer part of it.)

After that split, in 1054, it is proper to call the church in Rome and their followers in Europe the “Roman Catholic Church.” So the Roman Catholic Church did not “take over,” but it developed from the original apostolic church of Rome.

If you enjoyed this, I did a longer Youtube videos called “The Authority of the Apostles and the Rise of the Papacy.”

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Becoming a Christian

This is the Bible study on becoming a Christian that I sent to my (very small) mailing list at RebuildingTheFoundations.com. I think it is worth posting here as well.

Becoming a Christian

In previous Bible studies, we have talked about the Gospel (the “Good News”) that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. I have allowed several weeks to pass since the last Bible study, so it might be good to read Psalm 2 again. It will remind you who Jesus was, and why it is important to know that he is “the Christ” or “the Anointed.”

In the last two Bible studies, we talked about “foundations.” Matthew 7:24-27 taught us that hearing and obeying Jesus is the key to standing on the foundation. 2 Timothy 2:19 taught us that everyone who calls Jesus Lord should “depart from unrighteousness.”

If you are a human, then you know that it can be hard for us to do what is right. Saying that we should obey Jesus is one thing, but doing the things Jesus taught (e.g., Matthew, chapters 5-7) is quite another thing.

The New Birth

We will begin this study with John 3:1-8.

Take the time to read the passage now. If you do not have a Bible at hand, go to a search engine and type in “John 3 1-8” and click on the BibleGateway.com link. There you can read the passage in just about any version you want.

“Born again” from John 3:1-8 is a mystery to anyone who has not experienced being born again. Trying to explain being born again is almost impossible. The new birth is not a teaching, it is an experience.

It is not impossible, however, to tell a person how to be born again.

Becoming born again is a promise to all who believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God as described in Psalm 2. Those who believe this will, of course, commit themselves to obeying him because they do not want him to “be angry, and you perish” (Psalm 2:12).

As I wrote earlier, mere humans have a lot of trouble obeying Jesus’s teachings, which are best summed up in Matthew 5-7, which we call “the Sermon on the Mount.” That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again” in John 3:3.

Old Wineskins and New Wine

Let’s look at one passage to help explain the need. Look up Matthew 9:14-17. You can do that at any search engine as explained earlier.

In that passage, John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples ask Jesus why his disciples don’t fast. He explains first that fasting is for later, after he is gone. Then he tells a little parable about wineskins.

In Jesus’s day, a wineskin was made of leather. When it got old, it was stiff. If you put new wine in an old wineskin, the wine would continue to ferment, put off gases, and explode . A fresh wineskin, though, one that has oil rubbed into to it to restore it, can stretch to handle the new wine.

In the same way, Jesus’s new teachings are too much for a person who is not made new. The oil used to refresh a wineskin represents the Holy Spirit. When Jesus puts the Holy Spirit in a person, they are changed. They are changed so much that Jesus called it a new birth (“born again”).

How to Be Born Again

The apostle Peter explained this very well the first time the Gospel was preached. The story is in Acts 2. It is well worth reading chapters 1 and 2 for the whole amazing story of the birth of the Church, but I will summarize it for you.

When the Holy Spirit first came to the Jesus’s apostles after his resurrection, there was an uproar. First, there was a sound of a strong wind that everyone in crowded Jerusalem could hear. Then, flames appeared in the upper room where the apostles were praying. One flame settled on the head of each apostle (and some companions), and they all burst out in languages they did not know.

The people who had followed the sound of the wind were puzzled at these Galileans, who would have been “hillbillies” to the more refined Jews in Jerusalem. How could they speak the praises of God in all these languages?

Peter stood up and explained that the Holy Spirit had come, which had been prophesied by the Jewish prophet Joel. Then he explained that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and he used other prophecies to convince the Jews that the Messiah was supposed to die and rise from the dead. He explained that the miracles happening that day were proof that Jesus rose from the dead and that the Holy Spirit had come.

Then he came to his grand conclusion, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made this same Jesus, the one you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Messiah)” (Acts 2:36).

There were some who believed him, and he told them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus the Christ, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit, for the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all those who are far off.”

This is the way to be born again. This is the way to receive the Holy Spirit.

“Repent” in its simplest form means to change your mind. In this case, it is to stop living for yourself and instead acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Christ. As the apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters, “[Jesus] died for all, so that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For those who have believed and therefore repented, the act of commitment to that decision is to be baptized. Baptism represents being buried, then rising to a new life as a child of God. It is the new birth, rising out of the water into your new life of following Jesus.

That transformation is what provides the power to do the things Jesus commands. There is no hope of obeying him without the new birth. That is why Jesus said, “You must be born again.”

In future Bible studies, we will learn about the things that the Jewish prophets, Jesus, and Jesus’s apostles taught. All of those Bible studies will accomplish nothing, though, if they do not bring you to belief, repentance, and the new birth. These things are mandatory if we are to drink the new wine of Jesus’ teachings and be able to live them out.

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