Did Christianity Fall Out of Heaven into America?
Much of American Christianity is totally disconnected from its roots in a very similar way that many Americans are ignorant of their roots. It seems that Americans in general are illiterate of history. In politics, it means that Americans can easily be moved away from their founding principles without even knowing it. In American Christianity, the same thing is true. Because of their ignorance of church history, American Christians have and are moving away from the historical faith very easily. Many of them think that their faith originated with Jesus and was just transferred to America. In this, they jump over 2000 years of history, which has shaped their faith. Now hear the shocker. Many of their beliefs did originate in America and reflect its values more than the values of Jesus and His apostles. There are a number of American religions that would find it hard to trace many of their beliefs or practices to the church in Jerusalem. However, how would you know this if you know nothing about church history?
The church that Jesus built did not have its beginning in America. Its beginnings were in Jerusalem where its leader laid the foundation by appointing twelve men to take His faith to the world. These men were called apostles and took the words of their Master to the world. They planted churches everywhere and taught them everything Jesus told them to teach His disciples.[i] The apostles of Jesus gave the early church the whole counsel of God.[ii] In this, the apostles were aided by the Holy Spirit who helped them to remember the teachings of Jesus.[iii]
Through this process of revelation, the Christian faith was delivered to the first-century church in its completeness. It was delivered once and for all to the church.[iv] The apostle Peter told the first-century church that they had everything they needed to know for life and godliness.[v] The apostle Paul said he preached the whole counsel of God to the church.
We can gather from this that anything that is taught which is newer than the New Testament Scriptures could not possibly be a part of the faith which was once for all delivered to the church by Jesus and His apostles. This should raise questions about any teaching that is newer than the New Testament teachings. If it did not come from Jesus or the apostles, where did it originate? The obvious answer is that it had to come from some other source. It was predicted by the apostle Paul that men would arise in the church and lead gullible and ignorant disciples away from the true teachings of the apostles, for the purpose of making themselves important in the eyes of men.[vi] Moreover, he talks of a time when a large number of Christians would gather around these false teachers. These false teachers would be men who would preach what people wanted to hear to make them feel good, and their preaching would amount to nothing but myths.[vii]
Much of Western religion can trace its roots back to men other than Jesus Christ and His apostles. Even the Roman Church is an assortment of innovators, e.g., Augustine. At best, you could say that Catholicism was made up of three roots, which grew up together to form one institution, those three roots being Judaism, paganism, and Christianity. It takes a keen mind and a discerning spirit to be able to filter out of the Roman system that which is truly Christian. Of course, Catholicism is one of the systems that justifies itself by claiming that it is Christianity perfected. Its main justification for this progressive belief is its doctrine of the infallibility of the church and a continuous revelation that perfects it. The same doctrine is used by a number of Protestant groups to justify their innovations to the faith. Of course, if you know the Bible and early church history there is no authority for the doctrine of the perfecting of the church or for its infallibility.
Now the question arises, does modern Christianity have to model the church we read about in the Bible? Some might raise the question as to whether or not there is a model of the church in the Scripture. My reply to this question is that it depends on your concept of the church. If you think of the church as an institution, the answer is no. However, if you think of the church as a living organism, the answer is yes. The church in the Bible is like a family that is alive to each of its members and is especially alive to its Head, who is Jesus Christ. It looks to its Head in all things and from its Head to receive all things. Its purpose is to glorify God through its Head, Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Spirit, it points all men to Christ and only to Christ. There is no room in the church for men who are trying to make themselves central by exalting themselves or their teaching. The chief characteristic of the church in Scripture is that it is Christ-centered. And close behind that is its members love for one another.
You enter this family like you enter your physical family by being born into it. You are born into it by a new birth, which is made up of two elements: one of the outward signs of baptism in water and the other the receiving of the Spirit of Christ.[viii] Baptism is an immersion into Christ and identification with Christ and His death and resurrection.[ix] One of the unique things about this family is that it gathers weekly to celebrate the great feast, which will take place when its resurrected Lord returns from heaven. The feast proclaims His death, resurrection, and His second coming. All true believers love to be there for this feast because Jesus promises to meet them when they come together to celebrate the supper. The tradition of coming together on the first day of the week goes all the way back to the apostles[x] and is confirmed by the early Christian fathers.[xi] The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two of the fundamental marks of the New Testament church.
Like any family, there are family characteristics that all of its members share. In the family of Christ these are very plain. Each member of His family looks a lot like Jesus. Now, I am not talking about physical appearance, but the character of a person. One other rule of the family is the older you are in the faith, the more you should look like Christ. Still another rule of the family is that it is committed to knowing the apostles’ doctrine, which is the doctrine of Christ.[xii]
I have been told that every essay should end with a call to action. Well, my call to action is for Christians to learn more about their historical roots. The church has 2000 years of history. That history starts in the New Testament and continues up to the present day. It is filled with glorious, exciting things along with many shameful things that have been done by those claiming to be Christians. However, history is history, and we are to study and learn from it. It has been said that the one thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. Now, there may be some truth in that for many. However, I believe that the wise do learn from history and that history can make one wise.
For those interested in a further study of the New Testament Church, start with the New Testament book of Acts which is a short history of the first-century church. Then find a short history of the church on Amazon. If you are interested in checking a particular doctrine as to whether or not it was taught by the early church (100 A.D.-300 A.D.) you can read the early Christian fathers. However, reading all of the source documents of the early fathers is a horrendous job that few are up to. I would recommend that you try some abbreviated versions, which trace various doctrines that have been taught in the history of the church. There is David W. Bercot, Dictionary of Early Christian Belief that references 700 topics discussed by the early church fathers. Another is Early Christians Speak by Everett Ferguson. For those looking for a scholarly and in-depth study I would suggest, The Church by Hans Kung. Kung is a Catholic theologian, which makes his book most impressive, since he sticks extremely close to what the New Testament teaches about the church in spite of the fact that it contradicts his own church.
Enjoy your study. LD
[i] Matt 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
[ii] Acts 20:27-28
For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. NKJV
[iii] John 16:12-15
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” NIV
[iv] Jude 3
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. NIV
[v] 2 Peter 1:3
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. NIV
[vi] Acts 20:29-31
29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
[vii] 2 Tim 4:3-4
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.NIV
[viii] John 3:3-5
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” NIV
[ix] Rom 6:1-4
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. NIV
[x] Acts 20:7-8
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. NIV
[xi] The reference in the early Fathers to Christian coming together on Sunday or what they called the eighth day are so numerous that I do not have room to quote them. You can find them in the book, Early Christians Speak by Everett Ferguson.
[xii] Acts 2:42-43
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.