In the Acts of the Apostles we hear about the early Church. Yet there are many people today that say that the early Church fell away. Why do they say that?
They say it because they need to justify why their church exists but its historical record is a bit short. Let’s say there is a guy, for example, Joe Smith, who in the 1800’s wants to start a church. He has some problems. Namely, that he is starting his church 1800 years after Jesus supposedly started one. How does he justify starting one so late in time? What reason does he have to start a church that doesn’t historically trace itself back to Christ?
At this point, Joe Smith has some options. Ultimately, he has to deal with one church in particular, that is the Catholic Church. Historically, the Catholic Church is the only one that can trace itself back to Christ and the Apostles.
So what does Joe Smith do? He says that the early church of Acts of the Apostles was persecuted into oblivion and that it stopped existing until he, Joe Smith, restored it. The Catholic Church was the by-product and remains of this true church that was persecuted so long ago. This is the restoration argument. OR he could say that it never stopped existing and that his church can trace itself back through time, but it exists in different times and places under differing names like the Donatists, the Albagensians, and so forth. He is just bringing the church out in the open in his day of the 1800’s. The reason why we haven’t heard of it so much through history is that the Catholic Church was always persecuting it, but finally it can come in the open again. This is the “we always existed in secret” argument. OR he could ignore the Catholic Church altogether and say I am just trying to start a church like they did in Acts of the Apostles. This is the “I am just trying to start my own church and who cares about history” argument. Finally, the most popular of Joe Smith’s arguments is that the early church was the church Jesus started but it fell into error and now we need to fix it. I know thousands of men have come before me and tried to fix it and they did an ok job but now I, yes I, know how to really fix it.
I think the Bible is the best argument against all of these arguments, both the Bible itself and its content.
It is another historical fact that the Bible was put together by Bishops of the Catholic Church. We know they were Catholics because they called themselves Catholic and interpreted scripture exactly like we do today. So however Joe Smith starts his church he is always doing it with the Bible that the Catholic Church put together.
But let’s look at his 4 main arguments for starting a church.
#1 The early church disappeared and now it is getting restored.
- Let’s just think about this for a minute. God creates the world and it falls into sin, so He begins a 4000 year program to set up the world for His Son to become incarnate to die and rise for us, but after 4000 years of set up it all gets destroyed 100 years after it got started? That makes zero sense.
- The Bible clearly says that the Church is being built by God. Listen to the Gamaliel who is a Jew who says(Acts 5) that the Jews should stop persecuting Christians …for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"
- So according to the Jewish councilman’s argument, if Christianity is from God we will not be able to stop it.
- Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
- Jesus, who is God, would certainly know if the early church was going to survive, if it was going to disappear in a few decades why send them out to all nations knowing that this would be an impossible task? Besides, He says that He will be with them always even till the end of the world. That sounds like it is going to last.
What about Joe Smith’s second “we always existed in secret” argument.
This doesn’t hold up at all because if you study what those groups throughout history believed you find that they disagree fundamentally with what Joe Smith is trying to teach. I have seen a great number of groups point back to the Donatists and claim that they were reformer type people but when you read about what they taught you see that they were super strict Catholics that said if you ever fell away from the faith you could never come back. Joe Smith would disagree with this.
His third argument for starting a new church is that he doesn’t care about history, he just wants to follow the Bible. Again, if we look in scripture we see a model of continuity.
This is what we mean when we say that the Church is Apostolic. It means that we can be traced back to the Apostles. In Acts 1 we see Judas being replaced by Matthias. Listen to what St. Paul says to Timothy. 2 Timothy 2:2 “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
- That is four generations right there – “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
- The faith is to be passed on from one person to another. This is how they did it all through the Old Testament through the Apostles even up to our day.
Finally, the fourth and most popular argument of, “the Church’s teachings need fixing and my church will fix them.” This again falls under the weight of scripture.
#1 Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16 – I will build MY church. It is Jesus’ Church. I think He knows how to build.
#2 Jesus told this to the Apostles who held offices that Jesus established:
Luke 10:16 "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
- To hear Christ’s representatives and to reject them is rejecting Christ Himself, and Christ doesn’t err. Therefore, the Church’s teachings will never wonder into error.