THE GREAT APOSTASY, OR THE FALLING AWAY.
Its Prediction—Fulfillment—The Sealing of the Covenant—The Test of Doctrine.
We have seen in past papers that Jesus and the apostles did not change the Sabbath; that the early Christians, whether converted from the Jews or the Gentiles, observed the creation Sabbath, and understood that it spoke, too, of redeeming power. The observance of the first day among Christians in the first century was an unknown thing. To those Christians, as to the Jews for centuries past, it was the heathen sun festival, a monument to the world’s departure from the worship the true God, the Creator, a day to be used by them only as an ordinary working day.
Now we wish to inquire what change could have come over the church to cause it to bring the pagan sun festival into the place of the Sabbath of the Lord. Of this change Peter speaks prophetically when he says, “But there were false prophets also among the people, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies.”—2 Peter 2:1.
To the elders of the church at Ephesus Paul eloquently said:
“Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears.”—Acts 20:26-31.
His charge to Timothy manifests the same anxiety born of prophetic insight into the future:
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”—2 Timothy 4:1-4.
To the church at Thessalonica, where the idea had obtained that the great day of the Lord was immediately to appear, Paul said:
“Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. . . . For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.”—Thessalonians 2:3-8.
Nothing could be plainer or more explicit than these predictions. The simple beauty of early Christianity is to be corrupted; lies are to take the place of truth, calling themselves Christian doctrine. The spirit of self-exaltation is to take the place of the spirit of Christian humility, till in the temple, the church of Christ, one shall sit who shall oppose his will to God’s will, and demand obedience to himself instead, thus exalting himself above God, and professing to show himself as God.
Now we are to turn to history to learn If these sad predictions were really fulfilled. Mr. Dowling, in his History of Romanism, bears the following testimony:—
“There is scarcely anything which strikes the mind of the careful student of ecclesiastical history with more surprise than the comparatively early period at which many of the corruptions of Christianity which are embodied in the Romish system their rise.”—Book 2, chapter 1, section 1.
Writing of the second century, the historian Mosheim says:—
“Among the Greeks and people of the East nothing was more sacred than what was called the mysteries. This circumstance led the Christians, in order to impart dignity to their religion, to say that they also had similar mysteries, and they not only applied the terms used in the pagan mysteries to the Christian institutions, but they gradually introduced also the rite which were designated by those terms. A large part, therefore of the Christian observances and institutions even in this century had the aspect of pagan mysteries.”—Century 2, part 2, chapter 4, par. 5.
It was of these mysteries Paul spoke when he said, “It is a shame even to speak of the things that are done of them in secret.” But this fact did not deter those progressive (?) Christians who were seeking to impart dignity to that which is of itself the most gloriously dignified thing in the universe, from adopting these mystic rites. It was in this century that the Neo Platonic school of philosophy was formed, in Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria was then the center of Christian (?) culture and education.
These New Platonists openly taught and practiced the combination of all forms of paganism with Christianity. This was called a broad philosophy; and Mosheim informs us that it soon took the place of almost all other forms of philosophy, and that it rapidly spread over the whole Christian world. It was the direct disregard of the divine warning:
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments the world, and after Christ. For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him.”—Col. 2:8-10.
“The true doctrine justification by faith, and the true practical use of a crucified Saviour for a troubled conscience, were to be seen at this time. … The simplicity of the Gospel was corrupted; pompous rites and ceremonies were introduced.”—McClintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia.
Of this “falling away” of Christianity the historian Buckle speaks thus:—
“The superstitions of [pagan] Europe, instead of being diminished, were only turned into a fresh channel. The new religion [Christianity] was corrupted by the old follies. The adoration of idols was succeeded by the adoration of saints; the worship of the virgin was substituted for the worship Cybele; pagan ceremonies were established in Christian churches; not only the mummeries of idolatry but its doctrines were quickly added, and were incorporated and worked into the spirit of the new religion, until, after the lapse of a few generations, Christianity exhibited so grotesque and hideous a form, that its best features were lost, and the lineaments of its early loveliness altogether destroyed. After some centuries were passed, Christianity slowly emerged from these corruptions, many of which, however, even the most civilized countries have not yet been able to throw off.”—Buckle’s History of Civilization, vol I, page 188.
What a wonderful picture is all this of the fulfillment of the prophetic predictions with which this article begins! The writer hopes that each reader will ask himself in passing, What are the pagan doctrines and practices brought in by this apostasy, which “even the most civilized countries have not yet been able to throw off”? Perhaps the next quotation may help him to decide. Draper well says:
“There is solemnity in the truthful accusation which Faustus makes to Augustine: ‘You have substituted your agapæ for the sacrifices of the pagans; for their idols, your martyrs, whom you serve with the very same honors. You appease the shades of the dead with wine and feasts; you celebrate the solemn festivals the Gentiles, their calends and their solstices; and as to their manners, those you have retained without any alteration. Nothing distinguishes you from the pagans except that you hold your assemblies apart from them.’”—Draper’s Intellectual Development of Europe, vol.I, page 310.
The most ancient and one of the most solemn festivals of the Gentiles was the weekly sun festival, or Sunday. This to the week was what the calends and solstices were to the year. All were connected with the worship of the sun. The plain statement of this accusation is that the Christians had adopted all these, and Augustine could not reply. The ancient church father was dumb before his pagan accuser. Why did he not repudiate the charge?—Because even then the Christians had begun to show honor to Sunday and Easter and Christmas, which were precisely the festivals and calends and solstices to which Faustus referred.
Of the incoming tide of paganism which corrupted the church the Italian historian Gavazzi speaks thus:—
“A pagan flood flowing into the church carried with it its customs, practises, and idols.”—Gavazzi’s Lectures, page 290.
Professor Gilbert Murray, wrote about these practices of Mithraism:
“Now, since Mithras was ‘The Sun, the Unconquered,’ and the Sun was ‘The royal Star,’ the religion looked for a King whom it could serve as the representative of Mithras upon earth:…The Roman Emperor seemed to be clearly indicated as the true King. In sharp contrast to Christianity, Mithraism recognized Caesar as the bearer of the divine Grace, and its votaries filled the legions and the civil service….
“It had so much acceptance that it was able to impose on the Christian world its own Sun-Day in place of the Sabbath, its Sun’s birthday, twenty-fifth December, as the birthday of Jesus.”—History of Christianity in the Light of Modern Knowledge, Chapter III; cited in Religion and Philosophy, pp. 73, 74, New York: 1929.
It was this pagan flood, and not the pentecostal shower of the Spirit, which swept Sunday observance into the Christian church. This is evident from the source from which it came–it is the sun festival of all paganism, the “wild solar holiday of all pagan times,” the mark of apostasy from the worship of the Creator to the worship of the created. It is also evident from the time when the change was made. The New Testament pentecostal record is silent of any such change of the Sabbath. The church, when it went into this apostasy, was keeping the ancient Sabbath which Christ had created. That same church was not showing any religious honor to Sunday. The apostasy and not Christianity wrought this change, and the most enlightened nations have not yet thrown it off.
The character of this apostasy, and the fact that it began so early in the Christian era, make forcible the words of Mr. Dowling:—
“The Bible. I say, the Bible , is the religion of Protestants. Nor is it of any account in the estimation of a genuine Protestant how early a doctrine originated, if it is not found in the Bible. . . . He who receives a single doctrine from the mere authority of tradition . . . by so doing steps down from the Protestant rock, passes over the line which separates Protestantism from popery, and can give no reason why he should not receive all the earlier doctrines and ceremonies of Romanism”.—History of Romanism, book 2, chapter 1.
The Sealed Covenant
As to the observance of Sunday by Christians the Bible is silent, but it did foretell this apostasy which we have seen brought it in. But the Lord, foreknowing that this apostasy would come, and that, as Paul said, this mystery of iniquity was already working, not only foretold it, but gave a test by which to exclude all its doctrines and practices that might seek to claim honors from Christians.
Christ was in the world to confirm the new, the everlasting covenant. Dan. 9:27. Of this covenant, or testament (for the words are the same in the original text), Paul speaks:
“For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead; otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.”—Heb.9:16-18.
It is plainly taught here that the everlasting covenant was sealed, or confirmed, by the blood of Christ. It is true that in Christian experience the confirmation of that covenant is an individual thing, wrought personally for each soul, when he receives Christ’s given life for himself, and Jesus becomes thus to him a personal Savior. But what is wrought for the individual experience, when each soul receives Christ’s death by faith, was wrought for the world when Christ died on Calvary. The covenant was then confirmed, and Paul says,
“Tho it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.”—Gal. 3:15.
This test was given to cut off and disown all the bastard children of the apostasy which God knew was to come. Any practice which has the right to be called Christian has that right because it was taught by the Lord during His life, and sealed into the covenant by His death. For this reason He taught baptism while He lived; and for this same reason, on the last night before His betrayal and arrest, He instituted the ordinances of His church. At Christ’s death the sacrifices which had revealed the Gospel and prefigured this tragedy on Calvary, gave place to this larger sacrifice, which was to better teach what they had taught. But that change was final.
There was to be no other transition period, no other passing from the old to the new in the Christian church. All the changes were made beforehand and sealed by His blood. Sunday observance can not stand this test. It came, as we shall show later, several hundred years too late. But even had it originated as early as those who observe it claim, had the Christians observed it for the first time on the night after the resurrection, it would still have been three days too late to be anything but a forgery on the covenant.
The last book of the Bible is utterly silent of any Christian observance of the first day of the week, and that book closes with this solemn warning:
“I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”