The Faithful Few
By Cindy Short
Adam to Noah
Ever since Adam and Eve listened to Satan twist God's words in the Garden of Eden, mankind has continually been prone to the same error -- substituting human reason for God's eternal Word.
Human nature contains many characteristics that motivate such departures from the truth, among them pride, selfishness, greed, rebellion, and lust for power. At every point in the history of God's dealings with man, there have been many who led or followed others down the path of error, while a few (sometimes a very few) remained faithful to Him and His Word.
Adam's first sons reflect both the differences and the relationships between these two groups of people. Abel served God with a sincere heart and his sacrificial offering was accepted. Cain's offering was not accepted, perhaps because he tried to substitute the fruit of his own labor for the shedding of blood, without which "there is no remission" for sins (Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11). His insincere heart was revealed by his reaction of anger and hatred toward his godly brother. The first murder set the pattern, echoed down the centuries, for the persecution of the faithful by those whose religion mixes truth and error.
Enoch (in the 7th through 10th centuries after Creation) was a man who walked with God in such a pleasing way that God removed him from this sinful earth hundreds of years before his natural life would have ended.
Sixty-nine years later Noah was born. He was the only man of his day who would "find grace in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8). He alone was "a just man" who "walked with God" in a world that was "corrupt . . . and filled with violence" (Gen. 6:9, 11).
After sixteen and a half centuries, men had become so evil that God was ready to destroy the world and start over again with the one who was faithful.
Babel to the Patriarchs
Of course, human nature quickly reasserted itself. The tower of Babel epitomized man's pride, independence, and lack of faith in God. Again, He had to intervene, scattering and separating the people to dilute their combined efforts toward supremacy apart from Him.
Two years after Noah died and 352 years after the Flood, Abraham was born. He would be called by God to leave his home and travel to a new land where God would make him the father of not only His chosen people, the Jews, but also of all who are Christ's through a faith like his which "was accounted to him for righteousness" (Galatians 3:6-7, 29).
Israel and Judah
Down the centuries of Israel's history we see repeated over and over again the sad picture of a people who honored Him with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him, who worshiped Him in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Isaiah 29:13; Matt. 15:8-9).
Certain individuals stand out as examples of faithfulness during this time; God used them to lead His people. There were Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Samuel, and the prophets, among others.
At one point Elijah thought that he was the only one left of all his people who still served God in truth. But God answered him, "I have reserved to myself 7,000 men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal" (I Kings 19; Rom. 11:2-4).
Where were these 7,000 that Elijah didn't even know existed? We do not know, but we can see the same pattern in Christian history. There have always been some who would not compromise with error. They are little known today and would have faded out of history entirely were it not for the record of the extreme persecution they suffered. It is estimated that 50 million Christians were martyred in the centuries from Christ until the Reformation.
Jesus and the Apostles
Jesus taught his disciples carefully for three years; still they did not understand His mission until after He died. He taught them yet more in the 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension into heaven. But it was not until His Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to write the books of the New Testament that the revelation of His Truth was completed.
The Gospels establish the historical facts of Christ's birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, and record His teachings in His own words. Acts narrates the ministry of the apostles and the establishment of the first churches.
In the Epistles we have been given a solid foundation for the doctrines of the faith along with extensive discussion of some errors that were already creeping into the churches in the first century.
Also included are many warnings and exhortations to hold fast the true doctrines and avoid the inevitable false teachers.
The Early Church: Truth and Error
The book of Revelation contains letters to seven of the early churches, detailing both their virtues and their failings. The same virtues and failings have characterized churches ever since. True faithfulness in both doctrine and practice, love and obedience has always been, as it was then, exceptional.
As Jesus said, "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7:13-15).
The major errors made by professed Christians over the centuries have to do with the the nature of Jesus Christ, salvation, God's Word, and the church. As each heresy was introduced, there were some who accepted it and others who rejected it.
Very early in the first years after Christ, some said He was God, but not man; or man, but not God. Some confused the way of salvation by adding other requirements such as baptism, sacraments, or good works to simple, sincere faith in Christ's finished work. Some decided that God's Word was not His final authoritative revelation to man and began to accept the teachings of a church or a man as of equal value. The church itself became a hierarchy of human authority rather than a fellowship between equal members of Christ's body.
The Faithful vs. the Powerful
When Constantine called councils of "all" Christian churches beginning in 313 A.D., not all came. Some wanted nothing to do with a state-sponsored ecumenical church. They rejected the hierarchical system of the Catholic (universal) church which claimed authority to change, add, or subtract the teachings of Scripture.
The marriage of church and state that began with these councils created a religious monopoly that led to internal corruption, doctrinal error, insincere members, and the persecution of all outsiders. These were the inevitable results of departing from God's plan for His Body, the Church (individual believers responsible directly to Christ, their Head; freely fellowshipping with other members in independent gatherings; and overseen by servant-leaders recognized for their godly lives and scriptural teaching).
One of the most serious errors of the Roman church (and many other churches since) was the belief that baptism could save. This error was followed by the practice of baptizing infants to ensure their salvation. Those outside the church who retained a scriptural view of baptism (a voluntary act of a believer symbolizing the regeneration he had already experienced) naturally put no value on infant baptism and rebaptized any who joined them. Thus they became known as anabaptists (rebaptizers) even before the Roman church was known as Catholic.
In 416 infant baptism became compulsory and Catholic churches filled with unbelievers who had been baptized as infants but never understood the gospel. Anabaptists, who included many smaller groups with other names (see below), were outlaws, forced to live wherever and however they could amidst constant persecution. Thus began the Dark Ages.
Starting in the 400s, the Pope (father), bishop of Rome, began to assume authority not only over all the churches, but even over God's Word, his declarations eventually being esteemed of equal value. At the same time, the emperors called ecumenical councils which were attended by hundreds of bishops.
At the 4th council in 451, worship of Mary and prayer to her as a mediator between Christ and man was established over the objections of some and in conflict with the Scripture which clearly states, "There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5).
At the 7th council in 787, the worship which should have belonged only to God was extended not only to Mary but to individuals declared by the Church to be "saints" and even to their images, in direct disobedience to the commands of Scripture (Exodus 20:4-5; Luke 4:8).
By the council of 869, communion was established as a way of salvation.
Other errors included the exclusion of non-Catholics from salvation, the belief in purgatory as a place of further cleansing between heaven and hell, and the sale of indulgences -- heavenly "credit" that helped to cancel out sins. These indulgences could even be purchased before the planned sin was actually committed!
All throughout the years when the Catholic church plunged ever deeper into heresy and apostasy, there was always a faithful remnant who never "bowed the knee to Baal." Pockets of the faithful existed in many places, doing their best to maintain the truth of Scripture. Often they had only portions of the written Bible, and these were often confiscated and destroyed by those who persecuted them.
In 1123 the Pope of the western or Latin branch of the Catholic Church called a council at which the celibate priesthood was established, an error about which Paul had warned Timothy (I Tim. 4:3).
Succeeding councils in 1139, 1179, and 1215 condemned various groups of independent churches and established the Inquisition for "the extirpation of heresy." Also in 1215, two more errors were introduced -- the doctrine of transubstantiation (belief that the bread and wine of communion became the actual, physical body and blood of Christ), and the practice of auricular confession (the requirement of sinners to confess their sins "into the ear" of a human priest).
All these errors culminated in 1229 when the Scriptures were officially denied to all but the Catholic clergy.
Protests from Within
During the 12th century, thinking individuals within the Catholic church began to protest its corruption, immorality, and heresy.
Eventually, there would be a great movement for reform; it would be known as the Protestant Reformation and would give rise to new churches -- the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, and the Anglicans. However, these new churches would retain some of their mother church's errors in the areas of church government and baptism. They still clung to the church/state alliance which originally forced the faithful underground. And they perpetuated the unscriptural practice of persecuting and killing those in other churches.
The Persecuted Turn Persecutors
In 1555 the Peace of Augsburg established the Lutheran church as a legal alternative to the Roman Catholic church and the two agreed not to persecute each other. In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia added the Presbyterians to a similar agreement. But in spite of their mutual tolerance, these three churches (as well as the Church of England) horribly persecuted all other churches, particularly the independents/anabaptists who had never been part of any established state church.
Even in America, the refuge of the persecuted, each colony established its own church (e.g., the Congregationalist Puritans in Massachusetts Bay and the Episcopalians in Virginia). Baptists and others who did not conform to the state church were arrested, imprisoned, fined, whipped, banished, and their property confiscated.
Only in Rhode Island was true freedom of worship allowed, and it was not until the First Constitutional Amendment was passed in 1791 that this liberty was extended to all.
Even Patrick Henry wanted to establish a limited number of state churches. He fought to include the Baptists along with the Episcopal, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches, but the Baptists refused state establishment (as they had earlier in the
Netherlands) as contrary to scriptural principles. It was only James Madison's strong support and Patrick Henry's removal from Congress to be Virginia's governor that allowed the First Amendment to pass.
The original principle of separation of church and state (or non-establishment of religion), though grossly misunderstood and misapplied today, is essential for maintaining a climate in which the individual can worship sincerely as his conscience directs, rather than falsely as a result of force or intimidation.
Through the centuries many groups of Christian believers have maintained fellowships separate from the majority state religions of their times in order to preserve the purity of Scriptural doctrine and practice. (A partial list of these groups includes: Montanists, Novationists, Paterines, Anabaptists, Puritans, Seporatists, Donatists, Cathari, Paulicians, Arnoldists, Petro-Brussians, Henricians, Albigenses, Waldenses, and
While we may not agree with them on every point, we must honor their willingness to sacrifice security and even life itself for conscience' sake.
A study of these groups from an unbiased (non-Catholic) view-point may provide an inspirational example for Christian home schoolers today.
Copyright 2003 The Teaching Home