Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Myth Alert! Restorationism

It is time to clear the air surrounding one of those myths that way too many Christians buy into because it makes them feel good about their belief system. This is the myth that I hate the most because I got suckered by it for decades. It breeds so much arrogance in those who espouse it that I cannot help but get hostile when this silliness hits my ears. It is time for a good ole history lesson!

Myth: "The early church that the apostles set up was hijacked by Roman Catholicism. My church is a return to that primitive Christianity. We are Biblical and you are not." You hear this tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory everywhere! It is embraced by everyone from unchristian cults to popular Christian churches like Baptists and Disciples of Christ. It is THE myth to believe if you are a big supporter of small groups and house church. This thing gets so bad that some Independent Baptists believe that they have directly inherited the teachings and practice of St. John the Baptist in some kind of bizarre mimic of apostolic succession.

It gets really bad when it comes to the Lord's Supper and Baptism. These legalists want to say that the early church was memorialist in nature and did not believe in sacraments. They will stand by this myth even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The archenemies of common sense are those immersion-only zealots who want to give you speculation about the depth of the Jordan River and base their theology on the pictures that they saw of the Baptism of Jesus in children's books.

It is time to wake up and embrace the cold reality of facts... facts that are supported by historical evidence and documents that you can actually touch.

The Truth: Let's set the record straight. We need to flush this mythology of a utopian church that was just like yours now. Look at the evidence. If you like the early church so much, read what they wrote about what they believed in their own words. Follow the timeline:

33 AD: Jesus dies and is raised from the dead.
57 AD: By this date, the majority of the epistles had been written.
64 AD: St. Peter, the apostle, dies in Rome. St. Paul dies within the next few years.

between 70 and 180 AD: The Didache records, ""After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days."

110 AD: Ignatius of Antioch writes, "I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible."

181 AD: Justin Martyr writes, "We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus."

200 AD: Tertullian writes, "It is of no concern how diverse be their [the heretics] views, so long as they conspire to erase the one truth. They are puffed up; all offer knowledge. Before they have finished as catechumens, how thoroughly learned they are! And the heretical women themselves, how shameless are they! They make bold to teach, to debate, to work exorcisms, to undertake cures . . . "

215 AD: Hippolytus writes, "Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them."

Wow! Bodily Presence in the Eucharist... Close communion... Infant Baptism... Both Immersion and Sprinkle Baptism... Trinitarian Baptism... A ban on female church leaders... all within the first 200 years of the church! All but the last couple quotes occurred in a period of time that is even smaller than the number of years that have passed between the American Civil War and today. We are not talking centuries. This is decades.

Where was the memorialism? Where is the rejection of infant baptism? Where is the great archaeological evidence of a distinct early church like the one of the silly myths? When did the Roman Catholic Church swoop in and ruin your church on these points of doctrine? Did the whole church fall into error the moment that the dust settled on the corpses of the apostles? Did the next generation of pastors turn their back on what the apostles taught them? If that is true then the early church was a total joke. It couldn't stand for even 100 years on its own without universally embracing huge errors about fundamental parts of Christian life. That is really pathetic.

The truth is that they were not pathetic. They were zealous, bold, and determined. They went to their deaths by the hundreds under the persecutions of the STILL PAGAN Roman Empire under Nero. The martyrs that were thrown to the lions did not believe the bizarre teachings that you do. Their own writings prove it. There is an unbroken chain of testimony to support alot of doctrine that your mythological churches reject. It flows through the New Testament and right onto the papers of the leaders of the church only a few decades later. If we are going to trust any opinion about the early church, we should trust their testimony since they were the people who were there, spoke the original languages, and grew up in the churches where the apostles actually taught. No modern scholar can claim the knowledge and authority that the writers that I have quoted can claim regarding what the early church was and what it believed.

Do not be deceived by lies and fables. You can reject these doctrines to your own peril, but you have no evidence to claim that your false doctrines have a link to something ancient. You cannot point to a period where the early church was like you. That period does not exist. It is a mythological period like the Middle Ages that you see in the movie theater. The only similarities that you have are the cases where you have inherited things from the orthodox church and happen to still agree with the rest of Christendom.

Believe what you want. Just understand that you are very new and different. You are a deviation from the historical church, not a return to it. You are not orthodox. You are not apostolic. You are not a reform. You are not a restoration.

You are an aberrant deviation.

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