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HISTORY AND HERESY ON
THE CHRISTIAN PATHWAY
[An adaptation of the paper: Church Condition In A Brief
Historical Outline, by this writer in 1980 and updated here.
This outline seeks to set forth that testimony of 1827 which is believed to have faithfully continued to represent the mind of God, rather than a history of all the Christian sects and systems, which were organized by men to serve the various interests of the founders. - R. L. DeWitt, 4/09
There are decisions to be made as a new believer walks the Christian pathway through this world, and more so in this present day with so many voices, and new sects being formed every year. The decisions are about following the Word, or reasoning in our own mind and indulging our own flesh.
In the beginning believers in Christ continued steadfastly in truth and with one accord (Acts 2:42-47; Rom. 16:16). The apostles taught them and admonished them, but there began to be a falling away (Rom.16:17-18). When the apostles departed, most Christians embraced human innovations and much of Jewish trad-itions, and there was generally little regard for the counsels of God (II Tim.4:1-8).
About 500 A.D.+ continued disregard by Christians for sound doctrine (Titus 1:9), not continuing in the Spirit (Gal.3:1-3), and allowing leaven (I Cor.5), gave rise to false teachers and more ritualism; then in time the RCR (Roman Catholic Religion) arose with popery and with hierarchy, ceremonies, and wickedness. In those "dark ages" true believers were scattered, and could only meet in secret because of the terrible persecutions (as Acts 20:29). At that time the written Word of God was not available to all.
About 1500 A.D.+ God revived the gospel message out of the bondage, with such servants as Martin Luther, though facing pers-ecutions and slaughter of faithful saints by the RCR. Many godly saints were then embolden to speak out for the Lord. There was a protest movement and attempt at reformation, which soon became separation. The Word of God then began to circulate as more copies were made. The separation brought forth sectarian-ism with various denominations and the traditions, hierarchy, rituals, and practices they had learned with the RCR for 1,000 years. There was not a clean break with the system.
About 1800 A.D.+ God began to call faithful believers out of the denominated sects which had developed in form like the Roman religion, and with exercise to return to His Word and dependence on the Holy Spirit (Matt.18:20). In 1827-28 there were those who came together in homes in Ireland and England in simplicity like the early church, as members of the "one body" (I Cor.1:2; 12:12), to just continue as "steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fel-lowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). They recognized the priesthood of believers (I Pet.2:5-10). This was a new work and revival by the Spirit and much sound ministry was written, which is available today. A lovely fellowship prevailed. The movement was blessed and spread rapidly to revive precious truth.
Original brothers among them were J.N.Darby, J.G.Bellett, William Hutchinson, and Edward Cronin. Later, William Kelly, G.V.Wigram, C.H.Mackintosh, and other capable students of the Word became associated with this "brethren movement", as it was called.
Satan hated this new work of God and soon raised up the flesh. An independent spirit came forth. Some brethren arose promoting ideas --- as "speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). A number of saints went out to form new and compromise gatherings back with denominated systems, some established rigid control of the saints, and some sought mergers or various ideologies. A faithful testimony continued, however, in spite of the falling away.
"Fundamentalism" then arose among the de-nominational sects seeking to preserve the gospel there. It also preserved man-made traditions. A so-called "pentecostal" system came out of that, which denied the eternal se-curity of believers and promoted signs and emotional experiences. Satan began to raise up many wicked Christ rejecting systems, cults, and religions to imitate and confuse (II Cor. 11:13-15).
SOME FAITHFUL DEFENDERS
OF THE FAITH
There have been numbers of faithful preachers of righteousness who devoted their lives to witness in a public way from the time of the Apostles, but some were outstanding down through church history as faithful defenders of the faith, who labored to restore the truth of God's Word. This restoration work began in earnest as papal Rome asserted greater control and oppression of the people. With the in-creasing suppression of the truth by the Roman Catholic Religion (circa 500 AD), God began to raise up chosen vessels to revive the gospel message, and by 1800 AD church truth. They had personal failures, as do all servants, but they had zeal and sought to do the work of the Lord. They often paid a great price to honor Him. The more notable men are mentioned here, and some comments are also added from A Brief Synopsis Of The Public History Of The Church, by G.H.S. Price.
- Compiled by R. L. DeWitt, 9/03; rev. 6/05
Peter Waldo (circa 1100 AD) - denounced the papal system and the corruption in that religion, and preached the gospel clearly and also translated it into the common language. He spent most of his last days in preaching and hiding from his persecutors.
John Wycliffe (c. 1300 AD) - preached the gospel boldly in England, and denounced the RC religion and the Pope, and held to the Word of God as the only authority. He was a scholar and greatly honored, and respected throughout Europe. He translated the Bible into a language for the people. His opposition to the Pope and the religion of Rome spread widely, and resulted in his persecution and many attempts to kill him. He died in relative peace from a stroke.
John Huss (c. 1400 AD) - a martyr in Bohemia who was burned to death by papal authority for his stand on the Word of God only, and his faithful preaching to many in those parts.
Martin Luther (c. 1500 AD) - a RC priest and the principle agent in the protestant reformation movement, who protested loudly directly toward the Pope, and printed a detailed list of charges against the papal system and practices. His theme was "justification by faith" rather than the religion of Rome, and he traveled around Europe preaching everywhere. Having taught the Scriptures as a University professor and priest, he learned the truth of the Word. At first he sought to reform the RC religion, but soon realized that would not happen. His great zeal and prominence was used of God to propagate the gospel truth, especially with the development of printing. The RCC sought often to kill him, but God preserved him, and he ended his days in seclusion and translating of the Bible in 1546.
Ulrich Zwingle (c. 1500 AD) - was a RC priest in Switzerland, who had his eyes opened to the truth of the Bible, and he boldly preached the Word. He proclaimed that all religious observances not found in the Word of God should be abolished. He denounced all religious authority that was written or invented since the days of the Apostles. He reportedly became involved in politics and was a chaplain in the army fighting against RC forces, and was killed in battle.
John Calvin (c. 1500 AD) - He was a bold preacher of the gospel, and was so strong in his condemnation of Rome that he was considered by the RC religion to be more dangerous than Luther. He was in poor
health and lived a short life.
William Tyndale (c. 1500 AD) - Like many other reformers he opposed the Pope publicly and received excommunication and persecutions, but his work was mostly quiet writings and a good translation of the Bible together with Miles Coverdale. This was well-received everywhere. He was martyred at an early age.
John & Charles Wesley (c. 1700 AD) - They began to preach personal piety and strictness in one's life, and were called Methodists by many. John's simple message of the gospel truth was not well accepted by the religious establishment of leading Christian gatherings, which were spreading everywhere, so he began preaching in the streets. Charles wrote many hymns which were a significant testimony.
John Darby (c. 1800 AD) - In the early 1800's John N. Darby, who was a scholar of some renown in Ireland, and a barrister, was converted by reading the Holy Scriptures. In time he became a priest in the
Church of Ireland. God led him to see that Christ is the Head of the church, and there is a spiritual body on earth. He saw Christ as the gathering center, rather than religious sects and systems; and he saw the priesthood of believers in the "body of Christ" and the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather than the hierarchy of men, dogma, rituals, and innovations. He separated from ecclesiastical associations and human order, and began to meet with three others of the same persuasion in 1827 in accord with the plain scriptural order. Others also began to embrace this thinking, and Darby traveled about preaching in many places and writing much on church truth. This revival spread rapidly worldwide. Much has been written about this so-called "brethren movement" and the ministry of those early brethren which is available today. Besides Darby, who seems to have been a principle agent in this revival of church truth, some of his contemporaries were J.G. Bellet, G.V. Wigram, W. Kelly, C.H. Mackintosh, and a few other less notable teachers. There have been divisions, and all assemblies have not continued in the same universal fellowship, which Darby held was essential. He departed to be with Christ in 1882.
The writing by G.H.S. Price, as stated above, is a good brief overview of the history, and is obtainable from Bible Truth Publishers, P.O. Box 649, Addison, IL 60101, USA. The ministry of Darby and those associated with the brethren movement (referred to by some as Plymouth Brethren) is also available at the same address. Readers are urged to also read Miller's Church History ---Original edition, and Foxe's Book Of Martyrs. - RLD
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BRETHREN MOVEMENT
[One can read elsewhere of the origin and formation of God's church and the post-apostolic failure, but we speak here of the recovery of that testimony of church truth, often called "the brethren movement", which we value. It speaks of all brothers and sisters in the Lord as one holy and royal priesthood.]
The name, "Plymouth Brethren", is a misnomer concerning that revival of church truth in the early 1800's. Outsiders in England (not connected with the so-called "brethren movement" and recognizing the rapid growth of it) began referring to these saints of God as Plymouth Brethren because of a large gathering at Plymouth, England. The name seemed to be widely accepted in the world because the early brethren themselves refused to take a name, except what God has given us and what is common to all saints.
For about twenty years the testimony went on generally well, then Satan began his attacks to cause division. Apart from all the denominational sects (who have their own history of divisions), here are most of the major divisions and systems that formed out of the so-called "brethren movement" and continued, which have also had numerous sub-divisions (not listed here):
* Open Brethren (OB) - the sect and principle by which the followers of George Mueller are known (which went off to form independent principles of gathering);
* KLC Brethren (Kelly-Lowe-Continentals) - a merger of these three division groups, which separately had earlier left the fellowship;
* Grant Brethren - a following of F.W. Grant;
* Raven Brethren - a following of F.E. Raven - J. Taylor;
* Some other saints also went out from the mainline to form their own fellowship, who were smaller gatherings; and, as stated already, many sub-divisions have formed out of all of the major divisions.
One can see the papers on Notable Divisions Within The Brethren Movement by this writer for more information.
Today, many believers within the so-called "brethren movement" like to hold names. The name: Plymouth Brethren (PB) is usually held by the open and quite loose line of the brethren. At one time all those not part of the Open Brethren (OB) were called Exclusive Brethren (EB) by the Opens, but in time EB became proudly owned by many of the followers after Raven.
We should note also that some who separated from the denominated sects and appreciated the "brethren" teachings, refer to themselves as "independent brethren" Having little understanding of the movement, they usually mix-in the denominational doctrines. As an example, The Watchman Nee Movement descended from the Raven-Taylor Brethren and began to add pentecostalism.
Some of us have avoided all such designations, and seek to maintain that work of revival as committed to the saints in 1827. It might properly be referred to as the main line from that early time; notwithstanding that we are sometimes called by the name of an assembly we are associated with. We can get associated with names by outsiders, who do not recognize that God has in fact maintained that work He recovered in the early 1800's without a name, as from the beginning.
Every assembly has a history---we can know. We all must own our failure as members of the "one body" of Christ, but ever seek to go on faithfully in the path of God's good work and not be a part of sectarianism. As the saying goes: "We should not throw out the baby with the bath water".
What is the problem with a name or having a separate gathering? It is sectarian because it makes a limited company (sect) out of that which God established as a universal truth in the world (the "one body" of Christ). Faithful saints will not want to take any name that divides them, and which God has not called us. It is His church (assembly) and believers are His, so we ought to follow the Word of God and bow to His government, rather than go off to join or start a new gathering every time we are not pleased about something. Where would Israel have gone if they had left the pillar of fire and cloud that God estab-lished for the place of collective worship?
Since this subject of God's revival and testimony in the world from 1827, is a large subject with a number of things to consider, this writer will be pleased to correspond with any who desire to inquire and "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3). - By R.L.DeWitt, '02; rev. 3/06
A COMMENTARY ON SOME CHURCH HISTORY
Paper adapted to avoid names and for ministry
That is a good question regarding the "one body" of Christ during the "Dark Ages". While the "one body", being all believers in the world, has existed, it was not shown forth in unity by believers. I understand that after the apostolic times, unity in church truth was lost and faithful saints of God were found mostly as individuals meeting in homes, and often without guidance in the Holy Scripture. There was no clear expression of the body of Christ. The scriptural translations were hand-written and not available outside the organized Christian religion until printing was developed in the 1500's. Most people were also not literate in those days. Most ministry was verbal and concerned redemption and not church truth.
The various large gatherings of mostly religious followers became organized around a hierarchy, with their overseers (bishops) assuming more influence. Prominent men soon gained control and began to Judaize the church, and persecution pressed hard against those who resisted the rising centralized religious authority. This is a danger also today.
The gospel message was for a long time only spoken in small gatherings in homes and secretly elsewhere during the Middle Ages, in fear of the authorities and later the papacy of the Roman Catholic Religion (RCR), which banned all testimony not in accord with their religion. The body of Christ (true universal church) has existed since the time of Pentecost (see Acts 2:41-47 and Epistles), yet it was often in secret. One can read more on this in other papers in the Christian Counsel Collection.
Average people were mostly uneducated, and the holy parchments (Bible) were in possession of the RCR (which was essentially the government across the land --circa 500 to 1500 A.D.). They had their religious police with power to arrest any not in allegiance to that religion. One used to be able to read about this in books in college on the Middle Ages, but not much anymore because it is considered not "politically nice" to the Roman Catholic Religion. One can only learn of this at certain Bible distributors. See Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Miller's Church History, and the history of John Bunyon, etc.
In the period of 1000 to 1500 AD some faithful and bold saints began to preach the gospel openly in God's revival of redemption (Martin Luther was a principal among them), and the so-called "Reformation" began. The preachers among this movement were often imprisoned and persecuted even unto death. You can read more on this in some papers on history.
By 1800 A.D., when printing evolved more and the Bible was circulated broadly, greater study allowed God to raise up a second revival --recovery of church truth. I will send you some papers on this, which will speak of the scriptural foundation God intended from the beginning.
This is just a brief response for your interest, but we can discuss it further later. Look up always!
- Ever yours in Christ, [R. DeWitt]
SEE SUBJECTS BELOW
A Commentary On History
Some Thoughts On The Brethren
In the present day the saints are quite scattered with new sects and sub-divisions forming every year. Denominated sects are now amalgamating. The professing Christian groups without Christ as Savior are moving back to the RCR system. Christian "fundamental" sects are overlooking differences and merging. Some Christians shun any order and are seeking to have an experience as a "free-spirit". There remains, however, that testimony that God raised up in the early 1800's --expressing the "one body" worldwide in the scriptural order, gathering to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and waiting upon the Holy Spirit. They recognize the ruin in the church is to our collective shame, and are not occupied with forbidding the unions and popular ways (Mark 9:38); rather, they continue in the path, desire the honor and glory of the Lord, and "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Though weak in numbers they are holding fast "Till He comes". Does the reader know about this? One should also read Miller's Church History, and Foxe's Book Of Martyrs.
Choices for the saints today are many, if one approves of sectarianism. They can find liberal church groups, conservative groups, political and social groups, all kinds of entertainment and religious ideas; or they can seek the scriptural path and recognize that God has maintained His testimony from that revival of the 1800's. Even within that good revival there are splinter groups following after men and certain doctrines. We are all failures in obeying and following our Lord, but we ought not to fault God and dishonor Him for our failure.
One might decide it is hopeless and just stay home and read their Bible, but God exhorts us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb.10:25). He has a path in unity, though there is always failure among men:
a) Gathering to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone (Matt.18:20), not to popular personalities, which usurp the Lord, and sectarian systems---limiting other believers who want to hold to the Word of God.
b) Receiving "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (II Tim.2:15), not traditions, entertainment, creeds, rituals, and pledges; programs, religious ideas, emotional experiences, and unscriptural things which are for the flesh.
c) Expressing the oneness of the body of Christ in the world (Rom.12:5; I Cor.12:25), not independency, nor mergers and unions, organizational membership, etc., which is the deceit of Satan to divide the saints and compromise the truth.
d) Acknowledging the priesthood of believers (I Pet.2: 5,9), not titles, offices, hierarchy, dominion over the saints with selected ministers to lead, preach, and manage ("nicolaitanism", Rev.2:6), etc., which denies liberty.
e) Trusting the Lord and His Word as the only way--- authority and path for the Christian faith, rather than man's preferences or reasoning, which will lead one astray.
f) Worshipping collectively as is pleasing to God, rather than innovations for the flesh, which is pride and entertainment.
g) Appreciating the assembly and maintaining God's order and government, rather than the ideas and governmental ways of men, which is unprofitable.
h) Yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit as in the early church (II Cor.3:17), not to ceremonies, schedules, plans, arrangements quenching the Spirit (I Thess.5:19), which dishonors God.
If we cannot hold these things we will fall into Satan's snare, and always divide and scatter the saints and dishonor our Lord. God never intended that individual saints should act independent of the church and His order and government there. Even among Israel, they had to learn to bow to God in the midst. If they had a difference with others and ignored the cloud above and the pillar of fire by night, they might go off into the wilderness and set up their own form of worship, but the cloud and the pillar would not follow them.
At this present writing, the original work of the Spirit from that early time continues apart from all the above separations, and some of us know this ground of truth on which we are gathered; though we would not boast, and pray that the Lord will keep us humble, faithful, and from any further trouble until we hear the home call. Does the reader desire to be on that original ground and going on as pleases the Lord? We would be pleased to help.
One may contact Bible Truth Publishers, P.O. Box 649, Addison, IL 60101 for these and other histories on the various attempts by Christians down through the years to maintain the testimony. One is also encouraged to read the books: Foxe's Book Of Martyrs, and Miller's Church History--Original Edition. The writer would also be happy to answer questions. - RLD