The Corruption of the Church
First I must be clear, this post is NOT intended to say that Christianity has been overcome, or that the work of Christ establishing His Church has somehow failed. Just the contrary!
Yet, Any student of Church history can see the well documented progress of corruption and resulting schisms. Today, this corruption is often seen as open sores festering with hypocrisy, serving as stumbling blocks for the unbeliever and believer alike who understandably have confused “christian philosophy” with Christian Truth.
See, the sure foundation is Jesus Christ, but sadly most today don’t start there. Instead they stand on extra-Biblical, and dare I say ANTI-Biblical, presuppositional philosophies from men whom God has never affirmed or inspired. Over the centuries one bad doctrine has begat another as the various Christian “churches” attempted to address problems resulting from these philosophies and false teachings. Rather than start over and return to Christ, modern Christianity is largely content to continue going astray - a problem which only worsens generation after generation.
Christianity is not new, it was hinted at and promised in Eden right after Adam sinned in Genesis 3:15 - the Protoevangelium. This promise is restated over and over, sometimes boldly and elsewhere hinted at, yet still it is to be found throughout all the Old Testament. We see the Prophets of God speak of the coming Messiah. Then, fulfilling His promise and demonstrating love and selflessness to a degree never seen before or since, Jesus comes in our flesh, like us in every respect, to heal, rescue and redeem mankind; conquering the grave and destroying the works of the devil; calling all to return to the Father in Him that they might be freely pardoned and live.
The Word made flesh, Jesus, chose and taught His twelve Apostles. We have their writings in which they recalled some of His teachings, passing them on to any who would lay all aside to follow Him. Then we have the Apostles' disciples ( these men were sometimes spoken of in the letters contained in the New Testament) and their writings which are in harmony with the words of the Apostles and Christ. From these writings we can see a clear picture of what the early Church believed and lived out.
We can look around us and in nearly every denomination and sect today find traces and hints, lingering beliefs not yet perverted or disregarded, but rather being crowded out among the weeds of false doctrine. This remaining truth serves as evidence, a fingerprint, a lasting reminder of the original Church established by God.
There were false teachers around in the days of Jesus and His Apostles to be sure, but widespread corruption entered after Constantine made Christianity the State religion of Rome in the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD. Six short years later a neo-Platonist and Manichean cult member by the name of Aurelius Augustinus converted to Christianity. While he initially stated he rejected his past beliefs and philosophy, he later would return to them - going so far as to write of his rejection of the teachings of the Church Fathers, the Apostles and their Disciples. He did so in an effort to explain away his struggle with sin, and to support his doctrine of Original Sin.
Only ten years after converting to the Christian faith Augustine became Bishop of Hippo where he would go on to quite successfully interject his Manichean and neo-Platonist beliefs into the Church; using the power of his office and his influence with Rome to attack, mischaracterize and slander those with whom he disagreed or those brave enough to rebuke him. Soon the State church no longer tossed aside bad doctrine in favor of truth, but rather invented whole new doctrines to explain the errors of other false claims.
Eventually East and West split in 1054 AD, when Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox officially parted ways due in large part to their differing views on the Filioque. A little more than a hundred years later Roman Catholicism would wage war in the Crusades not only against Muslims but also rape and pillage Orthodox Christians as well, ransacking Constantinople in 1204; plundering the city of all its wealth and enforcing a Roman rule. An atrocity not formally apologized for until 2004, when Pope John Paul II delivered an emotional apology to Orthodox Christians.
Throughout all this time false doctrines continued to emerge until the time of Martin Luther, where in 1517 he nailed his 99 Thesis to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. While some of his complaints were well founded, he was an Augustinian monk who himself built whole new errors on that foundation. He sought to carve up and rewrite Scripture to better suit his Augustinian philosophy and he called for the persecution and murder of Jews and Peasants alike.
Then a generation later along came John Calvin, who like Luther, was a fan of Augustine. He read of Augustine and Luther's justification for violence and persecution against unbelievers and took it to whole new heights as he used his status in Geneva to maim, starve, torture and murder, men, women and children. Protestants at the time were so taken aback by his actions regarding the murder of Michael Servetus that he would go on to rewrite his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” and send letters promoting violence as a legitimate Christian tool.
Around this time a whole new schism emerged between the followers of Calvin and another Reformer named Jacobus Arminius... who much to the dismay of their adherents, have far more in common than they differ. Their disciples, now calling themselves Calvinists and Arminians, continued to build on these errors, until we arrive at the present time where men like John MacArthur teach you can take the Mark of the Beast and still repent and be saved and that having children is an act of depravity; where men like R.C. Sproul taught not the Gospel of the first century but the opinions of men formulated over the last two thousand years. So instead of hearing the words of Jesus: “Suffer not the little children and forbid them not from coming to me.” we hear men describing children as less than rats (R.C. Sproul), vipers in diapers (Voddie Baucham), murderous infants (Paul Washer) and other horrendous teachings - all based on philosophies of men rather than Jesus Christ.
You see truth is not divided, nor determined by the opinions of corrupt men. Life is not found in extra-Biblical philosophies and clever systematic theologies. It cannot be found in commentaries and study guides. You can “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Jesus speaks in John 5).
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
If you want to know Him, know Truth, the best way to begin is to put down those commentaries and presuppositional philosophies - set aside all your assumptions and humble yourself before Him; praying that He remove any scales of tradition which blind you, any false teaching you have embraced. Then by His leading read what He said, read what His Apostles said, read what their Disciples said. Always spend time in His presence and let Him speak to you, let the Holy Spirit guide you as you begin to truly know and emulate Him.
Love God. Love Others.
You may be left asking where is the Church that Jesus established? It is not in a specific assembly, not in a set of doctrine (though right doctrine is of paramount importance), not in a label or building. The Church Jesus established is alive and well in every genuine believer seeking to know and emulate Him.
WE are the Church.
While there's truth to be found in most of our "churches" today, it is often watered down and obscured. While we may find various denominations and sects to possess some truth, we, THE Church, have been given the Holy Spirit who, if we are willing, will lead us into all truth. We can fellowship with everyone who names the name of Christ, and as iron sharpens iron, we are to sharpen and be sharpened by others.
I pray this serves to encourage you in pursuing Christ and this perspective gives you peace when confronting or being confronted in areas of disagreement.
Truth in doctrine is paramount, but being right or logical doesn't save anyone. Knowing The Way, The Truth and The Life, Jesus Christ, THAT is where we find salvation, redemption and yes the Church.