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    In the second paragraph of his famous fifteenth chapter, Gibbon uses the following language:—
    “The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.”
    FACC 45.1

    So far as the simple religion of Christ is concerned, it is ever the same. The apostle James says: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world..” James 1:27. This is ever the characteristic of pure and undefiled religion; but, unfortunately, every good thing is counterfeited, and “among a weak and degenerate race of beings,” even though they may be sincere, religion often fails of being correctly represented; and it is therefore the lot of the theologian, as well as of the historian, to discover “the inevitable mixture of error and corruption.”FACC 45.2

    From a failure properly to discriminate between pure religion and the practices of many who professed religion, two grave errors have arisen: 1. Infidels have concluded that Christianity is but little, if any, in advance of many forms of heathenism, or of atheism. Judging Christianity by false professors thereof, they lose sight of the fact that there is such a thing as “pure religion.” 2. Believers are in danger of thinking that whatever has been done by “the church” must of necessity be in harmony with religion. This second error is as bad as the first; for in either case the individual will fall far short of the true standard. To know what true religion is, we must look only at the Bible and the life of Christ as therein portrayed. Of all those who have trod this earth, he alone had no sin; in him religion was revealed pure and undefiled. There have been men “of whom the world was not worthy,” and yet the record of their lives is not altogether perfect. If we should take for a model the most perfect mortal, we should be led into error; how much greater, then, must be our danger, if we follow those whose lives were far below the standard of pure and undefiled religion.FACC 45.3

    It is not to be supposed, of course, that Christians would think of taking the course of irreligious people as models for their own lives; but a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and since there have always been irreligious and erring, even though conscientious, people in the professed church, it is evident that whosoever follows “the church” instead of Christ will be led into error. That the professed church of Christ has always had in it elements of corruption which would make it an unsafe guide, is as evident as is the fact that Christ has a church here on earth which is composed of frail, erring mortals.FACC 46.1

    If we go back to the first followers of Christ, we find one who was so utterly base as to sell his Lord for paltry sum of money. Naturally avaricious, Judas yielded little by little to the temptations of Satan, who always attacks men on the side of their natural inclination, until the devil finally had complete control of him; yet all this time he was numbered among the followers of Christ.FACC 46.2

    But the weakness of the early disciples was not confined to Judas. They were all men, and consequently were liable to err even when full of zeal for the Master. James and John wished to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans, because these people were not willing to receive Christ. Jesus rebuked his rash followers, saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” See Luke 9:51-56. Peter, who was so often reproved by Jesus for his hasty spirit, at one time denied his Lord with oaths; and, still later, he used dissimulation to such a degree that Paul was forced to withstand him to the face. Galatians 2:11-14. Even the grave and upright Barnabas was carried away with this dissimulation, which met with such a stern rebuke from Paul. And later these two yoke-fellows, who had labored together under the direction of Heaven, showed that they were still human, by falling into so sharp a contention that they were obliged to separate. Acts 15:36-41.FACC 47.1

    Let no one think that we speak slightingly of these men. They were divinely appointed to the work, and we honor them as devoted men who hazarded their lives for the sake of Christ, whose chosen servants they were. We love them for what they were, as well as for their work’s sake. It was necessary that Christ should commit to men the preaching of the gospel, and those to whom he first committed it were men of like passions with others. They were men who, like those to whom they preached, had to depend on Christ and go on unto perfection. And we know of no reason why Inspiration has placed on record some of their failures, except that we might learn not to look even to the best of men for an example. The message which they bore was pure, but they, in common with all mankind, stood in need of its sanctifying influence; and while they strove to be “ensamples to the flock,” they directed the minds of all only to Jesus, the author and finisher of the faith.FACC 47.2

    If there were imperfections among the immediate disciples of Christ, it is no more than could be expected that those who believed on him through their word would also exhibit human imperfections before they were perfectly sanctified through the truth. And if among the twelve there was one who had a devil, why need we wonder that hypocrites should continually contaminate the church by their presence? Said the apostle Peter, in his letter to the church: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.” 2 Peter 2:1-3.FACC 48.1

    Paul, in his address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, said: “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.” Acts 20:28-30.FACC 48.2

    These two scriptures show that the inspired apostles knew that there would be not only imperfect, erring members in the church, but also false teachers who, like Judas, would deny the Lord that bought them. Among the elders of the church there were to arise unprincipled men who would bring in “damnable heresies.” We need not be surprised, therefore, when we find the professed church soon after the days of the apostles, largely filled with the abominations of heathendom.FACC 49.1

    Even in the days of the apostles, while their straight testimony was being delivered, this spirit of corruption crept into the church. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote that long before Christ’s second advent there would come a “falling away,” and that the “man of sin” would be revealed, sitting in the temple of God, virtually professing to be God, and opposing all that pertains to God and his true worship, and then he added that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7. Paul knew that even in the churches of his own planting there were elements of corruption that would eventually contaminate the whole body. If we examine the record, we can detect these incipient evils for ourselves.FACC 49.2

    The church at Corinth was raised up by the personal labors of Paul, yet he was obliged to reprove the members for the spirit of contention and division (1 Corinthians 1:11-13), which was carried so far that they went to law with one another in the heathen courts (1 Corinthians 6:6-8). So little spiritual discernment did they have that they made the Lord’s Supper an occasion for feasting and drunkenness (1 Corinthians 11:17-22); and they tolerated incest of a kind that was disapproved even by the licentious heathen (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2), and did not feel that for it they had any cause for shame.FACC 49.3

    In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we find mention of one of the “damnable heresies” which were brought into the church. Says Paul: “But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” 2 Timothy 2:16-18.FACC 50.1

    A single passage in Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia shows the danger to which all the converts from among the heathen were exposed. Said he: “When ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” Galatians 4:8-11. We have already noted some of the immoral practices and senseless ceremonies in the worship of the heathen. Of course the Galatians, in common with all heathen, were given to these before their conversion. And as men when they lose their faith and love, begin to go back to the things to which they were addicted before conversion, so the Galatians were on the point of going back to the “weak and beggarly elements” to which they had formerly been in bondage. They had gone so far back as to “observe days, and months, and times [see Deuteronomy 18:10], and years,” and Paul feared that his labor for them had all been thrown away.FACC 50.2

    Still later the apostle John wrote: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” 2 John 7.FACC 50.3

    Again he wrote to the well-beloved Gaius: “I wrote unto the church; but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, If I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words; and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” 3 John 9, 10.FACC 51.1

    Here was a man in the church setting himself in direct opposition to the apostle John. He was not a private member, but one who had to such a degree the pre-eminence which he loved, that he could cause people to be cast out of the church. This leader in the church refused to receive the instruction which the apostle had written, and cast out of the church those who were willing to receive it. Not content with this, he railed against the inspired servant of the Lord. Surely it cannot with reason be claimed that “the church,” even in the apostolic age, ought to be taken as a model.FACC 51.2

    One more testimony concerning some in the early church must suffice. Another apostle thought it necessary to exhort the faithful to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints, and the following is the reason: “For there are certain men crept in unaware, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude 4. Further on he brings this fearful charge against these men: “But these speak evil of those things which they know not; but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.” Jude 10. And still further on, the apostle plainly states that bribery was practiced in the church. He says: “These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.” Verse 16.FACC 51.3

    Our object in quoting these passages has not been to dwell upon the shortcomings of men in the early church, but simply to make prominent the fact that bad men were in the church from the earliest period. There were many good men also in the church at that time; but the question is, How are we to decide as to who were bad and who were good? “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” By comparing their lives with the standard of the Bible, we readily ascertain what actions were good and what were evil.FACC 52.1

    The true church is the body of Christ; it is composed of those who are indeed united to Christ, who draw strength from him, and who walk as he walked. To the Ephesians the apostle Paul wrote of the mighty power of God, “which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” Ephesians 1:20-23.FACC 52.2

    To the Colossians he wrote thus concerning Christ:—
    “And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” Colossians 1:18.
    FACC 52.3

    To the Galatian brethren he wrote, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Galatians 3:27. And to the church at Corinth he wrote:—
    “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13.
    FACC 53.1

    From this text it appears that although literal baptism is the sign of union with the church of Christ, the outward sign may exist without the reality, since the real union is a spiritual union. The one who puts on Christ, and thus becomes a son of God, must be born of the Spirit as well as of water. John 3:5. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9), no matter what his profession may be. Nor is it sufficient to have once received the Spirit of God. Paul exhorts us not to grieve the Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30) and warns us against doing despite to it (Hebrews 10:29); and our Saviour himself says:—
    “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.” John 15:4, 5.
    FACC 53.2

    The fruit which the real member of Christ’s body will bear, is the same as that which characterized the life of Christ, for the beloved disciple says: “He that saith he abideth in him [Christ] ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” 1 John 2:6.FACC 53.3

    Now it is evident from the texts which we have quoted, that the professed church is not necessarily identical with the church which is the body of Christ. There are many who profess Christ, and who teach in his name, whom Christ does not recognize. Matthew 7:21-23. The gospel net is cast into the sea, and gathers “of every kind.” Matthew 13:47. But it is not for us always to decide who are and who are not really members of Christ’s body; and therefore for convenience’ sake we speak of the body of professed believers as “the church.” Let it be understood that when this term is used, it is not necessarily synonymous with “Christians.”FACC 54.1

    But these men of whom we have just read in the Bible, were all in “the church;” the evil practices to which they gave themselves were all performed in “the church;” and many of their false doctrines were put forth as the doctrines of “the church” with which they were connected. Now, if we set out to follow “the church,” we have no more right to reject the doctrines and practices of these men, than we have to reject any doctrine or practice of “the church.” To be sure there were many, at this time no doubt a majority, of those in the church who condemned these men and their ways. But these men also condemned the other class, even casting them out of the church; and all together helped to form “the church.”FACC 54.2

    It is true that our Saviour himself said (Matthew 18:17) that whoever would not hear the church should be considered “as an heathen man and a publican.” But this does not in the least militate against what has just been said about following the church. The action of the church of Christ is indeed ratified in Heaven, and no man should lightly esteem its counsels; yet this is an entirely different thing from taking a human model. Christ said to the apostles, “Neither be ye called masters; for one is your Master, even Christ.” Matthew 23:10. We are not to follow “the example of the apostles,” but the example and words of Christ. He who would continue in the Christian life must ever be “looking unto Jesus.”FACC 54.3

    Jesus is our Patter; the members of his church become members of his church simply that they may learn of him. A boy goes to school to learn to write, and his teacher writes a line in a beautiful hand, at the top of a page, for him to copy. While he is making his first line, he closely scans the master’s line, and does very well. The next time he looks less closely at the copy, and that line is a little poorer than the other. With each successive line he looks less at the copy, and more at his own work, until by the time he is half way down the page he is following, not the master’s beautifully written copy, but his own scarcely legible scrawl, and each line is a little worse than the one preceding it. Those lines are a fitting emblem of the lives of those who follow the learners in the school of Christ, instead of following only the life of the great Master himself.FACC 55.1

    But since there is no man whose life we may take as a model, it is very evident that we cannot follow the entire professed church. To do so would be an impossibility, for even in apostolic times there were in some churches factions that were directly opposed to one another. Therefore if it were claimed that, although it is not allowable to follow the practice of any man, we may follow the belief of the professed church in any age, one important question would have to be settled, and that is, which portion of the church shall be followed? for the entire professed church has never been a unit in matters of belief. We must know which portion has been in the right, for we do not wish to be led astray. The Bible alone can decide this matter. That alone can tell us what is right and what is wrong. And since we must go to the Bible to determine what part of the professed church was following in the footsteps of Christ, and what part was bringing in damnable heresies, it necessarily follows that the Bible itself, and not “the church,” or any part of it, is our only guide. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105. And it is for the purpose of emphasizing this important truth that we have asked the reader to look for a moment at the dark side of the church in the days of the apostles.FACC 55.2

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