Chapter 15 – More Worms in the Apple
Before He returned to heaven, Jesus made certain preparations and promises. He promised to establish His Church, the assembly of those called out of Satan’s world; He enacted a new covenant; He promised eternal life to those who believe in Him; He commanded all believers to be identified with Him in baptism; He gave the power of His Name to overcome Satan and his demons; He sent the Holy Spirit to convict sinners, empower believers, and teach truth; He commanded His gospel to be preached throughout the entire world; and, He promised to return as King. Satan as attacked every one of these – mostly from inside the Church!
Unbelievers do not even know what the ministry of the Holy Spirit is, much less attack it. But the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit have become a major battleground within Christendom nowadays with great numbers of otherwise orthodox believers vehemently opposing them. Many oppose casting out demons too, depriving the Church of much of its weaponry. From other quarters the Deity of Jesus, His virgin birth, and His blood sacrifice have been under direct attack for most of this century and indirectly attacked since the founding of the Church. But I am ahead of myself.
In the weeks following the resurrection, Satan must have concluded the small band of believers posed no real threat. They were scared and inarticulate: huddled together as they were for mutual support, locking doors behind them, still not quite sure of what Jesus; message was or why He had come. But the enemy received another jolt on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was dramatically poured out on that small band of 120. In one day 3,000 accepted Jesus and were baptized. Satan had to mobilize, and do it quickly. From his meager inventory of stratagems he pulled out persecution and hardship.
The first severe persecution began with Saul. The fledgling church was stunned at the martyrdom of Stephen—they hadn’t counted on that. But God turned the tables: Saul, the persecutor, became Paul the missionary, establishing pioneer churches and becoming the greatest writer, expositor, and teacher of Christian doctrine the world has ever known.
As the years passed, Satan threw wave after wave of persecution at the church, each more fierce than the one before. Yet, believers were multiplying all over the earth with the Church growing faster than it could be decimated by executions. This is not to say that attacks other than persecution were not being waged against the Church nor that Satan was not active on other fronts. At the end of the first century there was already a church of Satan at Smyrna and he had set up a throne and residence at Pergamum. Some in the church at Thyatira had been studying the deep things of Satan; the church as Sardis was almost dead; and Laodicea had become so indifferent as to receive a sharp rebuke from the Lord.
For over a thousand years the knowledge of God had been confined to one small territory: Israel. The remainder of the entire world was completely in Satan’s camp, with utter spiritual darkness and the most vile practices passing for spiritual worship. Now, suddenly, the dam had broken and the whole thing was spilling out all over the known world. Satan and his generals were in a panic working overtime trying to contain it. But the more he inspired persecution, the more the Church, with its emphasis on redemption from the evil one by the Blood of Jesus, spread. A change in tactics was in order.
Once more the enemy searched through his tired, scanty collection and, surprisingly took another look at the Nephilim. But, of course, he could not send them again. Besides the fact that God would not allow it, the Christians now had knowledge of the weapons needed to destroy them. But it was the principle that inspired and spark of ingenious thought: the mixing. Satan would so adulterate the Church as to destroy its structure, doctrine, message, and effectiveness. Instead of persecution, which only bred more Christians, he would inspire the emperor to declare Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
To the Christians of the early fourth century it may have seemed providential, but the emperor Constantine was motivated more by political expediency than benignity. (Though espousing Christianity, he waited until he was on his deathbed before accepting baptism.) The empire was being debilitated by this continual, internal religious conflict and something had to give. What Constantine started, his successor carried out, decreeing that all citizens of the empire must renounce their pagan practices and become Christians.
It has been generally thought Constantine’s edict was a victory for the Church. It was not. At the least, it was a mixed bag. Christianity was allowed to proliferate but the purity of the Church was compromised.
How? Pagans began to pour into the Church faster than they could be assimilated. These pagan s were not content with the simplicity of Christian worship nor the austerity of the life. They were used to their priests, elaborate ceremonies, festivals, idols, incense, lights, mysteries, and free life-style. There had to be an accommodation—and there was. Little by little, rituals more pagan than Christian superseded simple worship. Little by little those attending became spectators rather than participants. The priesthood of every believer (1Pet 2:9; Rev. 1:6, 5:10, 20:6) and the direct access to the Father through Jesus guaranteed every son and daughter, was exchanged for an exclusive clergy standing between God and man. 1 Tim. 2:5, Rom 8:34. The system of gods was swapped for a pantheon of saints (replete with feast days) to whom requests were made and prayers offered. A system of salvation by means of works was substituted for salvation through Jesus: salvation because of works, instead of works because of salvation Eph. 2:8-10, Gal 2:16, 5:4 Forgiveness through the priests supplanted forgiveness through confession to Jesus. 1 Jn. 1:9-2:1, Heb 7:23-25. Altars were built, which had never before existed under the New Covenant, and the sacrifice of Jesus, which needed to be offered only once, was now said to be repeated daily on those altars. Heb 10:10-14 The corruptions were endless; but above all, the scriptures had to be kept away from the laity, for if they had not the master plan against which to check the building, the builders could construct any way they chose.
Paul had warned the Church, “I fear that in the same way the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, that somehow your minds will be seduced away from the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Cor 11:3
Paul wrote the Galatians, who were already showing a propensity for this kind of thing, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you into the grace of Christ to turn to another gospel; not that there is another gospel—but there are some who are troubling you and wanting to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Gal 1:6-8
So the Church, which had fought to remain pure upon the blood of the martyrs, became mixed with pagans (Lev 19:19); it came under attack from false teachers propagating doctrines of demons, heresies, worldliness. The Church which Christ purchased with His own Blood was flooded with every kind of adulteration. Yet, Satan knew not to go too far (though he had surely gone far enough). The Church must continue to give the appearance of orthodoxy: it must continue to believe in the deity of Jesus, though denying His personal relationship to each believer. It must continue to hold the form of religion while denying its power. 2 Tim. 3:5. It must look good; otherwise someday there would be a movement back to the origins—if anyone still knew what they were.
“No one can lay any foundation other than the one laid, which is Jesus Christ” 1Cor 3:11