THE GREAT CONSPIRACY
"THE INCREDIBLE HISTORY OF GOD'S TRUE CHURCH"
by Ivor C. Fletcher
It was said of the first Christians that they were people who "turned the world upside down." The respected Roman writer Tacitus records that within a mere thirty-three years of the execution of its founder, the new religion had spread like wildfire through much of the civilized world.
Even at Rome, the capital city of the empire, "vast multitudes" had embraced the new faith, and were even ready to die in Nero's reign of terror rather than renounce their newly discovered Saviour.
There were several reasons for the phenomenal success of the new movement. Firstly, it offered the adherent a reason for living, beyond mere physical survival into old age. It added a new dimension in living which transcended the "bread and circuses" concept of the Roman "man in the street." Apart from providing practical, living principles for success in this present life, which would promote physical health and peace of mind, material prosperity and happy family relationships, the new faith offered the prospect that an individual could attain the age-old goal of overcoming man's final enemy -- death, and of living forever.
It offered human beings something which no other religion had come remotely near to offering -- the possibility that flesh and blood people could become children of God (Gen. 1:26; Rom. 8:14-17), and that through the means of a resurrection from the dead, the human body, subject to weakness, decay and death, could be transformed into a glorified spirit body, like that of the resurrected Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). As a member of the God Family, an actual brother of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29), the "born again" Christian is given the opportunity of rulership not only on this earth (Rev. 2:26) but ultimately over a part of the vast universe (Heb. 2:5-8).
It is small wonder that the early Christians, faced with the prospect of such an awesome future, were more than willing to pay the price necessary to qualify; that price being their willingness to obey the laws of God and, with the assistance of His Holy Spirit, develop the very mind and character of God. The plan of salvation which was revealed to the early church was universal in its scope and application; it was not confined to one race or religious sect or group. The plan was open to all people of all races, including all who had lived in the past, and will live in the future; although not all people were granted the opportunity to understand the plan at the same time.
In order to keep the true church constantly aware and reminded of God's plan, the first Christian observed the Old Testament holy days or Sabbaths; but in a new spirit and with an expanded level of understanding. Many people have assumed that the weekly and annual Sabbaths (Feast Days) of Israel were done away by Christ and perhaps "nailed to the cross," that new days such as Sunday, Easter and Christmas were introduced to take their place.
History clearly reveals, however, that these days, classified by some as "Jewish," were observed by the true Church of God for centuries, not only in Palestine and Asia Minor but even in remote Britain and Ireland. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, kept these days and instructed his Gentile converts to do likewise. He even refused valuable opportunities to preach the gospel at times saying that "I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will" (Acts 18:21).
Luke speaks of sailing from Philippi "after the days of unleavened bread" (Acts 20:6), and of Paul making haste to be at Jerusalem to observe Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Gentile Christians at Corinth were urged to "Purge out therefore the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (I Cor. 5:7-8).
The annual Sabbaths were not a part of the law of Moses, but were observed before the ritualistic ordinances contained in that law were given. Formerly pagan, Christian converts at Colosse were criticized by false teachers in respect of their observance of these days (Col. 2:16). Paul makes the point that it is the leaders within the Church of God, not unauthorized outsiders, who should determine how these days should be kept. There is no mention of the abolition of these days but simply guidance as to how they should be kept.
During the first three centuries of the Christian era a controversy raged, sometimes leading to bloodshed and death, over which weekly day of worship Christians should observe. Should they keep the Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) or Sunday? There is no shred of evidence that the first century Church of God kept any other day than the Sabbath as a day for weekly church meetings. Even some leading theologians of Sunday-keeping churches have agreed that not one single verse in the entire Bible authorizes Sunday observance.
A few New Testament passages have been used as giving sanction for church services on Sunday; but an examination of the context of these passages gives an entirely different picture. In Acts 20:7 we read: "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight."
Some have imagined this to have been a Sunday morning communion service, but it was no such thing. At the time that this was written, each day was counted from sunset to sunset. A meeting which ended at midnight on the first day of the week must have started Saturday evening. The first day of the week ended at sunset on Sunday. This was a Saturday evening meeting. On the Sunday morning Paul set off to walk to Assos, where a ship was waiting for him.
A second important point regarding this verse is that the term "break bread" is used here to denote the taking of a communal meal, not the Sunday communion service. The New Testament church observed the Passover or "Lord's Supper" once a year, not every week on Sunday morning. Verse six of this passage plainly states that this service had already been held about two weeks earlier. I Cor. 16:2 is also sometimes used as an example of a Sunday service. It reads: "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." Even a casual reading of the earlier verses of this chapter indicates that this instruction, given by Paul, has nothing whatever to do with church services, but rather a gathering of farm produce and other foodstuffs, which was to be sent to the church members at Jerusalem who were suffering from a severe food shortage.
The Weymouth translation adds the important point that this collection of food, which certainly was to take place on a Sunday, was to be done by each individual Christian "at his home." These people were not meeting together for a church service on this day but rather gathering food in their own individual homes.
A reference in Rev. 1:10 to "the Lord's day" is also taken to promote Sunday observance. At least one translation renders this "the day of the Lord," and as the entire context of the book of Revelation is one of revealing future world events, including the prophesied "day of the Lord" (the time of God's direct intervention in world affairs), this is clearly the true meaning of the verse. Yet again we find that this has nothing to do with religious services on a Sunday.
Jesus Christ, the ultimate authority on which day is the true "Lord's day," made the revealing statement that "the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28). Quite late in the New Testament period when the book of Hebrews was written, the entire Church of God was still observing the seventh day Sabbath: "Therefore a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9).
From a very early date it was claimed by some that Sunday observance was introduced in recognition of the resurrection of Christ, which they said took place on a Sunday. But is this really correct? In John 19:31 we read that "The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day" obtained permission from Pilate to hasten the deaths of the two men who were crucified with Jesus.
It would seem from the first part of this verse that Christ really did die on "Good Friday." John, however, adds vital additional information which proves that the "Sabbath" following the crucifixion was not the weekly Sabbath (Saturday) but an annual holy day Sabbath, ("for that Sabbath was a high day"). This particular high day Sabbath was called by the Jews "the great Sabbath" and is also known as the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in which a "holy convocation" (Lev. 23:7) was held.
Eusebius relates that Polycarp, a leader of the true Church of God in Asia Minor, was taken for trial and execution on a great Sabbath day." The marginal notes explain that "The great Sabbath was the feast of unleavened bread ...."1
The fourteenth verse of John nineteen explains that the crucifixion took place on a "preparation" day. Not the preparation for the weekly Sabbath, but "the preparation for the Passover." The Jews always killed the Passover lambs on the day before "the great Sabbath." This was the very day on which Christ was crucified. Jesus Christ, "the lamb of God," was sacrificed as "our Passover ... sacrificed for us," as Paul puts it, at about the time that the Jews killed the physical lambs. In A. D. 31, the year of the crucifiction, this day fell on a Wednesday, not a Friday.
The only sign that Jesus ever gave of His Messiahship was that He would be in the grave for "three days and three nights" (Matt. 12:39-40). He died shortly after "the ninth hour" (Luke 23:44) between 3 p.m. and sunset. The resurrection took place at the same time of day, three days later. This brings us to a Saturday afternoon. Mark records that at about dawn on the following Sunday, the next morning, the angel informed the women who had come to the sepulchre that "he is risen." He did not say, "he is rising." The resurrection took place at the same time of the day as the death -- the late afternoon. This is why at dawn the next day (Sunday) He was already risen.
The resurrection took place on the Sabbath -- not Sunday. There were two Sabbaths in the week that Christ died. The annual holy day Sabbath on the Thursday and the weekly Sabbath on the Saturday; the women purchased and prepared their spices on the day between, the Friday. The true church continued to observe the Passover on the 14th day of the first month (Nisan) as a memorial of the death of Christ for several centuries. The church historian, Bede, records that Christians in Scotland were still keeping the Passover as late as the 7th century A.D.2
This day pictures the shedding of Christ's blood, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish, to pay the penalty for human sins. He who never sinned was able, as God in human form, to fully pay the price of all human sins, and to take the death penalty which we have incurred upon Himself. This sacriflce wipes the slate clean and gives those who repent of sin and wish to accept His sacrifice access to God.
The seven days of unleavened bread which follow the Passover picture the newly converted Christian coming out of sin (leaven is used as a type of sin), as the Israelites, in the Exodus, came out of Egypt, immediately after the first Passover. The Christian, like the Israelites coming out of Egypt, has to learn how to keep the Commandments of God. Sin, the thing which he has to come out of, is defined as the breaking or transgression of those very same laws (I John 3:4).
The next holy day, Pentecost, symbolizes the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), which gives a fleshly human being the spiritual power to keep a spiritual law -- the law of God. It pictures the flrstfruits, a small called-out body of Christians, called to do the work of preaching the gospel to the world as a witness (Matt. 24:14), and to qualify as individuals by overcoming "the world, the flesh and the devil" in order to have a part in the world-ruling Kingdom of God, to be set up at the return of Christ.
This group of holy days, kept during the early part of the year, portrays the calling and training of the "Firstfruits" of God's Plan of Salvation. The true Church of God, called by Christ a "little flock," is called to an understanding of God's plan in advance of the broad majority of the earth's population, in order to prepare to assist Christ in the administration of God's government on earth (Rev. 2:26).
The later group of festivals held in the autumn (fall) of the year picture God's dealings with the world as a whole. The first festival in this second group is the "Feast of Trumpets" defined as "a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation" (Lev. 23:23-25). It pictures the historical event, yet future, of the return of Christ to earth as a King and Ruler, to take over the government of the entire world, and set up the Kingdom of God on earth (Rev. 11:15). It is the time when true Christians who died in the past will be resurrected to glorified spirit life, and those still living at that time will be changed or transformed into the same form (I Cor. 15:51-52).
The next holy day, the Day of Atonement, is observed as a day of fasting. It looks forward to the time when Satan, the devil "which deceiveth the whole world" (Rev. 12:9) is bound and imprisoned for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3). As the live goat in the Old Testament observance of this festival, in a symbolic sense, took the sins of the Israelites into the wilderness (Lev. 16:20-26), so Satan will carry away with him his part in all human sins (Christ has already paid the penalty for our part in our sins when we repent).
With our human sins now paid for and forgiven, and Satan no longer able to deceive human beings, those who desire God's salvation are now At-one with God. Atonement means At-one-ment -- human beings finally "at one" with God. Christians were still keeping this festival in A.D. 58 when Paul took his sea voyage to Rome. In Acts 27:9 it is recorded that "when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past ...." The "fast" mentioned here was the Day of Atonement. Shortly after this festival, Christians observed the seven day long Feast of Tabernacles. This pictures the thousand year reign of Christ on earth, also known as the Millennium. This doctrine of the Millennium was believed, as looking forward to a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth, for centuries.
During the second century Papias of Hierapolis stated that "There will be a period of some thousand years after the first resurrection of the dead, and the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth."3
Other "church fathers" of the second and third centuries such as Iranaeus and Tertullian held similar views relating to this doctrine. This amazing and yet future period of human history will be the time when "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26). At this time spiritual understanding will be available to all, and human beings, no longer having their minds confused by Satan's deceptions, will become converted in large numbers. It will also be a time of great material prosperity and abundance.
A prophecy relating to a time, after the second coming of Christ, gives clear evidence that the observance of this Festival was not something which was "nailed to the cross" and done away with. "And it shall come to pass that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the king, the Lord of hosts and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zech. 14:16). Immediately following this festival the seventh and final holy day was observed. This is called "the last day, that great day of the feast" (John 7:37). On this day Jesus preached that "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (same verse).
This holy day pictures the event, yet in the future, which is sometimes termed the "White Throne Judgment" (Rev. 20:12) when "the dead, small and great, stand before God." It is the time when the vast majority of human beings who lived and died without having any understanding of salvation will be resurrected to human life and given their first opportunity to grasp the true gospel and plan of salvation.
It is only those who knowingly reject God's ways and plan of salvation, probably a tiny minority of the earth's population, who will be destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). This is the second death from which there is to be no resurrection.
The people who repent of their own ways and accept God's plan of salvation will all ultimately be changed from human to glorified spirit form, as the very children of God. They shall witness the creation of "a new heaven and a new earth" where "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:1-4).
The newly born sons of God, no longer restricted by the limitations of the human body, but now sharing the very power of God, will assist God in the development and rulership of the universe for all eternity. When one considers the awesome magnitude and wonder of God's plan for human beings, it becomes plain why the early church continued the physical observance of the holy days which picture these events on a year by year basis. It was only when people began turning away from "the faith once delivered to the saints" to "another Jesus" and another gospel" (II Cor. 11:2-15), that the concept came into being that these holy days had been done away with or "nailed to the cross."
From the very beginning of human life on earth, Satan, the devil, had opposed God and His plan for human beings. He offered Eve (Gen. 3:4) and all other humans an alternative to God's plan of salvation, a counterfeit of the real thing. The one thing that would disqualify people from receiving salvation was sin -- disobedience to the laws of God. Satan "sold" the idea to Eve that a person could sin, live in whatever manner he wished, contrary to God's law, and yet still receive the gift of eternal life.
The city of Babylon became the headquarters of Satan's counterfeit religion. Nimrod, "a mighty one in the earth" (Gen. 10:8), built the city and exerted an immense influence over the early descendants of Noah. His great political power was used to turn people's minds away from God. The phrase "a mighty hunter before the LORD" (Gen. 10:8) could well have been rendered "against the LORD." It was said that he caused all the people to rebel against God.
He was also a priest in Satan's counterfeit religious system. This system, called in the Bible "Mystery, Babylon the great" (Rev. 17:5), continued to deceive millions of people long after the actual city of Babylon was destroyed (Isa. 13:19-22; Jer. 51:62). This system not only instigated the large number of pagan religions of the world but also, amazingly, much of the world's "Christianity" (II Cor. 11:2-15).
Alexander Hislop's thoroughly documented work, The Two Babylons, goes into great detail to explain the doctrines of this system, and how it has continued to exert a profound influence upon millions in the Western world of professing Christianity to the present day.
Herodotus, the world traveler and noted historian of antiquity, studied this mystery religion at work in the various countries of the ancient world which he visited. He mentioned that Babylon was the primeval source from which ALL systems based on idolatry flowed.4
The Apostle Paul expressed great concern that in his day "the mystery of iniquity" was still at work and that its adherents were attempting to gain a following amongst members of the true Church of God (II Thes. 2:7). The high priest, or spiritual leader of this system at that time, has been identified by some as Simon Magus or Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24).
Simon was a Samaritan, and the Bible points out that salvation was of the Jews -- not the Samaritans (John 4:22). The book of Revelation speaks of a synagogue, or church of Satan, the members of which claimed to be Jews, when they were not (Rev. 2:9). The Samaritans, when it suited their purposes, claimed to be Jews, but in fact they were largely Babylonian by race.
The Samaritans had been settled in the area some seven centuries before the time of Christ, and had been brought from Babylon and the surrounding areas (II Kings 17:24, Ezra 4:9-10). They took their Babylonian mystery religion with them into Samaria.
Although Simon was baptized by Philip, his subsequent career proves that he never really repented. He tried to buy the power to confer the Holy Spirit on his followers. There are no indications that he ever intended abandoning his former religion. Simon wanted extra spiritual power to enhance his own reputation and influence over his followers. Peter, however, correctly perceived his motive and strongly rebuked him, pointing out that his heart was "not right in the sight of God" (Acts 8:21).
Although Simon did not repent and become a humble and converted member of the true church, he did clearly recognize the immense power of the new religion and saw in it an opportunity of extending his own spiritual influence far beyond the borders of Samaria. The new religion offered possibilities which would appeal to people everywhere -- why not a universal church with himself as its leader?
Early writers often referred to Simon as "the father of the Gnostics" and Gnostic writings mention that in order to become "all things to all men" he claimed to be God the Father, in Samaria; God the Son, in Judea; and God the Holy Spirit among the Gentile peoples. Simon, it seemed, really believed in a "holy trinity." Perhaps the most damaging and far reaching of Simon's new "Christian" doctrines was that the grace or free pardon of God gave a person the license to continue in sin.
The epistle of Jude speaks of "certain men" who "crept in unawares" and turned "the grace of our God into lasciviousness ..." (Jude 4). Simon had been dead for some time when this was written, but Jude almost certainly had in mind Simon's followers when he wrote this, who were attempting to introduce this doctrine into the true church.
"At the head of all the sects, which disturbed the peace of the church, stand the Gnostics, who claimed ability to restore to mankind the lost knowledge of the true and supreme God... even in the first century, in various places, men infected with the Gnostic leprosy began to erect societies distinct from the other Christians."5
William Cave gives further details concerning the progress of this insidious attempt to subvert the true Church:
"The first ringleader of this heretical crew was Simon Magus, who not being able to attain his ends of the apostles, by getting a power to confer miraculous gifts, whereby he designed to greatly and enrich himself, resolved to be revenged of them, scattered the most poisonous tares among the good wheat they had sown, bringing in the most pernicious principles; and as the natural consequence of that patronizing the most debauched villainous practices; and this under a pretense of still being Christians.
"But besides this, Simon and his followers made the gate yet wider, maintaining a universal license to sin; that men were free to do whatever they had a mind to; that to press the observance of good works was a bondage inconsistent with the liberty of the gospel; that so men did but believe in him and his dear Helen."6
Helen was Simon's mistress, and it was said that his relationship with her was used by his followers as an example, which they followed in their own grossly immoral lifestyles.
Justin Martyr says of her that "A certain Helen, also, is of this class, who had before been a public prostitute in Tyre of Phoenicia, and at that time attached herself to Simon, and was called, the first idea that proceeded from him."7
The second century writer Iranaeus adds that "they lived in all lust and filthiness, as indeed whoever will take the pains to peruse the account that is given of them, will find that they wallowed in the most horrible and unheard of bestialities." These obscene orgies of Simon and his followers soon attracted the attention of the Romans, who rarely took the trouble to distinguish between the true Christians and the false. Tacitus and other writers of the period relate that Christians brought to trial were often accused by the authorities of taking part in secret orgies.
Peter seems to have had this in mind when he wrote that "many will follow their impurities; on account of whom the way of truth will be reviled" (II Pet. 2:2).
Towards the end of the second century a work known as "The Clementine Homilies" was produced, which gave a long and detailed account of Simon and his activities. This bizarre record contained a confusing mixture of truth and error and has been described as " a kind of religious novel." It speaks of a visit which Simon made to Egypt, at which time he embraced the doctrine of the immortal soul.
In an alleged conversation with Simon Peter the point was made that "For the soul even of the wicked is immortal, for whom it were better not to have it incorruptible. For, being punished with endless torture under unquenchable fire, and never dying, it can receive no end of its misery."8
This doctrine gained a following at Rome. Mosheim's history of the early church mentions a sect of Christians who met on Sundays and who sang songs in honour of the sun and moon. They taught that Christ was in both and that the souls of the dead went to these heavenly bodies to be cleansed, after which they flew out to the stars to shine for evermore.
An inscription on the tomb of a martyr found in the Roman catacombs tends to support this view. The victim had died in the Antonine persecution which began about A.D. 160. It reads: "Alexander dead ... `is not'; but he lives above the stars, and his body rests in this tomb. He ended life under the emperor Antonine, who foreseeing that great benefit would result from his services, returned evil for good, for while on his knees and about to sacrifice to the true God, was led away to execution. Oh, sad times! in which, among sacred rites and prayers, even in caverns, we are not safe. What can be more wretched than such a life? And what than such a death? When they cannot be buried by their friends and relations. At length they sparkle in heaven. He has scarcely lived, who has lived in Christian times."9
Eusebius relates that after visiting Antioch, around A.D. 42, and being resisted by Peter (Gal. 2:11), Simon Magus went to Rome. Satan "seizing upon the imperial city for himself, brought thither Simon, whom we mentioned before. Coming to the aid of his insidious artifices, he attached many of the inhabitants of Rome to himself, in order to deceive them."10
Several New Testament passages state that two of the most prominent practices of this counterfeit system were fornication and idolatry.
A further passage from the work of Eusebius mentions that Simon's followers "prostrate themselves before pictures and images of Simon himself and of Helena, who was mentioned with him, and undertake to worship them with incense and sacrifices and libations."11
Justin Martyr records that Menander a disciple of Simon "persuaded those who followed him that they would not die." This man, in common with Satan (Gen. 3:4), deceived people into accepting the idea that a person could live a life of continual sin and yet not suffer the inevitable consequences.
Another of Simon's followers, Nicholas of Antioch, is said to have founded the sect of the Nicolaitanes (Rev. 2:15) and promoted "the doctrine of promiscuity." The doctrine of "antichrist" was also expounded by Simon Magus. "For it is manifest, from all the accounts which we have of him, that after his defection from the Christians, he ascribed to Christ no honour at all; but set himself in opposition to Christ, and said that he was no other than the supreme power of God.
"They (Simon and his followers) could not, indeed, either call him God, or a real man. True deity was inconsistent with their notion, that he was, although begotten of God, yet every way far inferior to the Father."12
This evil man set himself up as "another Jesus," and gladly welcomed the actual worship of other human beings.
The religion of this movement represented a bizarre blend of Christianity and pagan, oriental philosophy. Iranaeus records that not all of Simon's followers followed him openly, but some did so in secret, appearing to the world as true Christians. It was this group who secretly infiltrated the Church of God (Jude 4).
Simon's movement had a distinct anti-Jewish bias, and rejected almost all of the Old Testament teachings. One of their methods was to allegorize teachings (such as those against idolatry and paganism). Iranaeus states that Simon taught "that the Jewish prophecies were inspired by the creator's angels; therefore those who had hope in him and Helen need not attend to them, but freely do as they would."
The law of God, which Paul described as holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12) was, according to Simon's perverted reasoning, a sinister tyranny which would enslave human beings. Simon honoured the "eighth" day of the week (Sunday) rather than the Sabbath."13
This arch heretic died, according to Eusebius, during the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54), but others say during the time of Nero (A.D. 54-68). Although Simon was dead his movement did not die with him. Even though the name of his sect (Simonians or Samaritans) was rarely used by his followers after the second century, the doctrines of the group gained an ever widening following. These people now called themselves simply "Christians."
Even though the conspirators had been at work almost from the beginning of the New Testament church, the presence and energetic activities of the apostles had, to a large extent, kept them on the outside of the church looking in. When Peter wrote his second epistle around A.D. 66, he was able to predict -- as a future event -- that "there will be false teachers among you" (II Pet. 2:1). Jude, writing a decade or two later, saw the actual fulfillment of this prophecy. Events during this period were moving very rapidly. By A.D. 68 when Nero died, Peter, Paul and many other leaders and members had been martyred. The following year saw the flight of the headquarters church from Jerusalem to Pella, beyond the river Jordan.
Direct persecution against the church and the upheaval caused by the Jewish wars created a leadership or power vacuum within the church, which ambitious men were ready to exploit. By the closing years of the first century only John remained of the original twelve apostles, and even he was in exile for a time on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9).
The influence of false ministers within some local congregations had by this time become so great that even John was rejected by at least one congregation (II John 9-10) in Asia Minor.
Clement of Rome, writing at about the same time, A.D. 95-96, expressed deep concern over a similar situation which was developing at Corinth. The Corinthian church, less than thirty years after the apostle Paul's death, was ejecting from the ministry men who had been ordained by the apostles. Clement, writing as a spokesman for "The Church of God which is at Rome," urges the Corinthians to "walk by the rule of God's Commandments." He laments that "It is a shame... to hear that the most firm and ancient church of the Corinthians should, by one or two persons, be led into a sedition against its priests.
"But we see how you have put out some, who lived reputedly among you, from the ministry, which by their innocence they had adored. "Your schism has perverted many, has discouraged many: it has caused diffidence in many, and grief in us all. And yet your sedition continues still."
He calls upon the ringleaders to repent: "Let us with all haste put an end to this sedition."14
It was said that the conspirators had been guilty of attempting to "violate the order of public services," primarily the Lord's Supper or Passover. Clement's intervention may have checked the conspiracy for a while but by the time that Dionysius visited the Corinthian church in A.D. 170, the church which in Paul's day had been keeping the Sabbath was now meeting for services "Sunday by Sunday."
After the generation which had been converted through Paul's ministry had died, inspired leadership within that local church seems to have quickly faded from the scene. With fewer converted members left with each passing year the false ministers were ultimately able to take over the entire church at Corinth. Following Clement's death around A.D. 101 major doctrinal changes began to be introduced at Rome. The abolition of the Sabbath and annual Holy Days seems to have been the first objective of those who, at Rome, had "crept in unawares."
The introduction of Easter in place of the Passover took place according to one authority in A.D. 109; other sources put the date some ten to twelve years later, during the time of the Roman bishop Sixtus, or Xystus. Easter was observed at a different time compared to the Passover and was based on the unscriptural Good Friday-Easter Sunday tradition. Many of its features were taken directly from paganism.
Easter, according to Alexander Hislop,15 "bears its Chaldean origin on its forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of Heaven ... The introduction of this festival was a gradual process and in its earliest (second century) form still retained the name of Passover.
"The festival, of which we read in church history, under the name of Easter, in the third or fourth centuries, was quite a different festival from that now observed in the Romish Church, and at that time was not known by any such name as Easter. It was called Pascha, or the Passover, and ... was very clearly observed by many professing Christians."16
This major doctrinal change had received no approval whatsoever either from any apostle or from any who had been ordained by an apostle.
Polycarp, who had known several of the apostles, and had been ordained by John, strongly resisted the introduction of this new festival. He visited Rome in A.D. 154 to discuss the matter with Anicetus, the Roman bishop.
Iranaeus described the outcome of the meeting: "For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe it (the Passover) because he had always observed it with John, the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associated; and neither did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, who said that he was bound to follow the customs of the presbyters before him."17
The church of Rome by this time was determined to follow its own customs and traditions, even when these were in direct conflict with the teachings and examples set by the apostles of Christ. A series of epistles and other writings appeared during the second century which supported the introduction of new doctrines. Many, if not most, of these works could be classed as spurious, in the sense that the individuals named as the writers of these documents were not the true authors, who had probably been dead for several decades when these works were written. These writings do, however, reflect, with some degree of accuracy, the changes which were taking place at Rome during the second century A.D.
The observance of Sunday as a day of worship appears to have started at Rome around A.D. 120. The so-called "Epistle of Barnabas" which was written about this time mentions that "we observe the eighth day with gladness" (chap. 13 v. 10).
This work contains a strong anti-Jewish bias and the writer goes to great length to supposedly "prove" that the health laws of the Bible, primarily those relating to clean and unclean meats, had been written as an allegory and as such did not apply to Christians. He concludes by stating: "Wherefore it is not the command of God that they should not eat these things ... (Chapter 10).
The "Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians" is another attempt to justify Sunday observance. "Wherefore if they who were brought up in these ancient laws came nevertheless to the newness of hope; no longer observing Sabbaths but keeping the Lord's Day ... (Chap. 9).
By A.D. 200 the Roman church, far from calling the Sabbath "a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable" (Isa. 58:13) had made this a day of fasting.
"The Roman church regarded Saturday as a fast day in direct opposition to those who regarded it as a Sabbath. Sunday remained a joyful festival in which all fasting and worldly business was avoided as much as possible, but the original commandment of the decalogue respecting the Sabbath was not then applied to that day."18
The antagonism of the church of Rome was not confined to the weekly Sabbath but was extended to include the annual Sabbaths which pictured God's plan of salvation for mankind.
About A.D. 140 a Jew named Trypho challenged Justin Martyr, a leader in the Roman church, to explain why the Christians were not observing "festivals or Sabbaths." Justin replied that "the new law requires you to keep a perpetual Sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you: and if you eat unleavened bread you say the will of God has been fulfilled. The Lord our God does not take pleasure in such observances."19
It is also noted in the above work that "Justin never discriminated between the Sabbath of the Lord and the annual sabbaths ..." Justin mentions the attitude of the Roman Christians to those of the True Church of God who continued to observe the Sabbath. They "do not venture to have any intercourse with, or to extend hospitality to, such persons; but I do not agree with them."
By the middle of the second century the few who continued to obey God, and as such constituted the True Church (Rev. 12:17) were being ejected from any fellowship with the professing Christian Church, which had substituted its own traditions in place of obedience to God. The time predicted by Christ when "They shall put you (the true Christians) out of the synagogues" (John 16:2) had arrived. Not only did the Roman church regard the Sabbath as a fast day but, in time, even the feast of unleavened bread began to be regarded in the same light.
The Roman congregation was instructed to "keep your nights of watching in the middle of the days of unleavened bread. And when the Jews are feasting, do you fast and wail over them, because on the day of their feast they crucified Christ ... Do you therefore fast on the days of the Passover ..."20
The changes being introduced by the Roman church did not take place without opposition. In Asia Minor, where several churches had been raised up by the apostles, Christians continued to observe the festivals which had been handed down to them by the apostles and, their immediate followers, such as Polycarp.
Church members continued these festivals even when visiting Rome, which only served to emphasize the growing differences between the church of Rome and churches from other areas. The Roman church needed something more than the tradition of its own bishops upon which to place the seal of authority upon its changing doctrines.
A letter was circulated at Rome shortly after Polycarp's visit of A.D. 154. The letter, probably a forgery, purported to have come from the Roman bishop Pius, who had died shortly before this time, in which his brother Hermas is said to have received instructions from an angel that the Passover should be observed on a Sunday. This, it seems, gave fresh impetus to the growing Easter Sunday tradition.
About A.D. 160 Tatian, a disciple of Justin Martyr, produced the "Diatessaron" in which it was said (by Dionysius of Corinth) that he "selected from the gospels and patched together and constructed a gospel which is called Diatessaron." This work appeared to produce evidence in the form of direct quotations from the gospels to support the "Good Friday" tradition. An honest examination of the real gospels, however, produces no such "evidence." Few in Rome, it seems, bothered to check the source of Tatian's statements.
At about this point in history a discovery was made at Rome which was to have tremendous significance for the local church.
Workmen, digging the foundations for a new building on Vatican Hill around A.D. 160-170, uncovered something which inspired the Roman bishop Anicetas to erect a shrine on the site of the discovery which was dedicated to the apostle Peter. Extensive excavations which started in 1939 and continued for several years beneath the high altar of St. Peter`s have established beyond reasonable doubt that this shrine to Peter, also known as "the Andicula," was erected during the third quarter of the second century A.D.
The unknown "something" which the workmen uncovered during the second century could well have been some of the bodily remains of one, or more, of the victims of the Neronian persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64. The site of the shrine was located only a short distance from Nero's Circus, where the Christians suffered martyrdom. A second century will of one Gaius Popilius Horacia stipulated that he was to be buried "on the Vatican Hill near the Circus."
Bishop Lightfoot described in lurid detail the ghastly events of that time.
"The refined cruelty of the tortures -- the impalements and the pitchy tunics, the living torches making night hideous with the lurid flames and piercing cries, the human victims clad in the skins of wild beasts and hunted in the arena, while the populace gloated over these revels and the emperor indulged his mad orgies -- those were scenes which no lapse of time could efface. Above all ... the climax of horrors ... were the outrages, far worse than death itself, inflicted on weak women and innocent girls."21
Although there is no way of knowing for certain whether or not the workmen really did uncover the remains of Peter's body, or indeed of any body, the fact is clearly established that Peter was venerated at this shrine from about A.D. 160 onwards. Dionysius of Corinth was the first to mention that both Peter and Paul had died at Rome (A.D. 170).
Eusebius records the statement of the Roman priest Gaius, made about A.D. 200, that:
"I can show you the trophies of the Apostles. For if you go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way, there you will find the trophies of those who founded this church."22
From the time of Constantine onwards Catholic churches erected on this site were built in such a manner as to incorporate the shrine within the finished building. An interesting reference in the "Liber Pontificalis" would seem, on the face of it, to place the construction of the shrine some eighty years earlier than the evidence of archaeology would indicate.
It was said that Anacletus, a shadowy figure about whom almost nothing is known, "built and set in order a memorial ... shrine to the blessed Peter, where the bishops might be buried." This event is dated to about A.D. 80.
So far as is known, only one shrine to Peter existed at Rome during the first few centuries of the Christian era, and intensive recent investigations have dated this to about A.D. 160. The most probable solution to this problem is that the sixth century scribe who compiled this work, probably from earlier sources, almost certainly confused the two names of Anacletus and Anicetus (the Bishop of Rome in A.D, 160).
A bizarre twist to this story is that Anacletus did indeed dedicate a shrine to the first bishop of Rome in A.D. 80 -- but that man was NOT Peter. The shrine of memoria of Anacletus was dedicated to the genuine first bishop of Rome. The man's name was LINUS. He was ordained by the apostle Paul (not Peter) as the first elder or bishop of the Church of God at Rome.
One of Paul's functions as an apostle was to ordain elders, or bishops in the towns and cities where churches had been established. Sometimes an assistant was delegated to handle this task (Titus 1:5). What very few have realized is that Paul also performed this task at Rome. Several early writers mention this ordination and link the individual concerned with the Linus mentioned in II Tim. 4:21. Jerome gives the date of this event as A.D. 68, probably no more than a few months or weeks before Paul's martyrdom. Of all the local bishops ordained by Paul, the bishop of Rome was not the first but the last to be ordained. This ordination could well have been his final official duty prior to his death.
Linus died, possibly martyred, in A.D. 80. His tomb has been discovered in the Roman catacombs. The amazing facts relating to this discovery are as follows:
"In the Catacomb of St. Priscilla is a memorial chapel known as the Memoria of Anacletus. This, we are told, was built by Anacletus after the death of Linus. Dr. Spence-Jones gives an interesting account of the discovery of the Memoria and what it contained. It was evidently built in honour of Linus and as a fitting resting place for this first Bishop of Rome, who suffered martyrdom. Part of the Vatican was built over this catacomb, the oldest in Rome.
"No doubt it has been explored thoroughly in the hope of finding St. Peter`s tomb, but none has been discovered with any inscription pointing to Peter. In the Memorial of Anacletus, a number of plain stone coffins were found grouped around the floor. Only one bore an inscription and it was the simple word LINUS. This was in the centre of the floor and was clearly the one for which the chapel was built."23
Iranaeus, who was born only forty years after the death of Linus, confirmed his position in the early church.
"The blessed Apostles, then, having founded and built up the church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus Paul makes mention in his Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus and after him, in third place from the Apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric."24
One can only wonder why these important facts have remained hidden for so long. Very little is known of the movements of Peter apart from the few brief references to him given in the New Testament. These speak of him working at Jerusalem, Joppa, Caesarea, Samaria and Antioch. His task was to preach to the Jews, not the gentile Romans (Gal. 2:7-8). Paul, not Peter, was sent to establish the church at Rome (Rom. 15:16).
At the end of his epistle to the Romans, Paul lists a considerable number of his "fellow labourers in Christ," but makes no mention of Peter. No doubt he would have been the first on the list had he been the "bishop of Rome" at the time. Some time later, probably in A.D. 59, when Paul arrived in Italy on the way to Rome he was met by some Christian brethren, but Peter was not among them (Acts 28:15).
At the time that Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans, while recognizing the existence of a Christian congregation, he speaks throughout as though this were practically a virgin soil in which he was called to sow the seed of the Gospel." "The first Apostle visited Rome about A.D. 60.25
None of the "Prison Epistles" written by Paul about this time make any mention of Peter.
William Cave mentions Peter working in Northern Asia Minor, along with his brother Andrew.
"He [Andrew] next came to Sinope, a city situated upon the same sea (Black Sea) where he met with his brother Peter with whom he stayed a considerable time."26
As Peter's own first epistle, written about A.D. 65, is addressed to Christians in this area, the fact that he laboured for a time along this Black Sea coast is highly probable. The final years of Peter's life are shrouded in mystery, and scholars have rightly treated statements from early writers relating to this period with considerable caution.
Cardinal Baronius, the Vatican Librarian, quotes the tenth century writer Simon Metaphrastes, who mentioned that "Peter spent some days in Britain, and enlightened many by the word of grace; and having established churches and elected Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons, came again to Rome in the twelfth year of Nero ..." "This ancient account is highly probable."27
Although some point out that "Metaphrastes is an author of no credit" (Fuller's Church History of Britain, p. 9), a tradition relating to Peter's visit to Britain seems to have started at a very early date.
Gildas, in the sixth century, refers to Britain as "St. Peter's Chair." A church building, dedicated to Peter, is said to have been erected in London as early as A.D. 179 (St. Peter's of Cornhill).
Although the tradition which relates to Westminster Abbey being built on the spot where Peter once slept and had a vision seems too good to be true, and could well have been a fabrication of the Dark Ages, the fact that a church dedicated to Peter occupied the site of the Abbey from ancient times is well established. According to Lactantius, "St. Peter came not to Rome till the reign of Nero, and not long before his martyrdom."
The twelfth year of Nero's reign is given by several early writers as the date that Peter first arrived at Rome. As this date, A.D. 66, is the year before tradition asserts that he was martyred at Rome, there is a strong possibility that the traditions are based on a measure of historical fact. Paul, in his final epistle, the second to Timothy, makes no mention of Peter and makes it clear that "only Luke is with me" (II Tim. 4:1 1). Peter could well have been dead when this was written.
Dionysius, in the second century, mentioned that both Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom in Italy. His remarks are recorded by Eusebius. A little later, about A.D. 200, Tertullian relates that Peter was crucified at Rome, and Origen records that he was crucified upside-down. As the Apostle to "the circumcision," Peter could well have had an interest in the Jewish community that resided in Rome at that time (Acts 28:17).
Although Peter may well have briefly visited Rome towards the end of his life, and may even have died there, this possibility in no way proves that he was the first bishop of Rome in the traditional sense of the term. Peter was as much a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" as was Paul, and in no way would have sanctioned or authorized the doctrinal changes that the Roman church began to introduce from the second century onwards. Christ, not Peter, was the Head of the Church (Eph. 5:23) and He was the one who should be followed (I Pet. 2:21).
Peter, who was a married man, not a celibate priest, kept both the weekly and annual Sabbaths, and would, no doubt, had he lived, have strongly resisted any moves to change or abolish the observance of these days. Peter cannot in any way be used as an authority by those who seek to move away from "the faith once delivered to the saints." The period immediately following the deaths of Peter and Paul have, with good reason, been called "The Age of Shadows" and "The Lost Century." For some fifty years, up to the earliest writings of the church fathers around A.D. 120, church history is almost a total blank.
Several historians have made the point that the church which we read of during the second century was in many vital respects quite different from the church which had been established by Christ and the Apostles.
By the closing years of that century, Christians who faithfully continued in the teachings handed down to them by the immediate followers of Christ were rapidly finding themselves to be in a minority position.
Mosheim, in his church history, relates that: "Christian churches had scarcely been organized when men rose up, who, not being contented with the simplicity and purity of that religion which the Apostles taught, attempted innovations, and fashioned religion according to their own liking." Paul, in his epistle to the Roman church, expressly warned them against boasting of their position and exalting themselves over the largely Jewish churches of the east (Rom. 11:18-21).
By the closing years of the second century, however, the Roman bishop Victor attempts to "excommunicate" the churches of Asia Minor for refusing to abandon practices handed down to them from the Apostles.
"A question of no small importance arose at that time. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Saviour's Passover ... the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the Church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him.
"`We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles ... and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined on the bosom of the Lord ... and Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr ... these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith.'"28
Victor, not content to enforce the observance of Easter, with its many pagan features, upon his own local congregation, determined to press its observance on other churches far from Rome.
J.B. Lightfoot, the noted scholar and historian, describes the fundamental change in the office of the bishop of Rome that took place during the century that separated Clement from Victor. Although theologians of later centuries classified Clement as a Pope, Clement himself makes no mention in his writings of any such exalted position. "The language and silence alike of Clement himself and of writers in his own and immediately succeeding ages are wholly irreconcilable with this extravagant estimate of his position. "In Clement's letter itself -- the earliest document issuing from the Roman church after the apostolic times -- no mention is made of the episcopacy so called.
"There is all the difference in the world between the attitude of Rome towards other churches at the close of the first century... and its attitude at the close of the second century, when Victor the bishop excommunicates the churches of Asia Minor for clinging to a usage in regard to the celebration of Easter which had been handed down to them from the Apostles."29
"Towards the latter end of the second century, most of the churches assumed a new form, the first simplicity disappeared; and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with new converts, both Jews and Gentiles, came forward and new modeled the cause."30
The Roman view on Easter and Sunday observance, which was later to gain almost universal acceptance in the Christian professing world, was summed up by Justin Martyr around the middle of the second century: "But we meet together on Sunday, because it is the first day, in which God, having wrought the necessary changes in darkness and matter made the world; and on this day Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Saturn; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to the Apostles and Disciples, he taught the things which we now submit to your consideration."31
Scholars recognise that the first Christians continued to observe the "Jewish" Sabbath. By Justin Martyr`s time, however, the large numbers of gentile converts coming into the church wrongly assumed that the Sabbath was a part of the ritualistic law of Moses. Genesis 2 shows that it was instituted long before the time of Moses.32
Soon a new "gospel" began to be preached which extolled Christ and His virtues but denied His all-important message that He would return and set up the Kingdom of God on earth. When the Roman or Latin form of Christianity became the state religion of the empire under Constantine, men saw less need for the return of Christ and sought to establish their own ecclesiastical empire, with Rome, not Jerusalem, as its headquarters.
The "little flock" which constituted the true Church of God were now classified as "heretics" by Constantine's "Christian" empire and true to prophecy (Dan. 12:7, Rev. 12) were forced to flee into the wilderness or die as martyrs for their faith.
To those who continued to keep the Passover, in the form that it was handed down to them from the apostles and their successors, Constantine wrote the following:
"Forasmuch, then, as it is no longer possible to bear with your pernicious errors, we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together. We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies: and forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings
Not only the Passover but the Sabbath too was to be abolished by the state, at the Council of Laodicea in A.D. 364.
Pryne records that "the seventh day Sabbath was ... solemnized by Christ, the apostles and primitive Christians till the Laodicean Council did, in a manner, quite abolish the observance of it. The Council of Laodicea ... first settled the observation of the Lord's day."34
Those who wished to continue to keep the Commandments of God were now forced to flee for their lives into remote wilderness areas beyond the reach of their persecutors.
The new state religion, a bizarre blend of Christianity and paganism, now began to dominate Europe for over a thousand years, leaving the true Church in "a place prepared of God" (Rev. 12:6) -- the remote mountains and valleys of central Europe.
FOOTNOTES -- Chapter 6
1. The Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius.
2. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.
3. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., book 3, chapter 39.
4. Herodotus` History, bk. 2, page 109.
5. Mosheim`s Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1.
6. Antiquities Apostolicae, William Cave.
7. The Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius, book 2, chap. 13.
8. The Clementine Homilies, chap. 11.
9. The Catacombs at Rome, B. Scott, page 84.
10. The Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius; book 2, chap. 3.
11. Eccl. Hist., Eusebius, book 2.
12. Mosheim`s Ecclesiastical History, page 121.
13. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, page 379.
14. The Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.
15. The Two Babylons, page 103.
16. The Two Babylons, page 104.
17. Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, book 5, chapter 24.
18. History of the Sabbath, Andrews.
20. The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, book 5.
21. The Apostolic Fathers, J.B. Lightfoot, vol. i, page 74.
22. H.E. 11, 25, 6, 7.
23. Our Neglected Heritage, G. Taylor, page 45,
24. Adv. Haer. iii, 3.
25. TheApostolicFathers, J.B. Lightfoot, vol. 1.
26. Cave's Antiquities Apostolicas, page 138.
27. The Ancient British Church, T. Burges, page 43.
28. Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, book 5.
29. The Apostolic Fathers, J.B. Lightfoot, pages 68-70.
30. Robinson's Ecclesiastical Researches, chap. 6, page 5 1.
31. The Apology of Justin Martyr.
32. See the writings and opinions of Justin Martyr, by John,
Bishop of Lincoln, 1836.
33. Eusebius's Life of Constantine, book 3.
34. Dissertation on the Lord's Day, 1633, page 163.