True Original Church/Faith Once Delivered
(Proof Herbert Armstrong Lied About the "Lost" Church Century)
By Kelly Marshall
Herbert W. Armstrong claimed in Mystery of the Ages that "The true Church of God was to be set back on track, restoring the glorious knowledge of the faith once delivered to the saints in the days of the original apostles." (p. 139, 140) Let's take him up on that claim. Let's examine what this "faith once delivered" is. HWA made his followers believe that early church history was vague—"as if obscured by a thick mist." (p. 280). He claims that the curtain begins to lift around A.D. 150, but now this "original church" is "a totally different church," but called itself Christian. Is this really true? Or does "God's Apostle" not want us to go snooping around and find anything that may oppose his teachings? HWA made his followers believe that historical records were tainted at worst, and scanty or non-existent at best. He assures us, "I have often called it 'the lost century,' because the history of that Church was lost at that time." (p. 280) Really? Was the history of the early church, in its first century of existence, "lost," or are there any records that are in existence today that we can examine? Yes, indeed, there are, and I guarantee that HWA was fully aware of them, and intentionally withheld this knowledge!
The church writings of the first century were produced by the "Apostolic Fathers."1 This simply means that the men who produced these historical manuscripts were taught directly by an apostle. (Irenaeus is the only exception, but he was a disciple of Polycarp since boyhood, while the Apostle John was still living. Irenaeus and Justin Martyr are considered the "sub-apostolic" fathers since their writings branch from the first century and into the second century of the early church. The writings of the Apostolic and sub-apostolic fathers span from 30 A.D. to 202 A.D. Halley's Bible Handbook, in referring to these writings, says "they are extremely valuable, as they form the connecting link between the Apostles and later Church history. Some of them were so highly regarded that, in some localities, they were temporarily regarded as Scripture."2
When one ventures into reading the early apostolic writings, he will begin to notice several things:
- Emphasis that Jesus is the Savior and the importance of belief in Him; those who believe are saved, those who don't are condemned (John 3:18)
- The reality and hope of the Resurrection
- The lack of any instructions about Sabbath-keeping, Holy Day observance, O.T. law-keeping, and tithing [Note: Refer to: Must We Keep the Law for Salvation? for more info, including many scriptures]
- The condemnation of law-keeping and Judaizing
- That the commandments of God and Christ are performing works of love—helping the poor, widows, and orphans; wives showing love toward their husbands and being instructed in their marriages; ending strife and conflict in the body; staying faithful to the church; abstaining from and putting away all forms of evil
- Assembling on the first day of the week in memory of the resurrection [Note: The Jewish Christians did not immediately give up the observance of the Mosaic law. Refer to Sabbath and Sunday: Common Arguments & Misunderstandings for more info.]
- Life in immortality
- Believers, after Christ's resurrection, were given the promise of being with Christ in the Kingdom of heaven [Note: See II Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23.]
- Nothing concerning the significance of the lost Ten Tribes and identity of Israel
- Nothing about Lucifer and one-third of the angels losing their opportunity of "carrying out a tremendous creative program throughout the entire universe" and this opportunity defaulting to man because of their rebellion
[Note by ESN: Many of us were taught the exact opposite of the above. Therefore, before drawing any conclusions, please read Did Herbert Armstrong Distort Historical Church Documents? by Kelly Marshall which covers Simon Magus and the Gnostic heresy.]
Volume 1 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers contains the writings of Clement of Rome, Mathetes, Polycarp, Ignatius, Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. We will begin by showing that these men received their teachings directly from an apostle, and we will prove that they did not stray from the "original" teachings, as HWA would like his readers to believe. We will prove that HWA is guilty of "suppressing the truth" by making his readers believe that little was said during the first century of the early church, and we will prove that this early church did not emerge around 150 A.D. as a "false" Christian church.
One must keep in mind that many of these Epistles were written while the authors were condemned to death. Knowing their lives were ending shortly, it would stand to reason that they would transmit the most important details of the gospel to their followers. (I invite the reader to read these testimonies online, in their fullness. They are very inspirational.) One will quickly discover that the central message is about Jesus—His life, death, and resurrection—and these men and women were willing to die for that testimony. Let's begin with our first apostolic father, Clement of Rome.
Historians recorded that Clement had learned directly from Paul (A.D. 66) and Luke, and that John (A.D. 98) was still alive during the writing of Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians (A.D. 95). Clement lived between 30-100 A.D., clearly proving that the original apostles were still living during the time of Clement, since Paul was not martyred until about A.D. 67, and John's death occurred about A.D. 98.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is long, and I have excerpted the modern historians' comments to show the reader that this epistle falls before HWA's "tainted date" of 150 A.D. Therefore, we can safely assume that Clement's writings did not contain any "error."
(All following historical research quotes in blue text are from The Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D., EDITORS, AMERICAN REPRINT OF THE EDINBURGH EDITION, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. (Visit the webpage to confirm my research).3 All emphasis in bolding is mine.
INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE FIRST EPISTLE
OF CLEMENT TO THE CORINTHIANS.
[a.d. 30-100.] Clement was probably a Gentile and a Roman. He seems to have been at Philippi with St. Paul (a.d. 57) when that first-born of the Western churches was passing through great trials of faith. There, with holy women and others, he ministered to the apostle and to the saints. As this city was a Roman colony, we need not inquire how a Roman happened to be there. He was possibly in some public service, and it is not improbable that he had visited Corinth in those days. From the apostle, and his companion, St. Luke, he had no doubt learned the use of the Septuagint, in which his knowledge of the Greek tongue soon rendered him an adept. His copy of that version, however, does not always agree with the Received Text, as the reader will perceive.
This Epistle was held in very great esteem by the early Church. The account given of it by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., iii. 16) is as follows: "There is one acknowledged Epistle of this Clement (whom he has just identified with the friend of St. Paul), great and admirable, which he wrote in the name of the Church of Rome to the Church at Corinth, sedition having then arisen in the latter Church. We are aware that this Epistle has been publicly read in very many churches both in old times, and also in our own day." The Epistle before us thus appears to have been read in numerous churches, as being almost on a level with the canonical writings. And its place in the Alexandrian ms., immediately after the inspired books, is in harmony with the position thus assigned it in the primitive Church. There does indeed appear a great difference between it and the inspired writings in many respects, such as the fanciful use sometimes made of Old-Testament statements, the fabulous stories which are accepted by its author, and the general diffuseness and feebleness of style by which it is distinguished. But the high tone of evangelical truth which pervades it, the simple and earnest appeals which it makes to the heart and conscience, and the anxiety which its writer so constantly shows to promote the best interests of the Church of Christ, still impart an undying charm to this precious relic of later apostolic times.
We see from the historian's description that Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians was highly esteemed by the early "primitive" Church, so we can safely believe that it was not a spurious document, nor did it contain any errors that the early church spoke out against. Now let's see if Clement's writings agree with HWA's teachings since he claims to have restored "the faith once delivered to the saints in the days of the original apostles." There are fifty-nine short chapters to Clement's epistle, so I will only use excerpted paragraphs that apply. (I encourage you to go online and read this epistle in its entirety. You can discern for yourself the authenticity of this document, as it reads much like a Pauline Epistle, further proving that Clement continued to teach what he learned from Paul).
We find in the this Epistle of Clement the following revealing tidbits:
Chapter V.-No Less Evils Have Arisen from the Same Source in the Most Recent Times.
The Martyrdom of Peter and Paul. But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.
Clement said that Peter upon his death, went to "the place of glory" and Paul "into the holy place." Where is this "place of glory" and "the holy place"? Their souls went to heaven to be with the Lord (which will later be confirmed in Polycarp's epistle). This is why Paul said, "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" (II Corinthians 5:8) and we know the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven. HWA taught that once a person dies, there is no further consciousness—both the body and soul are mortal—and that believers must wait until the return of Christ to be resurrected into conscious life again. This teaching, which we have shown, was derived from the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses). HWA taught that no man, but Jesus, has ascended into heaven,4 which contradicts what the early church believed.
Look at the paragraph below concerning Enoch:
Chapter IX.-Examples of the Saints.
Wherefore, let us yield obedience to His excellent and glorious will; and imploring His mercy and loving-kindness, while we forsake all fruitless labours, and strife, and envy, which leads to death, let us turn and have recourse to His compassions. Let us stedfastly contemplate those who have perfectly ministered to His excellent glory. Let us take (for instance) Enoch, who, being found righteous in obedience, was translated, and death was never known to happen to him. Noah, being found faithful, preached regeneration to the world through his ministry; and the Lord saved by him the animals, which, with one accord, entered into the ark.
Clement clearly states that Enoch did not die! HWA would not accept this because it would contradict his "no man has ascended unto heaven/man does not have an immortal soul" dogma. HWA took the O.T. Scriptures concerning Lamech killing an unidentified man and tried to make his followers believe that the slain man was Enoch. Can one slay Adam and his name escape mention in the Scriptures? Can one slay King David or Moses or any man of notoriety and not have his specific name and events mentioned in Scripture? If Lamech killed Enoch, the Scriptures would have plainly stated it. If Enoch was slain by Lamech, the Scriptures would have confirmed this. There's no way around this. Can the reader begin to see the lengths that HWA will go to bend and twist Scriptures to agree with his phony doctrines instead of believing what the Scriptures plainly say? Let's continue with Clement's Epistle.
HWA made his readers believe that Lucifer was the pinnacle of God's creation, but Clement informs us that man was the most excellent of His creatures!
Chapter XXXIII.-But Let Us Not Owe Up the Practice of Good Works and Love.
God Himself is an Example to Us of Good Works. What shall we do, then, brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing, and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us! But rather let us hasten with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work. For the Creator and Lord of all Himself rejoices in His works. For by His infinitely great power He established the heavens, and by His incomprehensible wisdom He adorned them. He also divided the earth from the water which surrounds it, and fixed it upon the immoveable foundation of His own will. The animals also which are upon it He commanded by His own word into existence. So likewise, when He had formed the sea, and the living creatures which are in it, He enclosed them [within their proper bounds] by His own power. Above all, with His holy and undefiled hands He formed man, the most excellent [of His creatures], and truly great through the understanding given him-the express likeness of His own image. For thus says God: "Let us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness. So God made man; male and female He created them." Having thus finished all these things, He approved them, and blessed them, and said, "Increase and multiply." We see, then, how all righteous men have been adorned with good works, and how the Lord Himself, adorning Himself with His works, rejoiced. Having therefore such an example, let us, without delay, accede to His will, and let us work the work of righteousness with our whole strength.
Lucifer and the angels were never given the lofty opportunity to become sons of God, and nothing is mentioned about their rebellion causing this opportunity to default to man. Several church fathers wrote about the fallen angels, but nothing is said of this "lost opportunity." In the above text, we continue to see the exhortations to do good works, and deathly silence concerning any of the "18 restored truths" promoted by HWA.
Below, Clement outlines how one can obtain this "immense reward" of life in immortality:
Chapter XXXV.-Immense is This Reward. How Shall We Obtain It?
How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendour in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness! And all these fall under the cognizance of our understandings [now]; what then shall those things be which are prepared for such as wait for Him? The Creator and Father of all worlds, the Most Holy, alone knows their amount and their beauty. Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts. But how, beloved, shall this be done? If our understanding be fixed by faith rewards God; if we earnestly seek the things which are pleasing and acceptable to Him; if we do the things which are in harmony with His blameless will; and if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity, along with all covetousness, strife, evil practices, deceit, whispering, and evil-speaking, all hatred of God, pride and haughtiness, vainglory and ambition. For they that do such things are hateful to God; and not only they that do them, but also those that take pleasure in them that do them…
Read it in all its simplicity. Time after time, we see the exhortation toward faith and doing things that are pleasing to God and a list of evils that Christians must abstain from. We see no instruction on keeping any ordinances, or any other of HWA's twisted doctrines. If obedience to HWA's doctrines is a requirement one must perform in order to obtain the ultimate reward, then Clement's writings do not reflect this. Instead, we see the beauty of simplicity of the acts of love, which are pleasing to God, and acts of evil, which we must cast away.
Following is an example of how HWA would have taken the above paragraph by Clement and perverted it:
Chapter XXXV.-Immense is This Reward. How Shall We Obtain It?
How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, [after Jesus' return to establish The Kingdom] splendour in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness! And all these fall under the cognizance of our understandings [now]; what then shall those things be which are prepared for such as wait for Him? The Creator and Father of all worlds, the Most Holy, alone knows their amount and their beauty. Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts. But how, beloved, shall this be done? If our understanding be fixed by faith rewards God; if we earnestly seek the things which are pleasing and acceptable to Him [keeping the COMMANDMENTS]; if we do the things which are in harmony with His blameless will [by abstaining from unclean meats and every unclean practice]; and if we follow the way of truth [by obeying HIS GOVERNMENT], casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity [no longer being part of this present, evil world], along with all covetousness, strife, evil practices, deceit, whispering, and evil-speaking [against His Government], all hatred of God, pride and haughtiness, vainglory and ambition [by taking a following after oneself]. For they that do such things are hateful to God; and not only they that do them, but also those that take pleasure in them that do them [BITTER dissidents and believing what they say against God's own Church!].
Can we see how HWA could change the meaning by simply redirecting each phrase toward himself and his doctrines?
Let's look at the credentials of the next apostolic writer, Mathetes. (I shortened the historian's comments to save space, but it can be read in full context online.)
INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE EPISTLES OF MATHETES TO DIOGNETUS
[a.d. 130.] The anonymous author of this Epistle gives himself the title (Mathetes) "a disciple of the Apostles," and I venture to adopt it as his name…Mathetes was possibly a catechumen of St. Paul or of one of the apostle's associate.
The historian informs us that the author of this epistle is anonymous, so he assigns him the name Mathetes. Although we do not know the writer's true identity, the historian has determined that the writings are authentic and not spurious.
Ancient manuscripts can be authenticated through several factors—the type of materials used to produce the document (papyrus, animal vellum, type of inks and stylus, etc.), the language, the script of the writing, the historical content, the lack of mythical embellishments and legends—to name just a few. We can see that this epistle was written around 130 A.D., twenty years before the HWA "taint date." In this epistle, we will begin to see why HWA wanted us to believe that a "curtain descended upon the early church," because he certainly would not have wanted his followers to see this:
Chapter IV.-The Other Observances of the Jews.
But as to their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice, I do not think that you require to learn anything from me. For, to accept some of those things which have been formed by God for the use of men as properly formed, and to reject others as useless and redundant,-how can this be lawful? And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath-days,-how is not this impious? And to glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election, and as if, on account of it, they were specially beloved by God,-how is it not a subject of ridicule? And as to their observing months and days, as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their distributing, according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities, and others for mourning,-who would deem this a part of divine worship, and not much rather a manifestation of folly? I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.
In the above text, Mathetes is discussing the errors of Gentiles' idol worship (contained in the previous Chapter III paragraph which can be read online) and the errors of Judaism. Mathetes declares the observance of clean and unclean meats, and Holy Day observances as "utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice." Below, Mathetes outlines what Christians are to observe:
Chapter V.-The Manners of the Christians.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. (2 Cor. 6:9) They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
The defining characteristics of Christians are the fruits of love displayed through their conduct—love toward God by not conforming to the evil practices of this present world (not sacrificing their children to idols, not committing fornication, not living after the lusts of the flesh, not breaking the law of the land, etc.), and showing love toward their fellow man (sharing in all things with others; loving their children; sharing food and fellowship, obeying civil governments, return blessing for cursing, etc.). Spiritual fruits are what God wants from us. God never intended to burden people with peculiar rituals and customs! The love of Christ is our testimony—not Jewish customs. When one practices the love of Christ, people see God. When one practices Jewish customs, all people see is a convert to Judaism. (This is why people would ask WCG members, "Oh, are you Jewish?" whenever they would explain their beliefs). Notice that Christians are citizens of heaven, not citizens of the "government of God" on earth!
Notice also, that Christians understood that they would continue to live, even after being put to death. Below we see that the early church plainly understood that the soul was immortal.
Chapter VI.-The Relation of Christians to the World.
To sum up all in one word-what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.
Below, I have skipped to Chapter 10, where Mathetes continues to outline the works of faith. Notice the "heavenly promise" given to those who love Him; and those who love Him will imitate His kindness (not O.T. Laws as dictated by HWA). Also notice that those who are rich, and who seek to hold supremacy over others are not imitators of God. Does a certain, modern-day apostle come to mind? (Note: When Mathetes says "the fire that is for a moment" he is referring to martyrdom.)
Chapter X.-The Blessings that Will Flow from Faith.
If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him. And when you have attained this knowledge, with what joy do you think you will be filled? Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. Then thou shalt see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe]; then thou shall begin to speak the mysteries of God; then shalt thou both love and admire those that suffer punishment because they will not deny God; then shall thou condemn the deceit and error of the world when thou shall know what it is to live truly in heaven, when thou shalt despise that which is here esteemed to be death, when thou shalt fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it. Then shalt thou admire those who for righteousness' sake endure the fire that is but for a moment, and shalt count them happy when thou shalt know [the nature of] that fire.
Did this modern-day "apostle" have a reputation for helping the poor and needy, or did he use the widow's mite to acquire worldly riches of fine arts, gold and silver ornaments, fine mansions and automobiles to elevate himself over others? Do not confuse philanthropy (throwing large sums of money around to world kings and their favorite charities) with helping the poor, especially those of the faith. Was HWA ever known for his kindness, or was he known for his gruff rebukes, continual threats for "falling short," and his constant appeals for money? The apostolic fathers were willing to die for their beliefs. Did we see this rich, modern-day apostle willing to "die for the truth" during the California receivership (1979), or did he flee to Arizona, leaving his followers to fend for themselves, returning only when he knew it was safe? Wasn't his version of "The Truth" worth fighting for (let alone, dying for)?Pt. 1 | Pt. 2 | Pt. 3.