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Difficult Times = Shifting Doctrine

Throughout history it is puzzling to see the church change its doctrine from one generation to the next.  How does this happen?  If the Bible clearly states a truth and the church believes the truth, how then does the church’s doctrine change?

I.      The Effects of Persecution

During the 2nd & 3rd century, the persecution of the church by the Roman government was gaining speed.  Though there were brief respites such as from 211-250, the vast majority of these years produced the blood of millions of martyrs.  Imagine the fear of a roman sword at your throat.  Imagine the feeling of entering an arena, being stripped naked, then being attacked by wild beasts.  The threat was not imagined for the church.  It was very real.  In A.D. 246, a wealthy, well-educated man of Carthage was led to faith in Christ by a leader of the Carthage church – his name was Cyprian.  Within two years, he was made Bishop of the entire church.  Another two years later, the persecutions erupted forcing Cyprian to flee his post.  While he was gone, many Christians were brought before officials and threatened by death if they were unwilling to deny Christ and sacrifice to false gods.  Many faithful Christians died because they refused to deny the one who saved their souls. Yet, there were the Lapsi, who denied the faith and were saved from immediate death, who were returned to their homes and places of business unharmed.

II.    Denier Be Damned

These traitors to the Christian faith were ridiculed by those who lost loved ones, family, and friends that were unwilling to deny the faith.  Naturally, these deniers were socially ostracized and excommunicated from the church.  Yet, Christians are a forgiving folk, and the leaders of the church that remained, began to welcome back into the fold those who had denied the faith in the face of certain death.  Cyprian, the novice, was enraged and demanded that the deniers be kicked out of the churches, and never allowed to return.  This led to a major church split, a schism that divided all of the churches in the city.  Upon the death of Decius the Emperor, Cyprian returned to his city, regained control of the churches and excommunicated those who opposed him.  It was during this time that church membership was confused with eternal salvation.  It was supposed that if one was excommunicated from the church that their eternal soul may be at stake.  Some truly believed that if you were to deny the faith, be you would excommunicated and damned to hell for being outside of church fellowship.

III.  Doctrine Forever Tinged

Though Cyprian eventually promoted a moderate view in his On the Lapsed, which taught that deniers should neither be eternally excommunicated nor fully restored, the doctrine of the church would never be the same.  Creeping in like a cancer, came the false notion that a person’s eternal destiny is related to their church membership and that if the church determined to excommunicate, your eternal soul could be in danger.  This false doctrine can still be found in the Roman Catholic Church today.

In short, difficult times in a church can lead a church to change it’s doctrinal position slightly and thereby have unintended consequences for many years to come.


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  • Reply
    Viny Burns
    February 16, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Wow – that was awesome and interesting! Always love to read Christianity in light of history and the changes. Aren’t we glad that neither God or His Word ever changes!! “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand all other ground is sinking sand”!

    • Reply
      Joshua Teis
      February 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Really is fascinating isn’t it.

  • Reply
    Nancy Bradley
    February 16, 2013 at 9:57 am

    So good to hear your voice. The unvarnished truth always speaks truth to power. I like to think that the Roman Catholic Church is getting closer to preaching the Gospel, but the excommunication doctrine and the practice of confession are in direct contradiction of the Word. Great post. We will be gone tomorrow and next Sunday and then will see you back in church. We are in Parowan enjoying the snow.

    • Reply
      Joshua Teis
      February 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

      We will miss you at church the next couple of weeks. See you when you get back.

  • Reply
    Alan Ladd
    February 16, 2013 at 11:29 am

    That is good, that is one I did not know about.
    Wax candles, in 320 A.D. veneration of angels and dead saints in 375 A.SD. Mass as a daily celebration in 394 A.D. worship of Mary as the mother of God in 381A.D. and decreed in431 A.D.the doctrine of purgatory in 593 A.D. Latin language in 593 A.D. prayer to Mary and to dead saints in 600 A.D. well there is a long list of changes.

  • Reply
    Chris Armer
    February 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    John said in his first letter that those who “went out from us were not of us.” Or those who forsook the assembly indicated that they were not true followers of Christ.
    Hebrews have some very stern warnings to those who would forsake Christ.
    The early church held a much more literal interpretation to some of these truths of the Scriptures.

    • Reply
      Joshua Teis
      February 16, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Interesting point of view Chris. However, to be that literal meant for them to deny other scripture that clearly teaches salvation is found in Christ and not in a recognized membership to an organization. Thought?

  • Reply
    Chris Armer
    February 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Their actions were based upon the impossibility of repentance to those who have forsaken Christ. This is what directed them.
    Hebrews 6:4-6
    For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

    If I gave a Bible to someone and asked them to tell me what that passage means, then what would they conclude? What is the plain reading?

    I may not agree with their interpretation but I certainly understand their position as one founded in the Scriptures, albeit their interpretation.

    • Reply
      Joshua Teis
      February 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      I agree with you Chris. This is was their interpretation. And though we both disagree with their interpretation we understand the main point of the blog. Tough Times can lead us away from Biblical truth and actually lead us into the unintended consequence of twisting Scripture. Great Point!

  • Reply
    James Pfeiffer
    February 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    This was a really neat read! I do enjoy learning about the history of the faith of which I admittedly am not as well versed as I’d like to be. Its fascinating!

    I had the misfortune of witnessing a dramatic shift in doctrine at the church I grew up in back in CT first hand. A group of individuals, including some in leadership positions, began preaching that a christian, having already accepted the free gift of salvation, could lose his/her place in heaven depending on their actions. According to this group, if I were to some how “lose my way” as a Christian I could end up in Hell if I die before repenting. This type of thinking ended up completely splitting the congregation for some time…

    I’m just glad Jesus paid for all my sins – past, present and future….otherwise I’d be in big trouble!

    • Reply
      Joshua Teis
      February 18, 2013 at 10:58 pm


      That’s an amazing first hand account of what we are talking about. thank you for sharing. I too am thankful for the full payment of Christ’s sacrifice.

      • Reply
        James Pfeiffer
        February 19, 2013 at 10:52 am

        What baffled me the most was the fact that everything this group was saying was in direct contradiction to scripture yet so many well-educated people were buying into it. To me, their thinking seemed to make Christ’s sacrifice worth less by focusing on an individual’s works/actions as part of the process that gets one into heaven. It was as if Jesus merely gets your foot in the door but is not powerful enough to secure you.

        I found that incredibly arrogant.

  • Reply
    Dawn Froehlich
    February 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I’ve read through “The Trail of Blood” by J.M. Carroll and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs several times and never gave thought to the deniers. Even in reflecting on my own personal weaknesses I find the stories of those that chose to be martyrs for the cause of Christ are spiritually empowering, and are a true testimony to unbelievers of the power of Christ.

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