This is a response to a person who assumed I was a Catholic simply because I defended the position that Church history mostly favours Catholicism (and even then it is more favourable to Eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism)
“It seems you assume much without knowing my story or the true facts of Church history. Just to make things very clear I am a non-believer. A very honest and emotionally painful journey to find the truth of Christianity eventually led me out of it. I was taught and I believed not to trust in man’s opinions, but only God’s truth. But no matter where I turned all I saw was man’s interpretations. How to determine man’s opinions from God’s truth? I didn’t seem to be able to find an infallible rule for doing this. And the further back I went all I saw were more opinions. But those opinions were very different from the ones today. Until it dawned on me that all of “God’s truth” is simply man’s opinions, set in dogmatic stone. Yet, this unchangeable truth changed! There is no scientific method in theology. Only opinions. That’s why we have 40000 denominations, with more every week and an ever evolving theology going in ever wider variants.
Call Catholicism heretical if you wish, and indeed it does include many modern innovations not found in the first 300 years, but I challenge you to show me any Christian before, say, Tyndale, who didn’t believe in Baptismal Regeneration. When you don’t, ask yourself why no Christian after the death of the last Apostle and for the following 1500 years until around the time of the Reformation (except for Gnostics) taught salvation alone apart from works.
You are left with three possible explanations.
1. The Church failed and disappeared immediately after John died and was only revived after Luther reformed the Church. This is known as Restorationism and forms of it are taught by various Christian groups such as Mormons. The problem with this view is that from a spiritual perspective it would appear to make Satan victorious over Christ as Christ declared that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His Church. Of course that is not the only way to interpret that verse, as gates are not known to be offensive but defensive and so a more logical interpretation is that of an offensive Church breaking down hell’s gates and releasing the captives. Still, if Evangelical doctrine is the pure doctrine and salvation is as they teach then there was no Church to attack hell for 1500.
2. The true Church only survived underground very soon (though not immediately) after the death of the last Apostle. The date typically given is around the time of the Nicean Council, though it is taught that Catholicism was already growing into the monster it would become when Constantine supposedly took the helm of the Church in 325. This view was made popular by authors such as J. M. Carroll’s Trail of Blood and E. H. Broadbent’s The Pilgrim Church. It assumes that Evangelical doctrines were taught by the Apostles but that Satan moved immediately to start corrupting them. Proponents of this view point to the Corinthian and Galatian churches and to Gnosticism as a general movement as very early examples. It is then taught that Roman Catholicism then began to take grip and eventually smothered the true Church. So that it had to go into hiding. Groups such as the Montanists, Novatianists and Donatists are used as early examples of this pure church. Later groups such as the Paulicians and Bogomils are used then as well as the Waldensians, Lollards and Moravians later still.
You even have KJV Onlyists latch onto this view and say that the true Church also kept the true Bible preserved all those years in the Alps. They have gone so far as to say the Waldensians were actually direct descendants of the Apostolic Churches and went into hiding in the Italian mountains for centuries and centuries. Preserving the Latin Vulgate along the way until it could get into the hands of the godly reformers and eventually translated into the infallible KJV! This is how desperate people get when history and facts don’t go their way.
The problem with this view is that all of these groups were widely divergent in their beliefs against one another. The earliest groups were all essentially Catholic in their beliefs, just like the main Church itself. There is no Evangelical church to be found during that time. The problems they had were with orthopraxy. Almost any group today would be far too lax in comparison with the main Church of that day, never mind the strict Novatianists. The Paulicians and Bogomils were Neo-Gnostics. The Waldensians still believed in many central Catholic doctrines when they formed, but did evolve slowly. The Reformation can, in many ways, be seen to start with John Wycliffe, culminating in Luther’s act of revolt on 31st October 1517.
Both of these positions suffer irreparably from what we can actually know about history.”