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.”
get-bitter-and-get-better
This is exactly what I believe. Very hard to do. I mourned the loss of my faith like I mourned the loss of my father at 18. I was in a deep depression for one year. And then anger set in. Just like with my father. I was angry at God for allowing Christianity to get so messed up and making it impossible to find out what He actually wanted me to believe about Jesus and the Bible and Salvation etc. I was angry at all the self-assured teachers who proclaimed with absolute confidence that their way was God’s way, yet with only a little bit of study into Church history I could see this was false. I was angry with myself for having wasted so many good years on what seemed to ultimately be such a fruitless task.
It has been a long hard road out, but I wouldn’t have it any other way now. I also see how much fear and paranoia was holding me down. Fear and Paranoia that was a direct result of my faith and belief.
 
I know it’s not like that for everyone, but I do think in general that believers live in a make-believe world of spooks and demons and evil forces that are constantly trying to get them and their families.
 
I tried so hard to be theologically sound and morally upright. I tried to share my faith and show the world that I had the joy of the Lord.
And I’ve heard all of the stupid pat answers to my problems in this regard. “It’s not “do”, it’s “done””. Yet it was Fanny Crosby’s hymn that always spoke to me most “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way”.
 
I’ve seen so many men I looked up to as spiritual giants fall. I’ve tried to be that giant but was too honest with myself to pretend or lie to myself. I have never seen a saint (except perhaps my wife). All I have seen is talk. Theories and dogma. I have witnessed phenomena I cannot easily explain in natural terms, but I know enough about Christianity at this stage to doubt that it offers the true interpretation of these events. And by extension I doubt that any organized religion actually offers the true answers to such things as miracles and answered prayer.
So I keep searching. Infusing new meaning into my life. Looking for better ways to understand things. I have shaken off the dogma that was holding me down. Christianity has failed to provide the answers I seek. That was hard to admit, but honesty and sanity forces me to do it.
 
A book I read recently that has really helped is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. He was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who developed a treatment called Logotherapy. He basically taught that man lives as long as he can find meaning in his life. Christians find this meaning in their god, but then confuse and attribute this new found meaning and the psychological assurance it brings with the Holy Spirit.
 
People can say what they will, I gave Christianity 110%. I gave my all. All that I could. And I wept and beat myself because I could not give more. Because so much was held back by “the flesh”. I was hardcore. I was an Evangelical Fundamentalist extraordinaire. Yet my endeavours got me nowhere. I believed in Christianity deep down in the core of my being. I believed it was true on every level. I only needed to find the truth. If I didn’t find it one denomination I’d find it in another. I knew man had made a mess of it, all I had to do was uncover it. I could feel the Holy Spirit working inside me and this was my assurance that in spite of the fact I didn’t have answers now I would have them if I kept searching. Yet, the more I dug the more dirt I found. No treasure. What I did get I could have gotten in any religion: good living. Heck, even “ungodly” philosophy extols the virtues of clean, healthy living, positive mindsets and all that. Yet the truth of Christianity, that thing which separates it from all other truth claims, I could not find. The answers were always elusive yet claimed to be held by everyone I turned to. Even though they all disagreed sharply about precisely just what that was and how to obtain it.
 
Here I am now after only one year of the same intensity with my business and I am on the cusp of success. Not meaning to boast, it’s just the contrast is striking as far as I am concerned.
 
The more I gave to my faith the less I got in return. The more I give to my business the more I get in return. In the end my faith was toxic and life destroying. I had to give it up to save my sanity. I understand my business could get in the way of living and I may have to give it up and pull back, but my belief (based firmly on the NT words of Jesus) was that the more I gave the more I would get in return, and that even family must be sacrificed on the alter of service to God. But the only promise of return was in the world to come. The promise while on earth? Suffering. Rejection. Humility. Poverty. Death.
 
Sure a simplistic Evangelicals faith would have been wonderful and I think if a person remains humble and loving toward all of humanity then there is nothing wrong with holding ideas that are most probably wrong. But when someone grows proud, boastful, dangerous even to the point of blood over beliefs that are inherently unverifiable then this must be stopped.

In the main, Evangelicalism claims to be THE orthodox body of Christian belief on the earth today. Yet, with a little bit of research it can be easily determined that is very far from the case.

Many Evangelicals claim perspicuity of the Bible. Yet, they all get the Trinity wrong according to the understanding of the early Church.

Many claim that the Holy Spirit teaches true Believers the truth, yet He seems to have failed to teach them that.

The only recourse is to claim the early Church got it wrong and modern Evangelicalism got it right. But this presents huge problems for any Evangelical who wants to claim their brand of Christianity is the original Apostolic brand and is therefore superior.

We know that Protestantism got much of its theology via the Roman Catholic Church whom we have to thank for the modern version of the Trinity here in the West. And a lot of that theology comes from the middle ages.

Also if some Evangelicals are willing to go as far as to say that Christianity was corrupted very early and restored only at the Reformation then they are just like the Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists they revile for saying the same thing.

Evangelicalism is just slightly more in line with historic Christianity than these other “Restorationists” and they’re also a much larger movement (being so spread out among all the various denominations). This gives them the false impression that their religion is historic and the genuine thing.

Reading stuff into the Bible is easy, and I am convinced that 90% of theology is just this. Much of what passes for pure Biblical doctrine in the eyes of its adherents is late, very late from a New Testament time frame and would have been thrown out as heretical by the early Church. Calvinism for example comes via Gnosticism and Augustine. Interesting that Augustine was a Manichean before he became Catholic. “Augustine’s position raised objections. Julian, bishop of Eclanum, expressed the view that Augustine was bringing Manichean thoughts into the church.” (Chadwick, Henry (1993). The Early Church. Penguin.) Yes, he was a dyed in the wool Catholic. He is famous for his little phrase “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In everything love”. Yet can it be doubted that his version of what constituted essentials and non-essentials would have differed very much from what Evangelicals today consider to be such? Augustine believed in Baptismal Regeneration. He believed infants who had not been baptized would go to hell. That sounds like an essential to me. Yet this is anathema to all Evangelical, especially to those Calvinists who hold him up as their patron saint (almost). What is also interesting is that you do not find anything like the determinism taught in Calvinism anywhere in the early Church prior to Augustine. This is why it was never accepted by the Church at the time. It was an innovation. Yet for some reason Augustine was never condemned for it. Maybe because he was held in such high regard. But the Roman Church has surely regretted not doing so, since the child of that theology was born at the Reformation and has grown into a giant today. The only place you find determinism of any description in the early Church prior to Augustine is in Gnosticism.

This post has gone on long enough. Armininians will love reading about Gnostic Calvinism, unfortunately they run into major problems too when examining Christianity from an historic point of view. Some have actually tried returning to “Pure Christianity” including me, but serious problems arise at every turn. My conclusion is that whatever primitive Christianity was, it is lost. Irretrievably lost. Jesus has failed. It would seem to me that the gates of Hades have prevailed.

Below is Tozer giving the standard Evangelical definition of the Trinity. Did you know the early Church did not define the triune nature of the Christian God in this way? The Evangelical version is much more confusing. “He exists in three Persons” Who exists in 3 persons? The Father? The Son? The Holy Spirit? How can one person exist in 3 distinct persons? Tozer is considered one the foremost Evangelical theologians of the 20th century, yet he seems to have gotten the historic Trinity totally wrong.

Historically the Father was indeed seen as the One True God. Christ and the Spirit being sorts of emanations from Him. The Father was the sun and Jesus (and the Spirit) was the beam. Since Jesus was of the same uncreated essence he therefore was God. But He was not the One True God. I could go on, but I won’t bore you. But this version actually makes WAY more sense and would clear up a lot of confusion for folks who seem to think they can get clear knowledge of God from the Bible, yet get basic things like God’s nature all confused. That’s because in spite of their very definite claims to the contrary they actually do get a lot of their information about the Bible second hand from “expert” sources. Tozer did, and he got it wrong.

“God is one—He is one in nature, one in substance, one God in His unitary being, but He exists in three Persons—if I might use the word, all rooted in this one Being; so there are not three Gods, but one God. There are not three substances, but one. Not three divine natures, but one divine nature—only one God.”

Some Christians manage to live with the dichotomy of myth and science. Accepting Genesis 1 within its cultural limits. Others, like me, struggle to find the relevance of a book that Christians admit is full of error, written by men, does not contain accurate history and is open to diverse modes of interpretation, each of which are mutually exclusive and contradict the other.

Only dogma maintains a strong faith. The actual evidence undermines it or changes it to the point it is no longer recognizable. This very transformation calls into question the legitimacy of the dogmas of inspiration and revelation.

If our faith is evolving and if it depends on the knowledge man himself can figure out, then of what value is it to say that God has revealed his will by divine inspiration? We can’t seem to even agree on what it means…

I have been accused at different times of reading back into history something that is not there. So I have called pre-critical Christianity Fundamentalistic, to which it was said that Fundamentalism can only refer to a movement started in early 20th century America by men like R. A. Torrey and A. C. Dixon and continued on by others such as H. A. Ironside up to people like Jack T. Chick and his ilk today.
 
I have also been accused of ignorance because I refer to the text used by Jews in the first century as the Masoretic.
 
All I can say is that my only crime was not adding the prefix “proto-” to these ideas. I still hold to the undeniable reality that pre-critical Christians were fundamentalist in thought and action and that the Jews in the first century read from a source that closely resembles the Masoretic we have today. While Christians in the first few centuries before Jerome read almost exclusively from the Septuagint.
 
So let me say this instead. Christians, before the advent of modern science were proto-fundamentalists. Jews in the first century read, what scholars call, a proto-Masoretic text.
 
My favourite philosophy is Existentialism. Philosophers have identified various thinkers throughout history as proto-existenialists. Augustine of Hippo would be one example. And this without much controversy. You can find the list near the bottom of this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_existentialists.
The practice of ascribing to earlier generation a title that is unquestionably of later origin is fine within proper boundaries. Augustine was not an Existentialist. Hell, most existentialists were not Existentialists! But it is still perfectly acceptable to ascribe certain beliefs of his as existential in nature. What later philosophers described rather exactly, earlier thinkers saw in more vague terms.

At the same time I totally agree that it is possible to read something back into history that isn’t there. To illustrate this I will refer you to this article: http://trinities.org/blog/weasel-talk-about-early-christianity-and-the-trinity/
It’s a fine line to walk. We have many Restorationist Christian groups such as Anabaptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of Christ, Baptists, Mormons, Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Protestant splinter groups.declaring to be in a long line of dissenters against the Roman Catholic Church. The worst case I have ever seen is Jack Chick’s “Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?” It is full of lies and half-truths and pure fabrications. If you are not easily led I recommend reading it for a laugh. Many of the groups mentioned have thankfully distanced themselves from earlier attempts by Church historians tying to find genuine links with every group possible that had any disagreement with the Catholic Church. So we have the absurd situation where Baptists are trying to claim Gnostics, such as the Paulicians, as their spiritual and doctrinal forefathers.
My point is this: genuine connections in thought or practice are possible to find, without turning these into a type of absolute lineage akin to the idea in Catholic theology of Apostolic Succession. Pretty much the only thing many of these groups have in common is their opposition to the main body of Christians. Even their reasons for disagreement are often radically different.
The same can be said for the Catholic and Orthodox. Physical lineage is not the same thing as actual agreement with the doctrine and practice of the early Church, especially the Ante Nicene Christians. Calling yourself Catholic and showing some supposed unbroken lineage proves very little. The changes (especially in Catholic theology) are so vast as to make something like Newman’s Development of Doctrine absolutely essential in this critical age. yet Newman does exactly what I am accused of. Reading into Church history something that simply isn’t there. So what does he do? He looks for any old scrap of similarity and says it was a “seed” that grew into a great oak tree in his own day… Yeah right Newman, pull the other one please…