What is the pilgrim Church?


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A question keeps popping up from Catholics critical of Biblical faith, and from Evangelicals who defend Catholicism, both here at my blog in a small way, and regularly at Timothy Kauffman’s Out of His Mouth blog. These critics believe that it can’t be answered – perhaps they want to believe that it can’t be. They ask,

If Biblical faith is “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” where was it during the many centuries when Catholicism and Orthodoxy were all there was of Christianity? That is, if Bible Christianity really is the true faith, why did the gates of hell prevail against it so that after the apostles it ceased to exist? 

This has been answered but the answers are usually rejected. E.H. Broadbent, in his book The Pilgrim Church, and others, have demonstrated that the belief that Bible Christianity did not exist is held because Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, which held sway over the church for so long, labeled dissenters ‘heretics’, killed or scattered them, destroyed their writings, and were the ones who wrote the history that came down to us, or influenced much of the history that has been written since. 

Using facts learned through careful research, along with Biblical discernment, God’s children can follow the trail of bloody footprints of those who treasured God’s Word and walked humbly with Him. Sometimes, for a time, the trail disappears in the thickets of the forest of this world and then emerges again. It reappears wherever the Bible is preached, for the Holy Spirit – the Lord – honors His Word that gives life. (Broadbent’s view)

1 Peter 1:22-25 

22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 23 being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

Because these pilgrims desired to live according to New Testament practice, and rejected the prevalent idolatry, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches accused them of heresy, labeling them ‘Manichaens’* (see below). Once labeled, and therefore shown to be a threat against both Church and State, they could be eliminated.

Excerpt from the Preface to

The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent

“The tragedy and glory of ‘The Pilgrim Church’ can only be faintly indicated as yet, nor can they be fully known until the time comes when the Word of the Lord is fulfilled: ‘there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known’ (Matt. 10. 26). At present, albeit through mists of our ignorance and misunderstanding, we see her warring against the powers of darkness, witnessing for her Lord in the world, suffering as she follows in His footsteps. Her people are ever pilgrims, establishing no earthly institution, because having in view the heavenly city. In their likeness to their Master they might be called Stones which the Builders Rejected (Luke 20. 17), and they are sustained in the confident hope that, when His kingdom is revealed, they will be sharers in it with Him.”

Excerpt from Chapter III – “Paulicians and Bogomils”

(A.D. 50 – 1473)

“The union of Church and State was in all times looked upon by many of the Lord’s disciples as contrary to His teaching; but whenever the Church had the power of the State at its command, it used it for the forcible suppression of any who dissented from its system or in any way refused compliance with its demands, and great numbers through indifference or interest or fear yielded at least an outward obedience. There were, however, always some who could not be induced to do this, but who still endeavoured to follow Christ and keep the teachings of His Word and the doctrine of the Apostles. These were continually objects of persecution.

“The history of the centuries which followed Constantine unfolds the growth in worldliness and ambition of the clergy, both of the Eastern and Western Catholic churches, until they claimed entire dominion over the possessions and consciences of mankind, enforcing these claims with a violence and guile that knew no limits. It also reveals vistas here and there of the path of tribulation trodden by countless saints who, at all times, and in various places, have suffered all things at the hands of the dominant World-Church, rather than deny Christ or be turned back from following Him.

“The true histories of these have been obliterated as far as possible; their writings, sharing the fate of the writers, have been destroyed to the full extent of the power allowed to their persecutors. Not only so, but histories of them have been promulgated by those to whose interest it was to disseminate the worst inventions against them in order to justify their own cruelties. In such accounts they are depicted as heretics, and evil doctrines are ascribed to them which they repudiated. They are called ‘sects’, and labels are attached to them which they themselves would not acknowledge. They usually called themselves Christian or Brethren, but numerous names were given to them by others in order to create the impression that they represented many new, strange, and unconnected sects, opprobrious epithets being applied to them to bring them into disrepute. It is therefore difficult to trace their history; what their adversaries have written of them must be suspected; words from their own lips wrung out by torture are valueless. There is, however, in spite of these hindrances, a large body of trustworthy evidence, continually being added to by further investigation, which shows what they were and did, what they believed and taught; and these their own records afford a safe guide to their faith and practice.

“Even in the first three centuries there were numerous bodies of Christians who protested against the growing laxity and worldliness in the Church, and against its departure from the teachings of Scripture. Movements of revival have never ceased to be repeated, and even when no connection between one and another is visible, the underlying cause is the same—a desire to return to the practice of some New Testament truth. In the early centuries Asia Minor and Armenia were frequently the scene of such revivings, as well as being the refuge of churches that had from the first, in varying degree, maintained purity of doctrine and godliness of life.”

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Excerpt from The Key of Truth, a manual of the Paulician church of Armenia

EDITED AND TRANSLATED WITH ILLUSTRATIVE DOCUMENTS AND INTRODUCTION BY FRED. C. CONYBEARE, M.A., FORMERLY FELLOW OF UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS, 1898

THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION

The Book called the Key of Truth. It was written x in the era of the Saviour 1782, but of the Armenians 1230; and in the province of Taron.

Address to my dear readers.

Although the throng of distractions, and the temptations and
storms of the world, and the manifold hindrances, strong to disturb
our transitory life in various ways,— although these have sorely
beset us and suffered us not to undertake this necessary work;
nevertheless the pressing needs of the Truth of our Lord Jesus
the Son of the heavenly Father, and zeal of the Holy Spirit [urged
us ] j — yea, and also to meet the prayers of many believers, and
especially because of supreme necessity — I have cast behind me
all the affairs 2 of this transitory life, and have spared nothing in
order to give unto you, my new-born children of the universal
and apostolic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, the holy milk,
whereby ye may be nourished in the faith. .

Wherefore the Spirit of the Father in Heaven hath taken hold
of us and inspired us to write this ‘ way and truth and life.’ Foras-
much as for a long time past the spirit of deception had shut
up the Truth, as our Lord saith : The tares had suffocated it.
Furthermore it is a little and slender discourse that I have
published to you, briefly and not opulently. The which ye shall
read with deep attention, unto the glory of Jesus the Son, the
Intercessor, and unto the honour of his Father . . .

Excerpts from “The Paulicians – What Were They by Timothy W. Dunkin”

“Hence, while ‘religion’ may predominate in, or even control, an area, this does not mean that true Bible Christianity will be the norm. Indeed, based on these, it seems reasonable to conclude that, especially in times such as the Middle Ages when the socio-political system was so thoroughly dominated by apostate religion, the appearance of biblical Christianity would take on the form of these various ‘out-groups’ that cropped up here and there at times throughout this period. The Paulicians do seem to have been one of these groups, and therefore would legitimately form a part of the Baptist folkways that wind their way back to the original churches of the 1st century…

“Again, I wish to reiterate that I reject the principle of ‘apostolic succession,’ whether in its Catholic form, or in the form adopted by some Baptists who believe in strict, bishop-to-bishop, church-to-church successionism (i.e. Landmarkism). I believe that what gives a church body ‘credibility’ as a true church is where it stands on the doctrines of the Word of God…

“So, when I point to the Paulicians as part of the ‘Baptist folkways that wind their way back to the original churches of the 1st century,’ I do not mean this successionally. Rather, I mean it holistically – God has been at work, throughout this age, working in men’s hearts using His Spirit and His Word. At certain times and in certain areas, salvation and revival have broken out, and these peoples have organized themselves into the polity and followed the doctrines that they found through a plain, literal, and contextual reading of the Bible. The Paulicians were one of these groups, being witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ in Armenia and the surrounding areas during a time of near-universal apostasy.”

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*Manichaeism – a dualistic religious system with Christian, Gnostic, and pagan elements, founded in Persia in the 3rd century by Manes ( circa 216– circa 276). The system was based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It spread widely in the Roman Empire and in Asia, and survived in eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) until the 13th century. (Google Chrome definition)

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FURTHER READING:

The Paulicians – What Were They? by Timothy W. Dunkin at Study to Answer.Net

HISTORY OF THE PAULICIAN ICONOCLASTS – Part 1 by Rand Winburn at iconbusters.com

HISTORY OF THE PAULICIAN ICONOCLASTS – Part 2 by Rand Winburn at iconbusters.com

Full text of “The key of truth, a manual of the Paulician church of Armenia” at archive.org

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46 thoughts on “What is the pilgrim Church?

  1. As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus and His relationship with the religious rulers of His day. Some things never change and the religious will always persecute those who abide in the Living Way. Those of us who follow Jesus can’t expect to be treated differently than He was treated when He walked the earth.

    Liked by 3 people

        • Pam, we need to distinguish between false and true religion. I feel it would be better to say that manmade religion killed Him (also He laid down His own life to take it up again). Today, for a true child of God, religion has only a negative meaning because there is so much that is negative (horrible) in the visible church, and as always probably so many nominal Christians.
          James spoke in a positive way about religion – the real thing:
          James 1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
          James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

          Liked by 3 people

          • I know what you mean and I love James 1:27 it is about living the faith rather than religious exercise. The Jews though, practiced Biblical religion as given to them by God but their intent wasn’t to please God but instead to use God for their personal power. My comment wasn’t detailed enough but religious practice is for the purpose of lifting man up to God but Jesus is God reaching down to lift us to Him. Religion requires a lot of human effort that is destined to fail. Faith requires submission and acceptance of the fact that we can never be God and we’re nothing without Him.
            I’m also, struck by the fact the even though Jesus was so persecuted by religious leaders, He still went to the Temple to teach. I see that as a pattern to follow in dealing with the institutionalized church and I remember His words, “do as they say but not as they do”.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Excellent, Pam. You’ve got it and helped me see all that you said. Cross reference to the Lord’s words to the churches in the Book of Revelation. Most of them had deadly serious problems, however what makes me pause and think is that He did not say to separate and find another assembly. Later, about the Harlot, He did say to separate or die. A lot to think about. As you noted, it’s so instructive that the Lord told the people to do as the Pharisees said because they sat in the seat of Moses, but not as they did. All the wisdom of God is hidden in Christ.
              No comment is detailed enough.:0)

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Pam,
    Is struggling with Church a normal thing – think of Syntyche (spelling?) and Eudiche? And Paul and I think it was Barnabas? Think of the church at Corinth and the fact that the Colossians were getting into the worship of angels. Knowing that struggling is to be expected doesn’t make it easier but it can lift some of the burden like guilt or blues…

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  3. Jesus was not crucified when He entered that edict, “to do as they say, but not as they do”. The Jews were still under Law of Moses. Nowadays, under the New Covenant, when we speak of church, which version of the institutional church should we choose to do as they say, but not as they do, when they almost universally practice the clergy/laity system, and teach according to their own individual man made doctrines and traditions?

    Liked by 3 people

    • This is a good point – many many churches exalt mere men and follow them and/or follow their own traditions! We’re sheep, Scarlett – it is so obvious! Maybe where the Lord Jesus’ words apply is even within those churches. In Revelation He said He hated Nicholaitinism (clergy/laity) but didn’t tell the people to separate from these assemblies. This is important too. So we will not follow the Nicolaitan thing, which thing He hates, but when they preach the Gospel of grace, and all God’s counsel that can be found in their preaching, we can follow this part – following Christ through their imperfect witness and seeking to follow Him through His perfect Word, sometimes alone.

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  4. Dear Maria,
    Thank you for sharing the above article. It was well worth the reading and very encouraging in this day when so much of the visible church is following a way that seems right to a man but ends in death. This has been the way since the beginning and will continue to be until Christ returns. His way is the only way that brings life and blessing. He is the way! Amen!
    One thing we must always remember about the Jews who rejected Christ during His earthly ministry is they added to the Word of God through their “oral” traditions, something forbidden by God. So they weren’t really following the Bible and they did not believe the Bible, even though they paid lip service to the Scriptures. They were following their traditions and interpretations of the Bible. This is, of course, true of all false religious systems whether “Christian” or not. They all adhere to their traditions and interpretations of the Scriptures, if they acknowledge them, rather than following God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Regrettably, this is the practice of vast numbers of churches throughout the world no matter what their denominational name. However, now much that is occultic is finding its way into the church through the New Age and mysticism by the influence of the Catholic church. We, as Christ’s beloved children, must be vigilant and zealous for the truth. Amen!

    12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good morning, Eliza, you’re right – truth has fallen to the ground everywhere, and yes, we can expect this until the Lord returns for only He can set things right. Having left mysticism and Catholicism (twin evils) it always surprises me that people want to go there. The Lord Jesus Christ Who is the way and the truth and the life made things so plain for us – but spiritual things are understood by those who are spiritual, born from above, His children, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Someday all of this trouble and suffering and evil things will be over. Maranatha! God bless us – as you say, Eliza!!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Well stated, Eliza. The religion of the Jews had been perverted into a man-made religion by the time of Christ. See Mark 7:5-15. This was no more a God-given religion than is the form of so-called “Christianity” that we see in many “churches” today.

      For a time the message went to the Jews, and we even see Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, beginning in the synagogues when he went into a new city. So it is certainly appropriate to give the Gospel, as he did, to those in the Roman Catholic “Church” and other supposedly Christian churches. But they should not be viewed as Christian churches or homes of real Biblical truth any more than the synagogues were. They have a corrupted form of truth, and those under its sway may include some who have a real desire for truth, so we should always seek to minister truth to them, but never to condone the versions of “truth” they teach.

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      • Thank you Jon. That is so well stated. I had the opportunity to share a little about the Lord Jesus Christ in my class yesterday. Afterward, two of my students thanked me for sharing, both saying they were Christians. One is planning on attending Brigham Young University, the other attends a local church where the teaching elders enjoy reading the works of Lewis, Chesterton, Piper, and Keller, authors who have helped/are helping to spread evangelical ecumenism. Their statement about the Bible, at this church, refers to the original writings alone as being inspired and without error. Sadly, so many are so deceived and led astray by the enemy of our souls. May Christ keep us close! Amen!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hello, Maria. I’ve read parts of Broadbent’s book. The winners write the history, basically, is his argument. There’s something to it, of course. In some cases, we have an actual record of the heresies, so we know they didn’t lie about everyone they identified as heretics. But we see what false teachers (including the RCC) do today — they slap a label on those who hold to the truth and misrepresent their beliefs. So I suspect that happened historically as well.

          To me, it’s not a vitally important question, because it is an institution-focused question. I have no problem with saying that, down through the years, there were true believers within the RCC. For one thing, a lot of the heresies they teach today have come in since the Reformation. It’s been corrupt for centuries, but not as corrupt as it became after the Reformation.

          But the question, where was the true church of Jesus Christ before the Reformation, is not important to me. It was wherever two or three were gathered in His name to worship in spirit and in truth. There always have been true churches. I don’t really have to know where they were. I believe the Scripture teaches clearly that our Lord will preserve His churches, and use them as the pillar and ground of truth in preserving and proclaiming His Word. I reject the RCC because I read the Bible and it tells me that is not a true church. I believe there always have been true churches because I read the Bible and it indicates to me that there would always be true churches until Christ returns. So my faith on these matters doesn’t really depend on historical analysis such as Broadbent’s, but on what I believe Scripture teaches. Broadbent’s view of history matches up with what Scripture teaches, so I think there’s a very good chance he is right, but I don’t have any way of knowing if he is, or any real need to know.

          Wordy as always. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

          • Thank you, Jon! I appreciate your response and agree with what you said, that his argument is basically that winners get to write what is known, but I also agree with your conclusions that the Church has always existed according to Christ’s promise, and that it is impossible to know the whole truth (yet?).
            Yes, this was lengthy but honestly some questions can’t be answered in a sentence or two without becoming less convincing. It takes time to make things clear.
            :0)

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          • Pastor Jon, I believe it is important to be able to answer Catholics when they ask the question I noted at the beginning of this post – where was this supposed Biblical Christianity? – and to answer this well. That means that Broadbent’s approach was a good one, that he traced as well as possible the history of such churches through the centuries, noting too that they appeared wherever the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was preached. Yes, you’re so right that wherever two are more are gathered in Jesus’ Name, there He is in their midst – that there is the Church, His called out ones. But it isn’t sufficient to answer in this way when Catholics ask this kind of thing. We must be interested in and do sound history the best we can – with all our might as unto the Lord.
            I’m approaching this again with you not because your points weren’t good but because I agreed too readily, thus shooting myself in the foot and making my post pointless. There need to be simple answers and more indepth ones to this question – both methods are important.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hello, Maria. I do agree that it is important to be able to answer the question, and I think Broadbent’s work (and thus your post) give a valuable contribution for the Catholic person who actually wants an answer. Unfortunately, the person who asks this question is often one who has been Jesuit-trained or influenced, and is really only looking to argue. In that case, you don’t end up with an answer for their question, you end up in a debate about disputable history. I think it can be useful to point out that it was the RCC that wrote the history so we shouldn’t necessarily trust their description of those they labeled heretics, but unless there’s an openness to hear the response, it isn’t likely to go far.

            For the argumentative, a better question would be where, through the centuries, was the “true church” that held the dogma of the Immaculate Conception? They didn’t accept this as dogma until 1854. Where was the “true church” that held the dogma of the Assumption of Mary before 1950? If they are going to say our beliefs can’t be true because they weren’t to be found through all those centuries, what of theirs? The institutional beliefs of the RCC are vastly different from what they were 500 or 1000 years ago.

            But ultimately, it all becomes a dispute about history. No one ever got saved by disputing history or by getting history right. People do get saved by hearing and believing the Word of God. The Bible says, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” Any church that creates another mediator / mediatrix can’t be true. And the only argument that is really going to penetrate and change a sinful heart is that which uses the power of Scripture. Arguments such as Broadbent’s have their value, I don’t want to suggest they don’t, and I still have his book and have recommended it to someone in the past, but the only eternal value they can have is if they help bring a person to the point where they will actually listen to the Scripture. If we use such an argument, we need to recognise its limitations and not allow ourselves to be bogged down in debating uncertain history at length.

            I hope all that makes sense. Blessings to you.

            Liked by 2 people

            • There is a problem with going with the kind of questions you’ve suggested – important questions – and that is that Catholics aren’t asking them because they’ve been taught to believe that revelation is progressive, occurring over time. That means that they welcome new dogmas about Mary, especially. Even Catholics who have genuine faith are caught in the delusion of the RCC – the strong delusion.
              Some of these Catholics stay in the background at blogs like mine and at more important blogs that minister to Catholics and they’re listening to arguments. They know something is wrong and yes, they’re looking for answers because the Spirit of God has sanctified them, set them apart already as regenerate or He is working His effectual call in their lives.
              Yes, there are those who ask the question of where the Biblical Church was during all the many centuries of Roman and Orthodox dominance, and they do this as a way to disrupt what is being revealed and throwing Christian bloggers off their guard. Wouldn’t it best for Christians to be armed – if only for the sake of the steadiness of their own faith – with a knowledge of history? Using the arguments from history doesn’t lead necessarily to endless debating. Some will find them helpful.
              Right, true there are limits to the historical arguments and only the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is of ultimate importance. These arguments in a sense adorn the Gospel of Christ. Also, they help us to know who that great cloud of witnesses is – an edifying thing to believers.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Hello, Maria. I understand well that Catholics believe in ongoing revelation. But the point of the question is that it is illogical to hold to ongoing revelation and to also say, “Where were the people who believed what you believe all those years?” They may scoff at Broadbent’s work, but everyone knows that there was no one, down through the centuries, who held to the beliefs Catholics hold today.

            I have no problem with your post, or I wouldn’t have commented here without saying so! 🙂 My initial comment was in response to Eliza, I only commented on Broadbent’s work after you asked me.

            But since you asked, I do think it is important to recognise the limits of things like Broadbent’s work. It answers what is primarily a diversionary question, a question the Jesuits have taught Catholics to pursue with the intent of distracting from the thing that is truly a death-knell to Catholic teaching — it doesn’t match up to Scripture. It’s fine to use work like Broadbent’s to answer the diversionary tactic, as long as we don’t get bogged down in it and get back to the one thing that is really going to change the heart of the lost, whether Catholic or others — the Word of God.

            Blessings to you!

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting post and comments! Thank you for the links, too. I’m looking forward to reading them and learning about the Paulicians. The definition of Manichaeism made me think that it fits the Roman Catholic Church more than their detractors of old.
    God bless!~

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another factor during the Middle Ages was illiteracy. With the fall of the Roman Empire, much scholarship was lost. That is one of the reasons for the use of sculptures and stained glass windows in cathedrals. These were intended to convey Bible stories to the laity.

    Liked by 1 person

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