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.”
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.”
*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)