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Where did it all go wrong for the people of God?

The battles are still raging, the fighting is fierce and although there are many casualties, there are few deaths. Some, not many, have laid down their arms and crossed sides, but most keep fighting from their entrenched positions. Both sides declare divine favour. Our battle is for the Lord, they cry, and that is the saddest thing. Both believe that they hold the truth and are fighting the good fight to defend it, but it is, in reality, a civil war, a war fought between brothers and sisters, who should be linking arms in brotherhood (or sisterhood), not pummelling each other with their weapons of rhetoric and argument.

How the Church lost the Truth is the statement declared in this short analysis of Church history. As surely all Bible believers would agree, the truth is to be found within the pages of that same book. Where better, then, to start our story by looking at folk who actually lived within the Book?

The Children of Israel lived their lives by the rules and regulations given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Torah. So their understanding of the truth was dictated by these teachings. They were aware of other ideas that were drifting around from the pagan cultures that surrounded them, but God still protected them, using those who were swayed by false gods as a warning to the rest. They knew that they were God's people and lived accordingly to that revealed truth.

These false gods unfortunately were constant thorns in the side of the Jews, as the land was settled and God raised up prophets to steer the folk along a godly path. Perhaps the low point of Old Testament history was the reign of King Manasseh, who openly encouraged his people to follow the pagan entities of Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth and Molech. The truth was being lost through these frontal assaults and the end result was judgement and the eventual punishment of exile. But, before this, a glimmer of hope presented itself. This came in the form of King Josiah, the young Reformer in the final days of the Jewish Kingdom and the grandson of Manasseh. He rediscovered the truth of God's Word, hidden for so long and supplanted by the lies of the foreign gods.

The Word became flesh and the Truth walked among men. These were the days of Jesus the Messiah and we put ourselves in the shoes of his earliest followers, right after he left them for the very last time. The struggle they had was in coming to terms with the fact that the teachings of their Lord and Master were to take precedence over all they had heard before, particularly the instructions that they had received since they were young, from the oral traditions, supposedly passed down through the generations by word of mouth.

When every one of these Jewish Christians had died, each having contributed to an unprecedented explosion of belief in the risen Christ, this young Christian world entered a new age and everything changed. The truth was no longer clearly visible, because as the Gentile world opened itself up to this new faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the flow of traffic was not one-way. The Jewish framework of the faith was slowly eroded by ideas from the Gentile world, mainly from the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle.

We then saw how the early Church Fathers had a job on their hands fighting off heretics such as Marcion and the Gnostics, a task that was made easier by the fact that these battles were usually won using the arguments from Greek Philosophy, the prevailing mindset of the time. Every Church Father except Tertullian was, in fact, a Christian philosopher and it is easy to see how Biblical truth had a hard time of it, fending off these alien corruptions.

It was largely through the Alexandrian Fathers, Clement, but more particularly Origen, that the Christian faith was so infiltrated by the teachings of Plato that it is hard to see the join between the two. Allegory became the chief tool of Bible interpretation, far removed from the Hebraic methods employed by Jesus and the first Christians, and introduced to the wider Church by Augustine, the Father of Western Christianity.

We then saw the rise of the philosophical ideas of Aristotle, introduced to Thomas Aquinas by Arab and Jewish scholars. Aquinas was the most influential Christian philosopher of the Middle Ages and he did to Aristotle what Augustine did to Plato, integrating his ideas so thoroughly and cleverly into Christian thinking that no-one suspected that anything was amiss. No-one now saw the problem of the Christian faith as an amalgam of Biblical revelation and Aristotelian reason.

The Reformers, led by Luther and Calvin didn't actually reform as much as you think. They may have rejected Aristotle's rationalism, but they were still partly bound by the Platonism of Augustine, such as in the continuation of State Churches.

Allowing Aristotle into the Church had an ominous fulfilment when those within the Church began to reflect the rationalism and humanism of such secular movements as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Christian belief became more and more diluted, even producing groups like the Deists, where God was relegated to the task of the Creator, followed by absentee landlord.

There was a brief respite with the early Methodists, a throwback to the very earliest Church, the great awakenings in America and the missionary movement, but the 19th Century brought a whole swathe of modern day heresies, all throwbacks to the early days of pagan infiltrations. The Catholic Church turned inwards into similar errors. Then there was Christian evolutionism, higher criticism and the rise of liberal Christianity, by which time the rot had really set in for the timeless truths of the Christian faith.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)

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