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The Decline of the New Testament Church

Effects of Spiritual Decline

Effects of Spiritual Decline

Church history makes it clear that the church was engaged in spiritual warfare from its inception. Satan was devastated by the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection. What made it even worse for the devil was the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost. Just as he concentrated his malign intentions on God’s first man, Adam (and Eve) and the last Adam, Jesus Christ, he began his attack on the new object of God’s favour – the Church. He battled on three fronts. The Church was attacked spiritually by the Jews, who contested the basis of Christian faith – the deity of Christ, the gospel of grace and the replacement of works by faith for salvation. Then the church was attacked intellectually by Greek philosophies masquerading as true spirituality, particularly the Gnostics. Thirdly, Satan stirred up the Romans to persecute the Christians physically, claiming that submitting to the Lordship of Christ was an offence to the Roman Emperor, who was their (Roman) ‘Lord.’ Christians were therefore ‘atheists,’ thus offending the gods, which would surely attract their wrath on the Empire. These three battle fronts dominated the first three centuries of the church’s existence.

Yet, despite all this, the Church grew rapidly across the Roman Empire, winning the favour of thousands of Jews, Greeks and Romans!

But there was also a fourth front or rather a ‘fifth column’ working within the churches, like a Trojan horse. Its goal was to destroy the Church’s truth and practices.

Elsewhere on this site, we will consider many of these issues in separate articles but here will give an overview of the progressive decline of the truth and practices of the Church in chronological order to the beginning of the ‘Dark Ages’.

1st Century — Apostolic New Testament Church.
60-99 A.D

Biblical evidence of departure from the Apostolic pattern.

Apostolic warnings to the Ephesian elders of a soon-coming distortion of truth Acts 20:29-30

Warnings were issued by the apostles that a departure from the divine pattern was near. eg I Tim. 4:1-4 etc

Jesus letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3 reveal a variety of characteristics – lovelessness, lukewarmness, corruption and compromise.

2nd Century
100 A.D.

Ministry of the original Apostles ceased with John in the 90’s and the ministry of travelling prophets gradually followed suit

130-150 A.D.

Gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit ceased to operate on any large scale – with the exception of the Montanists — often described as ‘a schismatic movement of Christianity in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and North Africa from the 2nd century ‘(Encyclopaedia Britannica) but considered schismatic because they were early restorationists who sought to maintain a dependence of the ministry of the Spirit in a backsliding church.
Laying on of hands lost. (There were a few exceptions, but this was largely true across the entire church.

160 A,D.

Local churches led by one man (pastor) rather than by a plurality of elders. The clergy-laity divide began.

180 A.D.

Church hierarchy developed, local churches began to look to larger or nearby churches for direction. Many looked to the Roman Church as their governing power. Local churches lost their autonomy.

185 A.D.

Baptism of infants introduced – moving from biblical baptism of believers by immersion.

3rd Century
210 A.D.

Official ‘priesthood’ conducted church meetings, relieving the body of the church of their right to contribute. Priesthood of all believers lost.

240 A.D.

Worldliness gradually seeped into the church – probably because the Holy Spirit was neither welcomed nor sought. Serious seekers began to seek relief from the worldly church by leaving and establishing communities of like-minded people. Monasteries were born.

The ‘New Birth’ became unfashionable and was replaced by the declaration of a person’s beliefs. Compliance with the Creeds of the Church superseded conversion to Christ.

230-350 A.D.

Meetings moved from private homes to church buildings, from fellowship, sharing and participation to spectating the ministry of the ‘official leaders.’

4th Century
313 A.D.

Constantine the Emperor of Rome embraced Christianity and soon moved the church’s status from illegal to legal, later becoming the state religion. He insisted that the State should exercise control over the Church. The unregenerate were pressured to belong to the State religion and thousands flocked to join the church without really understanding what it was all about.

In his favour, Constantine did help the church by allowing the of printing of the Scriptures, halting persecution, giving religious freedom to Christians and banishing crucifixion. But this was only half the story. His demands for control in the church meant ungodly men with little experience would determine doctrines and practices in the church. The Council of Nicea in 325 was made possible by Constantine. Rome’s model of government gradually crept into the church. Heresies increased, creeds were formed and corruption became entrenched within the Church.

Ritualism was adopted over spirituality and the church had ‘a form of godliness but denied its power.’

380 A.D.

The Emperor, Theodosius made Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, also the final authority for all matters of Church doctrine and practice. The Roman Church became the final authority above the authority of the Sacred Scriptures.

385 A.D.

Persecution of ‘non-authorised’ ministries began. Priscillian and others believers beheaded in Spain for preaching as “laymen.”

392 A.D.

Theodosius made any other religions illegal and persecuted unto death. Added to the godless heathens were ‘heretics,’ those who disagreed with the Church of Rome. The church that began by being persecuting by the world, now began to persecute the heathen and those who disagreed with the Roman Church.

5th Century
Early 400’s

Augustine taught salvation only through Roman Catholic Church.

450 A.D.

Roman papacy established.

476 A.D.

Fall of Rome. Pope takes authority over kings.

From the 5th century there followed a 1000 years that are appropriately called the ‘Dark Ages.’ These centuries witnessed every conceivable type of darkness entering the world’s church: superstitions, unbiblical additions, heresies, idolatries, distortion of the Lord’s Supper, alternative methods of prayer, persecutions (by the church), inquisitions, in-fighting, divisions, extracting monies from constituents, dictatorship and etc.

We will be more specific about these spiritual digressions, distortions and deceptions in separate articles on this site.