TWO HUNDRED TO THREE HUNDRED A.D.
The Remnant Church
In the preceding century we learned that the persecuted Church, driven from Jerusalem, found refuge at Pella, and there continued in the grace of God, upholding the beautiful truths God had entrusted to her care, while she was known to the world as Nazarenes, but claiming for herself the inspired Scriptural name, "The Church of God."
About 130 A.D., the Church was again permitted to return to Jerusalem, although some remained behind at Pella. For over a hundred years they continued in peace, with the headquarters again in the Holy City, as at the beginning. Later, however, trouble arose, and as persecutions began to fall upon the holy men of God at Jerusalem, they again fled, being scattered over the world. Some fled in vain, being captured by their enemies; and lost their lives for the gospel's sake. Smith says of the Church at this period:
"About one hundred and twenty years after the Church of God at Pella was permitted to become again established at Jerusalem, under the leadership of Mark, an imperial edict was issued from Decius, the Roman emperor, and the Church was again exposed to great calamities. The venerable bishops of Jerusalem and Antioch died in prison, and many true followers were scourged to death, many sacrificed to wild beasts, some burned, and others perished by the sword. The Lord interfered, it seems, by sudden death coming upon the emperor Decius, but Gallus his successor, continued in the path of his predecessor. In two years, however, Gallus fell at the hand of one of his own soldiers, thus the year 253 closed this brief but terrible period of violence to the Church." -- Hugh Smith's History.
During the period of peace, when persecutions were at a low ebb against the church, it seems that little progress was made by the true saints in broadening the fields of labor, or strengthening the resources that they already possessed. However, with the renewed persecutions, evangelistic efforts were again energetically pursued, and the gospel was carried into whatever new fields the fleeing members of the church happened to find refuge. Wherever they fled they carried with them the true doctrines, the true name, and the commandments of God, as well as the faith of Jesus, which were their heritage from the original Church of God at Jerusalem.
As in the old days, Jehovah worked with these humble and earnest men of God, and confirmed the truths they proclaimed, with signs and wonders following. Wharey says of God's vindicating power, that it went with the saints through this century.
"From A.D. 251 to 300, miracles were still performed in the church, Mosheim tells us, although less common than in previous years, and the church, he says, never wielded a sharper weapon against its enemies than the holy lives of its members." -- Wharey's History, p. 42.
The renewed zeal of the true followers of Christ, however, was accompanied with an increase among the number of apostate Christians, the multiplicity of sects, and the growth of false doctrine, and the lowering of the true Christian standard. The breach between the true Church of God and the sects was widening, and the churches were taking form, which eventually materialized in the Roman Catholic church, and the Greek Catholic church. Milner speaks of this decadent condition in the following words:
At the beginning of the persecution under Decius, about 248 A.D., "Each was bent on improving his patrimony: forgetting what believers had done under the apostles, and what they ought always to do, they brooded over the arts of amassing wealth. The pastors and deacons equally forgot their duty, works of mercy were neglected, and discipline was at the lowest ebb. Usury and effeminacy prevailed. Metricious arts in dress were cultivated. Fraud and deceit were practiced among brethren. Christians could unite themselves in matrimony with unbelievers, could swear, not only without reverence, but without veracity; with haughty asperity they despised their ecclesiastical superiors; could rail one against another with outrageous acrimony, and conduct quarrels with settled malice; even many bishops, who ought to be guides and patterns to the rest, neglecting the peculiar duties of their stations, gave themselves up to secular pursuits; deserting their places of residence and their flocks, they traveled through distant provinces in quest of gain, gave no assistance to the needy brethren, were insatiable in their thirst of money, possessed estates by fraud, and multiplied usury." -- Townsend's Abridgment, p. 110, Ed. 1816.
Origin of Other Sects
One of the most celebrated sects was that founded by Manes, who strategically conceived a plan to unite the Christians and pagans by adopting a religious belief in common to both, with broad compromises and concessions. It flourished for a time, but the Persian Christians excommunicated him from the church, causing further divisions.
The Manichaeans, founded by Manichaes, the inventor of other superstitious but pleasing doctrines, attained considerable following.
The two sects founded by Noetus and Sabellius, toward the close of this century, spread their respective doctrines in many parts of the empire. The severe edicts of Valerian were directed against these sects, and their writings, which were numerous, have become extinct.
The Apostolic Canons and Constitutions, works which it has been pretended were composed by the twelve apostles and jointly with St. Paul, have been supposed by many writers to have been fabricated in the third or fourth century, to establish several points relative to discipline and doctrine in the Church of Rome. Part of this work has been ascribed to Hippolitus, an Arabian writer, and published from Rome.
The Sabbath was still observed in the true church in this century, and was generally retained by many of the sects which had sprung up in this and the preceding centuries.
Novatian, who wrote about A.D. 250, prepared a treatise on the Sabbath, which is not extant. There is no reference to Sunday in any of his writings. He makes the following striking remarks concerning the moral law: "The law was given to the children of Israel for this purpose, that they might profit by it, and return to those virtuous manners which, although they had received them from their fathers, they had corrupted in Egypt, by reason of their intercourse with a barbarous people. Finally, also, those ten commandments on the tables teach nothing new, but remind them of what had been obliterated -- that righteousness in them, which had been put to sleep, might revive again, as it were, by the afflatus of the law, after the manner of a fire (nearly extinguished)." -- Novatian on the Jewish Meats, chap. 3.
Hugh Smith says, "Some new doctrine concerning the state after death appeared to have made considerable progress during the third century. The undistinguished believer was consigned to purification after this life before his participation of joys of heaven" (page 78). This doctrine propagated through the heathen philosophers Plato and Socrates gained further accession and popularity. Lent had been observed for a few days before Easter, but in the course of the third century it was extended at Rome for three weeks, but it did not stop here, before the middle of the succeeding age it was lengthened to six weeks, and then to forty days." -- Hugh Smith's History, p.82.
Continue with Chapter 7.
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