"Daughter Of Babylon,
The True History of
The Worldwide Church of God"
by Bruce Renehan
Chapter 7 "Is Christ Divided?"
When evangelist Herman L. Hoeh authored his 1959 booklet A TRUE HISTORY of the TRUE CHURCH, the very first question he asked was, "Is Christ divided?" Assuming that proselytes could not disagree, they were led to look for the one true church outside of "organized Christianity" of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Ronald Kelly asked this same question of the readers of the Good News and Plain Truth magazines in June 1990.
Like Hoeh, Kelly is another long-time, high-ranking minister of the Worldwide Church of God. In 1990 through 1991 he authored the twelve part series, entitled "The History of the Church of God", in the Good News and Plain Truth magazines. It was, for the most part, a rehash of Hoeh's original story about the one true church that could trace a lineage from the day of Pentecost AD 31 to the present time. By comparing similarities in doctrine and then attempting to produce a chronological lineage, true Christianity was made to appear in its modern-day form as the Worldwide Church of God. In his lead article, Kelly wrote:But Christianity is not one harmonious group of believers. The Christian world is divided into hundreds of denominations, splits, schisms and sects.
What happened? How did Christianity become so divided?
Well, the answer, of course, should have been obvious to Kelly and other Bible readers, because this question was originally asked by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 1:13.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
This is a rather familiar passage where Paul was chiding the Corinthian Christians for being contentious and claiming specific loyalties to men rather than Christ. In this entire chapter there is not one mention of the Law of Moses being a sign of the true Christians. Rather, this passage indicates that following after the man who baptized them was the source of their contention.
Ironically, this is the very passage used by Hoeh and Kelly to lead into the premise that they themselves were of Polycarp, Polycrates, and so on. They further claimed a specific group of men to be apostles throughout the ages until Herbert W. Armstrong--as God's "end-time apostle"--raised up the Worldwide Church of God.
Before examining the twelfth-century group of anti-catholic heretics called Waldensians, I would like to return to the story of the Jewish-Christians in Pella. Hoeh calls them true Christians because they were "adhering as far as possible to the Mosaic economy." These Christians were called "Ebionites" by their "enemies" according to Hoeh. (Hoeh felt that the title "Ebionite" which means "poor" was a slander to this religious sect. He seemed to be overlooking his own name calling in his reference to the Catholics as the "Great Whore.").
Hoeh's interpretation of history seems to be paradoxical. Here is another inconsistency that he produced. He quoted the 4th century historian Eusebius in referring to Polycarp as a faithful Christian. In doing this, Hoeh validated Eusebius as a reliable historian. By Hoeh's own standards, Eusebius would also have to have been an "enemy of the Ebionites" because he wrote favorably about Polycarp yet called the Ebionites heretics adding:
With them [the Ebionites] the observance of the law was altogether necessary, as if they could not be saved, only by faith in Christ and a corresponding life. (Ecclesiastical History, p. 112, Baker Book House, 1981)
This adherence to the Mosaic economy clearly made the Ebionites heretics to Eusebius and yet, in all of his writing about Polycarp, Eusebius never once placed Polycarp or his followers under the same condemnation. Why? If we are to believe Hoeh when he quoted Eusebius about Polycarp then we must also believe what Eusebius said about the Ebionites. The answer lies in this: Polycarp was not keeping the Jewish holydays and Mosaic laws as Hoeh assumed. Hoeh and his camp of theologians assumed that the fourth-century council of Nicea was a true church/false church controversy. The long-held "Quartodeciman controversy" was only one of several differences of opinions of Christians in the three centuries following Pentecost 31 AD. It was this lack of unity that caused those who wanted to control the system to convene in the Nicene council in 325 AD.
Unlike Paul's allowances in Romans 14, the fourth century Roman bishops would not allow for differences of opinion in the church. Strong church organization and government was seen as the only cure for a divided Christian community at this time. By the fourth century, Christianity was divided by its opinions about rituals. Hoeh, himself, had noted that Christians had been unorganized. It seems apparent that the New Testament apostles were not clear about what rituals their predecessors were to practice. To create organized religion, Christians had to unite under a set of creeds and doctrines and they had to acknowledge a hierarchical priesthood. This was accomplished by making one universal Christian church. Its proper name is the Universal Church of God. Of course we know it better by its Latin name--Catholic.
What Hoeh Fails to Mention About First Century Church
According to Hoeh, some have noted that the first one to three hundred years of Christianity had a "curtain veiling" its history.
For many years history was devoid of documentation about the original Christians. With the discovery of the many thousands of scrolls in Qumran and their interpretation, the history of the first century followers of Jesus is becoming very clear to scholars. Not only has the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls enlightened scholars. Many other documents, such as the Gospel of Thomas, have surfaced in this century to substantiate what scholars have suspected for centuries, that the New Testament is primarily a fourth century creation.
It has been popular for many theologians to imagine that Christianity was purest at its initiation, during, what was casually assumed, the time of the writing of the New Testament, and declined from that period onward. This pure church came to be commonly called the "primitive church." Theoretically, its entanglement with "the pollutions of the world" caused division and impurity. The world's pollutions seemed to have the same effect on the primitive church as kryptonite had on superman. Thus, for centuries Christians have striven to reinvent what they imagined the biblical church of the apostles must have been like in order to recapture the faith once delivered and had since died out.
The concept of the "primitive church" became the ideal for later Christians to seek after. But, it is quite clear that this concept meant different things to different Christians. Later the organization of the Catholic church was an attempt to recapture the "primitive church" through the unifying of doctrine and ecumenical control. The threat of excommunication was understood to be the biblically sanctioned alternative to doctrinal disagreement. This desire for unity has been consistently pursued, since 325 AD., through their ecumenical councils.
A concept of the primitive church was also developed by Protestants:
The 'Protestant' approach to the truth of Christianity is to look for it in a 'primitive church', where the faith was pure, free of dogmatic accretions, simple and obvious. In that golden age, says its adherents, when our Lord was present in his physical body or when the conviction of his resurrection was recent and not to be denied and the overwhelming power, his followers accepted him for what he was by virtue of a personal relationship, making definition unnecessary. Thomas Didymus cried out 'My Lord and my God' because he saw and touched the wounds of the risen Christ, not because an ecumenical council had agreed on the form of words. This happy state disappeared within a few years. By the time Paul was writing, heresy and schism were beginning to appear in the churches. Since when they take this view of the Church, all developments of the original faith are departures from the norm established by Christ himself and his believers is to shed the accretions of later ages and return to this idealized and largely mythical 'primitive Christianity' (Christie-Murray, 6).
Jones' Church History has been quoted frequently by Worldwide Church of God authors. Here is what he states about the first and second century Christians:
"Let none," says Dr. Mosheim, alluding to the first and second centuries, "confound the bishops of this primitive and golden period of the church, with those of whom we read in the following ages. For though they were both designated by the same name, yet they differed extremely, in many respects. A bishop, during the first and second centuries, was a person who had the care of one Christian assembly, which, at that time, was, generally speaking, small enough to be contained in a private house. In this assembly, he acted not so much with the authority of a master, as with the zeal and diligence of a faithful servant. The churches also, in those early times, were entirely independent; none of them subject to any foreign jurisdiction, but each one governed by its own rulers and its own laws. Nothing is more evident than the perfect equality that reigned among the primitive churches; nor does there ever appear, in the first century, the smallest trace of that association of provincial churches, from which councils and metropolitans derive their origin." To which we may add, that the first churches acknowledged no earthly potentate as their head. This had been expressly prohibited by their Divine master. "The kings of the Gentiles," said he, "exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise an authority upon them are termed benefactors. But with you it shall not be so;--let him that is greatest among you be as the younger, and he that is chief, as he that doth serve."...These divine maxims, which are in perfect unison with the whole tenor of the New Testament, were entirely disregarded by the ecclesiastics who undertook to new-model the constitution of the Christian church, under the auspices of Constantine, and whom, as a matter of courtesy, they condescended to make its earthly head.( Jones, 287,288)
According to William Jones, these primitive Christians: 1) Claimed no earthly leaders; 2) Were not highly organized; 3) Met in very small groups; 4) Had local autonomy; 5) Had diversity of doctrines. Again, it is ironic that the historian most quoted by Armstrong's writers claimed that early Christians were against organized religion.
Of course, William Jones was a product of the Enlightenment. In the twentieth century, one might read Jones' interpretation of early Christian attitudes and conclude that these people possessed a sense of autonomy and free will. If they did act in such a manner among their Roman dominators, they would have surely appeared as rebels. Therefore, the first century Christians suffered as martyrs until their rescue by Constantine:
In the view that we have taken of the Christian history during the preceding period, it appears uniformly in harmony with this representation. The general character of the disciples of Christ is that of a suffering people; and, not withstanding some intervals of repose occasionally intervening, in general the progress of the gospel is traced in the blood of the saints, and its power an evidence made conspicuous in prevailing against the most formidable opposition. Thus, the excellency of its power appeared to be of God, and not of man...But the scene is altogether changed, when we view the state of matters after the ascension of Constantine; for then, instead of the teachers of Christianity being called upon to shew their attachment to it by self-denial and suffering for its sake, we see them exalted to worldly honour and dignity; and the holy and heavenly religion of Jesus, converted into a system of pride, domination and hypocrisy, and becoming, at length, the means of gratifying the vilest lusts and passions of the human heart. (263)
The conclusion might be drawn from Jones' history that the Christian system seeking to organize itself under a banner of unity had less to do with doctrines than it did with establishing a form of government. And yet both doctrine and government seemed to have become more important issues to the council of Nicea than faith, hope, and charity had become to the Pauline authors.
It seems that the New Testament apostles, who would have instructed the "primitive church," left their successors without centralized government or a strict standard of doctrines, creeds or rituals. There appears to be no systematic theology that made counterfeit Christians easily recognizable, unless it was their attitude of independence. According to Jones, these ante-Nicene Christians knew that their bishops could not claim authority over the souls of other men. It was merely their job to be good hosts or table servers in private homes where Messianic followers would come together. It took about three hundred years for this system to come under challenge by its own bishops who now wanted all Christians to look and act alike.
The Roman emperor Constantine is clearly viewed as the first organizer of Christianity by most historians. He set up a form of church government and created a system of priests who claimed authority through apostolic succession and doctrinal interpretation. This could be seen as the very origin of the belief in one true church. Christianity is a religion that is burdened with paradoxes. By trying to establish unity in the fourth century, Constantine would receive the blame for destroying the "primitive church" by historians centuries later.
In the establishment of Christianity by Constantine, the obstruction which had hitherto operated against the full manifestation to the antichristian power, being removed, the current of events gradually brought matters to that state in which "the man of sin" became fully revealed, "sitting in the temple of God, and shewing himself as God"(265).
Here is where the nineteenth century historian used by Worldwide Church of God writers waxed polemical. He adopted a popular belief, festering throughout the Middle Ages, that these early organizers of the Universal Church had been predicted in New Testament prophecies as the power of the antichrist.
Many of the errors, indeed, of several centuries, the fruit of vain philosophy, paved the way for the events which followed; but the hindrance was not effectually removed, until Constantine the emperor, on professing himself a Christian, undertook to convert the kingdom of Christ into a kingdom of this world, by exalting the teachers of Christianity to the same state of affluence, grandeur, and influence in the empire, as had been enjoyed by Pagan priests and secular officers in the state. The professed ministers of Jesus having now a wide field opened to them for gratifying their lusts of power, wealth, and dignity, the connection between the Christian faith and the cross, was at an end. What followed was the kingdom of the clergy, supplanting the kingdom of Jesus Christ (269, 270).
The bishops gathered at Nicea believed that Christians were commanded to observe the Lord's supper (not Jewish Passover) as a memorial. But as with many doctrinal issues confronting them, there was a lack of unity concerning when and how often this ritual was to be observed. The Asian churches had observed the Eucharist on the 14th of Nisan and said that the apostle John had set the example for them. But the Roman Christians too claimed they had received traditions from the apostles. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia the bishop listed as successor to Peter, in Rome, was Linus. Linus was the disciple of Paul (II Tim 4:21). Paul, according to tradition, was beheaded in Rome. The influence of Christianity and successors to the bishops seemed to be everywhere in the known world in the fourth century.
Just prior to the first ecumenical council of Nicea, the western Roman churches were observing the Lord's Supper closest to the spring equinox on a Sunday. There were various reasons why they came to choose a Sunday, rather than Nisan 14, to celebrate the Lord's supper on: 1) The difficulty and inaccuracy of the calculation of the Hebrew calendar; 2) The inaccurate calculation falling upon any day of the week. (Out of convenience, they argued for a set day of the week, since they knew of no command to calculate the Eucharist in agreement with the Hebrew calendar.); 3) The bishops also felt that the Jews had rejected the Messiah.
These arguments led the bishops to conclude that there was no reason for Christians to abide by any of the covenants made to the Jews in the Old Testament.
Hoeh also failed to mention that, at this juncture in history, the Hebrew Calendar had been so inaccurate that the 14th of Nisan was occurring before the spring equinox, in winter. Thus, the Passover association with the Eucharist seemed to be worthless since no one was able to calculate the day properly anyway. Notice what John Kossey pointed out in the Ambassador College textbook, "The Hebrew Calendar: A Mathematical Introduction":
There is some evidence that an adjustment to the Hebrew calendar may have taken place during the patriarchate of Simon III (140-163). See Cyrus Adler, "Calendar, History of," in The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1907), Vol. 3, p. 500.
With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, in 70 A.D., and the Levitical priesthood abolished, the very system that the Jews had used to derive the molad of Tishri--the benchmark needed to calculate the complex Hebrew calendar--was now severely crippled and even they had to rely on an inferior system to maintain Judaism.
If the Jews could not properly calculate the Hebrew holydays in the first century, then what were the Christians to do? It is unreasonable to think that a just God would have placed such a burden on Christians without providing the means for them to obey him.
In the first ecumenical council (Nicea) this was one of many controversies settled among organized Christians.
The major controversy for the Council of Nicea was not about the Passover though. It was about something called Arianism.
There appears to be a very distinct dichotomy in conceptualizing the nature of God among religious people of the Greco-Roman influence and those from the Middle East. To this day, neither Moslems nor Jews have ever accepted the belief in the demigod ( someone, like Hercules who was half god and half man). So, when east met west in the fourth century council of bishops, the deity of Jesus became a major controversy. This eastern philosophy came to be known in Rome as Arianism, named after Arius, a fourth century bishop of Alexandria. Arianism was an early challenge to Catholicism protesting that the Messiah could not have been both God and man.But the question of how the Son was related to the Father (Himself acknowledged on all hands to be the one Supreme Deity), gave rise, between the years AD 60 and 200, to a number of Theosophic systems, called generally Gnosticism, and having for their authors Baisilides, Valentinus, Tatian, and other Greek speculators. Though all these visited Rome, they had no following in the West, which remained free from controversies of an abstract nature, and was faithful to the creed of its baptism. Intellectual centres were chiefly Alexandria and Antioch, Egyptian or Syrian, and speculation was carried on in Greek...The adaptation of a vocabulary employed by Plato and Aristotle to Christian truth was a matter of time;
...That disputes should spring up even among the orthodox who all held one faith, was inevitable. And of these wranglings the rationalist would take advantage in order to substitute for the ancient creed his own inventions. The drift of all he advanced was this: to deny that in any true sense God could have a Son; as Mohammed tersely said afterwards, "God neither begets nor is He begotten" ( "Arianism," 707)
Here is how William Jones records the Arian Controversy in the early organized Christian church.
But a dispute now arose which may be said to have involved all Christendom in a flame...The occasion of this dispute, which is well known by the name of "THE ARIAN CONTROVERSY," seems to have been simply this. Alexander, one of the prelates of that church, speaking upon the subject of the Trinity, had affirmed that there was "an unity in the Trinity, and particularly that the Son was co-eternal, and consubstantial, and of the same dignity with the Father." Arius objected to this language, and argued that "If the Father begat the Son, he who was begotten must have a beginning of his existence; and from hence, says he, 'tis manifest that there was a time when (the Son) was not,"(Jones, 293).
Arius lost the controversy and was excommunicated. Both the divinity of Christ and the Trinity were instituted into the Nicene Creed at this point in history.
In short, when Constantine became emperor of Rome in the fourth century, he made Christianity the state religion. Now it was the LAW in all Roman provinces to be a Christian. To promote unity among orthodox churches the Roman bishop was made the chief prelate and all opposing him were ex-communicated. Eventually, the eastern and western orthodox churches split. (The eastern headquarters was placed in Constantinople, where it is to this day.)
From this point on in history, there were scattered groups of Christians who were opposed to Catholicism. Very little is actually known about their doctrinal practices. And what we know of these groups is often derived from legends.
It has been taught by the Worldwide Church of God, that there was always one organization among these groups that was truly pure in its generations. They claimed it was always called the "Church of God;" it always kept the Sabbath and Passover; it was always anti-Catholic.
There have actually been several interpretations offered as to who the symbolic "Mother of harlots" of the book of Revelation might be. The belief that it is the Roman Catholic system is a popular one and dates back many hundreds of years.
Another interpretation has been that the "Great Whore" of Revelation was Rabbinic Judaism of 70 AD. Old Testament prophecies had pictured Israel as a symbolic prostitute who had actually paid her lovers. According to the prophets, she was condemned, by God, to be taken captive into the land of Babylon. Little is recorded in the canonized Old Testament after her return from Babylon. It was during that period of time that the Pharisees rose up to power and established the synagogue system that existed in the time of Jesus. The Pharisees rejected Jesus as their Talmudic Messiah and, it is popularly believed, sought to have the Romans put him to death. This could certainly be seen as riding upon a beast since the Jews had actually considered Gentiles to be unclean beasts. Later the Pharisees would be taken into Babylonian captivity again where they would codify their oral traditions in what is known today as the "Babylonian Talmud." This alternate view is one that is held among groups like the preterists, who do not believe that this is the end-time.
In the next chapter we will examine the ancient church of the Waldenses. It makes the claim of being the oldest Protestant church in the world. The Worldwide Church of God disputed that claim and said that at one time it was one of its "parent" churches linking it back to the New Testament. They claimed it was, for a season, the true church of God. Could they prove it?
Was the Easter/Passover issue the indicator of true religion? Did Christ make Moses' Law even more binding on Christians? Was there one great false system of Christianity and one true system? If so, how do we distinguish between these two systems?
Is Christ divided? Or are Christians, too often, divisive?
Go to the "Painful Truth" page.