The Lord’s church, although consistent in its existence since its establishment has never really flourished in the world. From the onset, it was met with great hostility and persecution which only grew as time went on. The church was hated by the Jews (Cf. Acts 8:4 & Acts 11:19) and the same hatred was later shared by the Romans. Throughout the first century until the third, Christianity was a religion despised and rejected. After futile attempts to suppress Christianity, Roman Emperor Galerius issued the Edict of Toleration in A.D. 311. This declaration granted Christians “the right to exist again and to set up their places of worship.” This decree was followed by another, The Edict of Milan. Sanctioned by emperor Constantine in A.D. 311, the Edict of Milan did more than recognize Christianity it also encouraged it. (The Eternal Kingdom pg.98, 99). The end of organized persecution was no doubt a welcome sigh of relief for our brethren, however, another dilemma was on the horizon. With Christianity’s newfound popularity and approval came the heightened threat of heresy. Although this threat existed in the church since its inception (Cf. Acts 15) it grew stronger towards the end of the first century.
Since its independence, no nation existed that afforded Christians the liberty to worship as they choose.Morne W. Stephanus
With the Church’s newfound acceptance early in the third century, persecution against the Divine doctrines of the New Covenant became increasingly prevalent. The Church abandoned its Divinely ordained system of governance for a system that ultimately led to the establishment of the Papacy. (Eternal Kingdom) Yes, the establishment of the Catholic church and its abominations was a direct result of Christians failing to uphold sound doctrine. After the Edict of Milan, these heretical doctrines only became more popular and the church morphed into something unrecognizable. Although the church never ceased to exist, it would take centuries for Christianity to be restored to its New Testament pattern. During what is called the restoration period, denominational men tired of sectarianism sought out the scriptures with a desire to be Christians and Christians only. These men were not Christians, but they were seeking the Christian way. Their efforts and God’s providence saw the start of a movement to restore New Testament Christianity. One might say their efforts came about in the fulness of time. In the United States, the Revolutionary War gave birth to a new nation; a nation no longer obligated to pay homage to the church of England and its extorting ways. (Search for the Ancient Order, pg.1) Freed from the yoke of bondage, the separation of church and state, and the first amendment of the United States constitution helped in paving the way for an increased presence of the church in the world. For the first time since its establishment on earth, the church would exist free from organized persecution and be allowed to conduct itself in righteousness without the interference of government.
This is an extremely abridged version of church and restoration history but the lessons from it cannot be forgotten. It is biblical to say that those who do not learn from history will repeat it, for so the Lord admonished us multiple times (Cf. Romans 15:4 & 1 Corinthians 10:11). What can we glean from the history of the church? The early church suffered organized persecution for well over three hundred years. More than three generations of Christians lost their lives, families, and livelihoods for the cause of Christ. Centuries went by with seemingly no end in sight. Christians were born into persecution and if they lived to be a ripe old age, died in persecution. Consider this, Christians suffered persecution for longer than our country has existed as an independent nation. We ought to accept this reality, persecution may occur for a season (2 Timothy 3:1) but that season is not limited to three months. The faith and steadfastness required by the early church is something that we must develop now so that when persecution does come, we can stand for as long as they did. Furthermore, we must not forget the impact our actions have on the church local and otherwise. Damnable doctrines were allowed to flourish in the Body and the results were widespread denominationalism. The purity of the Body must be protected, and the purity of its doctrine must be preserved. At last, we must learn to appreciate what we have in this nation. Since its independence, no nation existed that afforded Christians the liberty to worship as they chose. What we have in this country is something the early church could only dream about. We can serve and worship God without fear of persecution. We can talk to anyone about the Lord without fear of being turned in to the authorities. How have we used this freedom? I’m afraid that many have forgotten the history of the church and in so doing they believe our current state is how it has always been; this is simply not the case. We are free by the grace of God thus we need to make sure that we are free to the glory of God. The history of the church is filled with hurt and sorrow, but we cannot forget it lest we fail to learn the lessons taught by it.
Mattox, F. W. (1961). Through Persecution Victory. In The Eternal Kingdom (pp. 98-99). Delight, AR: Gospel Light Pub.
West, E. I. (2002). Early Beginnings. In The search for the ancient order: A history of the restoration movement (p. 1). Delight, AR: Gospel Light Pub.