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An Evangelical Introduction to Church History (Part 2)

Updated: May 11, 2020



In Modern Day “Konya”, known as “Iconium” in Acts 14 – 

” The Tomb of the Sufi Mystic known as “Mowlana” (Persian) or “Mevlana” (Turkish) 

The Tomb of “Mevlana” (Turkish) or “Mowlana” ( مولانا – Farsi), the Sufi mystic, Jallal al din e Rumi, in the city of Konya, Turkey. (1207 – 1247) Konya is the ancient city of Iconium, one of the cities of Biblical Southern Galatia. (Acts 14, book of Galatians) Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe are 3 of the major cities of the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey. These, along with Pisidian Antioch, probably are the main churches Paul wrote to in his letter to the Galatians. “to the churches of Galatia” (plural, Gal. 1:2)

What happened to the once biblical churches? The historical reality is that individual churches can die and be removed. Islam came later as a judgment on the churches that had drifted from the Bible and left their first love. ( Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 2:4-5)

Today, there is no known Turkish or Kurdish Christians in Konya, and no official Christian churches in any of these areas. Konya today is one of the most Islamic religious cities in all of Turkey. Mowlana or Rumi, was a Persian, who was born in Balkh, (today in Afghanistan near Muzhar Sharif), whose poetry is some of the most famous Sufi mystic poetry of Islamic history. Many Muslims visit his grave and pray to him, asking for his intercession, and for him, and leave money on his shrine. Mowlana is called “Rumi” because he fled the Mongolian invasions and settled in “Rum” (what the Iranians and Turks called all of Byzantine/Greek/Roman civilization. The Seljuk Turks had conquered this area from the Byzantines at this time.

Earlier, in “An Evangelical Intro to church history”, (part 1) we saw that some very important early church fathers give indications that they held to some views and doctrines that are closer to Protestant Christianity in general. We are not claiming that these early writers/leaders are Protestants, as that would be anachronistic. They are not Roman Catholic either. They are catholic, meaning “universal”. (from the Greek word, made up of two words, “kata” (according to) and “holicos” (the whole). Ignatius first uses this term, and Protestants have historically also claimed that they are catholic also, in the early usage of this term. The true catholic church are the true believers, the elect of God from all nations, spreading all over the world. ( Revelation 5:9) And the gates of hades, meaning death, does not overcome true believers. (Matthew 16:18) “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” (see I John 5:4-5) The promise of Matthew 16:18 does not mean a particular church in a particular city, much less the church in the city of Rome, would continue. There is absolutely nothing in the text about Rome or a pope or infallibility or apostolic succession. The blessing of Christ to Peter is about Peter’s faith confession and that God revealed the truth to Him, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Revelation chapters 2-3 proves this, that local churches can drift away from the truth and disappear from history; as does Colossae, as there is no known Colossian church anymore at that site, which is today in Turkey. I have been there and there is nothing left except a few stones. The same thing happened for the area of Galatia, (today modern Central Turkey) and other places.

In Part 2, here, we will expand upon I Clement and explore some of Ignatius’ writings.

One of the most important things that modern Evangelicals lack and neglect is good teaching on the subject of church history. One of the things that shock many Evangelicals is when they start reading church history and the actual writings of the early church fathers. Some read Roman Catholic apologetic works and when they run into “catholic sounding” words like “Eucharist” and “penance” and “bishops” and “the chair of Peter”, “tradition” and even the word, “catholic”; they are taken aback and not prepared to deal with these things. The lack of appreciation for both the good things in Church history, and a sound theological and biblical explanation of the unbiblical traditions have created this vacuum in some thinking and sensitive modern Protestants.

When modern Evangelicals don’t show both the good and the bad in church history and expose the bad traditions and practices; and hold up Scripture as the umpire and final infallible authority, then there is this vacuum and shock that some want to fill it with a sense of history and longing for those nostalgic feelings of “coming home”.  John Bugay wrote a very good article on this issue, here.

This search for certainty and connection to history and seeing some words that occur in the early writings that have a different Roman/papal meaning later in history, can deceptively trick people into accepting the un-biblical Roman Catholic additions and corruptions of later centuries.

Jude 3 teaches us that the original deposit, the faith of the apostles, was “once for all delivered to the saints”. The early church also called this “the tradition”, “the faith”, “the tradition of the apostles”, but they did not mean what modern Roman Catholicism means by “tradition”. The Roman church has taken man made traditions and added them to the rule of faith and original deposit, the same problem that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for in Matthew 15 and Mark 7 and what Paul told the Colossians to beware of. (Colossians 2:8)

Properly understanding the context of these letters will show that Protestant Evangelicals can be deeper in understanding church history properly and more Biblical and stand against the false claim of John Henry Newman, that “to be deep history is to cease to be Protestant”, that has been attracting so many to Rome in recent years.

Now to focus on Ignatius and Clement. Clement is older than Ignatius by a few years, so the issue of the presbyters and overseers/bishops as one office is an earlier and therefore “deeper in history” truth. But even though Ignatius starts the custom of “mono-episcopate” (one bishop over the college of Presbyters), he is a far cry from any kind of papal doctrine or idea. He is the bishop of Antioch, so even he would disagree with the later claims of some bishops of Rome. But he writes some early words like “catholic” and “eucharist” that many Protestants are unprepared to deal with when they first read them from someone who wrote around 107-117 AD.

Just because Ignatius, around 107-117 AD writes about “the catholic church” (kata – holicos = “according to the whole”; to the Smyneans 8:2.) and the Lord’s supper as the “eucharist” (eucharisto – thanksgiving; To the Smyreans) – does not mean that the early church was “Roman Catholic”. Protestants agree that Jesus was really, physically crucified, that He had a physical body, so we are not docetics who abstained from the Lord’s supper, because they denied Jesus had a physical body. Ignatius’ main argument was against Docetics and their reason for abstaining from the Lord’s supper was because they denied the humanity and physicality of Jesus. Protestants agree with the Bible and Ignatius that Jesus was really crucified and buried and rose physically from the dead. Just because Ignatius uses these words does not mean that the early church was the same church as the modern Roman Catholic of today. He is not teaching any kind of “transubstantiation” doctrine. This came much later, under Radbertus, in the 800s and was developed up until Aquinas and then it was declared dogma in 1215.

For more details on the history of Transubstantiation, see Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, by Harold O. J. Brown. Hendrickson, 1984, 1988; pp. 228-233.

and

Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, by Keith Matthison. Presbyterian and Reformed. 2002. (pp. 346-348)

We have no problem with calling the Lord’s Supper the celebration of “thanksgiving” (Eucharist) for what Christ has done for us in His once for all substitutionary atonement. So, Biblical and believing Protestants are also “catholic” in the early church sense that Ignatius writes of. Ignatius is taken by Roman Catholic apologists to call the eucharist “the flesh Christ”, but his point is “the flesh of Christ”, really existed and suffered in time and space, “which suffered for our sins and which the Father by His goodness raised up.” (To the Smyneans, 6:2) He seems to mean that the Eucharist “represents” or “signifies” the real body and blood of Christ, which suffered. (see To the Smyrneans, 6:2, also 1:1-2 and the context of referring back to the real physical history of Christ and the Docetists denial of the flesh of Christ. “. . . totally convinced with regard to our Lord that He is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin, baptized by john, . . . truly nailed in the flesh under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch . . . “. Ignatius is writing in the context of the Docetics denial of Jesus’ humanity and that he had a real physical body and blood. Jesus was not a ghost or phantom. The reason the Docetics, Ignatius explains, abstain from the eucharist, is that that don’t believe Jesus was physical at all in history. Protestants cannot be accused of that, for we believe the flesh of Christ was truly nailed and suffered physically, so we celebrate the bread and wine (or grape juice) as symbols of the historical reality. “The Word became flesh”.