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<i>Antichristus</i>, a woodcut by <a href="/content/Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder" style="color:blue">Lucas Cranach the Elder</a>: the <a href="/content/Pope_as_Antichrist" style="color:blue">Pope depicted as the Antichrist</a>, using his <a href="/content/Temporal_power_(papal)" style="color:blue">temporal power</a> to grant authority to a generously contributing ruler.
Antichristus, a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder: the Pope depicted as the Antichrist, using his temporal power to grant authority to a generously contributing ruler.

The Great Apostasy is a concept within Christianity, identifiable at least from the time of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, to describe a perception that the early apostolic Church has fallen away from the original faith founded by Jesus and promulgated through his twelve Apostles. Protestants used the term to describe the perceived fallen state of traditional Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, because they claim it changed the doctrines of the early church and allowed traditional Greco-Roman culture (i.e.Greco-Roman mysteries, deities of solar monism such as Mithras and Sol Invictus, pagan festivals and Mithraic sun worship and idol worship) into the church on its own perception of authority.[1] Because it made these changes using claims of tradition and not from scripture, the Church -- in the opinion of those adhering to this concept -- has fallen into apostasy.[2][3] A major thread of this perception is the suggestion that, to attract and convert people to Christianity, the church in Rome incorporated pagan beliefs and practices within the Christian religion, mostly Graeco-Roman rituals, mysteries, and festivals.[4] For example, Easter has been described as a pagan substitute for the Jewish Passover, although neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival.[5][6]

The term is derived from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, in which the Apostle Paul informs the Christians of Thessalonica that a great apostasy must occur before the return of Christ, when "the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction" (chapter 2:1-12 [61] ). The Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches have interpreted this chapter as referring to a future falling-away, during the reign of the Antichrist at the end of times.


Some modern scholars[7] believe that the Church in the early stages picked up pagan oral teachings from Palestinian and Hellenistic sources, which formed the basis of a secret oral tradition, which in the 4th century came to be called the disciplina arcani. Mainstream theologians believe it contained liturgical details and certain other pagan traditions which remain a part of some branches of mainstream Christianity (for example, the doctrine of transubstantiation is thought to have been a part of this by Catholic theologians).[8][9][10] Important esoteric influences on the church were the Christian theologians Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the main figures of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.[11]

Protestants (most significantly starting with Martin Luther) and evangelical Christians have formally taught that the Bishop of Rome, along with the Catholic Church, greatly abused the original teachings and practices of the primitive or original Christian Church. They hold that it brought in pagan festivals and rites, as well as the worship of Mary,[12] as well as doctrines such as Purgatory and Hell which were not of the Early Church.[13] They teach that the Papacy slowly became corrupted as it strove to attain great dominion and authority, both civil and ecclesiastical.[14][15] For example, they say, it reinstated the pagan ceremonies and obligations of the Collegium Pontificum and the position of Pontifex Maximus and created Christian religious orders to replace the ancient Roman ones such as the Vestal Virgins and the flamines. It brought into the Church the ancient pagan festivals and made them 'Holy Days', and allowed the celebration of the Pasch or Passover to continue till the following Sunday which was the day of the ancient pagan day of Easter so Christians could also celebrate the Spring Equinox festival as they had done before. It used Easter as a tool to bring more pagans into the church, but instead of having them shed their pagan ways and ceremonies, it allowed them into the Church.[16] Catholics as well as the Reformers pointed to the office of the Papacy as responsible for the fallen state of the church as they considered the conduct of those in power had grown so spiritually or morally corrupt to the point that it was called the Antichrist power by those within as well as outside of the church.[17][18][19]

Following the Protestant Reformation, the denominations spawned from the Reformation have considered their own teachings to be restorative in nature, returning to the basic tenets of Biblical Christianity and sola scriptura. These views are taught in the modern descendant denominations and these doctrinal stances account for their continuing separation from the Catholic Church. Although Protestant Christianity, as a whole, rejects the overall concept that the original church was thrown into complete anarchy and chaos through Catholicism, it does assert that there was gross abuse of Biblical authority (especially by the Papacy) and a wandering from clear Biblical teachings prior to the Reformation.

Some Christian groups see themselves as uniquely restoring original Christendom. Such groups use the term "Great Apostasy" in a sweeping way, over all of Christendom, beyond themselves. Such groups tend to differ on exactly when the Great Apostasy took place, and what the exact errors or changes were. Ultimately, such groups claim that true Christianity was generally lost until it was disclosed again in them. The term "Great Apostasy" appears to have been coined in this narrower, technical sense, by "Restorationists". The term may sometimes be used in this sense by other groups claiming their unique position as representing Christianity.

Protestant views

Many Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, John Thomas, John Knox, and Cotton Mather, felt the early church had been led into apostasy by the Papacy and identified it as the Antichrist.[20] The reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and others disagreed with the papacy's claim of temporal power over all secular governments and the autocratic character of the papal office and challenged papal authority as it was a corruption from the early church and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice.[21] In Western Christianity these issues both contributed to and are products of the Protestant Reformation.

The Centuriators of Magdeburg, a group of Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg headed by Matthias Flacius, wrote the 12-volume "Magdeburg Centuries" to discredit the papacy and identify the pope as the Antichrist.

To a large degree, Protestantism believes that Constantine the Great (c. 325 AD) merged paganism with Christianity, seeking to bring unity and stability under his rule, and advance acceptance of and the power of the church by all sectors of the empire.[22][23] However, this had a corrupting effect on the beliefs of the church and through decades of succession by poor, often politically motivated leadership, abuses of scriptural application became prevalent. Nevertheless, it does not suggest that these abuses led to a complete state of anarchy and apostate renderings of scripture within the Early Church. From the Protestant perspective, abuses within the church led to a poor application of doctrine and Biblical truths. Protestantism generally asserts that although scripture itself remained pristine, the leaders and teachers became fouled. To that end, most of traditional Christianity agrees that the Biblical message itself was ultimately never lost to mankind.

Reformed perspective

John Wycliffe was well-known throughout Europe for his opposition to the teaching of the organized Church, which he believed had clearly deviated from the original teachings of the early church and to be contrary to the Bible. Wycliffe himself tells (Sermones, iii. 199) how he concluded that there was a great contrast between what the Church was and what it ought to be, and saw the necessity for reform. Along with John Hus, they had started the inclination toward ecclesiastical reforms of the Roman Catholic church.

The identification of the Roman Catholic church as the apostate power written of in scripture became evident to Martin Luther while he was a Roman Catholic Priest. Martin Luther wanted the Catholic Church to reform itself and return to the teachings of the early church and the Bible and rid itself of the traditions and corruptions of the Papacy, which he believed to have strayed from the original teachings. Luther declared his intolerance for the Roman Church’s corruption in 1517, by nailing his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Church door. The Pope as the antichrist was so ingrained in the Reformation era, that Luther stated it repeatedly. For example: “This teaching [of the supremacy of the pope] shows forcefully that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ, because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God” (Smalcald Articles, II).

Huldrych Zwingli, in 1518, when Zwingli became the pastor of the Grossmünster in Zurich he began to preach ideas on reforming the Catholic Church. Zwingli who was a Catholic priest before he became a Reformer, often referred to the Pope as the antichrist. He wrote: “I know that in it works the might and power of the Devil, that is, of the Antichrist” (Principle Works of Zwingli, Vol. 7, p. 135).

Calvinists have taught that a gradual process of corruption was predicted in the New Testament, that this process began within the New Testament era itself, and culminated in a self-proclaimed corrective brought about by the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches had developed from early on the idea of infallibility of the Church — that the Church may speak entirely without error in particular councils or edicts; or that, in a less definable way, the Church is infallibly directed so that it always stands in the truth; and indeed, and claim that the Church has the promise of Jesus that it shall do so. The Roman Catholic Church also developed on the parallel and complementary idea of papal infallibility — that the pope may speak in the same capacity; this idea was finally defined dogmatically at the First Vatican Council of 1870 and incorporated into doctrine.

In contrast, Protestants believe that the Church has only spoken infallibly through the Scriptures since the time of the Apostles, and should not expect to be completely free of error at any time until the end of the world, and rather must remain continually vigilant to maintain a Biblical (and therefore authoritative) doctrine and faith, or else fall away from the Christian faith and become an enemy of the truth.

In the Reformed view of church history, the true church cannot declare itself infallible, but rather calls itself ecclesia semper reformanda ("the Church which must be always reformed"), the church that is always repenting of error. This Protestant view is that people are naturally inclined to elevate tradition to equality with the written testimony of the Bible, which is the word of God (cf. Sacred Tradition). The reforming churches believe that human weakness is naturally drawn to a form of false religion that is worldly, pompous, ritualistic, anthropomorphic, polytheistic, infected with magical thinking and legalism, and that values human accomplishment more highly or more practically than the work of God (divine grace) is valued. Given the chance, people will substitute the sort of religion they naturally prefer, over the Gospel, see also Cafeteria Christianity. The Hebrew Bible contains multiple episodes of backsliding by the very people who first received God's revelation; to the Protestant mind, this shows that teaching the Gospel is a strait and narrow path, one that requires that natural religion be held in check and that God's grace, holiness, and otherness be rigorously proclaimed.

According to these Reformers, even as early as the apostles a process of deviation from the true faith and corruption began and spread with the reign of Constantine the Great, and reached a crucial point of development when the Christian church was made the state church of the Roman Empire by Theodosius I. From this point on, compromise of the truth deepened over time until the church became thoroughly worldly and corrupt, so that the true faith was no longer openly taught but instead suppressed, and at times persecuted and cast out. The development of formal hierarchy within the Catholic Church and consolidation of power under papal rule, as opposed to local autonomy among Christian congregations, with levels of rank among the bishops, and a handful of patriarchs to supervise the bishops, is seen by some Protestants as conducive to imperial manipulation of the Church, susceptible to general control by capture of only a few seats of power.

Similarly, the defenses of the right belief and worship of the church resided in the bishops, and Protestants theorize that the process of unifying the doctrine of the Church also concentrated power into their own hands (see also Ignatius of Antioch, who advocated a powerful bishop), and made their office an instrument of power coveted by ambitious men.[24] They charge that, through ambition and jealousy, the church has been at times, and not very subtly, subverted from carrying out its sacred aim. For the Reformers, the culmination of this gradual corruption was typified, in a concentrated way, in the office of the Pope who took on ancient titles such as Pontifex Maximus and supreme power in the church, which they characterized in its final form as being an usurpatious throne of Satanic authority set up in pretense of ruling over the Kingdom of God.[25]

Calvin, Luther, and many later churches and preachers have held that scripture points out the Catholic Church as the fallen church of biblical prophecy.[26][27]

One verse in particular is used to point specifically to the coming apostate church, 2 Thessalonians 2:7. In the King James Version (KJV) this reads "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way."

Martin Luther believed and taught that the church had strayed and fallen away from the true teachings of the scripture. He challenged the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge,[28] and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood.[29]

Although Lutherans and Calvinists hold that the Ecumenical Councils of the early and medieval church are true expressions of the Christian faith, many assert that the councils are at times inconsistent with one another, and err on particular points. The true Church, they argue, will be mixed with alien influences and false beliefs, which is necessary in order for these impurities ultimately to be overcome and the truth to be vindicated. The Westminster Confession of Faith (Calvinist), states:

Therefore, although these groups believe that errors can and have come into the church, they deny that there has ever been a time when the truth was entirely lost.

The Historicist biblical interpretation was the viewpoint of most major Protestant Reformers, beginning with the accusations of Martin Luther. Refuting these claims was accordingly a major objective of the Counter-Reformation, both in the Church's initial response to Luther and especially in the aftermath of the Council of Trent. This required a renewed effort to interpret the relevant scriptural passages in light of the arguments put forth by the early Protestants. Two particularly noteworthy theories were proposed during the Counter-Reformation to address the historicist claim that the Antichrist was actually the Roman Catholic church.[30]

Francisco Ribera and Luis de Alcazar, both 16th-century Spanish Jesuits, rose to meet the challenge by introducing counter-interpretations of the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation.[31] Their approaches became known as the Preterist and Futurist schools, and both theologies quickly gained traction throughout Catholic Europe. [32]

Ribera (1537-1591) published a commentary on the book of Revelation in which he assigned the first few chapters to ancient Rome but proposed that the bulk of the prophecies would be fulfilled in a brief three-and-one-half-year period at the end of the Christian era. He claimed that a single individual who would be the antichrist would rebuild the Jerusalem Temple and be received by the Jews, would pretend to be god, and conquer the world. The Protestant contention that the apocalyptic symbols of antichrist denoted an apostate religious system were therefore set aside, as the focus of the prophecies shifted to the far distant future.

Another Spanish Jesuit, Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613), published a scholarly work on Revelation to refute the Protestant view, leading to a system of interpretation which became known as Preterism (from the Latin "praeter," meaning 'past'). He wrote that all the prophecies of Revelation had been fulfilled in the past (specifically by the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.).

Catholic efforts to respond to Protestant claims continued until the late 19th Century, when historical developments resulted in a sharp decline in the popularity of the Apostasy model among critics of the Church. In 1870, the newly unified Kingdom of Italy annexed the remaining Papal States, depriving the papacy of its immediate political authority. Because the historicist view largely depended upon an understanding of the Pope as a temporal leader (citing scriptural claims that the Antichrist would wield both spiritual and political power), this approach gradually fell out of favour in Anti-Catholic discourse.

Gradually, Preterism and Futurism gained currency even in Protestant thought. Few mainstream Protestant leaders today still employ the vocabulary of "apostasy" and "anti-Christ" when discussing the papacy, although some conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist churches still accept these teachings to varying degrees. The spread of dispensationalist doctrine has led many conservative Protestants to drop the traditional interpretation of the Book of Revelation as prediction of events that have taken place throughout history (historicism) and shifted it to future events (futurism), eliminating any relation between the prophecies and the Catholic Church. This has resulted in a re-interpretation of the end times. Although Protestant fundamentalists still largely object to Catholic doctrine concerning the papacy, most have dropped the harsher Reformation view and no longer identify the pope as the Antichrist.[33]

Dispensationalists generally view passages such as 2 Thessalonians (referenced above) as referring to a reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem (see also Jerusalem in Christianity and Christian Zionism) in the last days. The great "Falling Away", they tend to view as a present or future affair, in which not only Rome but all of the world's religions join against the truth, for the sake of a false peace and prosperity.

For an extensive 18th century Protestant perspective on the Great Apostasy, see the treatment on that subject by the German historian J. L. Mosheim, a Lutheran, whose six volume work in Latin on Ecclesiastical History is referred to by some Protestants who emphasize a great apostasy.

Restorationist perspective

Some Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation believe that the Church became corrupt when Constantine I ended the persecution of Christians with the Edict of Milan, and was not recovered until the Anabaptists came along. Others set other dates or time periods when the Church corrupted itself, making it necessary for them to leave the Roman Catholic Church in order to re-establish the true Church. Several descendant groups, including Baptists and Mennonites, believe that besides the Great Apostasy there has also always been a "little flock", a "narrow way" which struggled through persecution and remained faithful to the truth. For example, the Mennonites published a book called the Martyrs Mirror in 1660 that attempted to show that exclusive Believer's baptism was practiced and passed down in every century, and how those who held that belief were persecuted for it. Some groups held that the Apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church was so complete as to nullify its claims to Christianity. Consequently, in these groups, repudiation of the ecumenical councils has followed, in a few minority cases engendering seventh-day Sabbatarianism and unitarianism, along with believers baptism and pacifism, and other anti-traditional views.

Some of these views were influential in the founding of the Restoration Movement and the Adventist churches in the United States in the 19th century.

The fusion of church and state as seen in the Papacy is a central theme of the Anabaptist view of the Great Apostasy, and of their consequent assertion during the Protestant Reformation that the churches of Catholic Europe needed not simply reform, but a radical re-establishment based on the Bible alone.

According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Great Apostasy started not long after the ascension of Jesus and continued until Joseph Smith's First Vision in 1820.[34] To LDS Church members, or Latter-day Saints, the Great Apostasy is marked by:

Beginning in the 1st century, and continuing up to the 4th century AD, the various emperors of the Roman Empire carried out violent persecutions against early Christians.[39] Apostles, bishops, disciples and other leaders and followers of Jesus who would not compromise their faith were persecuted and martyred.

The LDS Church believes that all priesthood leaders with authority to conduct and perpetuate church affairs were either martyred, taken from the earth, or began to teach impure doctrines, causing a break in the necessary apostolic succession.[34] It is a belief that what survived was a portion of the light and truth that Jesus had established: the Church of Jesus Christ, as established by him, was no longer to be found on the earth. Survivors of the persecutions were overly-influenced by various pagan philosophies either because they were not well indoctrinated in Jesus' teachings or they corrupted their Christian beliefs (willingly, by compulsion, or with good intentions but without direct revelation from God to help them interpret said beliefs) by accepting non-Christian doctrines into their faith. LDS Church doctrine is that many plain and simple truths of the gospel of Christ were, therefore, lost.[34]

The LDS Church and its members understand various writings in the New Testament to be an indication that even soon after the ascension of Jesus the Apostles struggled to keep early Christians from distorting the teachings of Jesus and to prevent the followers from dividing into different ideological groups.[40] The doctrine highlights statements from the scriptures that various Old Testament and New Testament scriptures, like Amos 3:7, that Jesus Christ prophesied this "falling away" or "apostasy." The Christian believers who survived the persecutions took it upon themselves to speak for God, interpret, amend or add to his doctrines and ordinances, and carry out his work without proper authority and divine direction from God. During this time, important doctrines and rites were lost or corrupted.[41] The doctrine of the Trinity adopted at the Council of Nicaea is an example shown of how pagan philosophy corrupted the teachings of Jesus. The LDS Church believes that Joseph Smith's visions and revelations taught an important and sacrosanct doctrine that God, the Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are not one substance, but three separate and distinct beings forming one Godhead.[42] Latter-day Saints reject the early ecumenical councils for what they see as misguided human attempts without divine assistance to decide matters of doctrine, substituting debate or politics for divine revelation. The LDS Church teaches that the often heated proceedings of such councils were evidence that the church was no longer led by revelation and divine authority. Indeed, the normative Christian view is that public revelation, or revelation having a binding on all Christians, concluded with the death of the last apostle,[43] meaning that any doctrinal development after the apostolic era was not aided by revelation.

As a result, LDS Church members refer to the "restitution of all things" mentioned in Acts 3:20-21 [62] and believe that a restoration of all the original and primary doctrines and rites of Christianity was necessary.[40] Church members believe that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Smith, then a 14-year-old boy, and called him to be a prophet.[44] Later Peter, James, and John, three of Christ's apostles in the New Testament, appeared from heaven to Smith and ordained him an apostle.[45] Through Christ's priesthood authority and divine direction, church members believe that Smith was called and ordained to re-establish Christ's church. Hence, members of the faith refer to their church as "The Church of Jesus Christ.", a name which they believe to have been revealed to Smith after the church's founding on 6 April 1830, originally called the Church of Christ. Latter-day Saints is a term members believe refers to members of Christ's church who were originally called "saints" and that the LDS Church is Christ's restored church in these days, believed by many Christian denominations to be the last days prior to the prophesied second coming of Jesus.[46] Church doctrines maintain that other religions—Christian or otherwise—have a portion of the truth, though mingled with inaccuracies due to misinterpretations of some doctrines, such as the nature of the Godhead, how Adam and Eve's choice in the Garden of Eden and their fall advanced the plan of salvation, the need for modern divine revelation through living prophets and apostles, and the universal divine potential of mankind. Adherents believe that the LDS Church is the restoration of the original church established by Jesus, with all the authentic priesthood keys, and authority to baptize, and do other ordinances with the same authority as Peter, James, and John held anciently.

Church members believe this fullness and restoration of the Gospel is lead by Christ through his prophet, is thought to be fulfilling many of the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah and Malachi in the Old Testament and also the prophesies of Peter and Jesus in the New Testament. With a belief that the LDS Church is the only true and living church, it is recognized and valued that other religions, Christian and otherwise, advance many good causes and teach truths, and do much good among the people insofar as they are led by the light of Christ, "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." (John 1:9)

Most Adventist groups in the Millerite tradition hold similar beliefs about the Great Apostasy as do those of other Restorationist denominations of Christianity. Some of these, most notably the Seventh-day Adventist Church, have traditionally held that the apostate church formed when the Bishop of Rome began to dominate and brought heathen corruption and allowed pagan idol worship and beliefs to come in, and formed the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches others traditions over Scripture, and to rest from their work on Sunday, instead of Sabbath, which is not in keeping with Scripture.

Seventh-day Adventists teach that great apostasy corresponded with the rise of the power of the Roman Bishop which they see as the Little Horn Power of Daniel 7 prophecy, which as predicted rose after the breakup of the Roman Empire. In 533 A.D. Justinian, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, legally recognized the bishop (pope) of Rome as the head of all the Christian churches. Because of the Arian domination of some of the Roman Empire by the barbarian tribes, this authority could not be exercised by the bishop of Rome. Finally, in 538 A.D., Belisarius, one of Justinian's generals routed the Ostrogoths, the last of the barbarian kingdoms, from the city of Rome and the bishop of Rome could begin establishing his universal civil authority. So, by the military intervention of the Eastern Roman Empire, the bishop of Rome became all-powerful throughout the area of the old Roman Empire.

Like many reformation-era Protestant leaders, the writings of Adventist pioneer Ellen White speak against the Catholic Church as a fallen church and in preparation for a nefarious eschatological role as the antagonist against God's true church and that the Papacy is the Antichrist. Many Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther, John Knox, William Tyndale and others held similar beliefs about the Catholic Church and the papacy when they broke away from the Catholic Church during the reformation.

Ellen White writes,

Seventh-day Adventists view the length of time the apostate Church unbridled power was permitted to rule as shown in Daniel 7:25 "The little horn would rule a time and times and half a time" or 1,260 years. The papacy ruled supremely in Europe from 538 A.D. when the last of the Arian tribes was forced out of Rome and into oblivion, until 1798 A.D. when the French general Berthier took the pope captive, which history records a period of 1,260 years.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the mark of the Beast refers to the apostate church which in the end times will legally enforce Sunday-worship. "Those who reject God's memorial of creatorship — the Bible Sabbath — choosing to worship and honor Sunday in the full knowledge that it is not God's appointed day of worship, will receive the 'mark of the beast.'"[48] "Sunday Sabbath is purely a child of the Papacy. It is the mark of the beast."[49] They see an apostate church that changed God's law in preference of pagan traditions, and allowed pagan beliefs and ceremonies into the church and brought oppression against and persecuted the true believers throughout the Dark Ages for 1260 years as prophesied in Revelation 12:6, 14-16.[50][51] They see the Roman Papacy stepping in after the Roman Empire was taken out of the way and fulling 2 Thessalonians 2:7 (New International Version) "For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way."

As for the 'Holy Days', Seventh-day Adventists note that the apostolic church never gave attention to either the date of Christ's birth or the date of His resurrection, other than to note that the latter occurred on a Sunday. Neither of these days was observed by early Christians but as the pagan influence came into the church so did its festivals. The Roman Catholic church changed the Biblical Passover to the festival of Easter causing the Quartodeciman controversy and in the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) set a formula for when it was to be observed still followed to this day, which cannot possibly be commemoration of the actual resurrection and not sanctioned in scripture. So that now Easter always falls on a Sunday, and although the resurrection of Jesus is a historical event of huge importance, there is no biblical precedent for making Easter a special day of celebration.

Like many groups, Jehovah's Witnesses strive to reflect Christianity as they believe it was practiced in the 1st century, the Apostolic Age. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and its precursor organization, Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society, considers the Great Apostasy to have properly begun before the death of the last Apostle, along with the warning signs and precursors starting shortly after Jesus' ascension. Jehovah's Witnesses consider adoption of the Trinity—which they allege is based on a specious application of Greek Platonic and sophistical philosophy and is a violation of the Scriptural precepts set forth beginning in the Law of Moses—as a prime indicator of apostasy. Jehovah's Witnesses consider that the falling away from faithfulness was already complete before the Council of Nicaea, when the Nicene Creed was adopted, which then enshrined the Trinity doctrine as the central tenet of nominal "Christian" orthodoxy.

This group strictly abstains from political involvement and military service, for reasons similar to those cited by earlier Anabaptists, and they point to such entanglements as another aspect of apostasy, or the willful rebellion against God and rejecting his Word of truth. Jehovah's Witnesses also teach that Jesus' statements regarding his disciples being separate from the world at John 17:6 [63] , John 17:14-16 [64] , and John 18:36 [65] demonstrates that it is Jesus' intention that his disciples follow the pattern he set for them, as he said at John 13:15 [66] .

They cite 2 Thessalonians 2:3 [67] [see discussion above] as indicating that the apostasy prophesied by Jesus at Matthew 7:15 [68] , Matthew 13:24-30 [69] and Matthew 13:36-43 [70] , as well as Matthew 24:24 [71] (and others) had already begun in the 1st century of the Common Era, and incorporated in the formation of the Catholic Church, as a religion separate and distinct from the true Christian faith as taught and practiced by Jesus and his 1st-century followers.

Christadelphians tend to hold that the Roman Catholic Church deviated from the original Christian teaching, spreading pagan traditions among Christianity which exist to this day, bringing in the Trinity, Purgatory and belief of the immortality of the soul, and baptism of infants believing these to be corruptions brought in. They believe Hell (Hebrew: Sheol; Greek: Hades, Gehenna) to refer exclusively to death and the grave, rather than being a place of everlasting torment (see also annihilationism). Christadelphians believe that no one goes to Heaven upon death or go to purgatory. Instead, they believe that only Christ Jesus went to Heaven, and when he comes back to the earth only then will there be a resurrection of the saints, and God's kingdom will be established.

Christadelphians believe these doctrines were introduced into Christendom after the 1st century in large part through exposure to pagan philosophy, and cannot be substantiated from the Biblical texts.

The Christadelphian sect was founded by John Thomas, M.D., an Englishman who grew up as a Congregationalist, experimented with Anglicanism, and received adult baptism in the Campbellite movement, before leaving to found the Christadelphians. Drawing on his Campbellite roots, he held that the original teachings of Jesus and the apostles had been corrupted by the Great Apostasy. It was this corrupt version of the gospel that was present in the churches of his day. Like the Campbellites, he held to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, and made it his mission to restore primitive Christianity after the pattern of the first century church.

Hyperdispensationalism is a niche view in Protestantism which views Pauline Christianity or the beliefs and doctrines espoused by the Apostle Paul through his writings, as the purest form of Christian faith and worship which the church fell away from. E. W. Bullinger framed the position for very early apostasy thus:

Responses of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church contend that they are still in harmony with the teachings and practices Jesus gave the Apostles, and that Jesus' promise has been fulfilled: "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." And elsewhere, "I will be with you until the end of the age." Also, "The Father ... will give you another Advocate to be with you always." And the passages of St. Paul describing the church as Christ's body and as the "pillar and bulwark of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15) They point to their claim of apostolic succession as evidence that they are maintaining authentic orthodox Christian teachings. They see claims of a complete apostasy (as opposed to a widespread revolt) as a denial of the promise that Jesus made (as recorded in scripture) to be with his Church "until the end of time". They also claim that their ecclesiastical structure (e.g. the Biblical practice of having bishops) and liturgical practices have their essential roots in the teachings and practices of the Apostles and early Christian community, and are not the result of radical changes introduced by either the imperial government or wave of pagan converts in the 4th century. They hold that elements of modern orthodox teachings can be traced back to the tradition of those known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers whose writings have some information about the sacraments, organizational structure, and general Christian lifestyle.

Catholics may see the "great apostasy" as referring to a future "falling away," using the quote from 2 Thess. 2:3-4 :"Let no one deceive you in any way. For unless the apostasy comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god" which points to the Great Apostasy preceding or happening in the time of the Antichrist. Furthermore, 2 Thessalonians identifies this with the Antichrist, who is held back by a restrainer: "And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. But the one who restrains is to do so only for the present, until he is removed from the scene. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord [Jesus] will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming, the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie, that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned." (2 Thess. 2:6-10).

The Early Church Fathers also predicted a coming Great Apostasy in the Church, for example Hippolytus: "And the churches too will wail with a mighty lamentation, because neither oblation nor incense is attended to, nor a service acceptable to God; but the sanctuaries of the churches will become like a garden-watcher's hut, and the Holy Body and Blood of Christ will not be shown in those days. The public service of God shall be extinguished." (Third Century)

Protestants claim, however, that the Roman Catholic Church has added to the Deposit of Faith handed down by the Apostles, especially since the time of Reformation, such as the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary and Papal Infallibility, though Catholics claim Biblical support for each. The Orthodox Churches also believe in the Assumption (which is termed the Dormition). In the view of Protestants, these are new doctrines and they take Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy further from the Protestant understanding of Biblical Christianity of the Early Church.

The Orthodox Churches also believe that the Roman Catholic Church has added doctrines since the time of the Council of Chalcedon and the East-West Schism, which justifies disunity between Roman Catholic and Oriental Eastern Orthodox churches. At the same time, both Roman Catholicism and Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy see much of Protestantism as having jettisoned much Christian teaching and practice wholesale, and having added much non-Christian dogma as well. They also accuse Protestants of distorting Scripture itself to support their own claims, whether by faulty translations, misinterpretations, or ignoring passages of Scripture which support Catholicism and Orthodoxy against Protestantism.

Both the Catholic Church and the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches put forward claims to apostolic succession, and claim to be the original Christian Church that has remained since its establishment by Christ and his Apostles. Although the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches see corruption of doctrine and authority in the Catholic Church and in each other, just as Protestants do, they view Protestantism as essentially "throwing the baby out with the bathwater", ultimately separating themselves from the Truth to a far larger degree than has the Catholic Church.

Protestants have asserted that peculiar rites and practices such as veneration of relics and icons, veneration of saints, honoring the Virgin Mary (known as the Theotokos (the one who gave birth to God) to the Orthodox and as Mother of God to Catholics), and observing special holy days associated with paganism, were introduced after the time of Constantine (or even introduced by Constantine as a way to lead the Church into paganism). The catacomb church was surrounded by bones of the dead which are now claimed as relics of necessity, but accounts of early martyrdoms show that Christians regularly sought the remains of the dead martyrs for proper burial and veneration. (See the Martyrdom of Polycarp.) Many of these early accounts associate miracles with the relics: mentioned in Acts are Paul's handkerchiefs which healed the sick (Acts 19:11-12 [72] ). Non-Canon such as the Infancy Gospel of James which is attributed to James the Just but was certainly written no later than the 2nd century; it lays out additional details of Mary's life. This "gospel" is viewed by the Orthodox Church as apocryphal, and beneficial as a teaching tool only. The practice of observing special holy days was borrowed from the Jews, who were commanded to observe such days by God. In the same way, other practices were borrowed from the Jewish liturgy as well, such as the use of incense and oil lamps.

Regarding "forbidding to marry" and the "commanding to abstain from meats" in 1 Timothy 4, (Paul might have spoken in general in regard to any new sects or doctrines which could arise) the Catholic Church responds:

The Orthodox Church also defines the concept of oikonomia which is exercised to facilitate salvation or worship, and is exemplified in the New Testament: in Acts 16:3 St. Paul set aside the usual rule to circumcise Timothy, whose father was a gentile, to placate certain Jewish Christians. In both instances, economy was exercised to facilitate the salvation of some of the parties involved.

There have certainly been times when the Church has seemingly benefited from its affiliation with ruling governments, and vice versa. You also have where the church used other means, such as the Donation of Constantine (Latin: Donatio Constantini) where it forged Roman imperial decree by which the emperor Constantine the Great supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Pope. There is also much evidence that the Church sought to subvert or undermine ruling governments to bring them under its influence. It used its agents or allowed the methods to be adopted for the acquisition of greater power and influence for the Roman Catholic Church. The Jesuits were seen as church's soldiers, and, in the view of some, given free rein to use whatever methods as outlined in the forged anti-Catholic document Monita Secreta, also known as the "Secret Instructions of the Jesuits" published (1612 and 1614) in Kraków,[54] and were also accused of using casuistry to obtain justifications for the unjustifiable in their work (See: formulary controversy; Blaise Pascals' Lettres Provinciales).[55]

There are also times in its history when the Church has taken a doctrinal stance directly contrary to the interests of the State. The Council of Chalcedon introduced a religious schism that undermined the Byzantine Empire's unity. The Emperor called the following Ecumenical Council in an attempt to reach a compromise position that all parties could accept, urging those involved to do so. A compromise was not reached, and the schism persisted. Later emperors introduced policies of iconoclasm; yet many Christians and Church leaders resisted for decades, eventually triumphing when a later Empress (Irene) came to power who was sympathetic to their cause. In Russia, Basil, a "Fool for Christ" repeatedly stood up to Ivan the Terrible, denouncing his policies and calling him to repentance; for this and other reasons he was buried in the cathedral that now popularly bears his name in Moscow. The Greek Orthodox Church survived roughly 400 years under the Muslim Ottoman Empire, preserving its faith when it would have been socially advantageous to convert to Islam. More recently, in the 20th century, the Russian Orthodox Church survived over 70 years of persecution under Communism, while Christians in many Muslim countries continue to refuse assimilation, in places including Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, and Iraq. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that there have been times when the State has seen that it was to its advantage to cooperate with the Church and to adjust accordingly, than to advocate the opposite position. More importantly, there is a consistency in Christian teaching, beginning with the persecuted church of its first few centuries, to the more established state church of the Roman Empire, to the again persecuted church of the various Muslim and communist regimes.

See also

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