Understanding Church History

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UnitedWithChrist

Well-known member
Aug 12, 2019
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#1
I'd like to recommend a four-volume set of books by Nick Needham called '2000 Years of Christ's Power".

I have completed volume 2 of this set, and it is fantastic.

A knowledge of church history is very important because 1) it acquaints the reader with the sources of lots of modern-day heresies (there is nothing new under the sun) and 2) it forms a connection between us and our Christian brothers from the past.

There is an assumption in our society that "modern is better". Well, I don't agree with that when it comes to matters of the faith. In fact, Scripture prophesies that a great apostasy will occur, and I believe part of the reason is due to a lack of understanding concerning the history of Christianity.

As well, knowing church history is one of the most important tools to understanding the distortions that cults use in their propaganda. A well-respected Christian apologist has said that understanding church history is one of the main tools that is needed in order to understand the nature of cultic errors.

Nick Needham taught Nigerian seminary students church history. He found this was very difficult due to language barriers. So, when he authored these books, he used understandable English. The series is very thorough yet written in an understandable manner for the common reader. I have read other church history books and he is by far the best author I've read.
 
Jul 8, 2019
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#2
During black death there was a group of believers who practiced self harm in hopes that God will have mercy on them and save them from the disease because of their actions. What do you think about them?
 

UnitedWithChrist

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Aug 12, 2019
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#3
During black death there was a group of believers who practiced self harm in hopes that God will have mercy on them and save them from the disease because of their actions. What do you think about them?
I am wondering if you are talking about self-flagellation of Roman Catholics. Obviously I don't think that would work with God. He shows mercy sometimes and heals people, and sometimes he does not. Personally, if I am a believer and I die of a disease relatively quickly, it is a blessing and not a curse. But I don't have a wife and children.

Maybe you can let me know if you're talking about Roman Catholicism and self-flagellation. I am an evangelical Protestant.

I will be reading the third volume which is related to that time period, until the Reformation, next. I'll let you know if I notice anything.
 
Jul 8, 2019
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#4
I am wondering if you are talking about self-flagellation of Roman Catholics. Obviously I don't think that would work with God. He shows mercy sometimes and heals people, and sometimes he does not. Personally, if I am a believer and I die of a disease relatively quickly, it is a blessing and not a curse. But I don't have a wife and children.

Maybe you can let me know if you're talking about Roman Catholicism and self-flagellation. I am an evangelical Protestant.

I will be reading the third volume which is related to that time period, until the Reformation, next. I'll let you know if I notice anything.
Yes, I was reading about them yesterday. Some used it to humble themselves, using it as a reminder of their sinfulness so they won't become proud. Others preached that their self inflicted suffering cleansed them of sin, which is obviously a dangerous teaching, our sins are forgiven through the suffering of Christ on the Cross exclusively. Not that I am considering whipping myself now, but I am now encouraged to do smaller acts of self-denial. Please tell me what you think of them when you're done reading the third part of those books.
 

maxwel

Senior Member
Apr 18, 2013
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#5
Yes, I was reading about them yesterday. Some used it to humble themselves, using it as a reminder of their sinfulness so they won't become proud. Others preached that their self inflicted suffering cleansed them of sin, which is obviously a dangerous teaching, our sins are forgiven through the suffering of Christ on the Cross exclusively. Not that I am considering whipping myself now, but I am now encouraged to do smaller acts of self-denial. Please tell me what you think of them when you're done reading the third part of those books.
"I am now encouraged to do smaller acts of self-denial"


I would be careful to think this through: there is a time and place for this.

In the New Testament we find that we are ALWAYS supposed to engage in various types of self denial, but ONLY for very practical purposes: for the purpose of being a more effective witness to others, or for the purpose of safeguarding our walk with Christ.

1. We ARE supposed to withhold things from ourselves, even harmless things, if they negatively affect our witness to the lost, or distract us from our walk with Christ.

2. We are NOT to go around trying to make ourselves miserable just to make ourselves feel like martyrs, or feel more spiritual.

God takes no pleasure in us being miserable just for the sake of being miserable.



Conclusion:

1. I would not seek answers about biblical living by going to the pages of history.
I would seek answers about biblical living by going directly to the pages of the bible.

2. Always look in the correct place for the information you seek.

3. When studying scripture, always be thorough, and try to see all aspects of an issue.

We don't want to be myopic or unbalanced.


..
 

maxwel

Senior Member
Apr 18, 2013
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#6
One more thing, a practical suggestion:


Thankfulness

When we are NOT feeling miserable,
rather than seek out some kind of misery
(as if we missed something),
why don't we instead simply THANK GOD that things are going so well.

Rather than seek out misery, perhaps we should just be thankful for the lack of it?

That seems very biblical to me.

A spirit of thankfulness is very Biblical.



We live in a fallen world; plenty of misery will come in due time.

I am ALWAYS reluctant to go seeking more of it before it's time.

When things are going well, let's just be thankful for that.

If you're concerned about personal spirituallity... thanksgiving is very spiritual.

.
.
 

breno785au

Senior Member
Jul 23, 2013
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#7
"I am now encouraged to do smaller acts of self-denial"


I would be careful to think this through: there is a time and place for this.

In the New Testament we find that we are ALWAYS supposed to engage in various types of self denial, but ONLY for very practical purposes: for the purpose of being a more effective witness to others, or for the purpose of safeguarding our walk with Christ.

1. We ARE supposed to withhold things from ourselves, even harmless things, if they negatively affect our witness to the lost, or distract us from our walk with Christ.

2. We are NOT to go around trying to make ourselves miserable just to make ourselves feel like martyrs, or feel more spiritual.

God takes no pleasure in us being miserable just for the sake of being miserable.



Conclusion:

1. I would not seek answers about biblical living by going to the pages of history.
I would seek answers about biblical living by going directly to the pages of the bible.

2. Always look in the correct place for the information you seek.

3. When studying scripture, always be thorough, and try to see all aspects of an issue.

We don't want to be myopic or unbalanced.


..
Further to that, it may sound good but:

For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud,
Colossians 2:17‭-‬18
 
Jul 8, 2019
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#8
I would be careful to think this through: there is a time and place for this.

God takes no pleasure in us being miserable just for the sake of being miserable
..
Nobody wants to be miserable just for the sake of being miserable. It is against human nature to desire suffering without any gain. Whenever I am in pain I think of how this is only the smallest fraction of what I truly deserve for my deeds. This helps me appreciate what God has done for us, so it is beneficial.
 

UnitedWithChrist

Well-known member
Aug 12, 2019
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#9
Yes, I was reading about them yesterday. Some used it to humble themselves, using it as a reminder of their sinfulness so they won't become proud. Others preached that their self inflicted suffering cleansed them of sin, which is obviously a dangerous teaching, our sins are forgiven through the suffering of Christ on the Cross exclusively. Not that I am considering whipping myself now, but I am now encouraged to do smaller acts of self-denial. Please tell me what you think of them when you're done reading the third part of those books.
Victor,
I will be buying the third volume next week and beginning to read it.

However, I want to quote something from Kenneth Scott Latourette and his church history volume. You probably already know these things.

A paragraph in the book:

A movement which is said to have begun in Perugia in 1259 was that of the Flagellants. By a kind of mass contagion men, women, and children bewailed their sins and many of them marched through the streets, naked except for loin cloths, crying to God for mercy, and scourging themselves until the blood ran. Old enmities were forgiven and enemies were reconciled. Criminals confessed their misdeeds and when possible made restitution. Murderers asked pardon of the relatives of those whom they had killed. In some places priests headed the processions and led them to churches where the penitents prostrated themselves before the altars. The Flagellants spread beyond Italy to Germany and Bohemia, but subsided almost as quickly as they arose.

A second paragraph later in the book:

A quite different manifestation of the ground swell which prepared the way for the great tide of the sixteenth century was the Flagellants. We have met them earlier in the Middle Ages. Shortly before 1350 they appeared again, probably first in Italy and as a result of the Black Death and of earthquakes. The uncertainty of life and the imminence of death, always marked in the Middle Ages and accentuated by disasters before which man seemed helpless, drove men and women to penitance. The Flagellants were characterized not only by scourgings but also by folk-songs on Christian themes and by brotherhoods which combined penance with works of mercy and care of the sick. They often demanded that their members be reconciled to their enemies. By 1349 the Flagellants had spread, among other places to the Low Countries, Bohemia, Poland, Denmark, and England. North of the Alps they developed into a kind of organization, sometimes called the Brotherhood of the Cross, with a distinctive white habit and a severe discipline which involved a public scourging twice a day. At least some of these norther Flagellants cast doubt on the necessity of the sacraments. They also are said to have taught that their penances would work for the salvation of the world. In 1349 they were condemned by the Pope. Yet they broke out again from time to time in the fourteenth and fifteeth centuries. We hear of them in Provence in 1399 and in Germany as late as 1481.

Regarding self-denial, though, I am wondering if you understand what it means to be in Adam versus in Christ, and what it means to be born-again. I think understanding some of these concepts would help you understand what it means to deny the flesh. As I am reading about the behavior of the Flagellants, I believe I understand which Scriptures they are misunderstanding.

If you want to have a discussion on this, let me know. I will also recommend that you might read books on mortification of sin by Jon Owen. I suspect that is what you might need to understand. He is a Puritan author, so his language might be archaic, but I am guessing you can find his books online somewhere for free.

I will recommend a few more resources on church history, though, if you are interested..and they are free. One would be Ryan Reeves' channel on Youtube regarding church history. There are also two classes on church history on Sermonaudio by James White and Brian Borgman. Additionally, there are seminary classes on church history for free, if you have a smartphone.

As a synopsis, though, let me explain at an overview. Mankind was made in the image of God, to reflect the nature of God and to represent him on the earth. Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and this image has now been shattered or marred (I like to use the example of a mirror, so I will say shattered). All humans are now born "in Adam", by virtue of their physical descent from him (see Rom 5). They are characterized by his sinfulness, condemnation, the flesh, and death.

The believer experiences a new birth, through repentance and faith. He is now "in Christ" and not "in Adam". He is characterized by Jesus' righteousness, justification, the spirit, and life. This is what I mean by being in union with Christ. He is no longer separated from God because he has been joined to Jesus Christ, and experiences new life through him.

However, there is a remnant of the fallen nature which remains. This is called "the flesh" and it needs to be mortified, or put to death. Mortifying the flesh does not mean that you beat the physical body, but it means that you put to death, through the Spirit, the attributes of the fallen nature which remain as a remnant.

The incarnate Christ lives through the man who is in Christ, and cleanses him from the inside out.

Whipping your body doesn't do any good. Colossians 2 talks about this. It is a pagan belief that asceticism brings about spirituality. Instead, we need to continue looking to the Cross, and praying for the indwelling Christ to change us from within. The true believer will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit over time, but this does involve human effort.

One way to mortify the flesh can be seen on these forums. There is a tendency for our flesh to demand that we exact vengeance for every wrong done to us. For example, if someone treats me unjustly by using dishonest techniques to degrade me here, if I am mortifying the flesh, I will not react, or will react with kindness. If I am not mortifying the flesh, I will lash back at him and exact retribution in some way. I will be honest and tell you that I don't always seek to mortify the flesh, and I have reacted in anger when I have been wronged in the past. However, I am not a finished product.

If you want to talk to me about these things, I would be glad to talk to you. For the sake of speed, I have not referred to Scriptures, but I could refer to them.

In short, I think self-flagellation is an attempt to pay for our own sins, and that doesn't work. However, I believe Jesus expects us to mortify our flesh, and to humble ourselves, by refusing to react with malice toward others who wrong us. There are other acts of service that we do, which show us that we value the other person and obedience to God more than we do satisfying our bodily urges. However, whipping ourselves or other similar behavior doesn't accomplish that.

I think fasting can remind us of the need to mortify the flesh, but it is more of an outward reminder of something we need to do in other ways after the fast is over. We need to learn to let ourselves die, in terms of our fallen natures, and place others above us. But, to do that effectively, we need to learn that we have been joined to Christ, and that he bears our burdens and gives us the strength to do this, and continue to look at the Cross and not our miserable failures.

To get back to the broken mirror, in the believer, God is repairing the broken mirrors so that we reflect his image and glorify him. Salvation is about a restoration and a glorification of the state that mankind was at, prior to the Fall.

You may want to study the concepts of "union with Christ", the "Big Picture", "in Adam, in Christ", and what it means to be in the image of God. Realize that some cultic groups teach distortions of these doctrines, too, so watch out for that. Additionally, there are groups such as Pelagians that teach against the "in Adam, in Christ" understanding, but if you understand these things, Paul's writings and the overall storyline of the Bible will make fantastic sense. Additionally, there are some Christian teachers that distort these doctrines in a man-centered manner that does not glorify God.

I hope some of this make sense, and feel free to interact with me if you want. My email is [email protected] if you want to use email.
 

dcontroversal

Senior Member
Dec 12, 2013
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#10
Thanks.....I studied church history in Seminary.....16 semester hours total over 2 years........and to the brother that is inflicting self harm for the sake of being thankful or appreciative......

I would have to disagree with that approach personally......and cannot find that in scripture nor do I believe that PAUL was literal when he said he beat his body into subjection........

Just saying
 

UnitedWithChrist

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Aug 12, 2019
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#11
Victor,

Just to add a few more comments..I discussed what it means to be in Adam versus in Christ.

It is important to realize that those who are in Christ, and born again, are united with Christ in a legal and spiritual sense. While they have been united with Christ, they still need to learn to "put on Christ".

"Putting on Christ" means to behave like him.

We receive a legal status, though, before we begin to behave like it. I will use a few theological words, "ontology" and "economy".

Ontology means a manner of being, and economy means a manner of acting. Ontologically, the new believer is in Christ, and he begins to manifest Christlike behavior at one level or another. Economically, though, he may not be there yet...for example, read I Cor 6.

Apparently some of the Corinthians were acting in an immoral manner. In I Cor 6, Paul reminds them that they are "in Christ", so they need to behave like it.

The same thing happens with Romans 6. Paul says that the believer has been joined with Christ, so he has already experienced death, burial and resurrection in an ontological sense. However, he needs to act out this ontological reality. Paul says, don't sin because you have been joined to Christ, and you have experienced a spiritual resurrection due to this, so start acting like it.

Anyways being joined to Christ means that you have experienced his death, burial, and resurrection. It also means that sin has been mortified, or put to death, in the believer. However, it needs to be realized in the believer through our behavior, or our economy.

I might be giving you a bunch of info you don't need or want, but as I read about the Flagellants, I think these details are really what they needed to understand.
 

UnitedWithChrist

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Aug 12, 2019
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#12
Nobody wants to be miserable just for the sake of being miserable. It is against human nature to desire suffering without any gain. Whenever I am in pain I think of how this is only the smallest fraction of what I truly deserve for my deeds. This helps me appreciate what God has done for us, so it is beneficial.
Suffering actually works to conform us to the image of Christ in many cases. However, I am not talking about self-flagellation but about the sufferings that all believers endure through their lives in the normal everyday living in a fallen world. There is great purpose in suffering.

I read this great article on it recently by a man who has a son with Down's Syndrome:

https://www.desiringgod.org/article...Pf3mACwMHUAg_r-gHaGOPHIQzfAfwOwTS5YnHFATbcyR0

I'm not going to beat myself with a whip in order to experience God's lessons, though..they come about in different ways without going and looking for them :)
 

Deuteronomy

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Jun 11, 2018
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#13
During black death there was a group of believers who practiced self harm in hopes that God will have mercy on them and save them from the disease because of their actions. What do you think about them?
Hi Victor, I think that this “group of believers" neither knew God, nor knew/understood the great love that He has for all of us who are, or who will eventually be, His .. e.g. Romans 5:8-10; John 3:16. So it seems to me that they must have been CINO (Christians In Name Only), not true believers (if some of them were, they were .. at best .. very confused and/or highly deceived).

We are told to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (not our needs, because God already knows our needs and has made provision them .. Matthew 6:25-34). We are also admonished to "delight ourselves in Him" ( ~NOT~ "delight Him") to see our heart's desires fulfilled .. e.g. Psalm 37:4.

He is our Abba (our loving, heavenly Father), ~not~ a Cosmic Sugar-Daddy (or worse), whose favor we must somehow win to have our needs met and our desires fulfilled (even if such a thing was actually possible .. it is not!!).

~Deut
p.s. - these men (and women?) sought to establish a quid pro quo to win the favor the Father ~apart~ from the only One who can (win His favor, that is) which, as I hope you are well-aware, has already be done by Him for us (who are or who will be His, in Christ).
.
 

Nehemiah6

Senior Member
Jul 18, 2017
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#14
Scripture prophesies that a great apostasy will occur, and I believe part of the reason is due to a lack of understanding concerning the history of Christianity.
While there is no doubt that Church history helps to understand how Christianity and Christendom developed, the problem currently is that too many Christians do not even have a clear and proper understanding of Gospel truth. And that is probably behind all the heresies and false doctrines within the churches.

For a detailed and scholarly study, people should read History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff.
 

UnitedWithChrist

Well-known member
Aug 12, 2019
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#16
While there is no doubt that Church history helps to understand how Christianity and Christendom developed, the problem currently is that too many Christians do not even have a clear and proper understanding of Gospel truth. And that is probably behind all the heresies and false doctrines within the churches.

For a detailed and scholarly study, people should read History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff.
I have Schaff's work as well. The advantage of Needham's set is that it is easier to read. Schaff's set is several volumes and he covers every minute aspect of church history in scholarly language.
 

UnitedWithChrist

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Aug 12, 2019
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#17
I would like to recommend The Trail of Blood by J. M. Carroll.
Is that the one that Independent Fundamentalist Baptists use to claim that their belief is the true one? I believe that an apologist referred to such a book, but I'm not sure that's the one. He mentioned that cultic groups tend to fabricate a church history that proposes direct descent from the apostolic church to themselves, bypassing the misdeeds of Christianity and attributing them all to Roman Catholicism, and identifying themselves with the "true faith".

Usually this approach claims that various isolated groups such as the Waldensians, Bogomils and others are their ancestors. Only problem is that a lot of those supposed "true believers" were heretics who denied the Trinity, full deity of Christ or held Gnostic beliefs. Usually "alternate histories" leave those things out.

I'm not sure if this is the same book but the title sounds familiar. I don't believe the apologist thought much of it.
 

UnitedWithChrist

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Aug 12, 2019
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#18
I find it interesting that some groups attempt to divorce all the negative things in church history, and claim that their particular group is not a part of historical Christianity, with all of its blemishes and flaws.

At the same time, they might acknowledge that they committed grievous sins as younger believers, or maybe even as older believers.

I have no problem realizing that the Christian church was severely flawed, with very bad misunderstandings concerning Christianity on some topics. Because, if I fail to realize this, and claimed that recognized Christianity was false, if I applied the same standard to myself, I would have to conclude that I was not a true Christian during some of the less noble events of my life. And, I am not delusional enough to fall for that.

By the way, at one point I belonged to a group that played this game....isolating themselves as the true faith, and creating a line of true believers from the apostolic age to themselves. Often they use the letters of Rev 2-3, inferring that the different churches are actually church ages that existed consecutively through time.

I don't discount the fact that there are tares within church history, that there are major apostate churches, and that the major truths of God such as justification by faith alone were obscured throughout time. But nor do I believe the "true church" propaganda of some groups. In fact, their groups are pretty flawed themselves, and if they are allowed to continue for any considerable time, they will get much worse. Look at Stephen Anderson and his antics.
 

UnitedWithChrist

Well-known member
Aug 12, 2019
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#19
While there is no doubt that Church history helps to understand how Christianity and Christendom developed, the problem currently is that too many Christians do not even have a clear and proper understanding of Gospel truth. And that is probably behind all the heresies and false doctrines within the churches.

For a detailed and scholarly study, people should read History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff.
I agree that gospel truth is lacking as well. I believe this is due to the "simplification" of the gospel message by such teachers as Charles Finney and those that followed him. And, discipleship is not emphasized in some Christian circles, so the new believer is not given adequate resources to grow.

I would view church history as being more appropriate to the new believer rather than the seeker. If someone is really born-again, they will want to know the bride of Christ, and the heritage of their spiritual family, better. You can't claim to love Christ if you don't love his bride.

Church history serves the cause of identifying heresies as well. There are few new heresies. Most of them are regurgitated heresies of the past, such as the Arian teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Judaizing of the Ebionites.
 

Nehemiah6

Senior Member
Jul 18, 2017
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#20
I would view church history as being more appropriate to the new believer rather than the seeker.
New believers can be overwhelmed with Bible truth, let alone Church history. The more effective way to bring heresies to light is discuss them in the context of specific Scriptures which speak about those heresies and also show what is true from the Bible.

Of course *seekers* simply need Gospel truth. The trend today in many churches is to avoid the whole of Gospel truth, and keep things on a superficial level. Even the statements of faith of many churches are too elementary.