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Early Church Apostasy: Fact or Fiction?

by Saleem

Before we begin, it is probably a good idea to define what apostasy is.

According to the Catholic Church, Apostasy is defined as the complete and voluntary abandonment of the Christian religion, whether the apostate embraces another religion such as Paganism, Judaism, Mohammedanism, etc., or merely makes profession of Naturalism, Rationalism, etc. The heretic differs from the apostate in that he only denies one or more of the doctrines of revealed religion, whereas the apostate denies the religion itself, a sin which has always been looked upon as one of the most grievous.

According to the Webster Dictionary, Apostasy is 1 : renunciation of a religious faith 2 : abandonment of a previous loyalty : DEFECTION

According to Iglesia ni Cristo, Apostasy is the turning away of the true teaching, which is clearly and simply taught in the Holy Bible.

Because INC believes that the Catholic Church is the former Church of Christ in the First Century, Iglesia ni Cristo aka Church of Christ has denied any continuous historical connection with Christianity. According to Iglesia ni Cristo, the world had been living in the darkness of apostasy from the gospel since then.

In 1914, Felix Manalo founded the INC claiming that he'd been chosen as God's "prophesied" last messenger that would restore the true Church on earth; the same Church that Christ built before his death.

INC teaches that the apostasy began in the days of the ancient apostles themselves; and it was known to and foretold by them....With the loss of the Gospel around the death of the last Apostle, the nations of the earth went into moral eclipse. This darkness still prevails except among those who have come to knowledge of the restored Gospel through membership within the INC organization.

Only until 1914, has man been afforded the earthly vehicle to find salvation; that vehicle would be the restored Church called INC.

Can INC's story of a Great Apostasy in the early days of the church be true? Was it only until 1914 and the advent of INC, can souls be saved after this so-called Apostasy? This exegesis will determine the likelihood or unlikelihood of their Apostasy claims.

It is first and foremost imperative that you understand that the Catholic Church does not deny a first century apostasy, total or not, nor ignore it. Quite the contrary, it is the heresies of those amongst the flock that caused the orthodox to desire to distinguish themselves. This distinct group called themselves "Catholic" and moved the Christian testimony into the realm of dogma.

The most accomplished historian of our day on the topic of the history of Christian doctrine states:

What did characterize primitive Christianity was a unity of life, of fidelity to the Old Testament, of devotion, and of loyalty to its Lord, as he was witnessed to in the Old and New Testament. Heresy was a deviation from that unity; and as the unity came to be transposed into the language of creed and dogma from that of testimony and proclamation, heresy was seen as an aberration from "the pattern of the sound words which you have heard." It is becoming increasingly evident that this "primitive Catholicism with its movement from kerygma to dogma was already far more explicitly at work in the first century than was once supposed. (The Christian Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan, vol 1. p 70)

Going on, INC will cite verses such as 2 Timothy 4:1-4, 2 Peter 2:1-3, and Matthew 24:4-12, to show that apostasy would soon take place within the Church. It is important to note that not one of these verses state that the early Church will Apostatize and teach error. The implications of apostasy refer to certain individual members.

According to the INC, the Church established by Christ in Jerusalem in the first century did not continue to exist. It was apostatized: its members were cut-off, deserted or changed the doctrines they were taught. But it does not mean that those who were responsible for the apostasy established another Church; that same Church strayed away from the pristine Christian faith.

The INC cannot Biblically support this claim. If the INC cannot support their apostasy accusations against the Catholic Church, we can conclude, by the logic of the INC's argument, that the Catholic Church is the true Church.

The Bible expressly states that his Church will NEVER disappear. It is described as perpetual and indefectible. If the Church is promised to NEVER disappear, then there logically can be no INC restoration.

Daniel 7:13-14 'I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man [Jesus], and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which *shall not pass away*, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.'

Daniel 7 clearly states that the Kingdom of God is everlasting an shall NEVER pass away or be destroyed. If that is the case, how can there be a restoration of the true church if it never passed away?? There can't. Look at the promises; *everlasting*, *shall not be destroyed*, shall not pass away. There simply is no room for the unbiblical story of an apostasy and restoration the INC preach.

Isa. 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9 reinforces Daniel 7 which states that the true Church shall increase in its glory from age to age and there will be no end. The LORD will establish and uphold this earthly church from its inception and forever. This is the same earthly church the INC believes apostatized. Again, look at the promises; "establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." It WILL be accomplished according to our LORD.

Ephesians is 3:20-21: 'Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to *all generations*, forever and ever. Amen.'

This Church that St. Paul is describing in Ephesians will be here for all generations (pasas tas geneas, 'all the generations') forever and ever. This eliminates the possibility of a total apostasy for even one generation.

Hebrews 12:25ff spoke of the passing of the "heaven and earth" so that the unshakable kingdom (the New Covenant Church, i.e. the Catholic Church) might remain.

Hebrews 12:25See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." 27 The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken--that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are *receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken*, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

At that time they were "receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken." That kingdom is none other than the Christian Church vs. 28. The heaven and earth were to be shaken/ removed(The Jewish way of life) so that the unshakable could remain. Since they were receiving the unshakable kingdom, it follows that the Jewish "heavens and earth" was being removed at that time! Not the physical heaven and earth, but the Old World of Israel, created and sustained by the Law was about to be completely destroyed when Jerusalem and the Temple fell in 70 AD.

Now, after reading the above verses, what does the INC use to prove the apostasy of the Christian Church?

It is important to note that not one of these verses state that the early Church will Apostatize and teach error. The implications of apostasy refer to the individual member not its doctrines which are divinely protected as the Biblical promises, I mentioned earlier, demonstrate.

Acts 20:29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to DRAW AWAY disciples after them.

Acts 20 States that SOME of the early Church leaders will apostatize and DRAW AWAY disciples after them. What does it mean to DRAW AWAY? In this instance, it means to remove from the main body. The main body, is the FLOCK. So, SOME disciples were lead out of the Body of Christ by SOME apostate leaders of the flock. Hence the flock was not spared from the heresies that took hold throughout the centuries from Aryanism to Protestantism. However, this passage does not imply all fell into error, but only a few bad wolves that certainly attacked the flock, and some of the flock certainly did parish be following these corrupt leaders. This passage backfires on the INC and actually proves that there will remain a pure church government, apart from the few apostate leaders, that will increase because the LORD Almighty wills it.

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

"Keep watch over yourselves" is the command given in this passage. That is exactly what the early church practiced. One example of early 1st Century heresy by SOME church leaders was Gnosticism. If these ideas did not tie-in with the authentic teaching of the Church, then they were rebuked. If they did not listen to the Church, they were excommunicated.

2 Peter 2:1 But there were also false prophets AMONG the people, just as there will be false teachers AMONG you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.

Again, 2Peter states SOME Church leaders will LEAD MANY, but NOT ALL, followers into their shameful ways. This passage implicitly states that false teachers will be AMONG the true teachers. It's just as Christ foretold in the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds; Christ said that he will not try to separate the two, for it may harm the wheat. He says that he will harvest the field at the end of time. He is saying that there will be good and bad members within the Church then to the end of time. Only then will Christ harvest the field. Also, these heresies will meet "swift destruction". They early church kept a careful watch on what was introduced. Throughout history, many heresies have cropped up, but none have lasted against the Church.

1 Tim 4:1The Spirit clearly says that in later times SOME will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

1Timothy shows, AGAIN, that SOME will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits. Again, it is the individual not the Church that would leave the orthodox faith.

The last verse that INC uses to show the Apostasy occurred almost immediately after the death of the last Apostle is 2 Thessalonians 2:1-15. They say that Apostle Paul is the one holding back the lawless one.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 15 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 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. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming......... 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

As stated earlier, the Catholic Church acknowledges that apostasy of individuals has been occurring since the day of the Apostles. But, it does not, as the promises show, ever mean the Church necessary for salvation will be lost until Mr. Manalo raises the so-called true church in his idea of the "last days". It is simply unbiblical.

How are we certain that there was no Apostasy of the orthodox Church itself in the early centuries? Because of the promises of Jesus himself. INC asserts in an article called 'Extending the Work of Salvation's to the Gentiles' written by Feljun Fuentes in their publication 'God's Message' state that:

"History records the fact that the Church of Christ in the first century did not continue. HENCE, THE PROPHECY THAT IT WOULD SURVIVE UNTIL THE END OF THE EARTH WASN'T FULFILLED through the preaching of the early messengers of God." (Emphasis Ours)

After reading all the promises I enumerated above, how bold can this INC statement be?! This INC writer even states that the promises of the Church surviving till the end didn't happen. He ignores the hard, concrete promises like *everlasting*, *increasing*, *unshakeable*, *forever*, *no end*, ect. These are all applied to Christ's Church! The INC and this writer must make that foolish statement to gain any validity of their restoration story.

Unfortunately for the INC, the ancient Church will never apostatize. NEVER.

Take Matt 13 in which Jesus compares the Church as a field of wheat:

Matt 13:24-30,38-40

24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, `Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "`An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, `Do you want us to go and pull them up?'29 "`No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"......38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.

This passage implies that there will always be good and bad in the Church....the wheat had been planted by Jesus and will always grow side-by-side with the weeds planted by the Devil. Only until the end of time will we have a harvest as Jesus had promised.

Consider the words of Jacob on his deathbed to his son Judah, Patriarch of the Tribe of Judah. "The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, while tribute is brought to him and he receives the peoples' homage." (Genesis 48:10) The tribe of Judah will rule all of Israel, says this prophecy. This came true in the house of David, who was of the tribe of Judah. From the house of David came the Messiah, who established an everlasting kingdom, visible on the earth as his Church.

According to this prophecy he will always rule, and people of all nations will always recognize his rule. If the Church fell away, this cannot be true!

We are left with a choice: Accept that the Church never fell away, thus accepting the truth of the Catholic Church or assert that the Holy Scripture is in error. The INC implies that Scripture is in error.

Next, consider the words of God to King David. "And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house to my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a Father to him, and he will be a Son to me." (2 Sam. 7:12-14) David's son was Solomon, who built the Temple. David's descendant who would rule forever was Jesus Christ, who built the true House of God, the Church. (1 Tim. 3:15) This House, this Kingdom, this Church built by Jesus the Son of David is called by God "firm." In verse 16, the Lord says " your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever."

Christ will rule forever and his Kingdom will remain firm! Only the Catholic Church out of all the Churches, including INC, has any claim on fulfilling this prophecy. The other Churches were not founded by Christ, but by misguided Christians no less than a thousand years after Jesus. The one Church founded by Christ "shall stand firm forever."

Again, the prophet Isaiah further clarifies this idea. "The Lord himself will give you a sign: The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel...To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness *from that time on and forever.* The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (7,8)

The Messiah Immanuel, the Mighty God, will rule over the house of David and the Kingdom of God, his Church. Isaiah promises that the Church will increase steadily throughout time. This does not allow for it to fall away, only to be restored centuries upon centuries later. Nor does God's promise to uphold the Church "with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever" allow for such to happen.

If we can trust God's Word, we can be confident that his original Catholic Church, the only Church for a thousand years, is still being upheld and increasing, by "the zeal of the Lord Almighty."

The INC go on to accuse the Catholic Church of bringing pagan Roman doctrines and practices into the Christian faith. It could be said, then, that the Church was delivered up to the Romans for corruption. This, however, is grossly inconsistent with the message of the prophet Daniel.

Daniel was called in by King Nebuchadnezzar to interpret a dream. In the dream, various creatures represent four kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

Speaking of the last kingdom, the Roman Empire, Daniel prophecies. "In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever." (Daniel 2:44) Here, Daniel assures us that the Kingdom of God, established in the days of the Roman Empire by Christ through his apostles, will last forever.

It will not be delivered up to the Romans or any other nations, but the people of the nations will be delivered up to the Kingdom of God.

Again, consider the words of our Lord Jesus to St. Peter in Matthew 16:18. "And so I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." Here Christ confirms what was spoken by the prophets. The Church will not fall away. No power can topple it. How is it possible that a Church made up of mere human beings with all of our human weaknesses can stand firm as the household of God for 2,000 years? It is not by our own power at all. Rather, it is Christ.

The INC may argue that God was with the early Church, but did the early Church stay true to God? INC believes She did not.

Hosea 5:4 Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of harlotry is within them, and they know not the LORD. 5 The pride of Israel testifies to his face; Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt; Judah also shall stumble with them. 6 With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the LORD, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them.

From the above verse, it is not always true that God stayed with His chosen people. Therefore, for Jesus to say "I am with you always,"(Matt 28:20f) He has, in effect, stated that THE Church will not apostatize.

John 14:16, 26; And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you FOREVER`; verse 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, HE WILL TEACH YOU ALL THINGS, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Here is another passage that explicitly promises a teacher for the Church that will be with Her FOREVER. The Holy spirit is sent to teach the Church "ALL THINGS". Christ explicitly says that there is more to learn, not only during the lives of the Apostles, but in all the ages, which means then, now and forever.

Please note that the words of John 14 were spoken only to, and ultimately only intended for, the Apostles. Some number of the twelve may have apostatized (one actually did), but God must be certain that at least one of them remains faithful so that the promise of John 14 continues to have validity. The Apostles have successors (Acts 1:20-26) and would, of course, also have this assurance.

Hebrews 11:27 This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe;

The phrase "cannot be shaken" explains what was meant by "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."(Matt 16:18ff)

John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, HE WILL GUIDE YOU INTO ALL TRUTH; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

Here, the Spirit will guide the Church on the path of truth. How long will he guide them? FOREVER (see John 14:16). Those who do not follow are the ones who fall into Apostasy (i.e. Gnostics, Aryans. et al.)

Gamaliel's words prove that if the Catholic Church was of man, then it would eventually fail, and fail soon after it was built. It doesn't look as if the Catholic Church is going away anytime soon:

Acts 5:38-9 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

What is Gamaliel saying? He is saying that any heresy will fall by the wayside and fail. History attests to all the "undertakings of men" and their heretical ideas. They did not last. The Catholic Church has done just the opposite. It is the only Christian Church of Apostolic times that has survived since. From the above, no one will be able overthrow the Church of Christ aka the Catholic Church.

Since the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, it is impossible to imagine He would allow His Church to fall into apostasy. The following verses provide additional support to the above by showing the intimate relationship between Christ and His Body, the Catholic Church:

Rom 12: 4-5; For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Eph 3:4-6; When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Eph. 5:21-32; Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Col. 1:15-18; He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent

So what are we to make of INC's claims of the 1st Century apostasy of the Church in light of the exegesis? The proof is in the Biblical pudding.

The INC must remember that Christ left the Church as the "Pillar and Foundation of Truth". The Church has full authority from Christ to "bind and loose" dogma and discipline. After all, Christ told the Apostles and, in effect, their successors that "He who hears you hears Me" (Luke 10:16). Whoever rejects the Apostles and their successors, which includes Pope John Paul II, are, in effect, rejecting God.

In summary, the early apostasy does not mean the apostasy of the Church and Her teaching but to individual members who had lost faith in the Authoritative Church. These unfaithful members are akin to the unfaithful followers of Christ in John 6. The "hard sayings" of Christ in this chapter made many of the listeners lose faith in Jesus who then went on their way. Remember, the command of "eat my flesh and drink my blood" went against the Law that Moses taught. It was, no doubt, difficult for many to understand the meaning behind what Jesus' uttered about the consumption of his physical body.

The authoritative Catholic Church has some hard sayings which has alienated many members with little faith throughout the ages. These are the same people of which the apostasy took hold. These are the former leaders that start-up their heretical idea of what the true church is. These other churches are comprised of the people that lost faith and have joined these apostate leaders to oppose the Catholic Church; one being the INC.

INC preaches that they are the restoration of the true Church. The problem that INC faces is that the true Church, as demonstrated, has always and will always stay true as promised by Christ. Therefore, there is no need for a restoration. Hence, INC is merely another heresy that denies the authority of the Catholic Church and also slanders Her for good measure.

It is easy for many deceivers to accuse the Catholic Church as the Whore, "and especially those who ... despise authority. Bold and willful, they are not afraid to revile the glorious ones" (2nd Peter 2:10).