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Upon This Rock...

©1997 Barry Bickmore. All Rights Reserved.

Reference Info - glossary of ancient Christian writers and documents, guide to abbreviations, bibliography.

Unwilling to accept the possibility that a total apostasy occurred, mainline Christians often counter that Christ told Peter "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."1 However, Mormons might point out that Christ was not specific here about whether He was talking about the Church as an earthly organization, or as the heavenly congregation of true believers in Christ. Also, the early Christian literature is full of allusions to actual "gates of hell (Gr. hades)", which Christ opened for the faithful. (The early Christian concept of "hell" will be described in a later discussion of the nature of the spirit world.)

But why did God allow his Church to be subverted by "another gospel"? Certainly it cannot be denied that God allows humans free will. Thus, when Christians chose to "turn away from the truth, and be turned to fables," God allowed them to reject His Church.

If so, why did Christ set up a Church in the first place if its light was to be quickly extinguished? Christ said repeatedly of Himself that he would suffer and be killed in order to condemn the wicked generation into which He was born. "But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation."2 And his disciples were to be by no means immune:

    I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.3

    It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?4

    And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.5

    If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.... If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you....6

    They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.7

What a dismal picture! The disciples were not only sent out into the world to preach the Kingdom of God, but to give themselves up as martyrs for the faith. The word martyr, of course, comes from the Greek word for "witness" - and that is exactly what Jesus' disciples were. They were martyred as a witness to the truthfulness of the message and the wickedness of the world.

However, we must not make the mistake of assuming the earliest Christians sacrificed themselves in order to procure some grand and glorious future for the "Church, militant and triumphant." Strangely enough, the apostles and earliest church fathers all claimed their martyrdoms were effective only for their own benefit. Immediately after telling Timothy that the time would come that his charges would "not endure sound doctrine" and would "turn away their ears from the truth" and be "turned unto fables," Paul gloried in his impending martyrdom:

    For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.8

And the earliest known Christian sermon, 2 Clement (mid-second century), exhorted Christians to do the will of God and be sacrificed so as not to be cast into hell:

    Wherefore, brethren, leaving willingly our sojourn in this present world, let us do the will of Him that called us, and not fear to depart out of this world. For the Lord saith, "Ye shall be as lambs in the midst of wolves." And Peter answered and said unto Him, "What, then, if the wolves shall tear in pieces the lambs?" Jesus said unto Peter, "The lambs have no cause after they are dead to fear the wolves; and in like manner, fear not ye them that kill you, and can do nothing more unto you; but fear Him who, after you are dead, has power over both soul and body to cast them into hell-fire."9


References

1 Matthew 16:18.

2 Luke 17:25.

3 Matthew 23:34-35.

4 Matthew 10:25.

5 Mark 13:13.

6 John 15:18-20.

7 John 16:2.

8 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

9 2 Clement 5, in ANF 7:518.