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
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
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.