Church history: Early Church History: A Broadening Perspective


“We must look at the whole past and not just those parts that make us feel good,” argues an American historian.These words challenge many Christians to broaden their approach to early church history. Many of us hold ideas and assumptions about the early Christian centuries that are incomplete and often oversimplified. The reasons for this lie close at hand.

Some churches even teach a “conspiracy theory” of history. This is the thesis that after about A.D. 95, paganism subverted and overthrew the church Jesus Christ founded. Certainly, false teaching has affected the development of mainstream Christian doctrine and liturgy. New Testament writers such as Peter, John and Jude sounded warnings that we do well to heed. Still, it is time to reexamine the one-dimensional, sweeping approach to early church history.

This article is an attempt to encourage a broader approach to early church history. It is necessary to begin at the beginning and ask some fundamental questions about history itself. When is history good history? When is it simply bias and case-making? And when is it embarrassing overkill? Some hostile attitudes about early church history are conditioned by extreme anti-Catholic positions of the 1800s.2

To be frank: This article can barely introduce such a vast subject. It would need much more space to offer a point-by-point analysis. The focus here is the shortcomings of historical case-making (the academic equivalent of “negative campaigning”) as an organizing approach to the past.

Of course, adopting a “party line” approach to history is hardly unprecedented. Arnold Toynbee was candid:

All histories resemble The Iliad to this extent, that they cannot entirely dispense with the fictional element. The mere selection, arrangement and presentation of facts is a technique belonging to the field of fiction, and popular opinion is right in its insistence that no historian can be “great” if he is not also a great artist…. It is hardly possible to write two consecutive lines of historical narrative without introducing such fictitious personifications as “England,” “France,” “the Conservative Party,” “the Church,” “the Press” or “Public Opinion.”3

Toynbee posts a warning: “Let the reader beware. The best historians have biases and prejudices.” This is not news. Good historians argue a case well, as opposed to those Toynbee called the “Dry-as-dusts.”

Eusebius, the father of church history, for example, set out to show that divine providence guided the church to its prominent position under his hero, Constantine.4 Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, argued that the new religion of Christianity helped undermine the unified belief system of the Roman Empire. In our day, Toynbee advanced the cyclical theory that nations rise and fall according to how well they respond to challenges facing their societies. And on it goes.

Facts are facts. But how the historian selects, arranges and presents them is crucial. Careful historians practice the “multitude of counselors” principle. Their work is not “done in a corner.” Checks, balances and controls are vital to good scholarship. By writing to the public at large, a public that includes other historians, each author tacitly acknowledges submission to a jury of intellectual peers.5 This explains the use of footnotes, cross-referencing and energetic sifting of original sources among the better modern histories. This would mean, for example, studying Peter Waldo through historians who have read the the old French and Latin sources, rather than reading and citing books about Waldo.

According to historian Michael Kammen, the worst mistakes are made when researchers succumb to nonobjective influences or factors that taint their conclusions. Five of these factors form a useful measuring rod in assessing any work of history.

A useful measuring rod

  • The first of these is chauvinism — the tendency to let pride, rivalry and ideology lead to an emphasis on certain facts to the exclusion of others. A historian named Akira Iriye will argue the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific differently from Douglas MacArthur’s Reminiscences.
  • The next negative element is group solidarity or group survival. It helps, for example, to know that Menachem Begin was an Israeli freedom fighter when reading his Never Again!
  • The third factor is the need to publicly argue a case (e.g., the various “authorized biographies” we often hear about).
  • The above is closely related to the element of justification, the need to clear oneself or one’s group. Most nonacademic (and many academic) histories have this sort of subjectivity.
  • Finally, there are personal or psychological factors that often reveal more about the author than the subject. Fawn Brodie’s 1970s effort Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History is a case in point, as is a more recent work on Nancy Reagan.

What does this mean for us? Simply this: many people’s view of early church history is influenced by writers who score low on Kammen’s formula. We will examine four writers who not only helped create a negative and conspiratorial approach to early church history; they also wrote as if they missed the theological significance of what was happening. If our primary understanding of church history comes from authors who have an axe to grind, then it will be difficult for us to approach objectively such events as the council of Nicea or such thinkers as Athanasius, Basil the Great and Augustine.

Grand theories and sweeping phrases

Who was Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, whose phrase “the lost century” did much to negatively charge some groups’ view of early church history? Hurlbut was not a professional historian. He was a Methodist Episcopal minister who was active in the Sunday School movement of the late 1800s. He was a sought-after lecturer who enjoyed a reputation as a writer of popular religious works, the most famous of which was Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible.6

Hurlbut was perfectly entitled to popularize the story of the church. It is just that his concept of a “lost century” in his Story of the Christian Church(1918) — when accepted without critique and careful comparison with other more careful sources — can offer a one-sided, simplified, slightly conspiratorial view of what was a complicated historical process.

The phrase “the lost century” is journalistically appealing, but is it sober history? It is easy to mistake a colorful phrase for a true one. The concept of a missing epoch must be set against such simple facts as the existence of a set of volumes titled The Ante-Nicene Fathers.

To stress one obvious fact: There is a wider body of pre-Nicene writing available than is usually thought. This includes the Didache (a manual of churchly life composed around A.D. 90), Clement’s letter to the Corinthians (c. A.D. 95), the seven letters of Ignatius of Antioch (c. A.D. 110), the insights recorded from Papias on the background to the four Gospel writers (c. A.D. 130), the Epistle of Barnabas (c. A.D. 130) and the martyrology of Polycarp (c. A.D. 155). These documents bridge many of the gaps between the apostolic age and the time of Polycarp.

This points out the need for caution in constructing an appealing grand theory to unlock the so-called secrets of the past. A sweeping phrase such as “the lost century” needs critical analysis. As Kammen puts it: “Grand theory has fallen from favor in most disciplines” (page 9). Approaches to history that were once accepted as unassailable — such as the Frontier thesis in American history or the March of Progress theme in British history — all need revision and scrutiny.

One reason is the knowledge explosion of our day. Historical research never stands still; new facts are always creeping up on us with new insights and new points of view demanding to be included. For example, the rise of African-American Studies in many universities in the United States in the 1970s. Feminist and multicultural perspectives are revising the way we view the past.

The Protestant agenda

And who was Alexander Hislop? The tantalizingly brief reference to him in the British Museum lists him as a Scottish Free Church minister who lived 1809 to 1865. He published a pamphlet in 1853 that apparently attempted to identify the then-living French Emperor Napoleon III as the Antichrist.

He issued The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship Proved to be The Worship of Nimrod and His Wife in 1858. Here Hislop set out to defend the thesis that “the Pope himself is truly and properly the lineal descendant of Belshazzar” and that the Roman church “must be stripped of the name of a Christian church.”7

At least Hislop’s bias is obvious.8 One gets a feel for his motives by scanning volumes next to his on a library shelf. You might come across Irish vicar Charles Caulfield’s 1838 work titled Inquiries of an Irish Peasant Concerning Religion Exhibiting the Doctrines of the Church of Rome, etc. On pages viii and ix Caulfield shows his concern as a Church of Ireland (i.e., Anglican, not Roman Catholic) cleric with “the circumstances in which the lower order of the Protestants in Ireland are placed.” This offers a clue to the historical circumstances that set such writers to work.

Hislop and Caulfield strike us now as radical Protestant extremists. They wrote in an age when some saw a Jesuit under every bush. But why? What was going on? What was the larger context of the times that triggered such a negative worldview? What made them “tick,” as we say today?

The background is fascinating. In studying history, context is everything. Especially the context of the writer. By the 1830s, many devout Protestants in Europe feared a Catholic revival centered in France.9 Napoleon I had opposed the overweening power of the Roman church and weakened some of its influence. But after the horrors and dislocations of the Napoleonic Wars (c. 1798-1815), people sought stability and reassurance.

The Catholic church appealed to many as the best bulwark of the conservative order. But when the Jesuits were reestablished in 1814, many Protestants — remembering the Counter-Reformation of the 1500s — were set on edge.

This had consequences for Britain and America. Ireland had been restless since the suppression of the rebellion of 1798. The “Irish problem” haunted British public life. In 1829 the Duke of Wellington stood in the British Parliament at Westminster to move passage of a law that would allow Catholics in Ireland the right to stand for election to that body. It was either that or civil war, warned the greatest Englishman of his day.10

Wellington’s attempts to appease the situation unleashed an explosive anti-Popery agitation, especially among the minority Protestant groups in Ireland. Thus even Wellington, victor of Waterloo, became savaged as the one who “let the Papists into Parliament.”11 Anti-Catholicism would be a staple of British and American Protestantism for the next century.

Hislop wrote in this heated, tumultuous atmosphere. His book sold well in North America. Anti-Catholicism, Arthur Schlesinger once wrote, is the most enduring bias of the American people. It traveled, in some senses, on the Mayflower. The great Irish immigration of the 1840s into the United States provoked a frenzied outburst of anti-Catholic suspicion — and writing. By the 1850s there was a radical semisecret anti-Catholic party in the eastern United States, the Know-Nothings. They elected governors in several states. (Their name traced to the supposed ignorance expressed when members were asked about the society’s practices).

John Higham, an expert on the hysterical form of superpatriotism known as nativism, explains the atmosphere in which a Hislop could flourish:

Protestant hatred of Rome played so large a part in pre-Civil War nativist thinking that historians have sometimes regarded nativism and anti-Catholicism as more or less synonymous…. Generation after generation of Protestant zealots have repeated the apocalyptic references of the early religious reformers to the Whore of Babylon, the Scarlet Woman, the Man of Sin, to which they have added tales of lascivious priests and debauched nuns…. The Catholic empires that had seemed to block national aspirations in the eighteenth century had given way; but in their place the nineteenth century brought a flood of Catholic immigrants…. The most excited patriots detected a vast European plot headed by the Pope.12

In 1960 the United States elected a Catholic President. The detached irony and secular style of the Kennedy presidency did much to drive a nail in the coffin of all but the most fervently held beliefs in Catholic-conspiracy theories. But Hislop’s book is well into its seventh edition, even though information on Hislop himself is hard to find. To be fair, by the lights of his own time Hislop no doubt saw himself contending for the pure religion — the Protestant faith — against the “true character of Popery.”

Proving too much

Though a relentless researcher and footnoter, Hislop’s work lacks fundamental balance. He overreached himself. In his grand, interlocking scheme there is no room for exceptions. This becomes a fatal weakness. Even if he does unearth some pertinent and fascinating facts, there are reasons why such a work needs to be read with care:

  • Hislop forgets that similarity does not prove cause and effect. As one example, Hislop sees the veneration of the cross as tracing to pre-Christian pagan symbols — sun wheels, swastikas and Taus. Yet the Romans used two crossed beams to execute criminals — a cross. If Christ was crucified on a cross, what does this do to his argument? Would he forbid the apostle John to use the term Logos because it originated with a pagan philosopher?
  • The anomalies, the strange exceptions of history — and of Scripture — have no place in Hislop’s systematizing approach. For a work like Hislop’s, everything must fit; there must be no “loose bricks” or his totalizing scheme will crumble. But one has to wonder if Hislop, with his penchant for seeing sun-worship everywhere, was comfortable with Malachi 4:2, “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” Or as a Protestant cleric did he break with Sunday-worship, which radical Protestants attacked as an invention of the Papacy?
  • A negatively charged witchhunting approach to all religion cripples Christian witness. This can engender an attitude of callous superiority, an attitude that Paul the missionary did not display in Lycaonia and Malta. The pagan-origins-of-everything thesis breaks down of its own weight.

Scripture and archaeology indicate that the Hebrew language itself originated with the Canaanites (Isaiah 19:18); that Solomon used Phoenician craftsmen and design elements in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The subject of pagan borrowing takes directions even in Scripture that are more complex than Hislop would have us believe.

Hislop is so eager to argue the case for Catholic compromise that he forgets how the apostle Paul, the greatest missionary in history, was more successful in pagan Lycaonia than in the secular, skeptical Athens (Acts 14:8–20; Acts 17:16–34; 18:1–6). Scripture itself asserts that human beings have a limited awareness of God as Creator, a point Paul was careful to respect (Acts 14:15; Romans 2:14–15). 

  • Hislop suffers the penalties of intellectual overkill. Hislop, Sir James Frazer and other relentless Victorian researchers on the origin of religion were almost precursors of modern philosophers of myth such as Joseph Campbell, who also looked for the grand unified theory behind religion. Such a style of argumentation almost inevitably leads to a leveling approach to all religion, including Christianity. Thus Hislop ends up being a strange bedfellow of secular humanism. James Frazer in The Golden Bough (1890) appeared to hinge almost all religion on ancient tree worship. Hislop’s neat and tidy formula of “Catholic paganism” ultimately had consequences he could not foresee.13 
  • Hislop played down the crucial distinctions between paganism and Catholicism. In our century, while liberal theologians began to view Christianity as but another version of the dying-god myth, the Catholic church remained steadfastly committed to such basics as the resurrection, a doctrine Scripture sees as essential (1 Cor. 15:14). Even anti-Catholics have to concede that Rome’s Christology focuses not on Mary or on the dying-god myth but on Jesus Christ’s resurrection as a once-and-for-all event. Carl Jung conceded this point: “It is this finality of the Christian concept…that distinguishes Christianity from other god-king myths.”14 A balanced assessment of Catholicism would at least have to take these facts into account.
  • Most importantly, Hislop fell into the common trap of seeing the Roman Catholic church as an all-powerful monolithic force. But like all religious organizations, the Roman church has its ups and downs, its tides and countertides, its cunning politicians and its sacrificial visionaries.

Certain popes at certain periods in history doubtlessly exhibited abusive, persecuting, anti-Christian tendencies, as during the pornocracy of the 900s. But most fair-minded people today would be uncomfortable with applying a blanket, almost reckless and indiscriminate condemnation to an organization that has produced numerous self-sacrificing missionaries.

And let us not forget the biblical example that even though Scripture labels the Roman Empire as “the Beast” — a bloodthirsty vampire state (Revelation 13:4–10), it is curious that every time a Roman centurion is mentioned in the New Testament he is placed in a favorable light (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:38).

Blanket condemnations not only fly in the face of Matthew 7:1, they also ignore the fact that systems are one thing, people another. At least three times in the book of Acts Rome’s officials gave Paul a fair hearing — and more (Acts 18:12–16; 25:13–26, 32; 28:1–10). 

  • Hislop has too much in common with the negatively charged polemics of conspiracy literature. Those who have dabbled into even the outer reaches of the Kennedy conspiracy literature, for example, know what a tedious exercise in negativism this often becomes. And where does Philippians 4:8 fit into such an approach: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

While even Catholic sources can be cited to show that religious organizations that dabble in politics can become persecuting anti-Christian empires at times, Hislop pushed his evidence much too far. By “proving too much” he undermined some things that were legitimate in his argument. In essence, the theory that “Catholicism = paganism” resembles a political exercise in negative campaigning. It falls short of 1 Peter 2:17’s much more positive charge to “show proper respect to everyone.”15

The quest for church identity

Finally, the work of Dugger and Dodd. Their History of the True Religion can be placed within the historic context of a concern with church identity, a preoccupation that is characteristic of new sects in tension with the mainstream. Such religious groups place heavy stress on boundary maintenance — the need to emphasize distinctions at all cost. The problem is the problem of sectarian scholarship in general, the tendency to argue from the margins, to read everything through narrow filters.

Frances Young’s critique of Eusebius, the first church historian, makes an interesting parallel. The mission in such case-making studies, she claims, is to “confirm the church’s position, rather than discover new ideas and insights.” A premium is placed on the need to “reproduce the thoughts and statements of others.”16

These are good cautions. A stream can rise no higher than its source. Dugger and Dodd did cite many other references, but usually — though not always — these sources were from the margins of church history. This makes for often lively and colorful reading, but other major issues — such as the origins and real character of the trinitarian debate — can often become subordinated, if not omitted.

The Church of God (Seventh Day) and the name Andrew Dugger is part of our corporate history.17 A.N. Dugger and C.O. Dodd’s A History of the True Religion is almost a classic in Michael Kammen’s descriptor “group survival.” It is a fervent exercise in charting a claim to legitimacy. But the key background assumption is at least dubious. This is the theory that one can establish the identity of the true church and confirm the Sabbath by tracing an unbroken line of Sabbathkeepers from the first century onward.

There are problems with this approach to church history. For one thing: Is this the right end of the telescope from which to approach the subject of the Sabbath? Once again it becomes possible with the use of limited and marginalized data to fall into the trap of trying to prove too much.18

A History of the True Religion is revealing. For one thing, it sheds light on the teaching on God as a family and an impersonal view of the Holy Spirit. Dugger and Dodd defend the Alexandrian presbyter Arius, who they say argued that “the Holy Spirit was a power sent forth from God” (page 77). We do not agree with Arius.

The goal of validating the Sabbath led Dugger and Dodd to thus adopt a very selective view of church history and source material. Some of their sources often reflect the strident anti-Catholicism of the 1800s. In painting the picture of rampant apostasy after the death of the apostle John, for example, they play down the fact that apostasy was a constant in the first-century church. Judas Iscariot springs to mind, as do the wholesale defections from Christ’s personal teaching (John 6:66–70). Heresy was evident in Paul’s time (Acts 20:28–30). Even in the first flush of enthusiasm of the early Spirit-filled church we find Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11).

Part of Dugger and Dodd’s methodology was creating a simplified threefold test of church purity. This centered around the concepts of church name (Church of God), the Sabbath and an aversion to most mainstream doctrinal positions, especially any and all forms of trinitarian teaching. They also reflect an approach sometimes known as “biblicism” — the idea that unless something is clearly and specifically stated in Scripture then it is doctrinally suspect. But rare is the church that can live by this rule.19 They also imply that the absence of the word Trinity from the Bible and the alleged negative effect of Hellenistic ideas are arguments against trinitarian thinking.20

Dugger and Dodd were certainly right to call attention to some of the pagan syncretism occurring in the early centuries, even if the practice fits a much later period. Even mainstream historians such as Henry Chadwick defend the Quartodecimans of Asia Minor. Concerns about the extent of borrowing from Greek philosophy on the part of early church thinkers are expressed both by Catholic and Protestant sources. This much must be granted.21

Yet Dugger and Dodd’s simplified, sweeping, case-making approach to church history is done at cost. There are three major problems. First, the struggles of such church leaders as Tertullian, Origen and Athanasius against radical heresies undermining the divinity of Christ are overlooked.22 Some of these early church leaders were manning the dikes against issues Dugger and Dodd skimmed over lightly or missed completely. One of these has come into clearer focus as our knowledge of the first century has steadily advanced — namely, the scandalous claims of gnosticism and the threat it posed to understanding Jesus Christ’s full divinity.23

Dugger and Dodd seem to be driven primarily by justification and group survival. Opposition to mainstream doctrinal positions becomes a proof of sabbathkeeping. It is an argument conducted often from the margins of history. For example, this discussion of the Passagii: “The second tenet that distinguished this sect was advanced in opposition to the doctrine of three persons in the divine nature” (Quoted from Mosheim, Dugger and Dodd, 227).

Dugger and Dodd were people of their time, as are we. They were no doubt sincere in trying to validate their claim as a special people through whom God was working. But they typically argued from the margins and often with questionable data. This led to such serious errors as declaring that Arius, the Alexandrian heretic who helped spark the Council of Nicea, was a sabbathkeeper.

Third, their approach often reflected rampant anti-Catholicism. It is easy to forget in retrospect that the institution we know as the Roman Catholic church did not emerge as a full-blown characteristic entity until at least the 500s. Not until the pontificate of Gregory the Great (590–604) did the papacy play anything like its later role.

Dugger and Dodd played down these subtleties. They missed the fact that the earliest and most profound trinitarian theology tended to be done by Greek churches, not Western or Roman churches. Only two Roman delegates made it to Nicea. The Council of Constantinople (381) even placed the Roman bishopric in a secondary position to “New Rome,” Constantinople.

Dugger and Dodd also missed the real nature of the battle of the second-century Christian apologists with the perversions of gnosticism.24 Rather than engineering a wholesale compromise with Hellenistic ideas, the early church fathers or apologists were engaged in almost a three-front war.

First, there was the need to answer genuine questions about the nature of Jesus Christ’s relationship with the Father that were becoming more and more insistent by the second century. (If God is one, where does the Son fit?) Second, the problem that the New Testament story of Christ — the virgin birth, his passion and ascension — seemed, to the Greek Christians, strangely related to earlier Hellenistic ideas. The apologists, in attempting to give a new meaning to these pre-Christian parallels and to use them in bridge-building, would be castigated by later radical sectarians as compromisers.

Third, the battle with gnosticism and its mixture of Christian, Hellenistic and Jewish ideas was another front on which the early church fathers were fighting. Dugger and Dodd and our church traditions are right in spotting the poison of gnosticism; the problem comes in postulating a straight-line descent from early gnostics to later Christianity as it developed in the West. 25

Dugger and Dodd fell into the trap of a sectarian reading of the past. They allowed their privileged information — knowing the course of later church history, that church power would shift to the West — to inform their premise. “We have found the enemy and it is a Catholic conspiracy,” we might summarize. But this is rushing things quite a little. Not until Augustine of Hippo (354–430) did the West produce a theologian in the league of Athanasius and the Cappadocians.

Some of Dugger and Dodd’s accounts of Christian Sabbathkeeping make inspiring reading. In the end, however, their thesis collapses from its own weight — once again, they are claiming too much for history.

Dugger and Dodd, Hurlbut and Hislop were not wrong on every single point, but some core considerations were missed. Lost was the key point that trinitarian thinking was originally rooted in a dogged attempt to clarify the full divinity of Christ against severe gnostic and Arian distortions.

One-dimensional, marginalized views of early church history need balancing with fresh perspectives. Barbara Tuchman, in one of her last works, warned against historical self-deception. It is traced, she said, to “assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.”26 Her words seem relevant.

Endnotes

1. Michael Kammen, “Uses and Abuses of the Past: A Bifocal Perspective,” Selvages and Biases: The Fabric of History in American Culture (Cornell University Press, 1987), 296.

2. Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Eerdmans, 1992), 208–10. Noll calls the 1800s “The Protestant Century.” He places such “scandal-mongering” works as Six Months in a Convent (1834) and Maria Monks’s Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery in Montreal(1834) within the context of the Catholic-Protestant tensions of the period. These tensions came to a head during the 1830s to the 1850s. Historically, the reasons are fairly clear: the “Catholic revival” after the defeat of the anticlerical Napoleon I (Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity [Macmillan, 1979] 363–5); the agitation for Catholic Emancipation in Ireland; massive Irish immigration to the Protestant citadel of the northeastern United States to escape the 1840s “potato famine.” All of this sowed seeds of anti-Catholicism that still sprout.

3. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, abridged ed. (Dell, 1974), vol. 1, 63.

4. Frances Young, From Nicea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and Its Background (Fortress Press, 1983), 25.

5. Note, for example, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s remarks at the end of the foreword to his magisterial Age of Roosevelt: The Politics of Upheaval (Houghton Mifflin, 1960). “Once again, may I say that I will greatly welcome corrections or amplifications of anything I have written in this text.”

6. J. Gordon Melton, Religious Leaders of America (Gale Research Inc., 1991), 437.

7. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons (Loizeaux Brothers, 1944), 3.

8. We have had exposés done on us, and some of us had to deal with the ill effects of these efforts. Such works will always be popular with some. Popular and misleading.

9. The defection of some prominent Anglican clergymen to the Roman Catholic church in England in 1845 further stirred the anti-Catholic suspicions of the British. The papal proclamation of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 was another straw in the wind. The Catholic church was reviving — seen by many in Europe as a bastion of stability after the long horrors of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (David A. Rausch, “Oxford Movement,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [Baker, 1989], 811; Frederick J. Cwiekowski, “Ultramontanism,” The New Dictionary of Theology [The Liturgical Press, 1990], 1065).

10. Elizabeth Longford, Wellington: Pillar of State (Granada Publishing, 1975), 242.

11. David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century (Penguin, 1959), 62.

12. John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (Atheneum, 1965), 5–6. Higham also mentions that in the year 1679 a radical named Titus Oates plunged England into hysteria over notions of a vast Catholic conspiracy. Such outbursts eventually served the cause of discrediting the Christian faith in many parts of England. The price of both anti-Protestantism and anti-Catholicism has been high.

13. Ironically, this Hislop-Frazer approach helped lay the groundwork for theological liberalism and modernism. How? Interpreters of mythology such as Carl G. Jung, Joseph Campbell and Northrop Frye began to argue from similar premises as Frazer’s that Christ’s resurrection was but a more tasteful version of the dying-god myth. And we ask, was Hislop, in equating Catholicism with paganism, also indirectly helping undermine the Christian faith he sought to defend?

14. Carl G. Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols (Laurel Books, 1964), 99–100.

15. The respect we accorded Hislop diverts attention from the formidable challenge to public evangelism today — reaching the neopagan, secular, science-based agnostics of North America and Western Europe. Mars Hill was a much tougher audience than Malta.

16. Francis Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon (SCM Press, 1983), 9.

17. Ronald L. Numbers described our denomination as “a third-generation offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists by way of the Church of God (Seventh Day)” (Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism [Knopf, 1992], 316–7).

18. The Church of God (Seventh Day) no longer publishes this work.

19.  We once taught against the use of make-up, for example, as a matter of biblical extrapolation. We ruled that smoking is a sin by invoking biblical principles. We also stepped outside the Bible when we use a festival calendar based on a system we did not invent or preserve.

20. The presence of terms such as Logos and Alpha and Omega in John’s writings show that the transition into the Hellenistic culture was a more understandable, biblically based process than we have assumed.

21. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Penguin, 1967), 85. Concludes Chadwick: “They had become heretics simply by being behind the times.” See also L.D. Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church: From Its Foundation to the End of the Fifth Century (John Murray, 1909), 222–3.

22. Overlooked also were the savage martyrdoms inflicted on people who apparently were not sabbathkeepers. Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld give a readable report on some of this in Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present (Zondervan, 1987), 89–129.

23. Dugger and Dodd described such church fathers as Arius (who taught that the Word was a created being) as “a staunch observer of the seventh-day Sabbath” (p. 77). This is an embarrassing error, indicative of the case-making style. The same page shows where these ideas can eventually lead: “Dr. [sic] Arius sponsored the truth of the sonship of Jesus, claiming that he was truly the son [sic] of God, begotten by the Holy Spirit, and was not God Himself” (p. 77). This compromise on Christ’s full divinity was echoed by some in the Church of God (Seventh Day): “They were said to believe that Jesus was the Son of God (and not God himself)…. Some held to the idea that Jesus was the son of Joseph, and therefore not divine” (Nickels and Cole, A History of the Seventh Day Church of God [private printing, 1973], 124, 222). Such statements explain why mainstream trinitarians have traditionally looked askance at aggressively antitrinitarian groups.

24. We were right to stress the importance of gnosticism as a force near the end of the first century. Simon Magus is now seen as one of the three archheretics of the period. Indeed, Simon and the Simonians are now so well-documented that it is no longer possible to make the connection between Simon and Catholicism that we once did, especially in light of Catholicism’s centuries-long evolution. The early church fathers attacked Simon as relentlessly as they did other heretics, and they are our prime sources about him. Most scholars today see Simon Magus as the father of an early gnostic sect. See The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6, 29–31.

25. Dugger and Dodd, Hislop, Hurlbut, and other researchers such as James Hastings and Jamieson, Faucett and Brown could not have known the true character of gnosticism before discoveries made in Upper Egypt in 1945 were published. This bundle of manuscripts known as the Nag Hammadi Texts places the struggles of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus against gnosticism in a new light. See Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (Vintage Books, 1979).

26. Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (Ballantine, 1984), 7.

Author: Neil Earle

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