Most Christian believers are unaware of the history concerning the founding of America or our Constitution, and they know even less about the founding history of the Christian church. They do not know the Church was stripped of its freedom of speech or how to regain their voice of influence in America. In this article I will share just a few examples of American and church foundational history, in hope of capturing your attention and peaking your curiosity enough for you to study out early church history for yourself. It is imperative that we as authentic Disciples of Christ know and realize that there were departures from the faith taught by the Apostles that were never returned to during the Reformation. If we are going to do things according to the original apostolic practices presented in the Scriptures, then we must know what the apostles taught before we can follow their example.
Let’s look at a few examples [facts] of American and church history. Most Americans do not know the full [true] history concerning the founding of the United States of America, which took place only a little over 230 years ago. There are facts concerning our American foundational heritage that have been removed from our textbooks and schools, because they are believed to be politically incorrect to some groups. Did you know the United States of America was founded by both black and white Americans? Our founding fathers were both black and white Americans, and both the black and white founding fathers were slave owners. For more information concerning this you can read David Barton’s book “Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White”.
Most Americans do not know a great deal about the foundational document of our country, the Constitution of the United States of America. An even more recent history fact most believers do not know about is that “churches” were not added to the 501(c)(3) section of the IRS tax code (IRC) for non-profit tax-exemption until 1954. Before this change to the tax code, and still today, all churches and their auxiliaries were already tax-exempt under section 508(c)(1)(A) of the IRC. The result of adding the church to section 501(c)(3) is the Church became partnered with the government and was stripped of its freedom of speech regarding anything viewed as “political”; this is when the church lost its voice. For more on this subject and to learn how to regain our religious freedom while keeping our tax exempt status, read my article titled “508(c)(1)(A) Free Church vs. 501(c)(3) State Church”.
The Word of God throughout the Scriptures reveals that every believer was allowed to participate and function in ministry to one another; this is what Paul taught everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17; 12:4-11; 14:23-33; 15:58). The apostles taught believers by giving them instruction on how to participate and function in ministry, one to another as the church (Rom. 15:14, Eph. 5:15-21; Col. 3: 16-17; 1Thess. 4:19; 5:14; Heb. 3:12-13; 6:10; 10:19-25; James 5:19-20; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; 4:7-11; Rev. 1:5-6). Jesus taught his apostles and disciples to meet in houses (Matt. 10:5-15; 18:20; Luke 9:2-6; 10:1-12). The practice of meeting in homes or houses of believers continued for about the first 300 years of the Church’s existence, until the first buildings were built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine (Acts 16:15, 40; 28:30-31; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phm. 1:2). The Emperor Constantine was born around 272-285 A.D. and lived until the time of his death in 337 A.D.
Over time departures from the faith and traditions of the apostles began to take place, just as the apostle Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 29-32). The new buildings built for the church [the body of Christ] to use as a meeting place were designed for a speaker/audience setting. The speaker/audience method of meeting transformed an every believer participating and functioning church into an audience of pastor-dependent, passive spectators. This method of meeting made for an easier transition and departure from an every believer participating and functioning church, as the apostles taught the believers, to a single bishop headship lording over the household of God.
When the Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, it actually became advantageous and beneficial to be a believer. Constantine began to make Christianity the most popular religion and packed it with benefits, making it the “in thing” at the time. It could even lead to a permanent income with positions of power, rank, respect, and authority over believers. Under the Emperor Constantine the Christian clergy began to receive an annual income and in time they also received tax exempt status. Those in the clergy became the elite class receiving preferential treatment; the clergy eventually received the same respect, benefits, privileges, and entitlements as the Roman officials. All of the benefits and perks of being a Christian, especially being a member of the clergy, led to the popularity of Christianity.
Christianity rapidly grew in numbers as many unsaved and unrepentant people began to enter into the church to become members for only its privileges.
The increase of unsaved and unrepentant people in the Church led to a carnal and worldly Church, devoid of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and His power. The result of the carnal church was a lifeless and dead church, lacking the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts and lives of men (2 Tim. 3:5). Eventually the Catholic Church’s structure became an institutional organization in nature, eliminating the priesthood of all believers, and exercised power and control over the family of God.
The Catholic Church also departed from the practice of willful, cheerful spontaneous giving, making tithing a requirement to support the paid clergy. The Catholic Church documents its own departure from the apostles' doctrine. The Catholic Encyclopedia 1912 edition states the following concerning tithing:
In the beginning [provision] was supplied by the spontaneous support of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of the conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the Canons of the Council of Macon in 585.”
The Encyclopedia Americana states the following concerning the "tithe", which confirms the statement by the Catholic Church above:
It (tithing) was not practiced in the early Christian church but gradually became common (in the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe) by the 6th Century. The Council of Tours in 567 and the 2nd Council of Macon in 585 advocated tithing. Made obligatory by civil law in the Carolingian empire in 765 and in England in the 10th Century... The Reformation did not abolish tithing and the practice was continued in the Roman Catholic Church and in Protestant countries (until it was) gradually replaced by other forms of taxation. The Roman Catholic Church still prescribes tithes in countries where they are sanctioned by law, and some Protestant bodies consider tithes obligatory."
The departures from the apostles' belief, doctrine, and practices eventually led to the Reformation taking place. In time protesters rose up, broke away from the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church, and brought much needed reform to the body of Christ. These reformers, called Protestants, left the Catholic Church to start a new form of church both in belief and practice. As we study early church history, we learn that during the Reformation Martin Luther, the founder and father of the Protestant Christian faith, rejected tithing in his sermon "How Christians Should Regard Moses" delivered on August 27, 1525. According to Martin Luther the Gentiles have never been subject to the Law of Moses, therefore they have never been required to tithe. James Hudnut-Beumler, Dean of Vanderbilt University, explains in his book “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar”, that tithing was not taught, practiced, or even suggested in the United States of America until 1873. He goes on to reveal that tithing was rejected by the believers when it was first introduced to the Southern Baptist Convention on May 11, 1895.
A brief look at the Reformation shows that Martin Luther led the way, followed by Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli had a follower named Conrad Grebel who left to start the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptists were the real radicals of their day, surpassing the other reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin in their desire to return completely to the faith and practices of the apostles. The Anabaptists were Spirit-filled believers who had visions and exercised the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They returned to the practice of the "priesthood of all believers", with every believer participating and functioning when they gathered together as the church in the homes of believers. The Anabaptists also rejected tithing as being unbiblical and chose to return to the apostles' example and teaching concerning giving.
The Anabaptists’ desire to return to the apostles’ faith, doctrine, and practices was too radical for the other reformers to except. Eventually the Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists, and the Catholics began to persecute and kill the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were burned at the stake, drowned, fined, imprisoned, and tortured in various other ways. They were killed and tortured because they wanted to return to and follow the original apostolic teachings. Their beliefs were too radical for even the Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Calvinists, who did not want to return to all of the original teachings of the apostles. They were persecuted for having an every member participating and functioning church that exercised the gifts of the Holy Spirit and no longer tithed. The Anabaptists loss much of their credibility as believers when they rose up and retaliated against the persecution they faced due to their beliefs. Over time most of the remaining Anabaptist became known as the Mennonites. Another division of the Anabaptist became known as the Amish.
The Reformation brought about some changes in our Christian theology, but did not change much concerning our Christian practices. We replaced the priest with the pastor and kept the building, and the pews with very few other changes. The reformers acknowledged the practice of "priesthood of all believers" as far as theology is concerned, but failed to actually return to the original apostolic faith and practice of every believer participating and functioning in the body of Christ.
Today most believers have assumed and accepted the belief that the reformers fully returned to the apostles' doctrine and practices without studying to find out for themselves. If we study the Word of God we find the reformers failed to return completely to the apostles' faith, doctrine, and practices. Christianity has become institutionalized, with its business model, hierarchal system, polity, and program structured “churches”. As authentic Disciples of Christ, we must consider returning to the apostles’ teachings concerning meeting “as the church”.
Meeting in the homes of believers and returning to the apostles’ faith, doctrine, and practices would transform the church today as we know it. The return of believers meeting in homes would support, encourage, and enable every believer to participate and function in ministry as the apostles taught. When every believer participates and functions in ministry to one another, it removes the hierarchal system of positions (Matt. 23:8-12). Meeting in house churches also eliminates the need to require believers to tithe to provide for building expenses and salaries for paid ministry. This would enable believers to give freely and willingly to support and ensure equality among believers and make sure basic necessities were met for all believers. Believers meeting in homes are also known as house churches, organic church and simple churches.
Through our lack of studying the Word ourselves, we have lost our foundational apostolic teachings. The Church [the body of Christ] has lost sight of the simplicity in Christ to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. If we truly lived to love one another and serve one another, there would be no sin in the Church. There would be no fornication, adultery, jealousy, envy, covetousness, hate, domestic abuse, or divorces, no need for our denominational or church polity, or selfish ambition pursuing hierarchal positions or titles. The apostle Paul simplified our relationship with God and one another in Galatians 5:13-14 saying, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love sever one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The doctrine of the Nicolaitans was created by those who claimed to have a superior status over the laity of the Church; the laity was the rest of the household of God. This doctrine created a division between the people of God known as the clergy-laity divide and prevented the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers" from being practiced in the Church then and continues today. Those who followed the doctrine of the Nicolaitans assumed superiority over the people. They exercised authority and power over the people using the positional, top down hierarchy system. This doctrine taught that only those who served as the official clergy were the ones who could hear, understand, and knew what God was saying to the people.
In stark contrast to this approach, Jesus declared in John 16:13, "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, 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 tell you things to come.” And the apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:27, “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” The anointing is the Holy Spirit, and He abides in us as authentic disciples and teaches us concerning all things. As authentic believers we must learn to listen to and depend upon the Holy Spirit in our lives and be led by Him (Rom. 8:14). If we are led by the Holy Spirit into all truth we will not be deceived. The magnificence of the new covenant is found in Hebrews 8:10-11, verse 11 says, “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, “Know the LORD, for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”
Jesus in Revelation 2:15 said, “Thus you also have those who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate”. It is clear that Jesus hated the doctrine (teaching) of the Nicolaitans, which would exalt one believer above another. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans led to the one bishop ruler prevailing in the Catholic Church, which Christianity also adopted during the Reformation by replacing the priest with the pastor. Much of our thinking and our Christian traditions came out of the Reformation and are simply not according to the apostles’ faith, doctrines, and practices. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is still practiced today when we exalt or elevate a priest, pastor, elder, bishop, five-fold minister, or clergy member to a hierarchal position of rank, authority and power over the other members of the family of God.
Jesus taught His disciples that all believers are brethren and all are equal as brothers and sisters. Jesus said in Matthew 23:8, "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren” (Matt. 23:8-12). As believers, we have put the doctrine of the Nicolaitans into practice by exalting one believer over another believer through the use of a hierarchal position and title. Of course, not everyone is intending to seize, take, or gain authority over other believers, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The Church as a whole has misunderstood the biblical terms of elders, bishops, and overseers. The terms elder, bishop, and overseer were used interchangeably and described their function, not the office, title, or rank over other believers (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1). We need to properly understand that an elder or older brother like Peter would function in the gift he had been given as an apostle. The elders were to use the gift(s) given to them to tend to the believers who were among them by leading by example and equipping them for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). This could be any one of the five-fold minister gifts given by Christ to the Church. Notice the elders were not over the flock, they were among the flock, because they were equal as brothers in Christ (1 Pet. 5:2). The five-fold ministry gifts may have be given in order of importance to the Church, but never meant to be one of a hierarchal position of title, office, or rank through which they exercise authority over the other believers (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:7, 11).
We also need to understand that elders were older brothers in the Lord who walked in love toward both God and man (Matt.22:37-40). The elders or older brothers had more experience of walking in love toward both God and man and were able to lead by example (1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 5:1-3). Through their experience of learning to love both God and man they had developed proven character revealing their maturity in the Lord (1 Tim. 3:10). An elder or older brother’s gift could have been any one of the five-fold ministry gifts; therefore they would have functioned according to the gift such as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher.
Although the title of the pastor dominates Christianity today, the Word of God only mentions pastors once (Eph. 4:11). Remember, the gifts were functions and not offices, titles of rank or positions of authority over the family of God. Peter who functioned as an apostle acknowledged that he was an elder or an older brother in the Lord. As an elder, Peter called the elders or older brothers to lead by example (1 Peter 5:1-3). The elders were not to be lords, lording over by exercising dominion, power, authority, and control over God’s heritage or inheritance by being domineering, but were to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3).
Remember, elders, bishops, and overseers were older brothers in the Lord who had developed proven character, revealing their maturity and experience of walking with the Lord in love toward both God and man. Due to their walk of love with the Lord they had gained the experience necessary as older brothers in the Lord to oversee and shepherd (or tend) to the flock of God in their walk of love with the Lord (1 Peter 5:1-5). Due to an older brother’s or elder’s experience of walking with the Lord, their words and counsel were more trusted and respected. We must study the Word of God, re-examine, re-think, and re-gain the proper understanding of the Word of God in order to put it into practice in our lives.
In 1 Peter 5:5, we learn, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." The same Greek word “hypotasso” used for the phrase “submit yourselves to your elders” is also used for the phrase "be submissive to one another.” This tells us that it doesn’t matter if we are an elder or a babe in Christ, we must be humble enough to submit to one another, which naturally flows out of love. We must avoid the sin of pride (when we lift ourselves above one another) by becoming and remaining submissive to one another as a younger or elder brother in the Lord.
In Hebrews 10:19-25, the writer is speaking to the brethren, both the brothers and the sisters in Christ (Heb.10:19). In Hebrews 10:22, 23, 24, the Word of God says, "let us" referring to the brethren. In Hebrews 10:24, the "let us" refers to the brethren who were to "consider one another in order to stir up love and good works". It was the brethren (the believers) who were to be ministering to one another. This was the "Priesthood of All Believers" in action ministering to one another without a bishop, elder, overseer, priest, or pastor to lead them. In Hebrews 10:25, the Word of God declares, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching." Notice, the believers (the brethren) were not to forsake the assembling of themselves together in order to exhort one another without a bishop, elder, priest, or pastor overseeing the meeting. All believers participated and functioned in ministry to one another and were to do so much more as they seen the Day approaching.
As authentic disciples, we must reject the doctrine of the Nicolaitans and the positional hierarch system it creates in the body of Christ. We must realize we are all brothers, and as such each one is to minister on an equal basis to one another (Matt. 23:8-12; Rom. 15:14; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Rev. 2:15). We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Every believer is a priest and should function according to the gifts given to them by the Lord, and as the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to believers (1 Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:7,11; 5:15-21; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; 4:10-11; Rev.1:6). We are to speak the truth in love and grow up in all things into Him. The whole body should be joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, every part doing its share, causing the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:14-15). We need to return to the biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers in our actual practice, rather than in word only, giving lip service to the belief without the practice. We must return to the practice of allowing every believer to participate and function in ministry each time we come together has the church, just as the apostle Paul taught everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 12:1-11; 14:23-33; 15:58; Gal. 5:13-14; Eph. 4:7, 11-12, 15-16; 5:15-21; Phil. 4:9; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:14; Heb. 6:9-12; 10:19-25; Jam. 5:19-20; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; 4:7-11).
As authentic disciples we must study the Word of God and return to the biblical teachings and traditions of the apostles. We must let the Word of God be our starting point and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. We must seek out the truth, rather than accepting the traditions and rituals passed down to us that are not according to the truth. The Church has lost sight of the simplicity in Christ, which is to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. The apostle Paul simplified our relationship with God and one another in Galatians 5:13-14 saying, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. We do not need a building, a hierarchal system of positions, or titles in order to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to return to the original biblical teaching of the apostles. This included every believer participating and functioning in ministry to one another and giving rather than tithing. For more information concerning the "Priesthood of All Believers" see the article "Every Believer participating and Functioning 1 Corinthians 14:20-40".
**See the article “Tithing Was Not Taught by the Apostles” for more information concerning tithing. You will discover Martin Luther founder of the Protestant movement rejected tithing in his sermon “How Christians Should Regard Moses” delivered on August 27, 1525. The Catholic Church also documents their own departure from the apostles’ teaching concerning giving in the 1912 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia concerning tithing. The Encyclopedia Americana confirms the information. Also, James Hudut-Bumler, Dean of Vanderbilt University, documents in his book “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar” that tithing was not taught, practiced, or suggested in the USA until 1873. He also documents that tithing was first introduced to the Southern Baptist Convention on May 11, 1895 and was rejected by the believers.
The Trinity is one of the most difficult things to wrap our minds around and understand. In the Scriptures we find the Godhead made up of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The main point is to receive/believe by faith the existence of God in the three persons of the Godhead (Heb. 11:6). All three persons of the Godhead are distinct, separate, equal, and eternal; together they make up what is known as the Trinity.
The Godhead is referred to in Creation and throughout the rest of the Scriptures. The Trinity Godhead is clearly seen in the New Testament in the book of Matthew 3:13-17, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." In this we see Jesus Christ the Son of God being baptized, the Holy Spirit descending on Him as a dove, and we see (hear) God the Father speaking to His Son Jesus saying, “This is My beloved Son”. We see the Trinity in Matthew 28:19, “God therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. We also see the Trinity in the book of Ephesians, in Ephesians 1:3 we see the Father and Jesus Christ, and in Ephesians 1:13 we see the Holy Spirit. The Trinity [the Godhead], the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is seen in other passages throughout the New Testament.
We as human beings are also triune beings [a trinity], made up of three separate and distinct parts, the Word of God reveals that we are made up of a body, soul, and spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 it says, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our body is the temple of God, our true house of worship, therefore we no longer need to go to special places for worship or build special buildings for worshiping the Lord. We find this truth in the book of John when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan women at the well of Jacob. Their conversation is recorded in John 4:20-24, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.”You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
We have a soul (the real us), our inner man or being, and we have a spirit created by God (Zech. 12:1). The truth that we have both a soul and a spirit is clearly revealed in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
You have been made into the likeness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all three equal, yet separate beings, yet all three in One. You are a soul (the real you), you have a spirit that is made alive at the time of conversion (when you are born again), both of which dwell in your body, the temple [the house] of God. You are made up of three separate and distinct parts of your being, just like the Trinity [the Godhead]. Your body, your soul, and your spirit are all equal in importance and yet have separate and different functions.