The Gospel Train left the station long, long ago filled with believers traveling on a straight, resolute track toward an eternal, spiritual paradise. But along the way, different cars of believers were switched off the main track and are now traveling in a somewhat different direction. Even though they are now following many different sets of rails, they all believe they are on the only true path that will take them to their desired destination. This book reveals the ways in which different religions deviated from a common trunk into contrary, discordant branches that are now essentially at war with one another.
The book focuses on what Christian Bibles actually say instead of what believers are told they say. It gives an accurate account of religious history from verifiable documents that are both ancient and up-to-date records from many different sources. The most tantalizing revelation is the nature of God as stated directly from Christian Bibles. Readers are encouraged to use their own Bibles to verify all references to scripture. Both chapter and verse are supplied for reference purposes.
After reading this book, you will never again feel exactly the same way about your religion.
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The Gospel Train
By G. Russell Dey
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 G. Russell Dey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHistory of the Christian Church
I'm starting with a chapter on the history of the Christian church for two reasons. First, it's an interesting, eventful journey through European ecclesiastical history. Second, most people have had only an elementary exposure to the body of historical facts surrounding the development and evolution of Christianity. In fact, even a significant number of clergymen I have talked with are poorly educated with respect to the intriguing history of their own faith, or maybe they just don't want to talk about it.
This narrative is not necessarily written from my own perspective, or anyone's perspective, there is no viewpoint involved, it is simply a faithful rendering of historical facts from the most credible, generally accepted sources available. Sometimes acquired facts differ somewhat from one source to another, just like they do when researching anything. Stories change over time depending on the skills of translators and the religious or political views of whoever is telling the story. I believe working with the oldest documents obtainable generally offers the most accurate accounts, so that is what has been done here.
A good place to start this part of the journey is in Rome, Italy in A.D. 64, when a great fire lasting six days raced out of control and reduced at least half of the city to ashes. Some Romans suspected that the Emperor Nero was insane and personally responsible for initiating the deadly conflagration because he had expressed his desire to erase the old Rome and have the glory of founding a new and much more magnificent city.
Because there were rumors circulating throughout the city that he was the one responsible for the fire, Nero feared for his life and decided to shift the blame onto someone else. He was able to divert suspicion away from himself by directing responsibility for the holocaust onto a new religious group that had sprung up in Rome, the Christians. The choice was an easy one to make, the Christians were already despised by the Roman people because they rejected the worship of the traditional Roman gods and refused to acknowledge that the emperor was divine. They were the perfect scapegoats because they had no real influence and no political power in Rome.
Nero began an unbelievably horrendous punishment of Christians with torture and executions. Some were crucified, some were torn apart by wild dogs and other wild animals in the circus arenas and some were even nailed to wooden stakes, set on fire and actually used as torches to illuminate Nero's garden parties. In the summer of A.D. 68, the apostle Paul was killed by way of a sword to his neck and he was buried unceremoniously on the Ostian way. Peter, who was chief among the original 12 apostles, was killed in the same year. Some say he was beheaded but many Bible scholars say he was crucified with his body upside down.
Later, in the spring of A.D. 69, the Roman general Titus entered Judea, along with his legions, looking to annihilate all of Jerusalem. Most of the Christians living there had prior warning that this may happen, so they were able to escape disaster by fleeing to the mountains east of the Jordan River, but around 600,000 Jews were slaughtered or sold into slavery as Titus finally completed his conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
The Christians were scattered and suffering, they were uprooted from their homes, they were separated from their families and some of them had been caught and imprisoned where they were savagely tortured and killed. But many of the survivors clung to the expectation that their Savior, Jesus, would soon return and establish the kingdom of God here on earth. They believed, even then, that the time had been fulfilled and the kingdom of God was at hand.
In the first century A.D., Christians had no doubt that the kingdom was coming soon and it would be a literal kingdom. It would not be figurative, it would be an actual territory with a real government directed by laws, and it was destined to supplant all governments set up by men; it would then rule over the entire earth. They comforted themselves by looking to the fulfillment of their prophecies that foretold the return of Jesus and the coming sovereign government that would never be destroyed. It was to be located physically on earth and would be ruled over by God personally.
During the time of Jesus' ministry on this earth, many Christians believed that he would establish the kingdom of God right then and there. Jesus, though, had already told Pontius Pilate he was born to be king, but his kingdom was not of this world. It seems that Pilate had no understanding of such a concept, nor did any of the disciples. In fact, after Jesus is said to have returned from the dead, his disciples again asked him, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" But Jesus told them that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons.
The disciples continued to spread the Christian Gospel throughout Rome and even ventured beyond the Roman world that was then known to exist. During that period of time, violent, disturbing events signaled a great change was taking place in the affairs of the known world. Christians saw all of this as signs of the end of the age. They believed that Jesus was about to return and the kingdom of God was truly at hand.
Rome was involved in a civil war and seemed to be headed for destruction. The very fabric of Roman society was crumbling and the signs of the end of the age were many. There were wars, economic crisis, moral decay, tremendous political turmoil, social upheaval was everywhere, natural disasters were occurring all around and religious confusion was rampant. Because of all this, Christians, understandably, thought that Jesus would appear again on earth and would bring an end to the horrible man made mess. But Jesus did not return.
When Jesus did not appear, Christians were shocked and demoralized. They wondered what had gone wrong. Many of the faithful began to doubt the reality of their beliefs. After all, even the apostle Paul had expected Jesus to return in his lifetime. Paul had written in a letter to the Corinthians, "we shall not all sleep (experience death), but we shall be changed" before Jesus' coming (1 Corinthians 15:51). Toward the end of his life, Paul obviously began to see a different picture because he said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course ..." He then speaks of receiving his reward some time in the future (II Timothy 4:8). However, unlike Paul, many of the Christians became discouraged and began to complain, their hopes had become shattered because Jesus promised to return, but he didn't.
Some Christians because of their misunderstanding of the last verses of the Gospel of John, believed that Jesus would still return in the lifetime of the apostle John (John 21:22-23). John lived on, outliving the others, and this bolstered the idea in the minds of some Christians that he would still be alive when Jesus returned. But others were not nearly as patient and they began looking for other answers to their dilemma. They began turning away from their Christian beliefs. They became confused, not really knowing what to believe, and they became increasingly vulnerable to different teachings.
Teachings that differed from what was preached by Jesus began to infiltrate and pervert their Gospel; they became surrounded and permeated by dissonant faiths. But subversion was not new to the Church. Back in A.D. 50, Paul had informed the Thessalonians that a conspiracy to supplant the truth was already underway. He wrote to them saying, "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (II Thessalonians 2:7). Paul also warned the Galatians and the Corinthians of the perversion that was underway within and without the church (Galatians I:6-7 and II Corinthians 11:4). The Christian community became split into different contending factions that almost dismantled the Church. The seeds of this problem were planted decades earlier by Simon the Sorcerer whose goal was to gain a personal following for himself.
John being the last survivor of the original 12 apostles, continued to do all that he could to stem the growing tide of subversion surrounding the church. And sometime in the latter part of the first century, he declared that, "many deceivers are entered into the world (II John 7). John was banished to the Aegean island of Patmos sometime during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitianus, sometimes called Domitian, where he is said to have received a series of visions called revelations that described the future of the world that will end with the second coming of Jesus Christ to this planet.
John's vision of coming events resulted in a major shock for the church in the first century AD. He related astounding, almost unbelievable images of deformed looking beasts and huge armies that use devastating, unthinkable weapons capable of killing millions in the blink of an eye and bringing about global annihilation. He also spoke of coming purulent plagues and calamitous natural disasters for the unrighteous, sinning nations of the earth.
No one had any idea of what it all meant; they could not understand how such a thing could happen. Their knowledge of weapons was limited to swords, spears and arrows, so there was no way for them to imagine annihilating all or most of mankind using the weapons they knew to exist during that time. Even the number of combatants mentioned that would fight the final battle at Megiddo was greater than the entire population on earth that was known to them.
However, over time, people began to believe that the great events described by John would not occur right away. It became understandable that a great period of time would pass, centuries or possibly even millions of years, before all of this would come to pass. Jesus prophesied that, "this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14). Some people began to realize that it would take a very long time to do that and that the distant future could bring the never before heard of super weapons and huge armies described in John's visions.
John lived to become a very old man and was released from imprisonment in A.D. 96. In the remaining years of his life, he would strive, along with a few faithful disciples, to keep the church true to its fundamental teachings. Being one of the original apostles, he was personally instructed by Jesus him self in the true faith and did everything in his power to keep the church as pure as he possible could. Around the end of the first century, the apostle John died in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, which is located near modern-day Turkey.
The death of John was another shock to the church. John had almost single handedly and faithfully held the church together since the deaths of Peter and Paul three decades earlier. Almost immediately self-appointed contenders for authority within the church began to grasp for power. An authoritarian rebellion against the principles of church government as it had been administered by the apostles began to take over. Some people remained faithful, even though they were then separated from what had become the mainstream of Christianity, and were no longer viewed as devotees; the Church fundamentally changed.
Even though the church had become adulterated and more accepting of secular Roman practices, the various sects of Christianity continued to pose bothersome problems for Rome. Regardless of their then different doctrines and practices, anyone calling himself Christian could not escape persecution in Rome. During the next 250 years, many major atrocities were suffered by Christians. Thousands were killed in a continuing reign of terror.
The horrendous punishment of Christians carried out by the emperor Diocletian (A.D. 284-305) surpasses all others in cruelty. It was a barbaric, systematic attempt to wipe out the memory of Christ from this earth. Diocletian's demented violence toward all Christian sects was truly unparallel in history. All Christians became outlaws. Their public and private possessions were taken from them. No assemblies of their faith were permitted. Their churches were torn down and even their sacred writings were destroyed.
In A.D. 312, Constantine became emperor of Rome after defeating his brother-in-law and chief rival Maxentius in a battle called the battle of the Milvian Bridge. He was then sole monarch of the western Roman empire. Before the battle, Constantine is reported to have had an alarming epiphany. He dreamed that Christ appeared to him and told him to inscribe the first two letters of his name (XP in Greek) on the shields of his troops. The following day he is said to have seen a cross superimposed on the sun with the words "in this sign you will be the victor."
The victory not only secured supreme power for Constantine, it ushered in a new and better era for the church. Constantine became the first Roman emperor to profess Christianity; however, he was not baptized into the faith until he was nearing the end of his life. A magnificent, triumphal arch was erected in his honor in Rome. It ascribes his military victory to the "inspiration of the divinity."
Soon after this, in A.D. 313, Constantine issued a new proclamation, the Edict of Milan, granting Christians full freedom to practice their religion. And although pagan worship continued to be tolerated up until about the end of the century, he strongly urged all of his subjects to follow his example and become practicing Christians. He also filled many important government offices with Christians and provided capital and labor for the building of new churches. The Christian church, at long last, held a position of power and respect throughout the empire.
Christianity had become the state religion, but changes were on the way. In A.D. 321, Constantine issued an edict forbidding anyone to work on "the venerable day of the sun" (Sunday). Sunday was substituted for the original Sabbath (the Lord's day, day of rest) which was from sunset on Friday to sunset Saturday. Before that time Christians generally held Saturday as their sacred day, their Sabbath day, the same as the Jews. But then, in A.D. 365, the Council of Loadicea formally prohibited Christians from keeping the same Sabbath day as the Jews.
Back in A.D. 324, Constantine had formally established Christianity as the official religion throughout the entire civilized western world, after completely defeating the remaining Eastern Emperor and bringing the now intact federation under his indisputable control. In an effort to further develop unity and uniformity within Christianity, in A.D. 325, Constantine called a conclave of bishops from all around the empire to settle doctrinal disputes among the different factions operating Christian churches. The conclave was held at Nicea in Bithynia.
The Council of Nicea had two major issues to confront. There was a dispute within the Church over the relationship between Jesus and God the father, which is called the Arian controversy. An important priest in Alexandria by the name of Arius had been teaching his followers that Christ was a created being, just like humans and, therefore, was not eternal and divine like God. The council decided that Arius was wrong, condemned him and his doctrine and then exiled all Arian teachers. But even that did not destroy the Arian movement, it remained healthy and strong in many different areas. In fact, it became especially strong with Gothic and Germanic invaders; some of them became converted to mainline Christianity, but some others adopted the Arian form of the faith.
The other major issue for the Council to deal with was the proper date for the celebration of Passover. Many Christians, especially the ones who were living in Asia Minor, were still commemorating Jesus' death on the 14th day of the Hebrew month, Nisan, which was the day of Jewish Passover when lambs were slain. But in Rome, and all of the western churches, the resurrection of Jesus, rather than his death, was celebrated, and it was always celebrated on a Sunday.
The Council ruled that the ancient Christian Passover day commemorating Jesus' death, instead of his resurrection, would no longer be honored, and the penalty for not observing the new dictate was almost certainly death. It was decided that this new directive must be absolutely observed throughout the entire Empire on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. Later it came to be called Easter Sunday when many of the remaining Germanic tribes were collectively converted to the Christian faith.
Most Christians accepted the decree of the Council, but some did not. They held fast to their fundamental beliefs, and because of the threat of being put to death for doing so, they fled into remote areas of Europe and Asia Minor. There they continued to practice their principled beliefs out of site of most of the rest of the world as the true church of God and they ostensibly vanished into the pages of history.
Excerpted from The Gospel Train by G. Russell Dey Copyright © 2012 by G. Russell Dey. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter I History of the Christian Church....................1
Chapter II Faith, Hope and Charity?....................27
Chapter III The Apocrypha....................36
Chapter IV The Dead Sea Scrolls....................44
Chapter V Ecumenical Councils....................53
Chapter VI Crusades and Inquisitions....................63
Chapter VII Historical World Saviors....................75
Chapter VIII Comparable Lives of Known Saviors....................84
Chapter IX Healing by Faith?....................95
Chapter X Is the Bible Historically Reliable?....................103
Chapter XI The Nature of God....................115