What people call "Christianity" today bears almost no resemblance to the faith and practice of Jesus Christ and His apostles. But you can live by what Christ taught, and receive the blessings He intends for you, if you know how!
What happened to the original Christianity of Jesus and His apostles? It has almost completely disappeared from the earth, but it does exist—and you can discover it!
If Jesus of Nazareth were to return to planet Earth today, would He recognize the religion that is using His name? Would He be shocked to find that people claiming to be His followers have been waging war against each other almost continually for the last 1,900 years? Most of His professed followers today believe totally contrary doctrines to what He taught, and observe different days of worship, following totally different customs. Most have a completely different concept of God and of His purpose than Jesus and His original apostles did.
Jesus might wonder, "Why are they putting My name on all this stuff?"
Most genuine religious scholars recognize that vast changes have transformed professing Christianity into something radically different from the beliefs and practices of Jesus and His apostles! Respected mainline Protestant scholar Jesse Lyman Hurlbut described what he called an "age of shadows" separating the original Church from what came later: "For fifty years after St. Paul's life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120ad with the writings of the earliest church-fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul" (Story of the Christian Church, p. 41).
If the leaders of the "age of shadows" to which Hurlbut referred were filled with and led by God's Spirit, then why would the church suddenly be "very different"? For the Bible tells us that Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Yet the professing Christian church today is not even remotely the same as the one Jesus founded.
Describing the time period after all the original apostles and their successors had died out, Hurlbut writes: "The services of worship increased in splendor, but were less spiritual and hearty than those of former times. The forms and ceremonies of paganism gradually crept into the worship. Some of the old heathen feasts became church festivals with change of name and of worship. About 405ad images of saints and martyrs began to appear in the churches, at first as memorials, then in succession revered, adored, and worshiped. The adoration of the Virgin Mary was substituted for the worship of Venus and Diana; the Lord's Supper became a sacrifice in place of a memorial; and the elder evolved from a preacher into a priest" (p. 79).
Pre-Christian festivals were turned into "church" festivals because, just as God had predicted, evil men and false leaders would take over most of the church! Remember this inspired warning the Apostle Paul gave the Ephesian elders: "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:29–31).
When Paul realized the scope of the coming apostasy—which would eventually reach most of the church—it hit him emotionally. He then "did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears"! Yet very few people today are concerned enough even to think of shedding tears over that massive change!
This massive apostasy occurred because men and women back then, just like today, did not zealously prove to themselves where God's Truth was being taught. That is why the Living Christ corrected those Christians living near the end of the Apostolic Era: "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent" (Revelation 2:4–5).
What about today? How can we account for the hundreds upon hundreds of denominations and sects all calling themselves "Christian"? All of them have different ideas, traditions and approaches, yet they claim to follow the same Jesus Christ!
Part of the answer is the fact that extremely few professing Christians really study Scripture, so they do not "prove" what they believe by carefully researching it in the Bible! They may enthusiastically study books and articles on health, on self-improvement, or on investing and making more money, but somehow it does not occur to them to thoroughly study the most vital subjects of all: "Is there a real God? If so, what is His purpose in creating human beings? And how can we fulfill that purpose?" Yet the Bible commands, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV).
Most people have just "accepted" the religion passed down through their family. Have you just "gone along" with the beliefs and the traditions you were taught as a child?
Los Angeles Times religion writer Teresa Watanabe reported: "According to one religious research firm, two-thirds of Americans don't regularly read the Bible or know the names of the Four Gospels. More than half of Americans surveyed can't name even five of the Ten Commandments. And the majority say they find the Good Book irrelevant…. 'We still hold the Bible in high regard, but in terms of actually spending the time reading it, studying it and applying it—that is a thing of the past,' said [religious pollster] George Barna. The reasons cited range from changes in American culture to the intrinsic difficulty of the text itself. Now religious organizations are making a major effort to jazz up the ancient Scripture's doddering image. Bible publishers are producing a dizzying array of products, with translations and editions pitched to every conceivable niche market, to convince people that the book is neither arcane nor irrelevant" (Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1999).
Of course, the real underlying cause of this massive religious apostasy is that this is Satan's world and that he has totally deceived the vast majority of humanity. In the comfortable surroundings of our western civilization, most of us in North America and Europe fail to realize that the overwhelming majority of human beings have never believed in any form of "Christianity"—let alone the real Christianity of Christ and His apostles!
If you will study and believe your own Bible, you will find that Satan the devil is described as the one "who deceives the whole world" (Revelation 12:9). You will also find Satan referred to as "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). For Satan "broadcasts" a selfish, rebellious attitude throughout this earth. He is the one who is influencing deceived men into injecting enormous amounts of licentious sex, violence and a general spirit of disrespect and lawlessness into the so-called "entertainment" you and your children see or hear on television, at the movies, on the radio or when playing various kinds of perverted computer games which simulate almost indescribable acts of perversion or violence. Do you know who is really laughing at all this "fun stuff"? Satan is!
For by perverting mankind's normal interest in sex and excitement, and by cleverly injecting sick humor into so many "situation comedies," Satan is able to cleverly mislead humanity into abusing itself, degrading itself—and ultimately destroying itself—if God does not intervene at the last minute to stop it (Matthew 24:21–22). Satan is truly the "god" of this present world! The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).
Most important of all, Satan has injected into mainstream "Christianity" a whole series of totally false ideas about the origin and destiny of man, of what God is like, of what God's awesome purpose is, and how we are to achieve that great purpose. Satan has "covered up" the truth. Additionally, Satan has confused people about prophecy so much that most professing Christians and even most professing Christian ministers and priests simply throw up their hands and almost totally neglect biblical prophecy. Yet our Creator devotes about one-fourth of the entire Bible to the "sure word of prophecy" (2 Peter 1:19, KJV).
The first point to consider, then, is that mankind has been truly deceived. We see that we have gone "way off the track" when we compare modern professing Christianity with the religion of Jesus and the apostles. As one noted professor of religion wrote: "If by any chance Christ Himself had been taken by His later followers as the model and pattern of the new way, and a serious attempt had been made to set up His life and teaching as the standard and norm for the church, Christianity would have been something vastly different from what it became. Then 'heresy' would have been, as it is not now, deviation from His way, His teaching, His Spirit, His kingdom" (Rufus M. Jones, The Church's Debt to Heretics, pp. 15–16).
The truth is clear. Modern "Christianity" has become vastly different from the Christianity of Christ!
Some might say, "So what?" But this is no small matter we are talking about. Frankly, we are talking about the way to eternal life on the one hand, or eternal death on the other (Romans 6:23). And if you do not have the Christianity of Christ, you have no Christianity whatsoever!
Jesus Himself warned, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21–23). It is important to realize what Christ will say to those failing to do the "will" of the Father: "I never knew you." In plain language, these deceived churchgoers will be told that they were, in fact, never acquainted with the Christ they claim to serve. They were never really converted. They were never really "Christian"!
Jesus said, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). A "lord" or "master" is someone you obey. But most professing Christian ministers and their followers do not want to follow the clear teachings and examples of Jesus and the apostles. And most of them do not even bother to study the Bible deeply to find what those teachings and examples are!
The key issue, then, is our desire and willingness to get back to the true Christian faith, "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Are you willing to genuinely try to follow the Christianity of Jesus Christ? Or would you rather ignore Christ's words and "take a chance" with your relationship with God and your quest for eternal life?
The "little flock" (Luke 12:32)—the true Church of God—has always understood the need to pattern itself after the teachings and examples of Christ and the apostles. Although very few have seriously attempted to follow this pattern, many scholars and religious historians have understood the concept of the "Jerusalem Church of God." This is a vital concept to understand if we are sincerely interested in contending "for the faith once delivered."
The Apostle Paul was inspired to write to the Thessalonians, "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 2:14). The book of Acts makes it clear that, for many decades, the earthly "headquarters" Church of God was the Jerusalem Church. It was Jerusalem where the Holy Spirit was originally poured out on the true Christians (Acts 2). It was Jerusalem where Peter, James and John carried on most of their ministry for many years (Acts 4:1–4; 8:1; 11:1–2). Later, Paul and Barnabas came to the Jerusalem leadership to settle the major question of circumcision for the Gentiles and related questions (Acts 15:4). As renowned historian Edward Gibbon wrote: "The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent" (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 15, section 1, p. 389).
After the major Jerusalem conference noted above, Paul and Silas traveled through Asia Minor visiting the churches: "And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4).
Clearly, the original Apostles and the Jerusalem Church of God set the inspired pattern for true Christianity, not just for that time, but for all time! Contrary to the heretical Protestant idea that God later used the Apostle Paul to "reinvent" Christianity, the real Apostle Paul of the Bible constantly showed deep respect for the original apostles, and deferred to the Jerusalem leadership in all major matters! And it was the Apostle Paul who wrote to the primarily Gentile church at Corinth: "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters" (1 Corinthians 7:19).
Noted historian Carl von Weizsacker wrote in 1895: "Paul was far from confining his interest to the Gentile Christian Church which he had himself founded. His thoughts were much too lofty to leave Jewish Christianity to itself. He toiled not merely for his own work, but for the Church of God… the whole Church. He never forgot for a moment the true birthplace of the gospel. And for him the Christians in Jerusalem were always the [saints]…. He did not however merely entertain a grand policy of ecclesiastical union, but his first and constant thought was that the primitive Church was the foremost divine institution under the Gospel…. In the early Apostles he saw… the Apostles of the Lord. From them the testimony of the Resurrection emanated (1 Corinthians 15:1 ff.). They were ever the Apostles, whom God had placed at the head of His Church, the first of those divinely commissioned men who held the leading office in the Body of Christ" (The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church, pp. 12–13).
Later in Paul's ministry, he traveled again to Jerusalem: "And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present" (Acts 21:17–18). Notice that Paul presented himself to James, the Lord's brother, who by now was undoubtedly the chief apostle at Jerusalem—Peter probably having gone to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel in northwest Europe and the British Isles.
After rejoicing in the good news Paul brought about God's Work among the Gentiles, the Jerusalem leadership told Paul, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law" (v. 20). The term "myriad" literally means "tens of thousands." So as not to confuse or discourage these many Jewish Christians, the Jerusalem Church asked Paul to go through an offering ceremony to publicly demonstrate that he was not teaching in any way against God's law. As the Jerusalem leaders explained to Paul, "Take these men along and be purified with them and pay all the expenses connected with the shaving of their heads. This will let everyone know there is no truth in the reports they have heard about you and that you still regularly observe the Law" (v. 24, Jerusalem Bible).
If Paul had in any way been teaching against God's law—especially the spiritual law known as the "Ten Commandments"—he most certainly would not have gone through this ceremony of the Law of Moses! That particular ceremony, probably a thank offering at the conclusion of the Nazarite vow, was not necessary for a New Testament Christian. But neither was it sinful! Paul's deep respect for God's law, for the original mother Church and for the pattern of obedience to God's law, all guided his decision to participate in this ceremony. Through this, God shows us that Paul's approach was of obedience to law, not of trying to do away with or "reason around" God's spiritual laws—as so many Protestant theologians teach!
Describing the common practice of the early Christians, church scholar Samuele Bacchiochi noted this comment from historian W. D. Davies: "Everywhere, especially in the East of the Roman Empire, there would be Jewish Christians whose outward way of life would not be markedly different from that of the Jews. They took for granted that the gospel was continuous with [the religion of Moses]; for them the New Covenant, which Jesus had set up at the Last Supper with His disciples… did not mean that the covenant made between God and Israel was no longer in force. They still observed the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles; they also continued to be circumcised, to keep the weekly Sabbath and the Mosaic regulations concerning food. According to some scholars, they must have been so strong that right up to the fall of Jerusalem in ad70 they were the dominant element in the Christian movement [Judeo-christianisme, "Paul and Jewish Christianity," 1972, p. 72]" (From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 151).
So, for about the first 40 years of Christianity, guided by the Holy Spirit, the "dominant element" in the Church of God still followed Christ's example of keeping the weekly and annual Sabbaths commanded by God. They were still following the example set by the Jerusalem Church of God!
Who dared to change all of that?
As we have seen, it was not the Apostle Paul. It was certainly not any of the original twelve apostles. Rather, as the time period—which is fittingly called the "Dark Ages"—began to get underway, misguided Catholic bishops and popes began to change virtually everything that had made the Christian religion totally different from the pagan cults of the Roman Empire.
It is important that all our readers fully recognize that those of us in this Work are all dedicated to the task of restoring original Christianity! As you read our articles and booklets, and as you view the Tomorrow's World program, it is vital that you recognize where we are coming from. For we strive to preach and teach the same message which Jesus and the early apostles did. We try to practice—in all of its spiritual aspects—the way of life Jesus and the apostles lived and taught. Also, guided by God's Spirit, we will preach the inspired prophecies of the Bible—and warn those willing to listen about what lies ahead. If your mind is open and you wish to learn more about the original Christianity of Christ and the apostles, then write us or call us and request your free copy of our eye-opening booklet, Restoring Apostolic Christianity. For you need to understand the Truth of genuine Christianity—and to act on that Truth!
As the time of God's intervention in human affairs and the soon-coming Great Tribulation approaches, it is absolutely vital that you and your loved ones make sure that you truly belong to Jesus Christ—the true Christ of the Bible. That you are worshiping God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23). And that you are part of the true Church of God, which teaches and practices original Christianity—the Christianity of Jesus and His apostles. If you would like to learn more, or even to meet at your convenience with a representative of that true Church, please call or write to our regional office nearest you, listed on page 30 of this magazine. "He who has an ear, let him hear…" (Revelation 3:13).