SUNDAY LAW CRISIS
2: Journey into the PAST
Seven Christians were brought into the judgment
hall of Cyrilla, bishop of Carthage. These men loved God, studied the
Bible carefully, and tried to faithfully obey it. But now the crisis
had come. Unless they changed their faith to that of the official
State church, they would receive the death sentence.
It was the year 456. Cyrilla was the Christian
bishop of Carthage. He was the spiritual leader of thousands of
Christians. But, like many other Christian leaders of his time, he was
determined to eliminate all who would not yield their beliefs to those
dictated by the State church officials.
At first, Cyrilla attempted to win them over by
flattery and the offer of rewards. But their refusal was firm.
"We acknowledge but one Lord and one faith—that given in the
Bible. You may therefore do whatever you please with our bodies, for
it is better that we suffer a few temporary pains than to die in
Angered and humiliated that they would place the
Bible above his own authority, Cyrilla arranged for the civil
authorities to have them thrown into a dungeon and put in irons. But
recognizing their quiet godliness, the keeper of the prison permitted
their friends to visit them and bring them food.
Upon learning of this, Cyrilla and the government
leaders backing him became so angry that they ordered the seven men to
be put on board an old vessel which was then towed out of the harbor
of Carthage and set on fire. The seven men that died that day were
Rusticus, Liberatus, Severus, Rogatus, Servs, Boniface, and Septimus.
We have journeyed back into history 1,500 years—and
again we have found the same thing: "Christians" killing
Christians. Such murderous terrorism existed for centuries. But
already part of the mystery is being solved. The problem begins when,
by government legislation or decree, the creed of one of the churches
is made the official State religion. Then persecution of the other
Christians soon follows.
Yet what is it that starts a church organization
down the path toward official government sponsorship? That is what we
want to learn next. In this chapter, we will learn about the church
apostasy that led to it.
When the last page in the Bible was written many
centuries ago, an amazing story began. It is a story of faithfulness
amid apostasy and persecution. While many of God’s people stood true
to Bible principles, there were others who lived like the world and
soon were hardly distinguishable from the rest. But persecution by the
non-Christian world kept many close to Christ and to what He had
taught them in Scripture.
Yet apostasy was a serious one. Pagan ideas and
teachings were rapidly coming into the church. By A.D. 250,
worldliness was sweeping into the early church in an ever-increasing
flood. Here are some of the apostate errors that were introduced.
Because the pagan priests cut a circular bald spot
on their heads in honor of the solar disk (the sun god), Christian
leaders in Alexandria, Egypt, and at Rome soon copied this hair style,
called the tonsure (Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1). Certain
monastic orders still use it today.
From India, came ascetics, monastic hermits, and
rosary beads. Persia, through Mithraism, gave the burning of candles
to the Christians. (The light in the candle was considered to be a
The worship of the Queen of Heaven came from Egypt
and, with it, much of the liturgy—the worship service pattern—used
by the church for centuries. Isis was the Egyptian Queen of Heaven.
She had an infant son called Horus. Here is a description of how the
Egyptians worshiped Isis and Horus. This church liturgy is the
ancestor of the worship service of one of the oldest and largest
churches of Christendom.
"The daily ritual of Isis, which seems to have
been as regular and complicated as that of the Catholic Church,
produced an immense effect on the Roman mind. Every day there were two
solemn offices, at which white-robed, tonsured priests, with acolytes
and assistants of every degree, officiated. The morning litany and
sacrifice was an impressive service. The crowd of worshipers thronged
the space before the chapel at the early dawn. The priest ascending by
a hidden stairs, drew apart the veil of the sanctuary, and offered the
holy image to their adoration. He then made the round of altars,
reciting the litany [mystic words in an unknown tongue], and
sprinkling the holy water from the secret spring."—Samuel
Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, 577-578 (2 Timothy
2:15-16; Exodus 20:3-5).
The "Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God"
concept came directly into the Christian church from the "Mother
and Child cult" in Egypt, which was the worship of Isis and Horus.
Although the date of Christ’s birth is not known,
Scripture study indicates that it occurred in the fall of the year.
But back in those early centuries, December 25 was a great pagan
festival to the yearly rebirth of Mithra, the sun god. Following the
winter solstice, on December 21, the sun was, by the 25th, already
beginning to rise higher in the sky. So the sun worshipers celebrated
that date as the yearly rebirth of the sun god. This festival had
continued for centuries among the Mithraites; but, within two hundred
years after the Bible was completed, it had been adopted by the more
worldly Christian churches as the day on which they celebrated the
birth of Christ. Here is the way Epiphany and Christmas (celebration
of the birth of Christ) began, according to Williston Walker, a
leading church historian of our time:
"About the same time, in the early fourth
century, there developed, in the West, a distinctive nativity festival
on December 25. The date was partly determined by the idea that the
birth of the world occurred on the vernal equinox of the sun (March
25) and correspondingly its new birth in the Saviour would be nine
months later, December 25. But, perhaps even more, the date was
influenced by the fact that December 25 was a great pagan festival,
that of Sol Invictus ["the unconquerable sun god"],
which celebrated the victory of light over darkness and the
lengthening of the sun’s rays at the winter solstice. The
assimilation [transformation] of Christ into the sun god, as Sun of
Righteousness, was widespread in the fourth century and furthered by
Constantine’s legislation on Sunday, which is not unrelated to the
fact that the sun god was the titular divinity of his family."—Williston
Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 54, cf. 155.
Epiphany later became the day which was celebrated
when the Magi first learned about the birth of Christ. But, back in
the beginning, it was but another sun-worship day. On the same page as
the above quotation, Walker also explains how the other part of the
Christmas celebration began."
"The gift giving we associate with Christmas
has its origin partly in the similar custom at the Roman Saturnalia
(December 17-24) and partly in observances which were associated with
the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra (the prototype of Santa Claus) on
December 6."—WiIliston Walker, A History of the Christian
Then there was that greatest of all, the heathen
spring fertility rites in the Roman Empire. Called Easter, this
festival was held in honor of Ishtar, the moon goddess, and her
husband, Mithra, the sun god. Thought to be the date on which Mithra
had been resurrected from the dead, it became a special day of
licentiousness throughout the empire. Emperor Claudius made it an
official holiday during his reign. So Easter celebration began when
Christians started keeping a pagan holiday sacred to a licentious
pagan goddess ("Easter," in Acts 12:4, is a mistranslation;
the original Greek is "Pascha": "Passover").
"Attis [Mithra awoke from his sleep of death,
and the joy created by his resurrection burst out in wild merrymaking,
wanton masquerades, and luxurious banquets."—Franz Cumont,
Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, 56-57.
Gradually, the Christian church identified with
this pagan festival of the resurrection of spring, by keeping it in
honor of the resurrection of Christ. But Christ was actually
resurrected at the time of the Biblical Passover, not at the heathen
Easter, which varied from it by several weeks. Thinking that the
adoption of pagan customs would "help convert the world,"
Anticetus, the bishop of Rome, decreed that a Sunday festival be held
yearly by Christians at the time of the lshtar fertility rites. But,
of course, the more the church leaned toward pagan ways and ideas, the
more worldly it became.
Another non-Biblical carryover from paganism was
the use of so-called holy water for baptism. But eventually the
inconvenience of obeying this teaching of Christ degenerated into
sprinkling, which is but the placing of a few drops of water on the
forehead. About the year A.D. 300, prayers for the dead began. Soon
this heathen custom was being practiced while kneeling before images
and wax candles.
Another pagan custom—one that was to become
extremely influential in the church—was the worship of the Virgin.
"From ancient Babylon came the cult of the
Virgin Mother goddess, who was worshiped as the highest of gods."—S.
H. Langdon, Semitic Mythology.
With the passing years, more and more inventions of
paganism were gradually brought into the church.
"The belief in miracle-working objects,
talismans, amulets, and formulas was dear to . . Christianity, and
they were received from pagan antiquity . . The vestments of the
clergy and the papal title of Pontifix Maximus were legacies from
pagan Romanism. The church found that the rural converts still revered
certain springs, wells, trees, and stones; she thought it wiser to
bless these to Christian use than to break too sharply with the
customs of sentiment . . Pagan festivals, dear to the people,
reappeared as Christian feasts, and pagan rites were transformed into
Christian liturgy . . The Christian calendar of saints replaced the
Roman fasti; ancient divinities, dear to the people, were
allowed to revive under the names of ‘Christian saints’. .
gradually the tenderest features of Astarte, Cybele, Artemis, Diana,
and Isis were gathered together in the worship of Mary."—Will
Durant, The Age of Faith, 745-746.
Laing mentions several other corruptions by which
the Mother goddess had been worshiped by heathens—and then adopted
into the Christian church by worldly leaders—and continued down even
to our own day: votive offerings; elevation of sacred objects [lifting
of the host]; priestly bells; decking of images with beautiful
clothing, jewelry, and crowns; processions; festivals; prayers for the
dead; holy water; and the worship of relics and statues of saints (see
Gordon J. Laing, Survivals of Roman Religion, 92-95, 123-131, 238-241).
Cardinal Newman, a well-known Catholic writer of
the mid-nineteenth century, listed many examples of things of
"pagan origin" which the papacy brought to the heathen.
"The use of temples, and these dedicated to
particular saints and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees;
incense, lamps, and candles; holy water; asylums [hermitages,
monasteries, and convents]; [pagan] holydays; processions; sacerdotal
vestments; the tonsure; the ring in marriage; turning to the East;
images . . and the Kyrie Eleison."—John H. Newman, An Essay
on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 73 [Roman Catholic].
Summarizing the massive apostasy that was gradually
enveloping much of the church, Alexander Flick, a church historian
"The mighty Catholic Church was little more
than the Roman Empire baptized."—A. C. Flick, The Rise of
the Medieval Church, 148.
The crucial fact here is that, all through those
early centuries, in spite of the mounting apostasy—it was only the
heathen who were persecuting the Christians! The growing worldliness
and apostasy in the church was similar to what we are experiencing
today, but there was another step to be taken that would bring
in the deadly persecuting power of a State church upon the early
Christians in every part of the land.
What we want to know now is what is that first step
in starting a government-sponsored church.
"Condemn no man for not thinking as
you think. Let every one enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for
himself. Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an
account of himself to God. Abhor every approach, in any kind or degree, to the
spirit of persecution. If you cannot reason or persuade a man into the truth,
never attempt to force him into it. If love will not compel him to come, leave
him to God, the Judge of all."—John Wesley, "Advice to the
People Called Methodists," Works of John Wesley, Vol. 8, 357.