If we could for a moment extend the term “Christianity” to include all faiths that in some way consider Jesus to be the Son of God, and “church” to include everyone who in some way separates themselves religiously from all “non-Christian” faiths, we would discover that something astonishing is transpiring within the ranks of “Christianity” today. It is something that will eventually lead to the demise of true Christian faith as it is defined in the Bible. Does this sound shocking? It should!
This demise is nothing new. It was happening to Christianity by the end of the first century, and continued into the second. In the second century the apostasy from Christian faith was so drastic that historians believe that about half of those who “believed on Jesus” had gone astray into believing that Jesus was only a good rabbi who led many away from the original Jewish faith. Those who refused to believe that Jesus was the “Christ” relegated Him to only a man who lived, and then wander off somewhere into obscurity and died of old age. To many, there was no such thing as an incarnation and sacrificial atonement. The same is happening throughout the world today. Christianity today has a weak biblical foundation. The faith of many is an open black hole that is sucking in any religious fantasy that can be imagined in the minds of religiously misguided people.
To those who have not read Acts 17:11, the term “nobility” was used by the Holy Spirit in reference to those Jews in the city of Berea who eagerly considered what the evangelists Paul, Silas and Timothy related to them concerning the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that Jesus was the Messiah. He was the “anointed One” sent from God. And if He were the Messiah, then all those prophesied characteristics and functions of the Messiah were relished upon Him as such. The “nobility” of the Bereans was in the fact that they were seriously interested in studying these things.
The Holy Spirit of God forever wrote the epitaph of the Berean Bible students in the following words:
“These [Jews in Berea] were more noble-minded than those [Jews] in Thessalonica, in that they received the word [of the gospel] with all readiness of mind and search the [Old Testament] Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (At 17:11).
These were rare people of faith at the time Paul, Silas and Timothy passed through the idolatrous city of Berea. Such Bible students are more starkly rare in a world of Christendom today. Most “Christian religionists” now feel that they are fine without a desire to search the Scriptures. Faith is now more often based on either tradition, religious heritage, or a concert assembly wherein the entertained are stirred into emotional frenzy. If the assembly is so great, why would one want to complicate the assembly with Bible study?
We now live in a world that is characteristic of the times that prevailed about thirty years after the earthly ministry of Jesus. It was in that time when there were no written Scriptures concerning who Jesus was and what He taught. Information was transferred only through word of mouth. Stories from the first witnesses of Jesus were handed down to eager recipients who were looking for the Messiah. When “walking Bibles” came through town and preached that Jesus was the Messiah, those who had the Old Testament Scriptures opened their Bibles—unrolled their scrolls—and searched to see if the verbal information that was spoken by the traveling evangelists coincided with the prophecies of the mission and message of the Messiah. If prophecies matched the message of the messengers, then the waters in the area splashed with people who were eager to obey the gospel.
But the message had to come to the ears of those whom the Holy Spirit considered “noble-minded” within the city of Berea. These were God-fearing people who loved their Bibles and hoped for the coming Messiah. They were not religionists who were content with their religious heritage. Their religious heritage may have brought them to the point of receptivity. However, they would in no way sacrifice that for which they and their fathers had hoped in order to preserve and maintain the religious traditions of their heritage. The Bereans believed what they studied in their Bibles. They believed in the One that the apostles preached.
The Bereans were certainly the product of the faith of their fathers (See Mk 7:1-9). Nevertheless, when the message of the messengers matched the prophecies, they knew that change had to happen. As the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost, religious heritage had to be sacrificed for the new Head of the new church of God’s people (See Mt 16:18,19; At 7:38). Their heritage of legal religion had to give way to the gospel of grace. New wineskins had to be found.
The foundation of their paradigm shift depended on their knowledge of the prophecies of the Scriptures that they knew. The Bereans could make a judgment concerning the fulfillment of the prophecies that was based on what they read in their Bibles. Unfortunately, this culture of Bible-oriented believers to a great extent does not exist in Christendom today. Throughout the world today there is a dearth of Bible knowledge among those who cry out “Lord, Lord” (“Jesus, Jesus”) on Sunday morning (See Mt 7:21-23). The lack of a Bible-based faith is so serious that it will eventually lead to the total corruption of what is in the New Testament defined as Christianity.
This reality takes us back into the days about thirty years after the ministry of Jesus. It was in those days after the cross, resurrection and ascension of Jesus that twisted information about Jesus was propagated throughout the world. Many of those who were far away from Jerusalem and Palestine understood that Christianity was only a sect of Judaism. From Rome to Babylon to Ethiopia, the twisted rumors of Christ and Christianity went into all the world. So when one of the messengers of Christianity came bound with chains into the city of Rome, those who were similar in hope as the Jews of Berea, said to the messenger, “But we desire to hear from you what you think, for as concerning this sect [of Christianity] we know that it is spoken against everywhere” (At 28:22).
So the eager recipients set up a Bible class wherein the Old Testament Scriptures would be studied.
“And when they had appointed him [Paul] a day [for the Bible class], many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning until evening” (At 28:23).
This Bible scenario rarely happens today. Instead of coming together for a Bible class to search the Scriptures, religionists today under the heading of “Christianity” usually come together only for a musical concert wherein a great deal of noise is made to mesmerize the attendees. Walk into any city today with an open Bible, and usually no one of the “Christian” world will show up. There are very few noble-minded Bereans today in any given city of the world. If one would have a guitar in his hand, the crowds would come. But generally, when it is announced in brochures and over the radio that there will be a “Bible class” in town, there will be no one there.
So we are still in the days when Luke wrote to Theophilus. It is interesting that the social religious environment in which Theophilus lived at the time was not much different than the world in which we now live. The religion was different in those days in that most religions were based on idolatry. In the case of the Jews, religion was based on the traditions of the fathers (Mk 7:1-9). And because the Jews’ religion was based on the traditions of the fathers, its true foundation was the heritage of the Jews (Gl 1:13,14).
Theophilus stood alone with the Bereans and those in Rome who desired to learn more. By the time Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts, false rumors were commonly aired over “World Radio Rome” that Jesus was only a zealous rabbi of Palestine who inspired a small sect of believers who were going about the Roman Empire propagating their heresy. The believers of this “Christian sect” were so zealous that they turned the religious world upside down (At 17:6). Many thought, therefore, that the success of the movement was based on the zeal of deceived religionists who accepted Jesus as their “messiah.” There was no consideration that the gospel revealed through Jesus was God’s message to man for his own salvation.
It was in this chaotic religious world that Theophilus lived. Because Theophilus was one of some influence in either Roman politics or government, the Holy Spirit deemed it necessary to write two inspired documents to him. In the first—and we must quote in full—the Spirit-inspired hand of Luke revealed the problem that prevailed throughout the world in reference to Jesus:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of those things that have been believed among us [Christians], just as they were delivered to us [who did not personally witness Jesus] by those [Christ-sent apostles] who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word [of the gospel], it seemed good to me [Luke] also, having an accurate understanding of all things from the very first [of the beginning of the church] to write to you an orderly [inspired] account, most excellent Theophilus, that you might know the certainty [of truth] of those things you have been taught [through the preaching of others]” (Lk 1:1-4).
Theophilus lived in a religious world of confusion that is not much different from the one in which we live today. There were “Christian” religionists then who proclaimed all sorts of distorted beliefs concerning Jesus. The same people today stand in pulpits throughout Christendom. These are those who have little knowledge of the word of God, and thus spout off their imaginations of the One in whom people are to believe and obey. Open Bible study has vacated church sanctuaries in order that the ignorant and unlearned teachers are not embarrassed for their lack of knowledge of the Scriptures.
We have had the privilege of visiting many “Christian churches” throughout the world. Few of these churches sit down as the Bereans and open the Scriptures in order to test the teachers as to whether they are from God (See 1 Jn 4:1). When we speak of diligence in Bible study, we have determined that the number in these days is few (See 2 Tm 2:15). In such a world, therefore, it is only a matter of time until the vast majority of Christendom has gone astray from the simple gospel that was believed and lived by those of the early church in the first century. In fact, some areas of Christendom are often now so far removed from the gospel that it is now time for a gospel restoration movement among those who thirst for the simple gospel message upon which to base their faith.
Therefore, in the religious world of Christendom today, where are all the Bereans? Where are all those in Rome who would set up Bible classes in order to study their Bibles? Where are all those as Theophilus who have heard so many twisted stories about Jesus that they want to hear the truth of the gospel? In view of the dearth of a knowledge of the Scriptures, we call for a restoration of the gospel as the center focus of our faith.
We now live in a religious world where the word “Bible” is shunned by many people who believe in Jesus. It is as one Internet producer of Christian videos recently wrote to us, “If I use the word ‘Bible’ in my videos, the viewers of the video are much less than when I do not use the word.”
This is the world in which we now live. It is as one zealous person once said, “I wanted to start a church, so I had to learn how to play a guitar.” We are in a world of Christendom today that if one would “start a church,” but do so on the foundation of Bible study, few will show up at the church house doors. Those in the realm of Christendom today who do show up and huddle around the rich word of God are now anomalies of faith.
[Next in series: Dec. 10]