A Question I Was Asked:

'Did the "True Church" Disappear From History?'

The Actual Question

Several founders of cults and sects, including Herbert W. Armstrong, but several others as well, have taught that the "True Church" which Jesus founded disappears from recorded history around AD100-150 and that an 'impostor church' arises, but is this really true? My own research seems to show that they were perverting the truth in making this claim. How about this?

My Reply

You are absolutely correct in this matter! The Church never disappears from recorded history at all. These people made this claim because the 'Apostolic Fathers' and 'Church Fathers' (whose writings, by the way, are easily accessible) did not agree with their (that is, the cult and sect founder's) massive heresies.

Just to take one such cult founder, Hebert W. Armstrong, Kelly Marshall has correctly written the following,

'Herbert W. Armstrong claimed in Mystery of the Ages that "The true Church of God was to be set back on track, restoring the glorious knowledge of the faith once delivered to the saints in the days of the original apostles." (p. 139, 140) Let’s take him up on that claim. Let’s examine what this "faith once delivered" is. HWA made his followers believe that early church history was vague—"as if obscured by a thick mist." (p. 280). He claims that the curtain begins to lift around A.D. 150, but now this "original church" is "a totally different church," but called itself Christian. Is this really true? Or does "God’s Apostle" [whom Armstrong claimed to be] not want us to go snooping around and find anything that may oppose his teachings? HWA [Armstrong] made his followers believe that historical records were tainted at worst, and scanty or non-existent at best. He assures us, "I have often called it 'the lost century,' because the history of that Church was lost at that time." (p. 280) Really? Was the history of the early church, in its first century of existence, "lost," or are there any records that are in existence today that we can examine? Yes, indeed, there are, and I guarantee that HWA [Armstrong] was fully aware of them, and intentionally withheld this knowledge!' (source: http://www.exitsupportnetwork.com/mike_ep/exam/faithdeliv.htm).

Kelly Marshall is referring to the quite extensive records of the 'Apostolic Fathers,' and 'Church Fathers.'

The Apostolic Fathers are a small number of Christian authors who lived and wrote in the second half of the first century and the first half of the 2nd century They are acknowledged as leaders in the early church, but their writings were not included in the New Testament. They include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna. The label "Apostolic Fathers" has been applied to them since the 17th century to indicate that they were thought of as being of the generation that had personal contact with the Apostles. Thus they obviously provide a link between the Apostles who knew Jesus of Nazareth and the later generation of Church Fathers who were the first Christian apologists and defenders of orthodoxy. The writings of the Apostolic and sub-apostolic fathers alone span from about AD60 to almost AD200.

The Church Fathers, then, were just a little later than the 'Apostolic Fathers' and would include people such as Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage and a fair number of others. Some of the earlier 'Church Father' writings (as well as the 'Apostolic Fathers') were so highly regarded that they were often temporarily regarded as inspired Scripture until the full canon was decided. And when was that? In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of exactly the same books as our modern New Testament canon, and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) to describe them. In AD393, the African Synod of Hippo approved the New Testament, just as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, a decision that was confirmed by Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. These councils were under the authority of Augustine, who regarded the canon as already closed.

A lot of the time the 'Apostolic Fathers' read not unlike the Apostle Paul and the linkage and often personal apostolic teaching is very clear. Interestingly, the 'church father' writers quickly noted and denounced heresy yet - beyond that - allowed often wide differences of opinion, this is especially clear in Origen and Tertullian. So the 'fathers' did not see reasonable differences of opinion in the more peripheral areas as reasons to break up into denominations as would happen later.

But the point is: There was NO 'lost century' in church history, and the picture of a fog descending around AD150 which, when it clears, reveals an apostate church is a pure fiction which has been devised by various cult leaders who - in truth - were themselves the founders of false and apostate "churches."
Robin A. Brace. April 25th 2009.