Preach the word...reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine....
Paul counseled Timothy that in order to faithfully preach the Word he must "reprove, rebuke [and] exhort" his hearers. Why? Because such is the message and method of God's Word. We need continual correction in our thinking and living and that is what the Bible provides. The whole purpose of Scripture is "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction [rebuke], for instruction in righteousness [exhortation]..." (2 Tim:3:16). Yet today the Bible is seldom used in the manner that God intended. Thus the church sinks ever deeper into apostasy.
Nor is Paul's admonition to Timothy to be heeded only by so-called "full-time" Christian workers. Is there a "part-time" Christianity? Are we not all to live for and serve our Lord 24 hours a day? God has given every true Christian the responsibility and privilege of proclaiming and living God's truth and guarding it from compromise or perversion.
Those who devote themselves to this calling are often accused of negativism or fanaticism. Don't be troubled by such criticism. Time is short; eternity is long. Man's denunciations are only for this brief life, but God's rewards are endless in glory. "If we suffer [for His sake], we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us..." (2 Tim:2:12; Rom:8:17).
False religions are popular; the truth is hated. Christ promised His disciples, "If they [unbelievers] have persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (Jn:15:20). And so it has always been. Clement reported "roastings, impalings and beheadings" of Christians before he fled Alexandria about A.D.203.1 Even so, the church grew stronger. Seeing that "the heathen temples began to be forsaken and the Christian churches thronged," the Emperor Decius, around A.D.250, massacred thousands of believers.2 In A.D.303 came the "Great Persecution" under Diocletian. All Bibles and churches were to be destroyed, Christian worship was banned and all citizens were to sacrifice to pagan gods or die. The whole town of Christian Phrygia was wiped out.3
Yet Tertullian's saying proved true: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." So Satan changed his tactics. He seduced Constantine, a young general, with a Hagin/Copeland-like false gospel of success. Having seen a vision of the cross, which he then affixed to his soldiers' shields, Constantine foolishly credited Christ (whose servants were not to fight; Jn:18:36) with the crucial victory that made him emperor. While continuing to head the pagan priesthood, he called himself the Vicar of Christ (the first to do so) and led the Church into ecumenical paganism. Historian Will Durant comments:
Statues of Isis and Horus were renamed Mary and Jesus....the feast of purification of Isis became the Feast of the Nativity; the Saturnalia were replaced by Christmas....[paganism] passed like maternal blood into the new religion....the world converted Christianity....4
"Christianity" became the official state religion and was soon called Roman Catholicism. Every citizen in the Empire was required by law, under pain of death, to be a Roman Catholic. The foundation for the massacres of millions that followed was laid as early as A.D.380 with the "Edict of the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I":
We order those who follow this doctrine to receive the title of Catholic Christians, but others we judge to be mad and raving...nor are their assemblies to receive the name of churches. They are to be punished not only by Divine retribution but also by our own measures....5
As the apostasy grew, new heresies were steadily invented: the Mass and Transubstantiation, a special priest class with power over the laity, priestly celibacy, purgatory, indulgences, salvation by ritual and works, the sale of papal absolution for a set price for every evil from incest to murder, the exaltation of Mary above Jesus and God, etc. That remains "Mary's" status today.
Quoting Vatican II,6 the new worldwide Catechism of the Catholic Church just released by Rome declares, "From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs."7Catholicism's "Mary" would have to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, as God is, to provide all Catholics protection from all dangers and to meet all their needs. Yet Catholicism's highest authorities promote that delusion. There are thousands of shrines to Mary around the world visited by tens of millions (22 million annually visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe alone), but only one small shrine to Christ in Quebec, which attracts scarcely a visitor. Catholics say far more prayers to "Mary" than to God and Christ combined!
Those who tried to "reprove, rebuke and exhort" in the face of such heresies were put to death. True Christians had no alternative but to leave the official Church in response to Christ's clear call: "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins" (Rev:18:4)!
The history of the church became the history of heresies and the persecution of those who opposed them. Historian Peter de Rosa, himself a Roman Catholic, admits that Catholicism became "the most persecuting faith the world has ever seen.... [Pope] Innocent III murdered far more Christians in one afternoon...than any Roman emperor did in his entire reign."8 Will Durant writes candidly,
Compared with the persecution of heresy [by the Roman Catholic Church] ...the persecution of Christians by [pagan] Romans...was a mild and humane procedure.9
The Inquisitions had been underway for centuries before the Reformation, and the massacre of true Christians (known variously as Albigenses, Bogomils, Brethren, Cathari, Hussites, Vaudois, and Waldenses) by the Roman Catholic Church had by then been underway for 1,000 years! The tragic yet inspiring story of those who contended for the faith and remained true to Christ reads like a continuation of Hebrews 11.
Not content to exterminate them, Rome has maligned the memory of these faithful martyrs with accusations of heresy, occultism and even human sacrifice. The accounts we have of their "heresy trials," however, reveal a faith like that of the Reformers. Some of the worst tales are told of the Cathari, yet one can't fault their historically documented beliefs:
[They] denied that the [Roman Catholic] Church was the Church of Christ; [declared that] the popes were successors to the emperors, not to the apostles...[that] Christ had no place to lay His head, but the pope lived in a palace....The Roman Church ...was the Whore of Babylon....10
Consider Samuel Morland's The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont published in 1658. It gives an appalling account of Rome's attempted extermination of the Waldenses to that date. The title page promises "A faithfull Account of the Doctrine, Life, and Persecutions of the Ancient Inhabitants [of the Piemont]; Together, With a most naked and punctual Relation of the late Bloudy Massacre, 1655...[documented] by divers Ancient Manuscripts written many hundred Years before Calvin or Luther, and...Authentick Attestations: The true Originals of the greatest part whereof, are [at] Cambridge [University]."
The Waldensians' very biblical "Confession of faith" lists the exact books of today's Protestant Bible, which it declares to be inspired of God not because some Church council said so, but "because of the eternal and undoubted Truth of the Doctrine therein contained...besides the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who...opens the eyes of our understanding...."11 Reproduced also is the Waldensians' "humble Supplication to the most Serene and most High Prince, Philibert Emanuel, Duke of Savoy, Prince of Piemont" for protection from papal persecution:
We are not ignorant, Most Gracious Prince, that many Accusations are laid against us...to make us stink in the Nostrils of all the Princes and Monarchs in the Christian world....First, we do protest before the Almighty...before whose Tribunal we must all one day appear, that we intend to live and die in the holy Faith...of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we do abhor all Heresies ...condemned by the Word of God. We do embrace the most holy Doctrine of the Prophets and Apostles, as likewise the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds....[T]his Religion we profess ...is the Religion of our Fathers, Grandfathers, and Great-grandfathers, and other yet more ancient Predecessours of ours, and of the blessed Martyrs, Confessours, Prophets and Apostles....[Those who would exterminate us] do it not out of zeal to God's glory, but rather to preserve their own worldly Dignities, Pomp, and Riches; wherefore we beseech your Highness not to regard or countenance their Sayings.12
The Pope's response was to increase his armies and to offer, to all who would join in the extermination crusades, absolution of all sins and passage to heaven without going to purgatory. Today, Rome no longer has the power to effect such massacres. Yet the dogmas justifying the slaughter of millions are still in force and have never been renounced. Nor has Rome's false gospel changed.
Unable to destroy the evangelical church through Rome's persecution, Satan is engineering a return of all Christians to the Catholic fold. Leading evangelicals have recently joined in partnership with the Church that not only killed the martyrs but sends its own members to hell with a false gospel! Robert Schuller went to Rome to get the Pope's blessing upon his Crystal Cathedral before building it,13 and he advocates the return of all Protestants to Rome and papal authority.14
Protestant heresies rival Rome's. On his "Hour of Power" TV show Robert Schuller has defined sin as "lack of faith in yourself...." He declared that "Jesus Christ...has saved me from my sin which is my tendency to put myself down and not believe that I can do it....[N]egative thinking is the core of sin....Jesus died to save us from our sins to change us from negative thinking people to positive thinking people."15 The bloodstained "old rugged cross," once known for its "shame and reproach," has become, by Schuller's alchemy, the means to "sanctify [Christ's] self-esteem. And he bore the cross to sanctify your self-esteem...the cross will sanctify the ego trip!" (Emphasis in original)16
Multitudes have been led astray by this false gospel! How appealing it is to the unsaved—and how destructive of souls! And how tragic that many evangelical leaders, far from correcting those who are leading others astray, either commend them or are silent. Influenced by Christian psychology ("always be positive"), the gospel has been revised even by some evangelicals to make it attractive to the ungodly. Earthly success is confused with salvation, gain has become godliness, and truth is trampled under the heavy boots of a proud self seeking its own glory. Where are those today who will "reprove, rebuke, exhort"?
Those who seek to obey that admonition must remember that correction is to be "with all longsuffering and doctrine." Paul thus reminds us that doctrine is not a weapon for clubbing the erring into submission. It must be presented with "longsuffering." In calling the wayward back to obedience to the Word of God we must be gracious and patient, though uncompromising of truth. One of the hazards of a corrective ministry is the temptation to be judgmental of hearts and motives and to condemn any who dare hold a different opinion.
Such is the sad case with those who denounce all non-King James Bible versions as "satanic or New Age." Yes, there are errors which need to be pointed out, but with longsuffering and doctrine. Is every verse in any non-KJV version satanic? Clearly not. Yet some make the use of non-KJV versions an issue of disfellowship even though people are genuinely saved and edified through such Bibles. Millions of Christians daily study versions other than KJV, and their lives evidence the spiritual growth and vitality that comes from God's Word.
Remember: "longsuffering and doctrine"—even in the face of martyrdom, which could become our privilege. When our time comes to pass from this scene, may we, like Paul, be able to say with all honesty and great joy, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith..." (2 Tim:4:7). TBC