THE SEARCH FOR THE ANCIENT ORDER
I direct your attention to a statement God made to the Old Testament church in Jeremiah 6:16, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it. Then you will find rest for your souls.” This verse literally says, “Station yourselves on or by the roads, at the meeting point of different roads.” There God exhorted the Old Testament church to make inquiry about the old paths. The reference was to the ways people were living, the road of life they were on. God said “Inquire about the old paths, the good way to walk in and walk in it . They are called old paths because God gave them the ten commandments a thousand years before Jeremiah's time. The old paths God gave them were a thousand years old, and they had lost the knowledge of them. God exhorts them to search for the old religious teachings, the old paths of righteousness He gave them at Mount Sinai and recorded in Exodus and Leviticus. The exhortation is, “Search for the ancient religious teachings I gave you; search for the ancient order; restore the teachings I gave you and you will find the good way to worship me and the good way to live.
The first comment to be made on this passage is that Jeremiah has given a divine principle that applies to the New Testament church as well as the Old Testament church. As we stand at the crossroads of life in the 21st century A.D., millions of people find their road of life in a dozen religions that have nothing whatever to do with Christianity. Millions more are walking in different pathways in the Christian religion. When it comes to the faith once delivered to the saints, the old paths, the old ideas, the original truths are the right truths. If there ever was a time that God's people need to search for the old paths and the good way that leads to life it is today. I want to speak to you abut The Search for the Ancient Religion of Christ.” It has become lost just like the ancient religion of the Jews became lost. God would have us all stop at the crossroads of life and examine the many roads people are traveling. We need to find the good way His Son has given and walk in it. Let us stand in the ways and see. It is foolish to go with the multitude without individual convictions of what is true and right, or to follow our own private impulses blindly and aimlessly. Our choice should follow on the good way mentioned in our text.
Secondly, it will help us in this search to briefly review the different periods of church history. Preachers and scholars do not all agree on the
exact divisions of church history. In my understanding of church history I divide it into four periods. The first period is the apostolic period, 33 A.D. to 100 A.D. This is a period unique to all other periods in that the church began during this time, all doctrines and teachings pertaining to the Christian religion were completed, and the inspired apostles lived in this first period. I compare this time to the Mount Sinai event. God gave the ten commandments and all particulars of the Jewish religion to Israel by an angel on the mountain. In the first century God gave all particulars of the Christian religion directly from heaven by the Holy Spirit to inspired teachers. The old paths and the good way was fully and completely revealed in the first century, and Christians were given all things that pertain to life and godliness. Christians are not required to believe any doctrine or practice which differ from what Christians believed and practiced in the first century.
The second period in my estimation extends from 300 A.D. to 500 A.D. In the two hundred years following the first century, Christ and His church conquered, defeated, and overcame the Pagan religion of the Roman Empire, and replaced it with the religion of Christ. The false pagan religion of idolatry was the official religion of the entire Roman Empire for nearly 400 years, but from 300 to 500 A.D. the religion of Christ was the state religion of the Roman Empire. That was a marvelous accomplishment, and I think it deserves to be recognized as a special period of church history.
The third period of church history extends from 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D. During this period, the church became lost and nearly disappeared from the face of the earth. Christians lost the knowledge of the old paths and the good way, and a great apostasy or falling away from the Church took place. Paul predicted this downfall of the church in 2 Thess. 2:1-12. Paul said Christ would not return until after a falling away takes place and the man of sin is revealed. He will sit as head of the church and claim honors that only belongs to God. This false system overtook and overcame the church about 500 A.D., and ruled the world for one thousand years. This church claimed to follow Christ but added beliefs, idolatrous practices and doctrines never taught in the first century. Because of the secular and religious ignorance of that long time period, historians have given it the name of, “The Dark Ages.” It is one of the worst periods of human history and church history.
The fourth period of church history extends from 1500 A.D. to the closing events of this world. It is called the restoration period. The word
restore means to bring back something taken away, to bring back to a former or normal condition. During the thousand year period of the Dark Ages many truths of the Christian religion were taken away, changed and falsified. It was necessary to bring them back and restore them to the world. In the restoration period of the world, there has been a powerful movement to restore or bring back all those religious truths that were corrupted and lost during the Dark Ages when the great falling away took place.
Bible scholars disagree on the date when the restoration period began. Some date it as beginning in the 1800's A.D.., while others see it beginning about 1500. A.D. I date the Restoration Period as beginning in 1500 A.D. in the days of Martin Luther. When he broke away from the Church of the dark ages and translated the Bible into German, he started a fire that swept over the world. Other reformers left the Church of Rome and the Church of England and established Protestant churches. I believe these men should be recognized for the contributions they made to restoring New Testament Christianity to the world. They did not restore all the teachings but they made a start. In the 1800'S and 1900's a great revival swept America which resulted in many great preachers supporting this restoration of original New Testament Christianity. People were fighting their way out of the religious errors that still lingered from the Dark Ages. The cry of their hearts was, “Back to the Bible and to the Christ of the Bible.”
There were certain preachers in the Protestant churches who could not persuade them to correct some of their erroneous teachings and practices carried over from the Dark Ages. They decided to begin a fellowship of Christians who would. strictly base their faith and practice on the New Testament alone. In choosing a name, they said, “Why not use the same name by which the church was called in the New Testament, instead of man made names. So they called themselves the Church of Christ or the Church of God. In this way the fellowship of people called Churches of Christ sprang out of the restoration movement. We are indebted to these men who were able to restore the name, the worship and the practice of the church as it existed in the first century. It was not easy. Unfortunately, most members of the Church of Christ do not even know these men's names. It is very important that you understand that you live in the Restoration Period of the church, and you have the responsibility to support and keep this movement going. The church lost the truth once; we must not let it happen again..
I close with a final thought that in the 1800's and the 1900's, there was so much restoration and success in restoring the ancient gospel of Christ and His apostles that some of our preachers thought they might be living in the time of the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20:1,2, and they might have been right.: John said, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years....” John goes on to say that God cast the devil into the bottomless pit so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. This indicates that before the thousand year period, Satan had worked deception over the nations of the earth, but he will not during the thousand year period. In no way could we understand that Satan was bound during the Dark Ages. Satan was certainly loose and deceived all nations of the earth from 500 to 1500 A.D.. During the Dark Ages, the true church was defeated, suppressed and persecuted. During that time the church was in the wilderness, like Israel was, and the world knew little about the true church. One thing seems to be clear; the binding of Satan in this chapter refers to something that was to happen after the Dark Ages, for Satan was loose, free and ruled the entire world during that time. Even the secular world calls that period of time the Dark Ages.
Most of the religious world thinks that God is going to supernaturally chain Satan and lock him up for a thousand years when Christ supposedly returns to the earth and sets up His kingdom. He will rule on the earth for thousand years, and it will be a great time of peace. However, most all preachers and Bible scholars among Churches of Christ reject this interpretation. The best thinking among our preachers is that God made it possible to restrain Satan and curtail his influence on mankind by the death of Christ on the cross and by the preaching of the true gospel of Christ to the whole creation. I agree with those preachers who believe that the free circulation of God's truth is the only chain by which God binds Satan. When the word of God is powerfully proclaimed in the world, there is always a binding of Satan. When the Bible is not powerfully proclaimed to mankind, Satan is free and unrestrained, and he deceives the nations. During the Dark Ages Satan was not bound, but the Bible was bound by Satan. The Bible was chained to pulpits and kept in the Latin language and was not allowed to be translated into other languages. When the Bible is free to be proclaimed and Christians proclaim it Satan is bound, but Christian must put him in the pit by the use of the Bible. James, the Lord's brother said to Christians, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” This is true because Christians confront him with the word of God, and it is the word of God that
restrains him. Could it be as there was a thousand years of religious and spiritual darkness during the Dar Ages that it was be followed by a thousand years(symbolic) of spiritual light and religious enlightenment? Could this be the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20? Be that as it may, this is exactly what happened, and we today are living in the best period of time since he first century.
About 1500 A.D. a world- wide movement started to free the Bible and give it back to the world., and it has resulted in a phenomenal spread of Christianity in the world. Indeed, something has happened since 1500 A.D., and the 500 years which followed , that has bound Satan. Since 1500, the Christian religion has had its greatest success since the first century. In a real sense, we can say the true knowledge of God and the Christian religion has covered the earth as the waters cover the sea. Millions of people around the world have Bibles. There are complete Bibles in more than 300 languages of the world, and the Christian religion continues to grow and abound.. How do we account for this great change that has occurred that has resulted in the free circulation of God's truth in the world?. Could it be that we are now living in the time spoken of that Satan would be bound?. I agree with John Hinds, one of our preachers who has written a good commentary on the book of Revelation. In view of all the good things that have happened for true Christianity since 1500, brother John Hinds said, “With this view, we must conclude that we are now in the millennium. When it will end we do not know.” I think the interpretation that the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 is a symbolical number, simply meaning a long, indefinite period of time, which began about 1500 A..D, is an interpretation deserving of consideration.