Introduction

The Prosperity Gospel & Gospel of Signs & Wonders is a late-comer to Church History.

There was a period of my Christian ministry where I was mired in depression. One afternoon I prayed something similar to, “Lord, if this is all that Christianity is, please remove me from it.” If that sounds fatalistic to you, or overly melancholy, than I would ask God provide you only thirty minutes of like-minded despair, for I know it will create in you an empathy for all who’ve ever questioned life and purpose.

God’s answer to that prayer came swiftly and powerfully, not by thundering voice but by His Bible through trustworthy teachers. He showed me that my ministry was attempting to, “Build a Church of which I truly knew nothing about” and He instructed me to learn the storyline of His glory, through His bride, through His divine Scriptures, so that I could have a joy far outside of my human metrics or human passions. Literally, I could have a joy based in a God who would not fail and who would succeed with or without me. I wish this for the saints of CAM, I wish this for all men. To know Him and His sufferings is 100% status quo.

Thus, I wish I had time today to write much on Doxology, Puritanism, and the Reformation, but that must be saved for more space and more time. Instead below, I’ve offered a simple snapshot of Church History and if you study it closely, you’ll find yourself tasting of God’s unique and powerful design for the Church, and you’ll also find yourself desperate to be a true part of His family which was, “Chosen before time.” My purpose is two-fold. Firstly, that you understand the trustworthy heritage on which you stand. Secondly, that you not be confused by the many counterfeits circling with dangerous fangs.

There are not multiple roads to heaven. There is one narrow path. That path originates with Christ and consummates with Christ. That path was first paved by the apostles and has been walked by many martyrs. That path has laid waste to many of man’s armies and brought intense joy to lost and lonely travelers. That path has not changed. That path turns neither right nor left. That path cannot be widened. And, to walk this path, requires the Bible as a map and guide.

“Some things are true and some things are false: I regard that as an axiom; but there are many persons who evidently do not believe it. The current principle of the present age seems to be, ‘Some things are either true or false, according to the point of view from which you look at them…”

– Charles Spurgeon

A Synopsis of Church History

The Book of Acts covered a span of time from 30-64AD. By the late first century Christians were abused and eventually murdered for their testimony. They were clad in the hides of beasts and torn apart by lions and dogs for the amusement of Roman crowds. These apostles were the roots of the beautiful family tree called the Church.

The Apostolic Fathers taught by the Apostles themselves, led the church following the death of Christ’s chosen men. The best-known Fathers were Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, all martyred for their belief in Christ. Underneath Rome today, in the catacombs, one can still view the symbols and stories of these Christian martyrs – Their faithfulness sparked a revival in Rome itself. The last Roman persecutor of Christianity, Emperor Galerius, died in 311 AD. Soon after, Constantine became Emperor and having lost all confidence in the national gods of Rome, was driven to call on the God of the Christians for help.

The Early Church Fathers lived in the era of Christianity under Constantine’s reign. Different from the Apostolic Fathers, these were men who attended the Church during its establishment in Rome. Ambrose, the son of a Roman Governor in France became famous for refusing church to the Emperor Theodosius who had recently murdered 7,000. The famed, Augustine of Hippo wrote his “Confessions” still one of the world’s top selling Christian books. And, Jerome walked away from his ministry to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the version of our bible subsequently used throughout the Middle Ages.

The rise of Papacy changed the church forever. The early church knew only two offices, that of Elder and that of Deacon. After a time certain bishops thought that they were much higher in work and dignity than other elders. Soon the bishops in large cities, such as Rome, Antioch, and Jerusalem, began to dictate to the smaller regions, how they should lead people. Eventually, the patriarch of Rome claimed the highest authority in the whole church, and declared himself the successor of Peter. The name “patriarch” was changed to “pope” early in the sixth century. It is believed that one important bishop of Rome, named Innocent I (402 AD) was the first to determine that no important decision must be taken by churches in the West without the knowledge and approval of the bishop of Rome. Zosimus, the next bishop of Rome, went further and said that no one had the right to question a decision taken by the Church of Rome. Soon magnificent Church buildings were erected, money was used for personal purposes, deceased Saints were invoked, and Mary became idolized. The Church became focused on external glory as opposed to internal change. This was the beginning of a dark age.

The Pope and the Emperor speaks to the darkest age of the church, where the Church assisted in the governance of nations. The Church and State should have remained separate in their format, yet by 900AD, both held vast ambition for power, and considered themselves ordained by God to speak over all civil affairs. For example, Pope John XII (955-963) was charged by a Roman Synod with almost every crime possible to man but not convicted. Pope Boniface VII put his predecessor to death by strangulation. Soon the monarchy and the papacy were so linked that the true Church lay dormant for hundreds of years.

The Crusades began when the Seljuk Turks came from the Caucasus region to conquer the Holy Land. They were followers of Mohammed, and subjected Christian travelers to the Holy Land with harsh treatment. Soon, a cry went up to, “Reclaim the Holy Land for Christendom.” A man named Peter the Hermit was on a pilgrimage to Palestine when the Turks treated him cruelly. He went to see the Pope Urban II who sympathized and planned an official sanction/commission of Peter to preach a “Crusade” against the oppressing Turks. Peter road his donkey town to town and wore a red cross atop white shirt, urging peasants, knights, and even monks to join the Crusade. Soon, crusades were launched to overtake the Holy Land, and thousands died on both sides of this religious war.

The Waldenses were an early beginning to, “Cries for change.” It was a society born from a man named Peter Waldo who refuted the State-Church hold on biblical interpretation and finally paid a priest to translate the Four Gospels from Latin into French. After realizing the magnificent truths inside he began to proclaim the news until Church authorities forbade him, and any man, from reading the Bible, without a Priest present (Via the Council of Valencia in 1229AD). This censure paved the way for a coming reformation.

John Wycliffe (circa 1300AD) survived the Black Death (Plague) where more than two thirds of his village mates died. He was an extremely smart young man who attended Oxford by the age of sixteen. He defied the King, writing mini-pamphlets against the King’s hold on religion, and later was censured by the Pope himself. Towards the end of his life, Wycliffe organized a group of poor priests and preachers who diffused his teachings among the people, having translated the Bible from Latin into English. Many of Wycliffe’s followers were known to preach upon hillsides, and many of them were martyred for their open-air messages refuting the State-Church.

John Huss (Circa 1400AD) was vital to the coming Reformation of the Church. He was a brilliant scholar but realizing that he lost his temper while playing chess, determined he would read the writings of John Wycliffe, and humble himself before the Lord. He was outspoken against the Church, urging people know the true Christ. When asked if, “He would obey the Pope’s commands” Huss responded, “Yes, so far as they agree with the doctrine of Christ, but if they be contrary, you may burn my body.” Eventually the State Church burned his books and he was sentenced to death via false witnesses. While the wood and straw were piled about him for burning, fellow priests chanted, “We commit thy soul to the devil.” And he responded, “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” The Church so feared his ongoing opinions they commanded his ashes, and the ashes of the pole on which he was burned, be thrown into the Rhine river.

Martin Luther was eighteen when he entered the University of Erfurt. A light hearted young man, full of life, he little realized that even at that time God was preparing him for a career to shake the foundations of earth. At 22, he completed his education, and his life changed. His best friend was killed in a fight and he could not restrain himself from asking, “What if I had died as my friend did?” Soon after, he presented himself to be a monk at an Augustinian monastery. Luther was a most sincere monk, sacrificing everything to be accepted by God. But, peace failed him. A friend named John von Saupitz taught Luther not to fear Christ but to trust Him and after reading Paul’s words in Romans 4, Luther one day realized that salvation was by faith alone, writing, “The just shall live by faith.” In the year 1510, Luther was commissioned to visit Rome, but as he approached he was disappointed at the sin, which compromised the city and the Church. Approaching the city he hailed it as, “Thrice holy for the blood of martyrs shed here” but by the time he left he said, “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.” Seven years later, in 1517, Luther opposed the local Church of Rome led by Tetzel and nailed 95 theses against the Church on it’s front door at noon. Thus, October 31st is officially the birthday of the Great Reformation. It was demanded that Luther recant these statements, Luther did not, and Luther was excommunicated, but took the paperwork and burned it in front of a great crowd while calling the Pope “Anti-christ.” The Reformation was born.

Ulrich Zwingli (Circa 1500AD) led the Reformation movement in the northern part of Switzerland. Zwingli’s successor was Henry Bullinger, and under his teaching a Confession of Faith was accepted by all the reformed cantons. It was known as the Helvetic Confession.

John Calvin was born in France in July of 1509. He was distinguished in school and kept close touch with the local Church bishop. His knowledge made him obviously intended for “priesthood.” Calvin was deeply influenced by the writings of the German reformers and calls his conversion to protestant Christianity, “Sudden.” His happiest hours were in books and many of his contemporaries felt him so severe in manner that they called him, “The accusative case” (A joke from the Greek language of the bible). Calvin soon took the side of the persecuted Protestants of France, comforting them, and writing to them. Eventually, King Francis I, attempted to arrest Calvin, but he eluded them through a window. It was from the city of Basel that Calvin wrote his, “Institutes” in Christian religion, dedicated to the King of France – A treatise on Christian religion that eventually became the framework for most protestant theology. After Luther’s death in 1546, Calvin taught in Geneva, and became widely honored as the, “Greatest bible teacher since the Apostles.” In later years with failing health, he was carried to meetings, eventually dying with his mind in tact, requesting that he be laid in a simple grave so that like Moses, “No man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day.”

England’s transformation towards Protestantism stirred when remarkable young men and women illustrated their faith while being burned at the stake by the State Church. However, it was not only the martyr-fires that turned England into a protestant nation but the translation of the Bible into English and the rapid growth of its circulation which propelled the true faith. William Tyndale pioneered this work and was eventually martyred by strangulation in 1536.

Scotland’s transformation was led by John Knox, along with Paul Craw, and Patrick Hamilton. Knox was born in Haddington and studied at Glasgow University. When young, he was presented with a painting of Queen Mary, presented to him to be kissed. He said, “Trouble me not, such an idol is accursed, and I dare not touch it.” When the idol was forced on him, he threw it in the river. He was eventually jailed for two years, and after time in Geneva with Calvin, returned to Scotland to preach, eventually establishing the Presbyterian system of Church government. Knox is most famous for royal debates with Mary, Queen of Scots, and his wooden pulpit still resides in the Edinburgh National Museum of Antiquity to this day.

Puritanism of the 17th Century grasped the principles of reformation and stood devoutly against the backlash from the State Church. The Elizabethan Church worked to repress reformers who preached in regular clothes and who spoke forth the Scripture without state approval. Under James I, a debate arose between the Puritan party and the State Church. Key pillars of the Puritan party were William Perkins, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Goodwin, and John Rogers. Two wars followed. The Bishops War of 1639 and the Civil War of 1642. After war, all parties met in Westminster Abbey to draw up a famous catechism of religious orthodoxy, written by the greatest of Puritan minds, signifying much of the doctrinal basis for many of today’s denominations. Later Puritan theologians included Oliver Cromwell, John Bunyan, John Owen, Richard Baxter, and William Gurnall, all undergoing persecution under the reigns of Charles II and James II and eventually buried in unmarked mass graves outside the city next to thieves and murderers. Much later, circa 1890 in London, Charles Spurgeon defended these blood-worthy doctrines, from the liberal modernism of the Baptist Union. This sad era, coined the Downgrade Controversy, signaled the collapse of deep Protestantism in Europe, and demise of all that these reformers and puritans had bled for.

Faith in North America had sprung up with these reformed roots in the settlements of New England by the Pilgrim Fathers, circa 1620. John Smyth, a religious separatist, broke the law of England by immigrating to Amsterdam, to practice free faith. Smyth’s group and others like him chose eventually to pilgrimage to North America for religious freedom. In 1636, Harvard was established as the first institution of learning in America, the goal of the school was to offer, “Knowledge and Godliness.” John Eliot was the publisher of the first book in New England, circa 1640, a metrical version of the Psalms for prayer. Eliot eventually took his faith to the Indians and translated Scripture into their languages. Later George Fox and the English Quakers converted William Penn, eventually founding the state of Pennsylvania to insure religious tolerance. A worthy successor to Eliot in missionary work was David Brainerd (1718), and a noteworthy minister to the settlers was named Jonathan Edwards. During the ministry of Edwards the Great Awakening sprung up from 1734-1741. America became greatly influenced by preachers from, “Both sides of the pond” including Whitefield, Wesley, and eventually Charles Spurgeon. And the reformed theology of election proved to be the launching point of William Carey, Hudson Taylor, and many other missionaries who viewed the earth as, “Given to the Son by the Father.” By the turn of the twentieth century (1880-1900AD) mass revivals from Boston to San Francisco were held by Dwight L. Moody and other preachers of the fundamental gospel.

The Divergence of 20th Century America

Late American Denominationalism (Circa 1910AD) created a clear branching off from age-old reformed denominations of Presbyterian, Methodism, and Baptistic doctrines. Since the reformation, there had always been critical pulpits working to dissuade the common public from the Lordship of Christ, value of the Trinity, and need for atonement. These pulpits were clearly apostate and separate from evangelical Church history. Yet, in 20th century America a new form of falsehood emerged –  Pulpits claiming a pseudo-theology, holding the Bible as accurate in word, yet not practicing the Bible as literal for lifestyle.

The first divergent branch began early in the twentieth century when William J. Seymour began the Azusa Street Revival, claiming Pentecostal signs, wonders, and miraculous healings as proof of Christianity. This movement soon termed, “Pentecostal” awakened a slew of ministers to follow, including but not limited to Foursquare and the Assemblies of God. Thus throughout the first half of the twentieth century a natural division in the “Church” took place, pitting those holding to long-standing fundamental doctrines versus those experiencing a supposed “New wave” of liberal Pentecostal practice.

In the 1970’s this “New Wave” Pentecostal Branch split still further when John Wimber broke from his Quaker roots, creating the Vineyard/Toronto Blessing movement, which has propagated signs and wonders of liberal theology as validity of it’s true spiritual strength. While the initial waves of mainstream Pentecostalism held to some order of biblical theology, Wimber took to extremes largely devoid of any proper biblical position, and can be termed a false prophet. For the next quarter century, this branch of supposed evangelicalism sprouted thousands of sign and wonder ministries worldwide, eventually emerging as the general faith for many third world nations. Out of Wimber’s branch comes the frightening fringe coalition of latter-rain heresies (NAR, Bethel, & IHOP), which conduct experimental new-age practices and term it evangelicalism.

The late advancement of 20th century liberalism did not only propagate a sign and wonder tragedy but also a market-friendly-psychological-prosperity movement. One example is Robert Schuller who began ministry in Garden Grove, CA. He focused his ministry on televangelism, felt-needs, and “Psychological” positivity training as opposed to doctrinal teaching. After Schuller’s construction of the Crystal Cathedral, this new form of market driven or “Seeker sensitive” Church caught popularity in the 1980’s, leading to a branch of entrepreneurial and attractional Church models, out of which Zeitgeists such as Rob Bell, and false prophets of prosperity doctrine such as Joel Osteen, have based their philosophies.

Yet, Christ has promised to build His Church and for two thousand years, against distraction and persecution, He has continued to do so. Thus, while America twisted herself into religious ego-mania, there have been men and ministries who held down the fort of truth and walked the narrow path of Biblical exposition and doctrinal teaching. D.M. Lloyd-Jones, J. Vernon McGee, Chuck Smith, John MacArthur, W.A. Criswell, Chuck Swindoll, John Piper, and seminaries such as Dallas Theological, Master’s College, and Moody Bible, have retained a clear lineage back to the Awakening, Puritans, Reformers, and Apostles before them. And, these names represent a host of other men and ministries who have continued in their reformed roots and have conducted their pulpits with doctrinal purity and ministerial clarity. Let not the history books be saddened by America! Instead, let them state that amidst the typical modernistic assaults of Satan, the true Church stood, and more mighty missionary work crossed the globe via her American hands, than at any other time in history.

Conclusion

I’ve provided this post in survey form so that you may be aware of your deep heritage. And, also that you may notice how short-lived some of the “Super-American” faith practices are. What divided truth from error during the Reformation was “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone) and what divides truth from error today is also “Sola Scriptura.” A Christian trusts the Bible as sufficient. Error trusts in subjective experience or human revelation atop or in spite of Scripture. Different era, same issue.

If you’ve been saved in one of the divergent ministries mentioned above, God has been gracious, and now it is time to go find a proper bible teaching church. In many ways your Christian heritage isn’t as simple as you’d like it to be, for the devil has confused it, many have abused it, and some have selfishly used it. But, it’s also not near as complicated as many would have you believe…

You see, the 66 books of Scripture hold approximately 788,000 words (King James, English). Paul told Timothy to, “Rightly divide” the words of truth, meaning literally to, “Make a straight cut.” This means there aren’t many ways to cut those 788,000 words, there’s only one. That cut is the same every time. That cut meant the same thing for Ignatius, Polycarp, Jerome, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Owen, Rogers,  Edwards, Brainerd, Whitefield, and Spurgeon that it means for you today. A crystal clear line of faith fathers. You’re in good company. No special insights. No special twists. No spiritually elite. The path of God’s word, for man, giving God glory, bringing man joy, until heaven comes.

Be very careful of any “Super American” movement of late millennial invention. Many of these are fringe branches that no longer bear any resemblance to the true Church family tree because they aren’t a part of the same family. You be part of the family of Christ, of the Apostles, of the Apostolic fathers, of the Reformers, and Puritans. Many of these others are, “Of their father the devil.” (Jn 8:44)

Recently a respected pastor from the U.S. visited a nation in Africa. One of the national Pastors approached him and asked, “Would you kindly tell your American friends to stop sending missionaries?” Confused, the U.S. Pastor paused and asked, “Why?” To which the national Pastor said, “They are confusing our people regarding the simple truths of Scripture!”

Preachers of prosperity doctrine that promise you extra income for exquisite faith are liars and damning false prophets. Catholicism which upholds any one human as perfect and promises you prayer rites into purgatory, is precisely what your martyred forefathers stood against. A spiritual “Anointing” that promises you sign-gifts like those of the dead apostles leads to pure Satanic madness. Hold the Word of God as sufficient! Demand the Word of God be taught in your pulpit! Speak bold the Word of God when challenged! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Church history proves these false faith practices as a day late and a dollar short. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth…” (2 Tim 4:3)

Posted by Anthony Wood

Anthony is Pastor of Mission Bible Church in Tustin, CA, and has authored the books Defining Church & Defining Family. He’s married to Bre, and they have three children. More @AnthonyGeneWood

4 Comments

  1. Wow, amen! Seriously a breath of fresh air. Although the faithful men mentioned above were human and fallible, we can still learn from them as they faithfully taught and believed in the Scriptures as the Standard in which to live! Soli Deo Gloria!

    Reply

  2. Thank you for this synopsis. It is good to have historical context, which is lacking today. This synopsis follows the Puritan-Reformed-Calvinist lineage. John Wesley may not be ranked in your Church History snap-shot (although he is worth consideration of mention in the transformation of England), but how about Jacob Arminius?

    Reply

  3. So are there no signs today? I understand that the prosperity
    Gospel and the crazy unbiblical emotional stuff is not sound doctrine, but can the manifest power of God be used in a correct way? I believe so. If it couldn’t then Jesus would have never said “these signs shall follow those who believe.” Yes, many people have used charisma as a way to power and fame, but the power of God should be pursued and sought after in a biblical, godly way. By the way, John Huss PROPHESIED that his body would be scattered throughout the seven elements of the earth, and we know that came about.

    Reply

  4. So are you saying to set aside our human experience and revelation experiences as having no meaning? What does that say about our relationship with God?

    Reply

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