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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


The Search for the True Church

Roy Mason

From the book, The Church That Jesus Built, 1923 (Chapter 6)

"Any church whose origin was in Mediaeval or modern times is not the church that Christ set up, for the simple reason that it was not in existence when Christ set up His church, and did not come into existence for a long time after."

—W. M. Nevins, in

Why a Baptist and Not a Roman Catholic


"In many instances fate seems to have fixed the name of their human founders upon the churches they instituted."

—J. W. Porter, in Random Remarks


"It is a fact that none but Baptists make the claim that our Lord during His personal ministry founded their church or denomination. The one that come nearest making such a claim is the Catholic Church. However, when the Catholic claim is investigated it is found that they claim that Peter was the first Pope . . . But we know their claim is false, that the Catholic Church is not of Christ but is a combination of heathenism and Judaism, bearing the name Christian to cover up its anti-Christian doctrines and practices."

J. L. Smith, in Why I Am a Baptist


We have seen that Jesus founded or established the church, that He founded it during the days of His personal ministry on earth, that the church which He established was the local assembly, and that He promised to perpetuate it "till He come." I laving ascertained these truths, we are driven to the conclusion that somewhere in the world today is to be found the true church of Christ—the church that has been perpetuated from the days of Christ and the apostles, and that holds fast the doctrines that prevailed in the New Testament church.


As has been said, "We must either suppose that there has been a Christian people existing in every age from the apostolic to the present, char­acterized by the same doctrines and practices, or that there were periods in the intervening history when apostolic faith and practice had absolutely no representative on the face of the earth. Are we prepared to take the latter alternative? What then becomes of the Saviour's promise?"


Forced, therefore, to the conclusion that in accordance with Christ's promise, His church has been perpetuated, and that is to be found in the world today, let us ask the question, "How shall we go about finding it? How shall we, from among the multitudes of so-called churches and denominations, find the true, New Testament church?"


I propose to conduct our search for the true church along three corroborative lines, as follows:


1. THE LINE OF HISTORICAL ELIMINATION.

2. THE LINE OF COMPARISON OF DOCTRINES.

3. THE LINE OF HISTORICAL STATEMENTS BY RE­LIABLE HISTORIANS.


Let us then begin our search along the first line proposed—namely, that of historical elimination. Possibly an illustration will serve to make clear what I mean just here. Let us suppose that you come into possession of a valuable document. You lay the paper upon your library table and soon you are called away for something and, forgetting the paper, you go off and leave it lying there among the papers and books that litter the table. Presently you return and upon looking for your paper you find that your table has been put in order during your absence and the document removed. You call the housekeeper and make inquiry. She tells you that she placed the document between the pages of one of the books on the table. She is very sure about it, but she does not recall just which book she placed it in.


You begin a search, looking through book after book without result. Finally you have examined every book save one, and you are certain that the books examined do not contain the document. What conclusion do you reach? There is only one conclusion possible, and that is, if you were told the truth, the paper you seek must be in the one book remaining.


So in our search we must eliminate every so-called church whose origin may be dated after the time of Christ. If in this process we eliminate every church save one, we shall be forced to the conclusion that that one is the true church.


Going back to the much-discussed Matthew 16:18, we find two historical tests defined by Jesus—tests that should help and guide us in our investigation.


The first is that the only true church was founded by JESUS HIMSELF—"I will build my church."

The second is that the institution which Jesus called "My church" shall never cease to exist through the ages—"The gates of hades shall not prevail against it.”


If in applying these two scriptural, historical tests we find that none of the organizations calling themselves churches, save one, can meet these tests, I reiterate we must conclude that that one is the true church of Christ. Let us then inquire into the origin of the various denominations that exist today. In this inquiry we shall concern ourselves only with the origin of the Mill denominations: those that are well known and typical of all others.


The denominations that we shall consider are those from which the many small sects have sprung in more recent years. Being the offspring of the older denominations and having their rise in very recent times, they of course fall so far short of meeting Christ's historical test that it would be entirely superfluous to deal with them.


In this investigation, of course the Church of Rome, which we today call the Roman Catholic Church, takes priority. Let us then begin by asking:



WHEN DID THE CHURCH OF ROME ORIGINATE?


We have this question from Dr. J. B. Moody (My Church, p. 95): "It did not originate in a day or year, but gradually subverted the apostles' teaching, and in centuries inaugurated full-grown popery. But there is not a trace of a Pope or Universal Father . . . in the first three centuries of the Christian era."


The Catholic Church is the result of gradual perversion and corruption. From the days of Constantine, when soldiers without regeneration were baptized into the church by the thousands, and compromise was made with paganism, conditions waxed worse and worse, finally bringing about a state that made the Catholic Church possible. The actual establishment of the Ro­man Papacy was, according to Dr. S. E. Tull (Denominational­ism Put to Test), accomplished by Gregory the Great in the year A. D. 590. Dr. Tull corroborates his statement by the fol­lowing quotation from Ridpath ( Vol. 4, p. 41):


"This epoch in history should not be passed over with­out reference to the rapid growth of the papal church, in the close of the sixth century and the beginning of the seventh. Most of all by Gregory the Great; whose ponti­ficate extended from 590 to 604, was the supremacy of the apostolic See attested and maintained under the triple title of Bishop of Rome, Prelate of Italy, and Apostle of the West, he gradually by gentle insinuations or bold assertions as best suited the circumstances, elevated the Episcopacy of Rome into a genuine papacy of the church. He succeeded in bringing the Arians of Italy and Spain into the Catholic fold, and thus secured the solidarity of the Western Ecclesia."


Schaff (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, p. 15) tells us that Gregory the Great (A. D. 590-604) was the first of the "proper popes," and that with him begins "the development of the absolute papacy." Says Dr. J. T. Christian in commenting on this point: "The growth of the papacy was a process of his­tory. Long before this the bishop of Rome made arrogant claims over other churches." Then he adds: "The line of absolute Mediaeval popes began with Gregory."


We have seen that the Catholic claim to apostolic origin breaks down at several points (See Introductory Chapter): First, in failing to establish the primacy of Peter. Second, in failing to establish that Peter was a pope, or indeed that any pope existed for several centuries after Christ. Third, in failing to prove that Peter was ever in Rome. Fourth, in the fact that Catholic faith and practice is utterly at variance with that of the apostolic church. In connection with the points mentioned above. It may be well, at the risk of multiplying quotations, to give the words of Dr. J. W. Porter (World's Debt to Baptists, pp. 165, 166):


"As is well known, the Roman Catholic predicates its claim to Scriptural origin on the supposition that Peter was the first Pope of Rome. Unless they can prove that Peter was at Rome, and that he was also a Pope, their claim to apostolic origin is utterly false. However, there is no controversy on this point, as all the claims of the Ro­man hierarchy are conditioned upon the primacy of Peter. The two are inseparable and must rise or fall together. Hence for the purpose of this discussion, it will only be necessary to prove that Peter was never a pope at Rome or anywhere else . . . The overwhelming supposition is that Peter was never at any time in Rome . . . There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that Peter ever thought that he was a pope, or that anyone else ever thought so . . . But even were it granted that Peter was at Rome and that he was a pope, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has by faith and practice forfeited its right to be called a Scriptural church."


If, as Dr. Tull asserts, with Ridpath, world-renowned his­torian, and others to corroborate him, the Roman papacy was actually accomplished by Gregory the Great, whose pontificate extended from A. D. 590 to 604, then Gregory the Great may be termed the founder of the Catholic Church. True, it is admitted that the Roman apostasy began long before this, but we may rightfully attribute the real formation of the papacy—the real crystallization into a fixed hierarchy—to Gregory the Great, under whose pontificate the "Supremacy of the Apostolic See was asserted and maintained."


To illustrate: It is a well-known fact that David during his reign over Israel, collected vast quantities of materials for the building of a temple. It was his work that in a sense made the temple possible. Yet we do not attribute the temple to David, but to Solomon, his successor, under whose reign the structure was actually erected. Similarly the heresies, traditions, heathenish practices, and indeed all of the elements necessary, had accrued one by one and were in existence at the time of Gregory the Great. It only remained for him to elevate, as Ridpath puts it, 'The episcopacy of Rome into a genuine papacy."


Let us now apply the historical test laid down by Jesus in Matthew 16:18. It is very evident that the Catholic Church, built by Gregory the Great from the existing paganized, apostate material, five hundred and ninety years after Christ, cannot meet the historical test of Christ as to origin and perpetuity, and therefore is not the true church—the church which HE founded and promised should never cease to exist.


ORIGIN OF THE LUTHERAN' CHURCH


The history of the world does not refer to the existence of a Lutheran, or Lutheran Church before the days of Luther. That he was the founder of the Lutheran Church none can success­fully deny. Luther, revolting against the degeneracy of the Catholic Church, organized a movement for reform. There is no historical evidence that he even thought of breaking with the Catholic Church and forming a new one. But his activities brought down upon him the anathema of excommunication, and Luther and his followers were almost forced into forming a new organization. The year 1520 is the very earliest date that can be assigned to the formation of the Lutheran Church. It was in this year, according to McGlothlin (Guide to Study of Church History), that Luther burned the bull of papal excommunica­tion and openly defied the pope. It was not, however, until the year 1530 that the system of doctrine and morality which he and his followers had adopted was presented to the Diet of Augs­burg.


It cannot be but evident that the Lutheran Church founded by Martin Luther, 1,523 years or thereabouts after Christ, fails to meet the historical test of Christ as to origin and perpetuity, hence cannot be the church -which He founded.


THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND OR EPISCOPAL CHURCH


The origin of this church is very clearly and succinctly summed up by Dr. S. E. Tull, in his booklet before mentioned, in the following words:


"In 1509 Henry the Eighth was crowned King of England. Henry was only twelve years of age at the time. He was married the same year to Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and widow of his brother, Arthur. Twen­ty years later than this, when Henry came to exercise his own prerogative in personal matters, he decided to divorce Catherine and to marry Ann Boleyn, an English girl who had been reared at the court of Charles the Fifth of France.


“This question of Henry's divorce raised a great discussion, which was finally carried to the Pope of Rome for settlement. The Pope decided against Henry. Realizing the political impotence of the Pope to interfere in England's political matters, Henry thereupon took matters in his own hands, and proceeded to put away Catherine and to marry Ann, notwithstanding the Pope's pronounced inter­ diction. This defiance of the Pope caused Henry's excommunica­tion from the Church by Pope Clement the Seventh, 1534.


“Ac­cepting the situation as an opportunity to rid himself completely of all political alliances with the Pope, Henry immediately con­vened his Parliament, and on November 23rd of the same year, 1534, caused his Parliament to pass an act known as "The Act of Supremacy," which declared Henry the Eighth to be "The Protector and Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England."


Thus it was that on the 23rd of November, 1534, the "Church of England" was set up, with the profligate, adulterous, murderous Henry as its founder and head. Brought into exist­ence in a day by the power of a political fiat, the Episcopal Church started on its career as a "Christian" denomination.


Of the church mentioned above, Macauley writes as follows (History of England, Vol. 1, p. 32): "Henry the Eighth at­tempted to constitute an Anglican Church differing from the Roman Catholic Church on the point of supremacy, and on that point alone. His success in this attempt was extraordinary."


Can anything be clearer than that the Church of England, or Episcopal Church, founded not by Christ, but by Henry the Eighth, 1,534 years after Christ, fails to meet the test as to origin and perpetuity, hence cannot be the true church?


ORIGIN OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH


"The success of Luther's Protestantism on the Continent gave liberty for other like movements. John Calvin, who was born in the year 1509, the same year that Henry the Eighth was crowned King of England, who was educated a Catholic monk, joined hands with Luther and aided the Reformation. In some respects Calvin's ideas of both doctrine and polity were different from those of Luther. For this reason, Calvin's reform fell into distinct channels and crystallized into an independent organization, and because of their form of government, Calvin­ists became known as Presbyterians."


We may date the beginning of the Presbyterian Church as a separate denomination in the year 1538, as it was in this year that "Calvin's Institutes" was given to the world.


It follows quite naturally that the Presbyterian Church, founded by John Calvin, 1,538 years after Christ, cannot meet the historical test of Christ and cannot be the true church—the one that Jesus founded and promised to perpetuate.


THE CONGREGATIONALISTS


The Lutherans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians constitute the three great Catholic-Protestant denominations. There are in existence two great denominations, who protested from the Episcopalians, and consequently are the offspring of the Episcopal Church. Let us briefly consider the facts relating to their origin.


I quote from Tull's excellent tract:


"There lived in England in 1580 an Episcopal preacher by the name of Robert Brown. He started a movement in opposition to the State Church, in which he advocated a congregational form of church government and greatly opposed sacerdotalism. He got a fol­lowing who called themselves "Independents." Robert Brown organized the first Independent church in 1580. Afterwards Brown repented, made confession of his mistake, went back to the Church of England and died in that faith. His followers, however, continued the movement, and became known as "Con­gregationalists."


Having been founded by Robert Brown 1,580 years after Christ, the Congregationalist Church fails to meet the historical test imposed by Christ and cannot successfully claim to be the true church of Christ.


ORIGIN OF METHODISM


Let us next consider the other Protestant movement that arose in the Episcopal Church—the one that has in the course of time come to be known as the "The Methodist Episcopal Church." This movement was led by John Wesley and his brother Charles. While in Oxford University they, by their regular habits of religious study and work, earned for them­selves the designation of "Methodists," which later attached itself to the movement originated by them. Wesley never in­tended to organize a church, and indeed did not even dignify his organization by the name church, but called it a "Society." Neither of the Wesley’s ever affirmed the right to start a church, and as a matter of fact both of them died members of the Episcopal Church.


With reference to the origin of Methodism, we find the following statement in the "Discipline of the Methodist Epis­copal Church" (1912 edition):


"In 1729 two young men in England, reading the Bible, saw that they could not be saved without holiness, followed after it and incited others to do so . . . God then thrust them out to raise a holy people. This was the RISE of Methodism, as given in the words of its FOUNDERS, John and Charles Wesley . . . Throughout Eng­land and in Scotland and Ireland, arose united SOCIETIES of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness. These subsequently became the Wesleyan churches of Great Britain." Again, referring to Methodism in the early days of its history in the United States, we find these words on page 16 of the same Discipline: "The parish clergy had mostly returned to England and the Methodist SOCIETIES were without ordained pastors for hundreds of miles together."


It may be seen from these quotations that Methodism at first did not assume to express itself in the form of a church, but was a society within the Episcopal Church. It did not start on a separate denominational existence until the year 1739, ac­cording to Dr. McGlothlin in his "Guide." It was in this year that the first class meeting was held. However, the first con­ference was not held until five years later.


The question here arises, if the Methodist Society had a right to evolve into a Church, why may not any church society of the present day do the same? They assuredly have as much right. Again, this question comes: If Luther, Calvin, the Wesley’s and others had the right to found a church, have not you and I an equal right to do the same? Again, this question: How old must a movement or society become before it can properly evolve into a "Church"?


But to return to the origin of Methodism, it ought not be difficult to see that the Methodist Church, or "Society" as it was formerly called, founded by John Wesley about 1,740 years after Christ, in no wise meets Christ's test as to origin and perpetuity, and cannot be the true church of Christ.


ORIGIN OF THE CAMPBELLITE DENOMINATION


It scarcely seems necessary to take the space to detail the origin of this sect, since it is of such recent origin that it would be absurd for anyone to claim for them apostolic origin. Indeed, I am personally acquainted with individuals who knew Alex­ander Campbell, and remember many incidents connected with the early days of his church, which is more commonly known today by the name "The Christian Church." The date of the beginning of the Campbellites or "Christians" as a separate denomination cannot well be fixed earlier than 1827, although, ignoring the facts of history, they date their origin a few years earlier than the date I have just given. However, a few years makes no difference so far as we are concerned in this dis­cussion.


I remember quite well that just a few years ago this denomination with great enthusiasm, all over the land, cele­brated their one hundredth anniversary! To accept their own date, they are only slightly over a hundred years old. Yet I remember to have seen carved on the cornerstone of one of their large church buildings, a statement to the effect that they trace their origin to the time of Jesus and the apostles. Strange statement indeed in the light of their own admission!


Since they had a human founder and are of modern origin, it is quite evident that they do not meet Christ's test and are not the true church.


I could go on and make mention of the Mormons, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Russellites, Nazarenes, "Holy Rollers and others, and detail their origin, but it would be entirely superfluous. It is sufficient to say that each of these just mentioned, together with all the numerous other smaller sects, have had human founders and were never heard of for more than a thousand years after Christ.


WHAT ABOUT THE BAPTISTS?


We have shown that every sect, denomination, and so-called church, Baptist alone excepted, can be traced to a human founder, and originated long after Christ started His church. Plainly all of these being of post-apostolic origin are eliminated. Just as when in the illustration you looked in every book save one and failing to find the document, knew that it must be in the one remaining, so when every church save one fails to qualify historically as the true church of Christ, it is but right and logical to conclude that the remaining church is the institution that Christ founded.


Baptist churches are unique and clearly dis­tinguished from all others in that no one can truly point to anyone as the human founder. Neither can the date be fixed for their beginning this side of Christ. Some have tried it, and their disagreements and contradictions constitute prima facie evidence of their historical inaccuracy. Those who would deny that Baptists date back to Christ, and who would assign them a modern origin, ought to hold council together and agree on some certain date! Otherwise their contradictory statements are liable to prejudice people in favor of the very thing they deny!


In succeeding chapters I shall offer historical proof to sub­stantiate my statement that Baptists alone have had existence from the time of Christ. As Dr. Tull puts it:


"The first Baptist church was organized by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, during His personal ministry on the earth. The Baptist church has Jesus for its Founder, the Holy Spirit for the Administrator of its activities, the New Testament for its articles of faith and laws of being. Throughout the Christian ages, pure Baptist teaching has survived. The 'gates of Hades' have not and shall not prevail against it."