Most Christian believers are unaware of the history concerning the founding of America or our Constitution, and they know even less about the founding history of the Christian church. They do not know the Church was stripped of its freedom of speech or how to regain their voice of influence in America. In this article I will share just a few examples of American and church foundational history, in hope of capturing your attention and peaking your curiosity enough for you to study out early church history for yourself. It is imperative that we as authentic Disciples of Christ know and realize that there were departures from the faith taught by the Apostles that were never returned to during the Reformation. If we are going to do things according to the original apostolic practices presented in the Scriptures, then we must know what the apostles taught before we can follow their example.
Let’s look at a few examples [facts] of American and church history. Most Americans do not know the full [true] history concerning the founding of the United States of America, which took place only a little over 230 years ago. There are facts concerning our American foundational heritage that have been removed from our textbooks and schools, because they are believed to be politically incorrect to some groups. Did you know the United States of America was founded by both black and white Americans? Our founding fathers were both black and white Americans, and both the black and white founding fathers were slave owners. For more information concerning this you can read David Barton’s book “Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White”.
Most Americans do not know a great deal about the foundational document of our country, the Constitution of the United States of America. An even more recent history fact most believers do not know about is that “churches” were not added to the 501(c)(3) section of the IRS tax code (IRC) for non-profit tax-exemption until 1954. Before this change to the tax code, and still today, all churches and their auxiliaries were already tax-exempt under section 508(c)(1)(A) of the IRC. The result of adding the church to section 501(c)(3) is the Church became partnered with the government and was stripped of its freedom of speech regarding anything viewed as “political”; this is when the church lost its voice. For more on this subject and to learn how to regain our religious freedom while keeping our tax exempt status, read my article titled “508(c)(1)(A) Free Church vs. 501(c)(3) State Church”.
The Word of God throughout the Scriptures reveals that every believer was allowed to participate and function in ministry to one another; this is what Paul taught everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17; 12:4-11; 14:23-33; 15:58). The apostles taught believers by giving them instruction on how to participate and function in ministry, one to another as the church (Rom. 15:14, Eph. 5:15-21; Col. 3: 16-17; 1Thess. 4:19; 5:14; Heb. 3:12-13; 6:10; 10:19-25; James 5:19-20; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; 4:7-11; Rev. 1:5-6). Jesus taught his apostles and disciples to meet in houses (Matt. 10:5-15; 18:20; Luke 9:2-6; 10:1-12). The practice of meeting in homes or houses of believers continued for about the first 300 years of the Church’s existence, until the first buildings were built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine (Acts 16:15, 40; 28:30-31; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phm. 1:2). The Emperor Constantine was born around 272-285 A.D. and lived until the time of his death in 337 A.D.
Over time departures from the faith and traditions of the apostles began to take place, just as the apostle Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 29-32). The new buildings built for the church [the body of Christ] to use as a meeting place were designed for a speaker/audience setting. The speaker/audience method of meeting transformed an every believer participating and functioning church into an audience of pastor-dependent, passive spectators. This method of meeting made for an easier transition and departure from an every believer participating and functioning church, as the apostles taught the believers, to a single bishop headship lording over the household of God.
When the Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, it actually became advantageous and beneficial to be a believer. Constantine began to make Christianity the most popular religion and packed it with benefits, making it the “in thing” at the time. It could even lead to a permanent income with positions of power, rank, respect, and authority over believers. Under the Emperor Constantine the Christian clergy began to receive an annual income and in time they also received tax exempt status. Those in the clergy became the elite class receiving preferential treatment; the clergy eventually received the same respect, benefits, privileges, and entitlements as the Roman officials. All of the benefits and perks of being a Christian, especially being a member of the clergy, led to the popularity of Christianity.
Christianity rapidly grew in numbers as many unsaved and unrepentant people began to enter into the church to become members for only its privileges.
The increase of unsaved and unrepentant people in the Church led to a carnal and worldly Church, devoid of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and His power. The result of the carnal church was a lifeless and dead church, lacking the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts and lives of men (2 Tim. 3:5). Eventually the Catholic Church’s structure became an institutional organization in nature, eliminating the priesthood of all believers, and exercised power and control over the family of God.
The Catholic Church also departed from the practice of willful, cheerful spontaneous giving, making tithing a requirement to support the paid clergy. The Catholic Church documents its own departure from the apostles’ doctrine. The Catholic Encyclopedia 1912 edition states the following concerning tithing:
“In the beginning [provision] was supplied by the spontaneous support of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of the conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the Canons of the Council of Macon in 585.”
The Encyclopedia Americana states the following concerning the “tithe”, which confirms the statement by the Catholic Church above:
“It (tithing) was not practiced in the early Christian church but gradually became common (in the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe) by the 6th Century. The Council of Tours in 567 and the 2nd Council of Macon in 585 advocated tithing. Made obligatory by civil law in the Carolingian empire in 765 and in England in the 10th Century… The Reformation did not abolish tithing and the practice was continued in the Roman Catholic Church and in Protestant countries (until it was) gradually replaced by other forms of taxation. The Roman Catholic Church still prescribes tithes in countries where they are sanctioned by law, and some Protestant bodies consider tithes obligatory.”
The departures from the apostles’ belief, doctrine, and practices eventually led to the Reformation taking place. In time protesters rose up, broke away from the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church, and brought much needed reform to the body of Christ. These reformers, called Protestants, left the Catholic Church to start a new form of church both in belief and practice. As we study early church history, we learn that during the Reformation Martin Luther, the founder and father of the Protestant Christian faith, rejected tithing in his sermon “How Christians Should Regard Moses” delivered on August 27, 1525. According to Martin Luther the Gentiles have never been subject to the Law of Moses, therefore they have never been required to tithe. James Hudnut-Beumler, Dean of Vanderbilt University, explains in his book “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar”, that tithing was not taught, practiced, or even suggested in the United States of America until 1873. He goes on to reveal that tithing was rejected by the believers when it was first introduced to the Southern Baptist Convention on May 11, 1895.
A brief look at the Reformation shows that Martin Luther led the way, followed by Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli had a follower named Conrad Grebel who left to start the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptists were the real radicals of their day, surpassing the other reformers such as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin in their desire to return completely to the faith and practices of the apostles. The Anabaptists were Spirit-filled believers who had visions and exercised the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They returned to the practice of the “priesthood of all believers”, with every believer participating and functioning when they gathered together as the church in the homes of believers. The Anabaptists also rejected tithing as being unbiblical and chose to return to the apostles’ example and teaching concerning giving.
The Anabaptists’ desire to return to the apostles’ faith, doctrine, and practices was too radical for the other reformers to except. Eventually the Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists, and the Catholics began to persecute and kill the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were burned at the stake, drowned, fined, imprisoned, and tortured in various other ways. They were killed and tortured because they wanted to return to and follow the original apostolic teachings. Their beliefs were too radical for even the Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Calvinists, who did not want to return to all of the original teachings of the apostles. They were persecuted for having an every member participating and functioning church that exercised the gifts of the Holy Spirit and no longer tithed. The Anabaptists loss much of their credibility as believers when they rose up and retaliated against the persecution they faced due to their beliefs. Over time most of the remaining Anabaptist became known as the Mennonites. Another division of the Anabaptist became known as the Amish.
The Reformation brought about some changes in our Christian theology, but did not change much concerning our Christian practices. We replaced the priest with the pastor and kept the building, and the pews with very few other changes. The reformers acknowledged the practice of “priesthood of all believers” as far as theology is concerned, but failed to actually return to the original apostolic faith and practice of every believer participating and functioning in the body of Christ.
Today most believers have assumed and accepted the belief that the reformers fully returned to the apostles’ doctrine and practices without studying to find out for themselves. If we study the Word of God we find the reformers failed to return completely to the apostles’ faith, doctrine, and practices. Christianity has become institutionalized, with its business model, hierarchal system, polity, and program structured “churches”. As authentic Disciples of Christ, we must consider returning to the apostles’ teachings concerning meeting “as the church”.
Meeting in the homes of believers and returning to the apostles’ faith, doctrine, and practices would transform the church today as we know it. The return of believers meeting in homes would support, encourage, and enable every believer to participate and function in ministry as the apostles taught. When every believer participates and functions in ministry to one another, it removes the hierarchal system of positions (Matt. 23:8-12). Meeting in house churches also eliminates the need to require believers to tithe to provide for building expenses and salaries for paid ministry. This would enable believers to give freely and willingly to support and ensure equality among believers and make sure basic necessities were met for all believers. Believers meeting in homes are also known as house churches, organic church and simple churches.
Through our lack of studying the Word ourselves, we have lost our foundational apostolic teachings. The Church [the body of Christ] has lost sight of the simplicity in Christ to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. If we truly lived to love one another and serve one another, there would be no sin in the Church. There would be no fornication, adultery, jealousy, envy, covetousness, hate, domestic abuse, or divorces, no need for our denominational or church polity, or selfish ambition pursuing hierarchal positions or titles. The apostle Paul simplified our relationship with God and one another in Galatians 5:13-14 saying, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love sever one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”