So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)
Let’s face it, we’ve heard plenty of sermons on this, are quite familiar with the Bible verses and perhaps have read books on the subject, but Christian doctrine is of absolutely no use to us unless it travels from head to heart, from theory to practice, from knowledge to real application. It’s an old cliché, but for many people the only Bible they read is you. We are being watched, usually by those wanting us to slip up, so why not surprise them and confound the stereotypes by demonstrating the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
The first Christians took these things seriously. Read the following account aloud and marvel as you realise just how seriously these Christians in Thessalonica took their faith. Paul was certainly impressed.
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10)
But this was to change. As Greek thinking entered the Church, Christian doctrine became something to be argued over rather than something that dictates conduct and behaviour. Folk took the great Bible truths and indulged in fruitless discussion over them, producing great libraries of teaching and commentary, pure distractions from the pure, simple and direct commands of Holy Scripture. Out of this came the Catholic tradition that elevated these libraries to positions of Church authority, to be followed even if they directly contradicted the Bible passages that had once provided the inspiration for their authors.
Doctrine became all-important, necessarily so because of the rise of heresies, themselves a product of the infiltration of the ideas of Plato into Christianity. So suddenly the Church became a battleground fought by different shades of Greek thinking, with Plato arming both sides of the conflict. The biggest casualty of all these shenanigans was Biblical truth and application, thankfully preserved, as ever, by God’s faithful remnant, working both at the edges and outside of mainstream Christian society.
Major Churches split over matters of doctrine, usually birthing a new denomination that itself, would invariably fracture into competing factions. Christians fought Christians with the force of their rhetoric and the force of arms. Priscillian, Bishop of Avila, and his followers were beheaded by Church authorities in AD 385 for living and teaching a life in accordance with Scripture, rather than accepting the corruptions of State Christianity. They were said to be the first Christians actually executed by the Church. Should conflicts over doctrine lead to beheadings – where does it say this in the New Testament?
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Who were the first Christians actually executed by the Church?