We are going to talk about the period from 180 to 260 AD and the state of the Church. The men who helped form the Church during this period are called the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Much of the Church doctrine that exists today was formed during this period. People have a false concept that at the time of Constantine all this doctrine came in, but as you can see all of this is changing and that much of this doctrine was already “in place” by the time Constantine came along. But first, we are going to look at a classic case of Replacement Theology from the Scriptures so you can see that Replacement Theology did not start with Christianity but it was doing the same thing, except over a longer period of time.
In 1 Kings 11 we read about King Solomon and how he ran contrary to what the Lord wanted him to do. He married many foreign, pagan women and he went after their false gods. Hard to believe for a man that the Lord did so much for, but he did. As a result, the Lord raised up enemies against Solomon and one of Solomon’s servants also rebelled by the name of Jeroboam.
A prophet came to Jeroboam and tore a cloak into 12 pieces. He told Jeroboam to take 10 pieces and prophesied that he was going to rule over the ten tribes of Israel and Solomon’s son would have the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Solomon heard of this and tried to kill Jeroboam, but he fled to Egypt. Well, Solomon died and Rehoboam became king and Jeroboam returned from Egypt and assembled with all of Israel and petitioned King Rehoboam to lessen the hard service Solomon had imposed on them. Rehoboam ignored their pleas, and Israel (northern tribes) rebelled against Rehoboam. The Lord warned Rehoboam not to fight against Jeroboam and the north because what was happening came from him, so they listened and left them alone. Here is where the problem starts.
In 1 Kings 12.25-33, Jeroboam fears that when the people went to Jerusalem for the annual feasts and to worship in the Temple that their hearts would turn to Rehoboam again, and they would kill him, so he made two golden calves and put one in Dan and the other in Bethel, both in the north. He told the people that it was “too hard” for them to travel all the way to Jerusalem to worship and said “your gods” are right here. He made high places and made priests from among the people who were not from the sons of Levi. He instituted a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like Sukkot in the seventh month according to the Lord’s feasts. He sacrificed to the calves that he made and stationed priests at the worship centers.
So, he does three things. He substituted the place of worship, he substituted priests and substituted the holy times of the Lord for other feasts. Here are the “Church Fathers” of Jeroboam’s new religion. Christianity has done the same thing by substituting the synagogues for churches, pastors, ministers, Fathers for the priests and substituted Sunday, Easter, Christmas and other man-made feasts for the biblical feasts named in Lev 23. Christianity was never in the plan of God, but perverted it.
By 180 AD, the Roman Empire is on the decline and Marcus Aurelius died, which is the bench-mark for this decline and there have been books and movies about it. His son Commodus reigned until 192 and numerous emperors followed. Things got even worse with Aurelian (270-275 AD).
In 284 AD, the empire had a resurgence and made improvements and this lasted to about 305 AD. There was a feeling of unity and racial barriers were breaking down, citizenship was extended to all freemen with Roman rights. There was a “pulling together” in the religious realm and the mystery religions of the east and Christianity were making inroads. These cults included Eleusinian, Dionysus, Orphic, Magna Mater, Mithraism, Isis and Samothracian cults. The Eleusis cult tells the story of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter who was carried off by Pluto to be married in the underworld. Demeter is grieved to lose his daughter and refuses to let crops grow. An arrangement is made with Pluto where the daughter is given back to her mother during which Demeter permits the crops to grow.
The Dionysus cult has been discussed before but was the god of wine and revelry. Orphism came from the Dionysus cult and tells the story of how Persephone bore Zeus a son who had the form of a bull. The Titans and the wife of Zeus took possession of the child by tricks and tore him to pieces. Zeus blames the Titans for this and sends thunderbolts against them, and out of the dust creates mankind. Since Dionysus was consumed by the Titans, man is composed of a divine soul that is immortal, and a Titanic , mortal body.
Followers of this cult involved themselves with self-sacrifice, fasting’s and washings because they have been defiled by the earthly. The Magna Mater cult is associated with Cybele, who was considered the “Great Mother” of all living creatures. The pine tree was very sacred in this cult and love of “Mother earth” is a major force when it comes to the regeneration of all things after winter. The Isiac cult comes from Egypt. Osiris was a wise king and was killed by Set, his brother. Set cut him into pieces and these were sent all over Egypt. Isis, the wife of Osiris, searched for and recovered the dismembered body which was eventually embalmed.
After lamenting his death, magical rites were performed and Osiris revived. He became the Lord of the underworld and ruler of the dead. Coins struck by Christian emperors in the fourth century shows that belief in Isis, the Queen of Heaven, had not yet died. Finally, the Samothracian cult involved the sacrifice of a bull, pig or ram to several deities, had confession and washings.
As you can see, these cults all had a basic belief in a dying and rising god and sacramental meals known as Lord’s Suppers. Various cults had monasticism, a mother-goddess worship, tonsuring of priests, ringing of bells during ceremonies and holy water. You can see how these found there way into Christianity.
Mithraism had many similarities to Christianity. The ideas of humility, brotherly love, baptism and communion (called a Lord’s Supper) were just a few. Holy water, the adoration of shepherds at Mithra’s birth and the adoption of December 25th as Mithra’s birthday were believed. It also taught the immortality of the soul, a last judgment and a resurrection. Women were excluded from its ceremonies and it tolerated polytheism. These similarities made it very easy for followers of Mithraism to “convert” to Christianity.
As you can see, pressures brought in by the Roman state and the mystery religions will help us see what was really happening at this point. The mystery religions and Christianity were growing and it was extensive and intense. By the end of the second century Christianity had not penetrated beyond the Greek speaking world very much.
By the end of the third century, the Church was advancing in Latin speaking North Africa, Spain, Gaul and was making its way to Britain. In Egypt, Christianity was in the general population. Because Christianity was similar to other religions and it was easy to go from one to another. The mystery religions were like serpents who swallowed up other religions, and so was Christianity.
Why did they do this? That was the policy of the Roman Empire. It “swallowed up” the other religions and the people felt right at home. By the third century, old accusations and persecutions began to decrease, and it aided Christianity. The Church was seen as having “life giving” mysteries administered by clergy. You were prepared for initiation by instruction called a “catechism.” Sunday became the chief day of worship, but services were being held on weekdays also. Wednesday and Fridays were fast days. Easter was a big festival time.
In Rome, a forty hour fast period was done to commemorate the suffering of “Jesus” but this was extended to forty days by 325 AD and called Lent. All fasting ended on Easter and this was the favorite time for baptisms. Besides these fixed seasons, martyrs were remembered with a Lord’s Supper on the day they died with prayers for the dead.
These practices are still done today. Relics of martyrs and saints were already in use by the second century. Saint worship had not been fully developed, but the Church was well on the way to honoring them with their devotion. Christmas will not be celebrated until 312 AD, one year after Constantine becomes emperor. In Part 10, we will begin by discussing baptism and the sacraments and see how some of these teachings are still taught and believed today as we continue on with our study of Replacement Theology