Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Tree Down, the Seed Still Alive!

The Church after Apostasy – God’s Seed was Still Alive!

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This sermon may be viewed here:


Reading: Mark 4:26-32

In previous lessons we have surveyed the church’s apostasy, in which the leaders abandoned New Testament teaching in favor of man-made traditions and rules. Did that departure mean the death of authentic Christianity? Or did the true faith, like seeds in the ground, remain alive but dormant? Would biblical teaching ever resurface and grow again? Thankfully, the answer is yes, as men of courage began to study, question, challenge, and teach. May we do the same!

Note: These are my sermon notes, which I have expanded to present here. As a result, this post is not entirely written in full sentences.

Credits: Much of this material is taken from these sources:

The Cause We Plead: A Story of the Restoration Movement, by J. M. Powell, 20th Century Christian, 1987. Used extensively here, sometimes quoted verbatim.

Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity, 1977.

The Secretly-Growing Seed

Luke 8:13 “The seed is the word of God.”

Jas 1:21 “Receive the word implanted …”

1 Pet 1:22-25 “born again: imperishable seed”

What happened to the seed?

Did Christianity die as a result of the apostasy?

When church leaders rejected truth in favor of their own traditions, rules, and creeds …

When people blindly followed them …

Did the seed die – or go dormant underground?

Mark 4:26-32 (NASB95)

26 And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28 “The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 “But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32 yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.”

Once the seed was planted, the farmer could be confident that it would grow, no matter what he did or did not do. Why? Because the life was in the seed. When Jesus said, “The soil produces crops by itself,” the phrase “by itself” reneders the Greek, automate, from which we get the word “automatically.”

In his book, Age of the Reformation, pp. 34-35, Preserved Smith says: “In all ages Christendom has not lacked minds independent enough to cut away what they considered corrupt or rotten in ecclesiastical teaching and life.”

AD 1054 – The Great Schism – Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic

The Pope excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople and “his churches” when they refused to acknowledge the Pope’s claim to be the head of the universal or “Catholic” church.

Eastern Orthodox Church –

Required marriage of church leaders.

Rejected sprinkling; immersed infants.

Rejected statues as “graven images;” used icons or religious pictures.

Rejected instrumental music.

As time went on, individuals and groups studied the Bible and saw stark contrasts between its teachings and the doctrines and traditions of the current religious authorities.

We would not endorse everything that these people taught or practiced. We certainly would not follow them or wear their names. We are making one simple point:

The seed was still alive!

Peter Waldo in France (c. 1140 – c. 1205)

Wealthy clothing merchant in Lyons, France.

Sold his possessions and used the proceeds to give the Bible to the people in their vernacular. He had translations made from the Latin New Testament. (Note: Gutenberg's printing press would not be invented until AD 1440. These Bible copies were written out by hand.)

Formed an order of evangelists who gained many followers in central and southern France.

Followers were numerous and were called Waldenses or Waldensians.

They sold their possessions and lived lives of poverty. Their lifestyle was a striking contrast to the wealth, worldliness, and laxity of the established church and its leaders.


“Everyone ought to believe, for the gospel has spoken.”

“Scripture speaks, and we ought to believe.”

“Whatever is not enjoined in Scripture must be rejected.”

“The Bible is the only safe guide in religion.”

They called for the church to return to the pure teaching of Scripture.

They rejected masses and prayers for the dead.

They denied purgatory as unbiblical.

They defended “lay preaching.” They believed that they could preach the Word of God without the permission or approval of the Catholic Church. They preached with a missionary emphasis, in the local language, with a strong New Testament emphasis.

They rejected the intermediary role of the clergy.

They rejected all Catholic feast-days, festivals, and prayers, with a couple of exceptions.

They refused to take oaths, since they said the Bible prohibited such.

Around AD 1181, the Archbishop of Lyons prohibited their scriptural preaching. The Waldensians responded by preaching even more zealously.

They were violently opposed and bitterly persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church. In AD 1184 at Verona, Pope Lucius III excommunicated the Waldensians and other similar groups. He directed that they should be eliminated by church inquisition and secular punishment.

So in little more than a decade the Catholic Church had branded the enthusiastic, popular movement as heresy.

They were driven from France to hide in the valleys of northern Italy.

They organized the movement as a church with bishops, priests and deacons.

They began to claim to be the “true” church.

In AD 1214 Pope Innocent described the Waldensians as heretics and schismatics.

Such outbursts convinced the Waldensians that the Catholic Church was the harlot of Babylon described in Revelation.

After Waldo himself died, the movement continued to examine and reject other external traditional elements of the Catholic Church.

Altars, holy water, liturgies, pilgrimages, indulgences … church buildings and cemeteries.

Spread throughout various parts of Europe.

Helped lay the groundwork for further reform and eventual restoration.

Marsilius in Italy (AD 1275-1342)

Intellectual and devout.

Wanted the people, as well as himself, to know the will of God.

Coined these slogans:

“The only authority in the church is Scripture, the final seat of authority being the New Testament.”

Concerning the mission of the church:

“The church should concern itself with the spiritual welfare of mankind.”

Opposed the many false claims of the Roman Catholic Church.

Believed in the right of private judgment.

Stoutly maintained that priests had no power of physical force to compel men to obey Scripture.

He said, “No bishop or Pope has authority to define Christian truth as contained in the New Testament or to make binding laws.”

He was bold to say that Peter had no higher rank than any other apostle and that there was no Bible evidence that he was ever in Rome.

He made brave and heroic efforts to put the Bible into the hands of the common people.

William of Occam in England (c. AD 1300-1349)

A distinguished scholar and professor at Oxford University in England.

Ockham was the village in the English county of Surrey where he was born.

A Franciscan friar who studied logic.

You may have heard of the following principle named after him.

Occam's razor (or Ockham's razor) is a principle from philosophy. Suppose that two explanations exist for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is. Occam's razor applies especially in the philosophy of science, but also more generally.

William of Occam was the most powerful critic in his day of the Catholic Church.

As a theologian, widely known and highly respected.

Willing to speak his mind when it was not popular to do so.

Said, “Scripture, and not the decisions of councils and popes, is alone binding on the Christian.” (Source: Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church.)

No wonder that Martin Luther, in this respect, could call him “dear master.”

Insisted that “Scripture is the final seat of authority for the church.”

What a bold statement for the age in which it was made!

John Wycliffe in England (AD 1324-1384)

In Oxford, rose to great scholarly distinction, lecturing to large classes.

Was looked upon as the ablest theologian at Oxford University.

A priest in the Catholic Church.

Did not withhold his criticism of the church when he felt that it was teaching and practicing things contrary to the New Testament.

Taught, “The Scriptures are the only law of the church.”

Taught that a papal decree had no validity except as it was consistent with the Scriptures.

Attacked the Catholic Church’s doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserted that the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper miraculously changed into Christ’s physical flesh and blood when the priest prayed over it.

Asserted that in the original church there were only two classes of officers – elders and deacons.

Referred to the Bible as the only source of spiritual truth.

That is, that God spoke to men only through the Bible and not church leaders and councils.

Said, “Scripture is the property of the people.”

Convinced that the Bible is God’s law, he determined to give it to the people in their own English language.

Between 1382 and 1384, translated Jerome’s Old Latin Vulgate into English.

His followers often called “Lollards,” a popular derogatory nickname given to those without an academic background, educated (if at all) only in English, who were reputed to follow the teachings of John Wycliffe in particular, and were certainly considerably energized by the translation of the Bible into the English language. By the mid-15th century, "lollard" had come to mean a heretic in general. 

They were bitterly persecuted and nearly extinguished under King Henry IV and Henry V.

Attacked the Pope – his avarice, his tyranny, and his usurping of power and privilege that were not rightfully his.

Referred to the Pope as “antichrist.”

“He lashed his bishops, contrasting their pomp and luxury with the simplicity of the New Testament bishops.”

Because of this the Pope ordered his imprisonment.

Wycliffe was literally hounded to death by the CC of which he was a member.

Died in 1384.

Forty years later his bones were dug up and burned, and the ashes were thrown into the River Swift.

Has been called “the morning star of the Reformation.”

Here is what he said about Bible study:

It shall greatly help ye to understand Scripture, if thou mark

Not only what is spoken or written,

But of whom,

And to whom,

With what words,

At what time,


To what intent,

With what circumstances,

Considering what goeth before

And what followeth.

John Huss in Bohemia (AD 1373-1415)

Born in 1373. Ordained to the Catholic priesthood in AD 1401.

Professor in the University of Prague.

Believed that the true head of the church was not the Pope but Christ.

As a preacher, gained immense popularity through his fiery sermons.

Became a disciple of John Wycliffe.

With Wycliffe, believed Scripture to be the only source of authority for the church.

At the University of Prague, “Almost the whole content of his lectures, as of his writings, was borrowed from Wycliffe, from whom he copied not only his main ideas but long passages verbatim and without specific acknowledgement.” – Preserved Smith

Started a campaign against indulgences.

Therefore banned by his church superiors.

Excommunicated by the Pope.

Summoned before the Council of Constance.

Promised safe conduct to and from the Council by church leaders.

In spite of that was tried, condemned, and burned at the stake July 6, 1415.

The charge against him – heresy.

His heresy – simply saying that Christ alone, and not the Pope, is the head of the church.

Died with steadfast courage regarding his faith, love for his friends, and forgiveness for his enemies.

We enjoy freedoms today because of the courage and faithfulness of this remarkable man.

Irony that corrupt leaders used violent force and even executed those whose “crime” was Bible study and preaching. Of course, these men threatened the religious establishment much as Christ himself had done in his day. As he was crucified, these men were attacked and even killed, also.

Jerome Savonarola in Italy (AD 1452-1498)

Wycliffe in England and Huss in Bohemia had a parallel in Italy.

Luther called him a proto-martyr of the Reformation.

Came to Florence, Italy, at age 30. Remained there until he died.

Referred to as “a second John the Baptist, pleading for a return to the purer life of early Christianity.”

Castigated the sins and wrongs of the church and the world.

Drew from the Bible lurid prophecies of danger and woe that would come to pass unless the people repented.

For 20 years in the Cathedral of Florence he preached the Bible as he understood it, and he did so with telling effect.

His preaching produced a religious and moral revival.

Scandals in Roman society and in the Roman church were notorious.

Papal corruption and immorality reached their height during the time that Alexander VI was the Pope. He was described as “a monster of all the vices.”

Savonarola denounced Rome and its clergy.

Quoted a common saying of the time: “If you want to ruin your son, make him a priest.”

His preaching made him a bitter enemy of Pope Alexander.

The Pope tried to bribe the powerful preacher by offering to give him a cardinal’s hat. Savonarola refused.

The Pope tried to silence him by repeated admonitions. No success.

So the Pope excommunicated Savonarola.

At length he was tried for heresy.

On May 23, 1498, with two of his followers, he was hanged and then burned publicly in the great square of Florence, Italy. His ashes were thrown into the Arno River.

His crime? Pleading for the primitive faith of the Bible against the traditions of the CC.

John Wessel in Germany (d. AD 1482)

Taught theology at several leading universities.

Regarded the Bible as the only rule of faith.

Rejected the alleged infallibility of the Pope, along with many other tenets of the RC.

Repudiated the authority of the church to interpret the Scriptures for believers.

Because of his stand for the Bible and the right of the people to read it, seen as a heretic.

Died in prison in 1482.

We close by reading a familiar passage.

2 Tim 2:14–19 (NASB95)

14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”

When the King James Version was produced, “study to show thyself approved unto God” was equivalent to saying, “make every effort, be diligent, give it all you have to present yourself approved to God.” The preacher’s job, whether Timothy’s or mine, is also to remind the church of God’s truth and warn against its corruption.

In other words, stick with the seed!

If you are not a Christian, it is that imperishable seed that Peter connected with the new birth.

1 Pe 1:22–25 (NASB95)

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.

Invitation – Be born again of God’s incorruptible, imperishable seed! Of water and the Spirit, by the power of God, as you turn from sin, confess Christ, and are baptized.

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