If Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, how can we tell the difference between the true and the false? Can we be sure? Might we be deceived?
Why do communities continually fail? Has there ever been a community that carried out the vision it began with?
In around 30 CE there were several communities, composed of thousands, who shared a dynamic life together -- voluntarily sharing all their possessions, looking out for one another's needs, giving themselves up daily for one another. What became of these early communities at Jerusalem, Jaffa, Antioch, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and elsewhere? Does the predominant world religion known today as Christianity, with its countless denominations, in any way resemble the common life of fellowship begun in Jerusalem and imitated by the early church communities?
No, it doesn't. Almost any student of history will acknowledge that the nature of the life offered in most Christian churches today does not reflect the experience of the early disciples. What happened? How did this colossal religion which boasts almost two billion adherents worldwide replace those first communities which were based upon a common life of sharing?
How did the transition come about? What transpired over the last 1900 years to bring about such a dramatic difference? It is apparent that the early church became something else.
Although the New Testament scriptures clearly document the gradual decline of the early church from its roots, most observers today don't seem to notice the significance of this critical fact of history. Perhaps seeking to understand how the erosion of the first communities or edahs resulted in the emergence of Christianity will reveal our way back to the actual community that existed in the first century. If we can somehow gain insight as to how and why the first church communities failed, it may shed light on what it will take for a demonstration of true community to be realized on the earth.
The first communities were places where love for Yahshua, the Anointed One, and for one another was being perfected in unity.1 But gradually factions developed and were allowed to persist, despite the letters of the apostles to correct them.2 Eventually the very nature of their life began to change. Bit by bit, the disciples forgot their true source of life as things other than obedience to the Master's teachings became more important.
As the seeds of decay began to take root, the apostle Paul warned the leaders in Corinth to be careful how they built, for each man would be judged according to how he built on that one true foundation.3 The decay was seen in these communities by the way individuals stopped treating each other with love and respect, and instead began to tear each other down. Paul began to warn them more severely, saying, "You are the temple of the Holy Spirit ... anyone who destroys the temple, God will destroy him."4
What will you find in Corinth or Ephesus today -- communities that grew and developed into full maturity as the disciples built each other up in love?5 No, you cannot even find a remnant of such a life. Its absence is clear and convincing evidence that what Paul warned them of had come upon them. Its life was destroyed, one person at a time.
The community in Rome quit abiding in His lovingkindness and tender mercy, which comes whenever a disciple confesses and forsakes his sin. Therefore, they were cut off.6 The Corinthians were no longer able to agree, so divisions sprung up among them.7 The Ephesians lost the fervent love they had for their Master in the beginning and thus reverted back to living like the Gentile nations.8 The Galatians became foolish, deserting their Master who had shed His blood for them. They received another gospel.9
These divisions proved fatal to the early church. The early communities were destroyed, not by persecution from the Romans, but simply because they stopped living together in love. Their love, once hot and fervent, grew cold when they stopped confessing their sins. It waned. Backbiting, jealousy, quarrels and divisions took over in their relationships. Over time, their hot love became lukewarm, and finally stone-cold. The writings of Paul and other apostles were clear attempts to correct these things in all the churches.
Instead of becoming a pure bride,10 the once-faithful and devoted disciples of Yahshua began to degenerate into an unfaithful and disloyal harlot.11 As their devotion waned, they turned to other teachers whose messages were easier to swallow. With smooth sounding words, these false apostles changed the meaning of Yahshua's words to something other than what the true apostles had taught them.12 Those who received their gospel also received their spirit, which was not the Holy Spirit whom Paul had faithfully imparted to them.13
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
The ministry of apostles is to lay a foundation.14 These false apostles laid false foundations. These men spoke the same words from the Scriptures, but no faith was imparted to save the listener. What was imparted was a different Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel than the one preached by Paul and all the true apostles of Messiah. As the one, true foundation of the early church began to crumble, it was supplanted by the false foundation of the false apostles.
It is not surprising then, that the laying of this false foundation was the beginning of Christianity. In 313 CE the Emperor Constantine mandated it as the religion of the entire Roman Empire! How did it happen that this once-despised sect, which our Master prophesied would be hated by all men on account of Me, had become a universally-accepted world religion, having an all-encompassing effect over the many, not the few.15 Its leaders became those who, like the false prophets our Master described, were spoken highly of everywhere.16
This beginning of Christianity that we see documented in Paul's writings has risen up as a mighty building, a mammoth creation of man's efforts. According to the apostle Paul, it is not surprising that such an entity would exist, having been built by Satan's servants. Since Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light, is it surprising that false apostles, his agents, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness? Is it so strange to consider that the foundation of Christianity, conspicuously of a different nature than the life of the early church, might therefore also be false?
Yet many want to deny as heresy the mere suggestion that the Christian church is not God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Yahshua ha Mashiyach as the chief cornerstone.17 Could this response be due to the fact that the many are being misled by false prophets?18 Perhaps Paul forewarned us not to be surprised because in fact many would be surprised. Could the many who are surprised by such words be the many our Master referred to when He said that in the last days many false prophets will appear and deceive many people?
We have been commanded from the Scriptures to not think it strange, therefore, when an apparently righteous way of believing is introduced apart from loving Yahshua with all your heart, a way that has nothing to do with obedience to His Word. Our Master said, "If you love me, you will obey me."19 It is another Jesus who proclaims, "You don't have to obey me. All you have to do is believe that I died on the cross for your sins." This different gospel became an integral part of the false foundation which began to grow centuries ago. It spread as people trusted that they no longer had to deny themselves in order to be a disciple.20
Today in the Christian church, many people, many thousands of people, are becoming more and more disillusioned with what they see and hear. Some are so dissatisfied with going to church, they are beginning independent house churches, seeking for something like the reality they read about in the New Testament. It is tragic that the many (almost two billion) live under an illusion in Christianity, thinking they have eternal life, when in reality they have received the ministry of another Jesus built on a false foundation of false apostles from long ago. Those who become disillusioned hardly know where to turn or what to do.
The book of Revelation prophesies that the day will come when a powerful angel will descend from heaven and illuminate the whole world with the message that Babylon has fallen. Who is Babylon? How has she fallen? From what did she fall? Who is this rich woman whose sins are piled as high as heaven, who shared her luxury with the kings of the earth?21 What religious body has such influence today if not Christianity in all its splendor?
After the first angel proclaims Babylon's fall, another powerful angel will illumine the earth, calling all of God's people to come out of Babylon before God's judgment descends upon her as payment for her iniquities.22 Before this angel speaks, however, there must be a re-emergence of the life that was experienced in the early church. That life must be based upon the true foundation so that actual community can exist like it did in the first century. True believers must have a place to go.
Many remain in Christianity, even though disillusioned, because they don't want what the world has to offer. They don't want Eastern religions or the New Age movement. Materialism and the popular culture have no attraction, but they see no other alternative. In order for people to leave what is false, the truth must become obvious. This can only happen when an actual community of believers lives in obedience to His Word, having abandoned all else.