Christ spent His ministry preaching the "Good News" of a coming divine government that would replace the oppressive human governments Jesus' listeners knew all too well. The disciples asked Him for signs showing when that time would be near
(Matthew 24:3). The last question they asked, as He was preparing to ascend into heaven, concerned whether it was yet time for the Kingdom to be established (Acts 1:6). In the last stage of Paul's ministry of which we have any record, we find that Paul was still "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him" (Acts 28:31)! Even in the last inspired book of the New Testament canon, Jesus Christ inspired the Apostle John with visions about the literal establishment of the Kingdom of God on this earth (Revelation 19:11-21; 20:4-6; 21).
In spite of this clear record of Jesus Christ's plain teaching, we read in 2 Corinthians 11:3-15 that false ministers had crept in to the Church, and within 25 years after its founding were preaching what Paul called "another gospel." By the second century, the true Gospel that Jesus had taught was being called a "doubtful opinion" by the leaders of the budding "orthodox" Christian church. By the third century, Christ's own example and teaching was being regarded as rank heresy. During the second and third centuries, the "gospel" that was being preached focused almost exclusively on the person of Jesus. Also, at that same time, pagan concepts about the immortality of the soul, as well as heaven and hell, gained acceptance.
The correct understanding about the Kingdom of God was maintained well into the second century, even by men such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Of course, they were seriously offtrack in other areas, such as their teaching concerning God's law. Edward Gibbon writes of this period:
"The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully inculcated by... [those] who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles.. But when the edifice of the church was almost completed, the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign upon earth was at first treated as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism" (Decline and Fall, vol. 1, ch. 15).
Much of this progression was the result of Origen's influence. Origen was, as we shall shortly see, one of the least sound-minded individuals ever to be accepted as a Christian theologian. He played a major role in formulating Catholic teaching on the Trinity, the immortality of the soul and the Kingdom of God.
As the foundational understanding of the true nature of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God was abandoned, there were many disastrous consequences. One was the participation of church members in politics and in the military. Historians are virtually unanimous in acknowledging that early Christians avoided such involvement: "But, while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defense of the empire" (Gibbon, The Triumph of Christendom in the Roman Empire, p. 41). By the end of the third century, however, there were "Christian" legions in the Roman army. Professing Christians were told that political involvement was acceptable.
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