The Church in the Wilderness

In the aftermath of the Council of Nicea, Emperor Constantine and his successors sought to stamp out all non-conforming brands of Christianity. Groups that refused to conform to the teachings and practices of the "established" church, which now called itself the Catholic (universal) Church of God, were viewed not merely as heretics, but as subversive enemies of the Roman state.

The true Church, symbolized by a woman in Revelation 12, was forced to flee into the wilderness for 1,260 "days." In Bible prophecy, a "day" often represents a year (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6). Thus, the true Church would have to remain in hiding for 1,260 years following the Nicene Council. Historically, that is what happened. Though these were truly dark ages, there was a light that continued to burn. Its flame sometimes flickered, but it was never extinguished.

Several problems confront any church scholar or historian who wishes to trace the wanderings of the true Church during this 1,260-year period. This is because the true Church's history is not about one continuous human organization. The preserved history of the Sabbath-keeping Church of God has been almost entirely written by its enemies who viewed it as heretical. We read of groups labeled by hostile outsiders with such names as Paulicians, Bogomils and Waldenses—of whom smaller or larger segments, at different times, appear to have been true Christians in the mold of the first century Jerusalem Church. Another difficulty is that the teachings of each of these groups changed over a period of time, generally becoming more like those of their Catholic and Protestant neighbors.

Also we find that writers often lumped together various groups of "heretics," including the true Church, under the same name, not truly distinguishing the differences in their teachings. Thus the great challenge in Church history is not simply to identify who taught what, but to recognize when a church ceased to be part of the true Church, and when God removed that true Church to another place.

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