Great Apostasy theory: Failing Gamaliel's Test


#1

I'd like to ask a question to any Evangelicals, Protestants, or Restorationists (inc. LDS) who posit a Great Apostasy theory for the Church.

I just want to zero in on one passage in Acts 5:26-42, specifically the Test of Gamaliel. I'd like to know how this can be reconciled with any idea of a total apostasy of the Church.

Here's the passage (from the Douay-Rheims, online), posted in full context, with the most text in question bolded:

26 Then went the officer with the ministers and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying: Commanding, we commanded you that you should not teach in this name. And behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine: and you have a mind to bring the blood of this man upon us.

29 But Peter and the apostles answering, said: We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus, whom you put to death, hanging him upon a tree. 31 Him has God exalted with his right hand, to be Prince and Saviour. to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things: and the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to all that obey him. 33 When they had heard these things, they were cut to the heart: and they thought to put them to death.

34 But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while. 35 And he said to them: You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do, as touching these men. 36 For before these days rose up Theodas, affirming himself to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves. Who was slain: and all that believed him were scattered and brought to nothing. 37 After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the enrolling, and drew away the people after him. He also perished: and all, even as many as consented to him, were dispersed. 38 And now, therefore, I say to you: Refrain from these men and let them alone. For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39 But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God. And they consented to him. 40 And calling in the apostles, after they had scourged them, they charged them that they should not speak at all in the name of Jesus. And they dismissed them. 41 And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus. 42 And every day they ceased not, in the temple and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus.

You see the problem. Scripture contains this Test of Gamaliel, a very rational, faith-driven, and practical test, applies it to the very authenticity of Christ Himself, His teaching, His Resurrection, His original Apostles, and holds it up against the Church.

If the Church does fail ("come to naught" in this translation), like so many others as Gamaliel cites, it is proof positive that Jesus was not sent by God and is not who He or Christians claim him to be.

If the Church fell into apostasy or even heresy, and these things were not true, and authority was lost, then it fails Gamaliel's test and the world can rest assured the Messiah has not come.

This seems to me a proof positive in the Scriptures that the Church MUST have been preserved--or else Christ is a fraud. It appears to be a come to Jesus moment--if Jesus is the Christ, His Church cannot "come to naught" on earth.

So please, show me how you reconcile this passage with a total apostasy theory. Feel free to use other Scripture passages, but **please keep focus **on this one. We can wander into other discussions of apostasy theory on other threads; I'd rather this one not get so sidetracked.

Thank you and God bless


#2

[quote="Arandur, post:1, topic:285602"]
I'd like to ask a question to any Evangelicals, Protestants, or Restorationists (inc. LDS) who posit a Great Apostasy theory for the Church.

I just want to zero in on one passage in Acts 5:26-42, specifically the Test of Gamaliel. I'd like to know how this can be reconciled with any idea of a total apostasy of the Church.

Here's the passage (from the Douay-Rheims, online), posted in full context, with the most text in question bolded:

You see the problem. Scripture contains this Test of Gamaliel, a very rational, faith-driven, and practical test, applies it to the very authenticity of Christ Himself, His teaching, His Resurrection, His original Apostles, and holds it up against the Church.

If the Church does fail ("come to naught" in this translation), like so many others as Gamaliel cites, it is proof positive that Jesus was not sent by God and is not who He or Christians claim him to be.

If the Church fell into apostasy or even heresy, and these things were not true, and authority was lost, then it fails Gamaliel's test and the world can rest assured the Messiah has not come.

This seems to me a proof positive in the Scriptures that the Church MUST have been preserved--or else Christ is a fraud. It appears to be a come to Jesus moment--if Jesus is the Christ, His Church cannot "come to naught" on earth.

So please, show me how you reconcile this passage with a total apostasy theory. Feel free to use other Scripture passages, but **please keep focus **on this one. We can wander into other discussions of apostasy theory on other threads; I'd rather this one not get so sidetracked.

Thank you and God bless

[/quote]

More important, where are the OVERWHELMING historical writings of such a Great Apostasy happening? Such a HUGE event and not one Christian living prior to this event bothers to mention it...at ALL?


#3

what is an apostasy?


#4

The Church burned all the histories. Because the Church can do anything necessary to continue its evil reign. :rolleyes:


#5

The answer to this is quite simple. All the “Christians” living after this event were part of the apostasy! :wink:


#6

An apostasy is an abandonment or renunciation of a religious belief.

As for the so-called “Great Apostasy” – Certain Protestant groups claim that the Catholic Church was indeed founded by God and did everything it was supposed to until a certain time – many say the fourth century, when Constantine legalized Christianity – when it then became overrun by non-Christians, all the “true” Christians went underground, and the Catholic Church itself became apostate – abandoned the “true” teachings of Jesus and became a corrupt, man-made institution.

It’s bunk, of course, but there’s not a lot you can do to persuade conspiracy theorists that their theories are wrong.


#7

I understand that some churches like the LDS believe in a "great apostasy" but i don't think that is a mainstream belief in the protestant churches I am familiar with (and I don't think is is accurate to call the LDS church protestant). I think you are correct that traditional protestant view is that the catholic church "started out right" but "partially deviated" at some point. But not to the extent of apostasy meaning renunciation of the basics of Christianity (i.e., the Nicene Creed). So protestants believe (nobody speaks for all protestants, of course) that the Catholic church is Christian and has the truth but just not the "fullness of the truth" which I understand (but I'm no expert) is the official Vatican II position as to protestants. I am not trying to convince you or start a debate, just to answer your question and explain that the beliefs in my opinion are quite similar, just in opposite directions.

PS. Re fullness of the truth, i think the mainstream protestant view is not with the basics (Nicene Creed) but things added later (rather than things subtracted) by the Catholic church


#8

Just curious,what exactly did the CC subtract?


#9

Thank you for the thoughtful post.

PS. Re fullness of the truth, i think the mainstream protestant view is not with the basics (Nicene Creed) but things added later (rather than things subtracted) by the Catholic church

Who are the mainstream protestants?


#10

Don’t believe a “great apostasy” occured…nor do I believe the Catholic church went into apostasy…men and women have always faced the threat of apostasy…I don’t know of any Protestants who believe the Catholic church was God’s establsihed church and it apostacized…but it was the established faith organization here in the west…and abused much of it’s political and religious authority…so much to the point men rebelled against it’s abuses and separated themselves to form congregations where they could practice their own understanding of faith…which they no longer shared with the Catholic church…not becasue God’s Church apostacized…but because the Catholic church fostored abuse and error.


#11

First, I am no expert on Protestant churches. Now that I am a Catholic, I am gaining more understanding of other denominations than the handful or so that I have grown up with and have familiarity.

I think that each of the denominations seem to have varying degrees of angst with the Catholics. It does not seem to be consistent between denominations. I've seen anything from real hatred to others which totally ignore the Catholic church. I see now that all these denominations will contain certain rituals and customs from the Catholic church. When I was Protestant and went from church to church, I always wondered why the differences. Why were certain things done in one church and not in another? Now I see them all together and even more so in the Catholic church with all the sacraments and seasons and holy days.

That being said, it is my understanding that the Catholic church did start out on proper footing with the apostles' teachings. But gradually over time the faith was distorted, much like the telephone game where you whisper in your neighbor's ear and when the message comes full circle you find it to be something totally different. Besides that, they would say that early on, there were books burned by the Catholics which was to hide things about the true faith. Also, they would imply that as the priests got more power, they became corrupt. And by the time of Luther, the Church was absolutely overrun with corruption and the only thing left that could be trusted is the bible. All other books and evidences were destroyed by the Church.


#12

[quote="Arandur, post:1, topic:285602"]
I'd like to ask a question to any Evangelicals, Protestants, or Restorationists (inc. LDS) who posit a Great Apostasy theory for the Church.

I just want to zero in on one passage in Acts 5:26-42, specifically the Test of Gamaliel. I'd like to know how this can be reconciled with any idea of a total apostasy of the Church.

Here's the passage (from the Douay-Rheims, online), posted in full context, with the most text in question bolded:

You see the problem. Scripture contains this Test of Gamaliel, a very rational, faith-driven, and practical test, applies it to the very authenticity of Christ Himself, His teaching, His Resurrection, His original Apostles, and holds it up against the Church.

If the Church does fail ("come to naught" in this translation), like so many others as Gamaliel cites, it is proof positive that Jesus was not sent by God and is not who He or Christians claim him to be.

If the Church fell into apostasy or even heresy, and these things were not true, and authority was lost, then it fails Gamaliel's test and the world can rest assured the Messiah has not come.

This seems to me a proof positive in the Scriptures that the Church MUST have been preserved--or else Christ is a fraud. It appears to be a come to Jesus moment--if Jesus is the Christ, His Church cannot "come to naught" on earth.

So please, show me how you reconcile this passage with a total apostasy theory. Feel free to use other Scripture passages, but **please keep focus **on this one. We can wander into other discussions of apostasy theory on other threads; I'd rather this one not get so sidetracked.

Thank you and God bless

[/quote]

With all due respect, I don't see how the 'Test of Gamaliel' proves anything but that the Church is true. Evangelicals don't allege that the true message of Christ was lost, they allege that the Catholic Church gradually became corrupted over the centuries. But the message of Christ being savior still existed despite corruption.

All I see this passage stating is that the apostles were true servants of God, and that their faith is true. But the passage does not outline what that faith was.

Sorry, I'm sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church, but I don't see your argument working here. With all due respect.


#13

There seems to be some confusion about what I meant. In my first sentence, I was trying to target my question to anyone who believes in a theory of a "Great Apostasy" or "Total Apostasy" of the Church.

I realize that most other Christians don't believe there was a total apostasy, but rather seek to justify departure from the Catholic faith by other criticisms, be they on matters of doctrine, authority, the nature of the Church/Body of Christ (visible/invisible, authoritative/individualistic, hierarchical/lacking in structure) or other matters. I don't mean to trivialize those issues, and I believe each can be discussed (and answered), but that is not my purpose here. Threads that diverge greatly on tangents rarely explore any one thought in significant depth.

Some Protestants seem to have embraced such ideas, which eventually led to some Evangelical and particularly Restoration movements (of which perhaps the LDS, RLDS, and other BoM-believing groups are perhaps most prominently known).

So, to try to clarify, it is my understanding that people who believe in a "Total Apostasy" of the Church believe that Christ's Church effectively died out, no longer existed, after a certain point. It may have had authority in the beginning, but lost it due to corruption, false doctrine, rejecting Christ for another God, or some other accusation.

To answer an early question, "apostasy" is actively rejecting that which you believed before. So a true apostasy against Christ would be a conscious choice to abandon him, to reject him, to say you will not follow him.

Heresy, on the other hand, is false teaching, believing and promulgating untruths, whether you are convinced of them or are intentionally deceiving others (I expect the first is much more common than the latter). You can obviously believe something false about God and about His law and His plan for you but still be a sincere, professing Christian.

Interestingly, by those true definitions, I wonder how many people who suggest the Church fell away truly believe every professing Christian actually chose to reject Christ actively and follow another or make an idol instead--that would be the necessary criteria for a total apostasy. In fact, I expect what they really mean is just that heretical doctrines overcame the Truth (a statement in itself quite problematic).

That aside, let's assume either definition works for what constituted the "total apostasy"--whether it was really apostasy or actually heresy.

I realize that there are many other problems with an apostasy theory. I just want to explore this one.

Note that Gamaliel specifically identifies the men, the organization--"this council, this work..." He doesn't even speak of the teaching, but of what this teaching is wrought of through men (as God works through man).

Addressing that belief, then, if the proper and authoritative Church of Christ ended at some point, and some false imitation or mockery persisted, wouldn't that make Christ's Church fail Gamaliel's test, and therefore identify the Church and indeed Jesus Himself as not of God at all?


#14

I completely agree with this.


#15

[quote="xixxvmcm85, post:14, topic:285602"]
I completely agree with this.

[/quote]

Please explain why.

As I said in my last post, Gamaliel did NOT refer to a "true message;" he referred to the "works" and "council," thus providing not a test of the doctrine or Gospel, but a test of the Church, and whether what Christ built was wrought of man (making him just a man) of God.

Gamaliel specifically applies his test to the organization (the "council") and its work. The examples that he compares Christ and his Church to, the two prior messianic claimants, reinforce the point that he is proposing the test as a challenge both to the authenticity of Jesus and of his followers. He does not refer to a teaching or message or the outline/content of faith that FabiusMaximus mentioned in his earlier post, but of the messianic figure himself and the organization he sets up.

We can see this even more clearly when you consider the background of Gamaliel and the other Jewish leaders, and the context in which they debated. They had experience of God's covenants with Israel--that God chose a people, organized them, and then, despite repeated and flagrant apostasies so great as to actually openly reject God and sacrifice to other gods and idols in His stead, God STILL kept His end of the covenant, preserving at least a remnant of His covenanted people, even of the unfaithful.

So Gamaliel and his peers knew that when God would works among man, neither the failings of those men nor the efforts of anyone working against them will cause God's work to fail. No man can foil the work of God. They had generations upon generations of that truth demonstrated to them through the tribulations of Israel.

This would be even more true of the true Messiah, when he came. So you can see that whether Gamaliel et. al. believed Jesus was Messiah or were just concerned that his apostles may be doing God's work in some other way, they could apply the same test: see if their organization, their work, fails and slips into some other thing, or whether it prevails despite all opposition, as a Divinely-instituted covenant or organization would be expected to.

The context of the various strains of Judaic teaching and thought (Sadducees, Pharisees, the Essenes and Qumran sects evidenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls) also demonstrate that Gamaliel's Test applied to the organization, the works and authority of the men following Christ, not so much their teaching. While each sectarian believed their ideas to be correct, the one truth they could agree on was God's covenant with His chosen people, and that His guarantee of that covenant was a guarantee to the people.

At the risk of diverging somewhat, I will also note that something that seems to distinguish Christianity even in the NT itself from these other factions is the insistence on true teaching not just about practice (orthopraxy), but about God's nature and will (orthodoxy). This seems to be a new thing, but perfectly understandable, because the Christians believed that God revealed Himself fully in Jesus, the God-Man, the Word/Reason (Logos) of God Incarnate, Truth come to us and with us as an actual person and letting us become part of him (the Body of Christ). So now that we could definitively know truth about the nature of God and His will through Christ's own person and teaching, we must insist on that truth.

Gamaliel didn't concern himself with that, though, as he and his fellows freely debated various theories about God and had no appeal to a definitive truth revelation in God Incarnate. Thus they focused their test on observing the organization and works of the followers of Christ--NOT judging those works or the validity of that organization (that was the whole point of the test, to reserve judgment!), but waiting to see if they persisted. For if it persisted despite opposition and the failings of man, that would be proof that however much Gamaliel and his peers disagreed with them, they were of God.

Because of this, Gamaliel's test does have a wider application beyond just apostasy theory--it's a validation of the Catholic claim of evidence for its authenticity by its endurance in essential structure and teaching throughout the witness of history, of which God is ultimate author--but it applies most directly to any theories that the institution and authority of the followers of Christ could have "come to nought." If they did, if the original authoritative institution of the Church died out for whatever reason, then it was a work of man--and Jesus was just a man. For if it were a work or institution of God, no man nor any man's failure could foil it.

I know I spill many words to make a point, but this describes my thinking behind the test. Please explain to me why you don't think Gamaliel's test matters.


#16

[quote="Arandur, post:15, topic:285602"]

At the risk of diverging somewhat, I will also note that something that seems to distinguish Christianity even in the NT itself from these other factions is the insistence on true teaching not just about practice (orthopraxy), but about God's nature and will (orthodoxy). This seems to be a new thing, but perfectly understandable, because the Christians believed that God revealed Himself fully in Jesus, the God-Man, the Word/Reason (Logos) of God Incarnate, Truth come to us and with us as an actual person and letting us become part of him (the Body of Christ). So now that we could definitively know truth about the nature of God and His will through Christ's own person and teaching, we must insist on that truth.

[/quote]

I don't think an Evangelical would disagree with this.

Gamaliel didn't concern himself with that, though, as he and his fellows freely debated various theories about God and had no appeal to a definitive truth revelation in God Incarnate. Thus they focused their test on observing the organization and works of the followers of Christ--NOT judging those works or the validity of that organization (that was the whole point of the test, to reserve judgment!), but waiting to see if they persisted. For if it persisted despite opposition and the failings of man, that would be proof that however much Gamaliel and his peers disagreed with them, they were of God.

Again, no Evangelical would disagree with this. Gamaliel's test proves that Christianity is true. But there is no specification of a specific denomination or belief. All Christians and pseudo-Christians claim the heritage of the apostles. They all claim that this "test" is validated through their respective faithful.

Because of this, Gamaliel's test does have a wider application beyond just apostasy theory--it's a validation of the Catholic claim of evidence for its authenticity by its endurance in essential structure and teaching throughout the witness of history, of which God is ultimate author--but it applies most directly to any theories that the institution and authority of the followers of Christ could have "come to nought." If they did, if the original authoritative institution of the Church died out for whatever reason, then it was a work of man--and Jesus was just a man. For if it were a work or institution of God, no man nor any man's failure could foil it.

I know I spill many words to make a point, but this describes my thinking behind the test. Please explain to me why you don't think Gamaliel's test matters.

It is according to your eyes, as a Catholic, because you believe the Catholic Church is the one and only Church, and the oldest by far. But not all Christians accept this premise. And this passage does not suggest this either. This institution could very well be any Christian church. But you believe it refers to the Catholic Church because you start from the premise that the Catholic Church is the first and only Church. But Protestants all reject that notion.


#17

[quote="FabiusMaximus, post:16, topic:285602"]
I don't think an Evangelical would disagree with this.

Again, no Evangelical would disagree with this. Gamaliel's test proves that Christianity is true. But there is no specification of a specific denomination or belief. All Christians and pseudo-Christians claim the heritage of the apostles. They all claim that this "test" is validated through their respective faithful.

It is according to your eyes, as a Catholic, because you believe the Catholic Church is the one and only Church, and the oldest by far. But not all Christians accept this premise. And this passage does not suggest this either. This institution could very well be any Christian church. But you believe it refers to the Catholic Church because you start from the premise that the Catholic Church is the first and only Church. But Protestants all reject that notion.

[/quote]

I don't see how it could be 'any' Christian church. Because all of the 'churches' in the west are dependent upon the Roman Catholic church. Without the Roman church they simply would not exist. The Roman church evangelized western Europe, so without it, western Europe would not be Christian. It would be pagan, or more likely, Muslim.

Non-catholic christian churches come and go. And ones that seem to have been around for a long time have trouble maintaining consistent doctrine and beliefs. The apostles would be appalled. So, they do not pass the test of Gamaliel.


#18

[quote="Arandur, post:1, topic:285602"]
I'd like to ask a question to any Evangelicals, Protestants, or Restorationists (inc. LDS) who posit a Great Apostasy theory for the Church.

I just want to zero in on one passage in Acts 5:26-42, specifically the Test of Gamaliel. I'd like to know how this can be reconciled with any idea of a total apostasy of the Church.

Here's the passage (from the Douay-Rheims, online), posted in full context, with the most text in question bolded:

You see the problem. Scripture contains this Test of Gamaliel, a very rational, faith-driven, and practical test, applies it to the very authenticity of Christ Himself, His teaching, His Resurrection, His original Apostles, and holds it up against the Church.

If the Church does fail ("come to naught" in this translation), like so many others as Gamaliel cites, it is proof positive that Jesus was not sent by God and is not who He or Christians claim him to be.

If the Church fell into apostasy or even heresy, and these things were not true, and authority was lost, then it fails Gamaliel's test and the world can rest assured the Messiah has not come.

This seems to me a proof positive in the Scriptures that the Church MUST have been preserved--or else Christ is a fraud. It appears to be a come to Jesus moment--if Jesus is the Christ, His Church cannot "come to naught" on earth.

So please, show me how you reconcile this passage with a total apostasy theory. Feel free to use other Scripture passages, but **please keep focus **on this one. We can wander into other discussions of apostasy theory on other threads; I'd rather this one not get so sidetracked.

Thank you and God bless

[/quote]

But what about the other side of it?

Doesn't "Gamaliel's Test" imply that any religion that prospers and flourishes is of God?

Wouldn't that imply that Islam, for instance, was true?

So I wonder how strictly one can take "Gamaliel's Test" as a doctrinal principle. If we do, we will have to become pluralists. . . . . :p


#19

[quote="Nicea325, post:8, topic:285602"]
Just curious,what exactly did the CC subtract?

[/quote]

nothing (see my last sentence)


#20

good question, since there is really no such thing as “the Protestant view.” That is just my general opinion/impression from what i know about various protestant and protestant churches personally, I believe the “basics” are the Nicene Creed. My understanding is that the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches accept the Nicene Creed, and that Southern Baptists although professing “no creed but the Bible” accept its principles too if you analyze their statements. i don’t know about others.

PS. yes, i admit that protestant understanding of the 'holy catholic church" and “the communion of the saints” is different from the RC view:)


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.