During the early period of the Church, embracing the first three centuries and known as the “Heroic Age,” the Church of God in Christ Jesus. was compelled to Struggle for its very life and existence in the midst of the world. This is the period of the Church which was characterized by several bloody persecutions. Desperately the devil attempted to destroy the Church of the Lord in the midst of the world. This period reminds us very sharply of Rev. 12:12-17, and we quote: “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath; because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly Pinto the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and, half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” The Roman Empire put forth countless efforts to obliterate the Name of Christ from under heaven. And the Church of God was compelled to hold fast that which it had in order that no man might take its crown. These persecutions came to a close in the years, 311-313. The wicked world had exhausted itself in its wicked and vain attempt to destroy the Cause of the living God. The conclusion of this Heroic Age and the beginning of the second period (300-750 A.D.) are marked by the reign of Constantine the Great. 

The second period of the Church, (300-750 A.D.) is characterized by external growth of the Church. Having successfully withstood the onslaughts of the forces of hell from without the Church was now compelled to battle for its life and existence against the attacks of the powers of evil from within. The period of rest and tranquility which set in in the years 311-313 also gave the enemy an opportunity to operate against and undermine the very foundations of the Church of God. From 325 to 451 A.D. several ecumenical Church councils were held, beginning with what is regarded as the most important of all Church councils, the Council of Nicaea in the year, 325. It was during this period that the Church was compelled to combat the Arian heresy of the denial of the Godhead of the Christ. The Church repudiated this heresy and established the truth of the Trinity, declaring the three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to be coeternal and coequal. Later, in 451, the Church declared itself on the union of the two natures in the one Divine Person of the Son. Attention need not be directed to these several controversies in detail. 

The development of the Church in external power and glory can never be divorced from the reign of Constantine, the Great. One cannot doubt his tremendous influence upon this phenomenal growth of the Church of God. To this growth we have called attentions in preceding articles. More and more the Church assumed the form of a kingdom in the midst of the world. It became an honor to be a member of the Church of Christ, and this was a sharp contrast to the position of the people of God in the earlier Heroic Age. The Christian name began to be held in high esteem and honor. This name now guaranteed many and great material advantages. It had become a passport to political, military and social promotion. The result was that thousands upon thousands of heathens joined the Church. It was a disgrace to be separated from the church. 

The second period of the Church (300-750 A.D.) was also important from the viewpoint of the development of the doctrine of the Church. We will probably recall that this period was characterized by a controversy about the purity of the Church and the question of Church discipline between the Donatists (a schismatic party in North Africa) and the Church Catholic (not to be confused with the present day Roman Catholic church), whose view was ably represented and defended by Augustine. The Donatists held that the Church visible must be pure and advocated a strict discipline. The Church must exist only of the true, spiritual people of God. Augustine admitted the necessity of Church discipline, but he maintained that absolute purity cannot be attained for the church in the midst of the world. According to him the true distinguishing marks of the Church are: Catholicity (the true Church is spread through all lands and peoples) and apostolic connections (connections with churches founded by the apostles). Augustine despised schism and therefore opposed the Donatists. 

Relative the importance of the membership in this true church, it was generally held that membership in this Catholic Church was strictly necessary unto salvation. Augustine declared that “Whosoever is not in this Church does not now receive the Holy Ghost.” And Gregory the Great remarked that “heretics are unworthy of life and cannot escape the wrath of God unless they come into the Catholic Church.” The Roman Catholic Church of today likes to quote Augustine in support of its belief that membership in the Roman Catholic Church is strictly necessary unto salvation and that there is no salvation outside of its membership. But we know that Augustine, speaking of the Catholic Church, does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church of today but to the Church, of Christ which was strictly Catholic, universal in his day. 

And finally, in connection with the doctrine of the church, the episcopacy was deemed the principal bond of the Church and preserving its unity. Episcopacy refers to the government of the Church by the bishops. The bishop of Rome at this time held the leading position in the entire Church. However, he was not considered infallible. As proof of this stands the fact that Honorarius I was condemned for heresy by the sixth ecumenical council. 

The doctrine of the Sacraments until now. 

Great significance was attached to the sacrament of baptism. This was true of the “Heroic Age” of the church, and it also characterizes the second period of the Church, (300-750 A.D.) By this sacrament both original and actual sins (the sins committed before the administration of the sacrament) were removed. However, this power to remove sin was not attributed to the water of baptism as such, but only upon condition of repentance and faith. It was held that in the case of the baptism of infants the faith of the Church, as represented by the godfathers and godmothers, functioned for the child. We may also remark, in connection with this second period of the Church, that the practice of infant baptism was generally maintained. And, finally, it was taught that there is no salvation without baptism. Augustine declared that “No one attains to God without baptism.” When the example of the thief on the cross was cited as an objection, the distinguished Church Father explained that the thief must have been baptized by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ or by the water from His side. Leo the Great declared that “No one can be released from the original sins except through baptism.” And Gregory the Great once declared: “Those dying without the sacrament pass on to eternal death.” 

In connection with the doctrine of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we may summarize the following. On the one hand, the union of Christ and the signs in the Lord’s Supper was often compared to the union of the two natures in Christ. But the doctrine of transubstantiation was certainly at this time no part as yet of the accepted doctrine of the Church. The bread and wine are called “types and antitypes” of the body and blood of Christ, as by Gregory Nazianzen. They are frequently called “symbols” (as by Theodoret). And Augustine writes that Christ’s declaration that He would give us of his flesh to eat must not be understood in the literal sense: “His grace is not consumed by tooth biting.” On the other hand, the idea of the sacrifice is still emphasized, although the term does not in this second period of the Church convey the same meaning the Roman Catholics of the present day attach to it., It was rather conceived of as a thank-offering, consisting in the prayers, alms, etc. But this was held to be effective both for the living and for the dead. At the end of this period, however, Gregory the Great plainly speaks of the eucharist as a sacrifice which we offer. And we have quoted from others, as from John of Damascus, which makes it easy to understand why and how the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation should have been developed and acclaimed as it is today in the Roman Catholic Church.

The doctrine of the Church and the Sacraments in this third period

Let us now briefly set forth what awaits us in our discussion of the Church and the Sacraments in this third period of the history of the Church which we are now about to discuss. First, in connection with the doctrine of the Church, the supremacy of the Pope of Rome was strongly asserted, although it is true that this supremacy was somewhat relinquished towards the end of the period. This strengthening of the papacy in the period to which we are to call the attention of our readers will occupy us for some time. A greater fraud was never perpetrated upon the Church of the living God than the fraud which is known in Church History as the Isidorian Decretals. We have already called the attention of our readers in past articles to the rise of the Papacy and noted that the Pope’s rise to power was a matter which is easily understood. Rome was a leading city in the world and its bishop would naturally be regarded with considerable honor and esteem. Besides, the bishop of Rome, or the “Pope,” had played a leading and important role in the settling of controversial issues and had thereby added greatly to the high esteem in which he was already held. And to this we may also add that this bishop of Rome had not hesitated to rise to the defense of Rome and the Italian peninsula against barbarian invasions. We can therefore easily understand why the bishop of Rome should be acknowledged as the leading bishop in the Church of God. And now the gigantic fraud of the Isidorian Decretals was perpetrated upon the Church of God. We will call the attention of our readers to this fraud. Incidentally, when we call these decretals a fraud this opinion is also shared by Roman Catholic scholars of today. They also call them a fraud. Besides, this fraud was preceded by another document, included in these decretals, known as the “Donation of Constantine.” This latter fraud was revealed in the form of a strange document which appeared at the time of Charlemagne. The “Isidorian Decretals” appeared somewhere around the middle of the ninth century. These decretals, we have already remarked, included the “Donation of Constantine.” And these documents (the Donation of Constantine and the Isidorian Decretals) were accepted a genuine for hundreds of years. The first suggestion that these decretals were a forgery was heard in the middle of the fifteenth century. At the same time it was proved that the “Donation of Constantine” was a forgery. Today Roman Catholic scholars agree with Protestant scholars that both documents are false. And although it is now generally accepted that these documents are false, it is a fact that they were foisted upon the world and the Church at a time of extreme ignorance. At the time they were regarded as genuine. And the damage had been done. We conclude this article with the remark that the supremacy of the Pope was strongly asserted in this third period of the Church to which we will now call attention.