Whatever became of the Nazarenes?
AN OUTLINE OF AN ALTERNATIVE CHURCH CONCERNING WHOSE EXISTENCE MOST CHRISTIANS HAVE NEVER HEARD!
Copyright © BRI/IMCF 2022 All Rights Reserved Worldwide by Les Aron Gosling, Messianic Lecturer (BRI/IMCF)
The following article is adapted from IMCF Lecture 16 (Part 2) of the series “Observations Concerning Faith in 'Hebrews.'
I have an unbridled passion for history, and I desire to fan the fires of ancient knowledge among those who study the Word of God in the IMCF. Indeed, it was the patriarch Job who also urged his readers to seek out our “primitive” forebears and ancestors for they have much to share with us “moderns” living in the end of the age.
“For enquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers: For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow” (Job 8.8,9).
Church history after the death of the original apostles is extremely difficult to follow. This is because, as one rare church historian of note has admitted, “For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 AD with the writings of the earliest church-fathers, WE FIND A CHURCH IN MANY ASPECTS VERY DIFFERENT from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul” (Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, The Story of the Christian Church, 1933, 41., emphasis mine).
Many students of church history have wondered what ever happened to the masses of original Messianic Nazarenes who happened to survive pagan and Papal Roman persecution.
It is assumed that the remnant of original Messianic believers were absorbed and ingratiated into the existing and swelling branches of Simonite Gnosticism and/or apostate “churchianity” in its various branches – in other words they swelled the assemblies of the eastern church and western church. This is largely a myth of gargantuan proportions. Certainly, they are last recorded by all notable Christian authorities as still extant late in the 4th century, essentially (and intriguingly) located in the desolate regions of Proconsular Asia (otherwise known as Asia Minor or modern Turkey today). It was to this very region that Christ sent seven letters through his servant the priestly John to seven congregations that were to be found in seven cities of that area (Rev 2 & 3) – to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and to Laodicea. That these seven assemblies were predominately Jewish and unquestionably Messianic can be grasped when we recognise that each of the congregations contained a lighted Menorah in their midst (as per Messiah’s description).
As far as the Nazarenes are concerned only silence extends from that period forward. UNLESS, of course, we happen to broaden our mindscape and become more familiar with alternative history as contained in largely ignored historical sources.
Eighteenth century English historian Edward Gibbon wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in six awesome volumes between 1776 and 1788. It is important to realise that Gibbon has been described as an atheist by some, a deist by others, and also by a few scholars as a “somewhat detached Christian.” Whatever he was, he certainly was a great historian who was entirely favourable to the ORTHODOXY of the original Nazarenes in his defence of them. In chapter 15 Gibbon records the foundational grasp of existing Nazarene opinion. He writes,
“The history of the church of Jerusalem affords a lively proof of the… deep impression which the Jewish religion had made on the minds of its sectaries. The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses [the 10 commandments and other associated regulations] with the doctrine of Christ. It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent, and relieved her distresses by a liberal contribution of alms. But when numerous and opulent societies were established in the great cities of the empire, in Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, the reverence which Jerusalem had inspired to all the Christian colonies insensibly diminished.
“The Jewish converts, or, as they were afterwards called, the Nazarenes, who had laid the foundations of the church, soon found themselves overwhelmed by the increasing multitudes that from all the various religions of polytheism enlisted under the banner of Christ: and the Gentiles, who, with the approbation of their peculiar apostle, had rejected the intolerable weight of Mosaic ceremonies, at length refused to their more scrupulous brethren the same toleration which at first they had humbly solicited for their own practice.
“The ruin of the temple, of the city, and of the public religion of the Jews, was severely felt by the Nazarenes; as in their manners, though not in their faith, they maintained so intimate a connection with their impious countrymen, whose misfortunes were attributed by the Pagans to the contempt, and more justly ascribed by the Christians to the wrath, of the Supreme Deity. The Nazarenes retired from the ruins of Jerusalem to the little town of Pella beyond the Jordan, where that ancient church languished above sixty years in solitude and obscurity. They still enjoyed the comfort of making frequent and devout visits to the Holy City, and the hope of being one day restored to those seats which both nature and religion taught them to love as well as to revere.
“But at length, under the reign of Hadrian, the desperate fanaticism of the Jews filled up the measure of their calamities; and the Romans, exasperated by their repeated rebellions, exercised the rights of victory with unusual rigour. The emperor founded, under the name of Alia Capitolina, a new city on Mount Sion, to which he gave the privileges of a colony; and denouncing the severest penalties against any of the Jewish people who should dare to approach its precincts, he fixed a vigilant garrison of a Roman cohort to enforce the execution of his orders.
“The Nazarenes had only one way left to escape the common proscription, and the force of truth was on this occasion assisted by the influence of temporal advantages. They elected Marcus for their bishop, a prelate of the race of the Gentiles, and most probably a native either of Italy or of some of the Latin provinces. At his persuasion the most considerable part of the congregation renounced the Mosaic law, in the practice of which they had persevered above a century. By this sacrifice of their habits and prejudices they purchased a free admission into the colony of Hadrian, and more firmly cemented their union with the Catholic church” (emphasis mine).
So, in a nutshell, Gibbon has traced the Nazarenes from their creation by Yeshua to their apostasy under a Gentile authority named Marcus. They – above all Jews – were permitted access to Jerusalem by the emperor of Rome IF they joined the powerful growing new faith of the Roman Catholic church. While they stayed under the authority of Jewish relatives of the Saviour they faced persecution. But by electing a Gentile leader – Marcus – they apostatised and were led by the nose right into Roman Catholicism. Gibbon goes on to explain what happened to the remainder of Nazarenes who would not join the Roman church along with Marcus. They became known contemptuously as EBIONITES – “poor ones.” Poor, both physically, and spiritually. Gibbon continues:
“When the name and honours of the church of Jerusalem had been restored to Mount Sion, the crimes of heresy and schism were imputed to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to accompany their Latin bishop. They still preserved their former habitation of Pella, spread themselves into the villages adjacent to Damascus, and formed an inconsiderable church in the city of Bercea, or, as it is now called, of Aleppo, in Syria. The name of Nazarenes was deemed too honourable for those Christian Jews, and they soon received, from the supposed poverty of their understanding, as well as of their condition, the contemptuous epithet of Ebionites.
“In a few years after the return of the church of Jerusalem, it became a matter of doubt and controversy whether a man who sincerely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, but who still continued to observe the law of Moses, could possibly hope for salvation. The humane temper of Justin Martyr inclined him to answer this question in the affirmative; and though he expressed himself with the most guarded diffidence, he ventured to determine in favour of such an imperfect Christian, if he were content to practise the Mosaic ceremonies without pretending to assert their general use or necessity. But when Justin was pressed to declare the sentiment of the church, he confessed that there were very many among the orthodox Christians who not only excluded their Judaising brethren from the hope of salvation, but who declined any intercourse with them in the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and social life. The more rigorous opinion prevailed, as it was natural to expect, over the milder; and an eternal bar of separation was fixed between the disciples of Moses and those of Christ.
“The unfortunate Ebionites, rejected from one religion as apostates, and from the other as heretics, found themselves compelled to assume a more decided character; and although SOME TRACES OF THAT OBSOLETE SECT MAY BE DISCOVERED AS LATE AS THE FOURTH CENTURY, they insensibly melted away either into the church or the synagogue” (emphasis mine).
However, IF we closely examine what the Nazarenes believed and held to be true, then – with no apologies to historians and ancient document-analysts of profound genius such as Gibbon – we can trace their continued existence through people of faith who continued to tenaciously maintain those same identical opinions!
One of Gibbon’s sources for his information on the Nazarenes was without doubt the Greek
bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius (c.260/265-339). In his monumental Church History he notes,
“The church [Nazarenes/Ebionites] continued until then as a pure and uncorrupt virgin; while if there were any at all that attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom, had passed away, then also vile abominations of impious error arose by the fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there was none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame, to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth” (Eusebius, Ecc. Hist., lll, XXXll, 3-6).
Eusebius informs us that false doctrine split the Nazarenes and it is at this juncture that we find controversies surrounding the question of the Messianic divinity of Yeshua and the validity of Rav Shaul’s apostolic appointment. Drawing largely on these questions, the later 19th century German School of rationalists sought to identify Paul as the “ravaging wolf” that Yeshua had predicted would come and who would create havoc in the ekklesia. But, despite the divisions the 4th century would create, Sabbath observance was held to be a valid tenet of belief and custom. It is this period which church historians refer to as the first Dark Age of the Church during which a heavy curtain descends, and when it lifts we are treated to the sight of a markedly different church than the one established by Yeshua and governed by His relatives. The Catholic records of the time speak of their emergence over “heretics” and that they glory in their imposed “orthodoxy.”
Eusebius speaks of fifteen bishops “of the circumcision” who succeeded one another amongst the Nazarenes up to the year 135 CE (Ecc. Hist., V. X11) when Hadrian died. The final bishop in this line is known as Judas Kyriakos, a surname meaning “of the Lord” which identifies him as another relative of Yeshua (Hans Schoeps, Jewish Christianity. Factional Disputes in the Early Church, 1969, 34). But the following bishop, Markus, is the first Gentile in the line and is not at all of Jewish origin. He leads the Nazarenes into a further
split, renouncing the New Covenant with the majority following him into the Roman Church. This was the price he paid to return the Nazarenes to the city of Jerusalem from which they as Jews had been exiled, as enunciated by Gibbon. The Catholics looked upon the remnant of Sabbath keepers as “Ebionites” which essentially means “poor [in doctrine]” (Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 391). Those who remained entrenched in Pella refused to join the Bar Kochba insurrection against Rome (132-135 CE) and were as a result eschewed by their Jewish counterparts in the synagogues. This was the creation of the gap that has since existed between synagogue and Messianic “church.”
Schonfield writes: “Jewish Christianity never regained its position of authority in the affairs of the Church. The Hadrianic war, which had wrung the death knell of Jewish hopes of political independence, had also relegated the church of the apostles to the rank of a heretical sect. Henceforth the Jewish Christians, while they observed their ancestral customs, were practically excluded from the Catholic Church and might only associate with one another in their own congregations” (Hugh Schonfield, History of Jewish Christianity, 1936, 62).
The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition gives the following description of the Nazarenes:
“… an obscure Jewish-Christian sect, existing at the time of Epiphanius (A.D. 37O) in Coele- Syria, Decapolis (Pella) and Basanitis (Cocabe)… they dated their settlement in Pella from the time of the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, immediately before the siege in
A.D. 7O.” They are characterised as “neither more nor less than Jew, pure and simple, but adds that they recognised the new covenant… and believed in the resurrection and in the one God and His Son Jesus Christ… Jerome says that they believed in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, but adds that desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other” (art., Nazarenes, XIX, 319).
When authorities usually relegate Nazarenes of the 4th century as “Jewish” they are focusing on the fact of their continued Sabbath observance and recognition of (and differentiation between) clean and unclean foods.
The Biblical and Theological Dictionary informs us: Nazarenes is “a name given to Christians in General, on account of Jesus Christ’s being [a Nazarene]; but was, in the second century, restrained to certain Judaising Christians, who blended Christianity and Judaism together. They held that Christ was born of a virgin, and was also in a certain manner united to the divine nature. They refused to abandon the ceremonies (not meaning rituals and sacrifices) prescribed by the law of Moses. They rejected those additions that were made to the mosaic institutions by the Pharisees and doctors of the law, and admitted the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament. The fathers frequently mentioned the Gospel of the Nazarenes, which differs nothing from that of St. Matthew, but was afterward corrupted by the Ebionites. These Nazarenes preserved this first Gospel in its primitive purity. Some of them were still in being in the time of St. Jerome [4th early/5th century] who does not reproach them with any errors” (Richard Watson, BTD., 1839, 687f).
Another church scholar states: “There can indeed be little doubt that, after the promulgation of Adrian’s [Hadrian’s] edict, those Christians who had united the observance of the Mosaic ritual [the issue of foods/Sabbath observance] with the profession of the Gospel, fearful lest they should be confounded with the Jews, gradually abandoned the Jewish ceremonies – so that, in the time of Tertullian, the number of Judaizing Christians had become extremely small. We are now speaking of those whom Mosheim calls Nazarenes. [A footnote says: that they, though retained the Mosaic rites, believed all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. The Ebionites on the contrary, who also maintained the necessity of observing the ceremonial, rejected many essential doctrines of Christianity.]” (John Kaye, The Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries, 1826, 474f).
“There was another sect which called themselves Hypsistarians, that is, worshipers of the most high God, whom they worshiped as the Jews only in one person. And they observed their Sabbath, and used distinction of meats, clean and unclean, though they did not regard circumcision, as Gregory Nazianzen, whose father was one of this sect, gives the account of them” (Joseph Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church, 1855, Bk. XVI, chp. 6. sec. 2).
“The primitive Christians had a great veneration for the Sabbath, and spent the day in devotion and sermons. And it is not to be doubted but they derived this practice from the Apostles themselves, as appears by several scriptures to that purpose” (Dr. T.H. Morer, Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, 170l, 189).
“The Gentile Christians observed also the Sabbath” (Johann Gieseler’s Church History, 1857, Vol.1, ch. 2, par. 30, 93).
“The primitive Christians [Nazarenes] did keep the Sabbath of the Jews… therefore the Christians, for a long time together, did keep their conventions upon the Sabbath, in which some portions of the law were read: and this continued till the time of the Laodicean council [364 CE]” (Jeremy Taylor, The Whole Works, IX, 416 [R. Heber’s Edition] Vol XII, 416).
“It is certain that the ancient Sabbath did remain and was observed… by the Christians of the East Church, above three hundred years after our Saviour’s death; and besides that, no other day for more hundreds of years than I spake of before, was known in the church by the name of Sabbath but that: let the collection thereof and conclusion of all be this: The Sabbath of the seventh day, as touching the allegations of God’s solemn worship to time, was ceremonial; that Sabbath was religiously observed in the east church three hundred years and more after our Saviour’s passion. That church, being the great part of Christendom, and having the apostles’ doctrine and example to instruct them, would have restrained it if it had been deadly” (Edward Brerewood, A Learned Treatise of the Sabbath, 1630, 77).
“From the apostles’ time until the council of Laodicea, which was about the year 364, the holy observance of the Jews’ Sabbath continued, as may be proved out of many authors: yea, notwithstanding the decree of the council against it” (John Ley, Sunday a Sabbath, 1640, 163).
We know for certain that the NAZARENES (EBIONITES) observed the ten commandments, including the fourth – the observance of the seventh day Sabbath. They eschewed idolatry, and while she was held in the highest possible esteem the worship of Miriam the mother of the Lord was forbidden. Images of God were disallowed. Many of these commandment observers celebrated the festivals of the Jews, and during and after the 4th century the Passover was kept along with the Jews in respect of the sacred calendar on Nisan 14 with the subsequent eating of unleavened bread (during that period) as picturing the consumed body of the Saviour. Wherever they ventured they excluded social and religious pagan festivities – including Xmas, Easter, Lent etc., and held Sunday worshippers themselves at arm’s length. The closed Trinity doctrine was rejected outright. Indeed, Nazarenes stayed right out of the way of Roman Catholic priests and nuns believing them to be totally apostate. Actual church buildings were despised as they held to the notion that the ekklesia (community of faith) consisted of PEOPLE who were called out of the world system to the obedience of the expectations of the God of Israel and Father of the Lord Yeshua.
From Asia Minor, the Nazarenes were persecuted and murdered by both Christians and secular authorities wherever they were found. In a large persecution of Nazarene survivors, a remnant were transported by Rome to the Balkans during the 9th and 10th centuries where they were settled under the designation and identification of “PAULICIANS” (possibly named after one of their prominent leaders). The authoritative Hasting’s Encyclopaedia of Religion & Ethics (Volume 9) states that the Paulicians “were an anti-Catholic sect which originated in the seventh century (possibly earlier)” and we cannot but agree wholeheartedly for they were none other than the religious descendants of the Nazarenes who disappeared for all intents and purposes from the historical records in the 4th century! They rapidly evangelised as per their custom so that by the end of the 12th century they were so numerous as to become the national church of Bosnia (G.S.M. Walker, The Growing Storm. Sketches of Church History from AD 600 to AD 1350, 1961, 149).
In Bosnia they later became known by the world as “BOGOMILS” which some scholars opine may have been a corrupted form of the name Theophilus which had been borne by a Bulgarian priest around 950. Astonishingly, their Sabbatarianism spread from that region of eastern Europe into the Mediterranean and to western Europe so widely that Pope Urban V was to call that region “the cesspool of heresy for every part of the world” and in fact there existed a so-called Bogomil (or Bogomili) congregation at Constantinople until the Crusaders sacked the city in 1204.
Kenneth Scott Latourette in his History of Christianity provides us with the early ventures of Paulicianism and Bogomilism as extensions of the primitive Nazarene Messianic Movement when he notes, “Still more of the Paulicians moved into the Balkans in the tenth century, especially into Bulgaria. There they seem to have contributed to a dissident movement, Bogomilism, which continued for many centuries. Early in the ninth century, we hear of another heresy, that of the Athingani. The Athingani were in Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and may have been a branch of the Paulicians. [It is thought in some places that Athyngani (alternative spelling) may well mean “those who understood prophecy”.] They too were persecuted by the
State at the insistence of the official Church” (300).
“The Bulgarian Church was also troubled by a religious movement which we know as Bogomilism. This seems to have arisen in the tenth century. Its origin is obscure. It is said to have been begun by a Bulgarian Orthodox Christian priest named Bogomil, or at least to have found an early leader in him. It is also declared to have been indebted to the Paulicians and even to have been a continuation of them – there had been active Paulician settlements on the Balkan Peninsula from at least the eighth century and contagion from them is quite within the range of possibility” (576, emphasis mine).
“The Bogomils or Patarenes as they were known in this region [Bosnia and Hum, later known as Herzegovina where they were previously driven through persecution and enforced evacuation] had found a refuge there after their expulsion from Serbia. They multiplied and spread into the nearby Croatia, Slavonia, Hungary and Dalmatia” (580) where in the early and mid 20th century Sabbatarians were recently rediscovered in family groups (Seventh Day Baptists in Europe & America, Historical Papers., Vols. 1 and 11, 1910., & Albert N. Rogers, Vol.111., 1972).
Our Lord Yeshua stated explicitly that his Messianic Community would exist until the very conclusion of the age (Mt 16.18). It would never be totally swamped by counterfeits of Satan although true disciples would be subjected to maltreatment from those who held office (See especially Matthew’s Gospel for these accounts in parable form). Still, the Messianic Community bound together by Christ and the fourth commandment would remain essentially pure and it would contend for the commandments of God right up to Messiah’s second advent.
We can readily identify respective factions of that Messianic Community FIRSTLY by the various Sabbath-keeping bodies recorded in historic antagonistic Church records down through the ages. Equally, on a number of occasions these identical people of God are SECONDARILY referred to by the names of their popular preachers and teachers – such as HENRICIANS (after Henry of Lausanne; they were also known as PETROBRUSSIANS after their leader Peter de Bruys; they rejected infant baptism, physical church buildings, the sacrifice of the Mass, despised the cross and other images of Christ, and observed the seventh day Sabbath. They were also associated with a larger division of Sabbath observers, the WALDENSES, named after either Peter Waldo, their founder, or Vaudois after their principal location in the mountain valleys of the canton of Vaud.
One historian mentions the fact that members of the Waldensian movement in Europe “acquired a very extensive knowledge of the Bible, so that even the illiterates among them could sometimes recite all four Gospels by heart” (Walker, 155).
The great church historian Neander shares his grasp of the Waldensian genesis when he writes, “But it was not without some foundations of truth that the Waldenses of this [early] period asserted the high antiquity of their sect, and maintained that from the time of the
secularisation of the Church – that is, as they believed, from the time of Constantine’s gift to the Roman Bishop Silvester (AD 314-336) – such an opposition as finally broke forth in them, HAD BEEN EXISTING ALL ALONG” (General History of the Christian Religion & Church, 5th Period. Sec. 4, 605 emphasis mine). The supposed “Donation of Constantine” to the Bishop Silvester had granted to the Papacy supreme temporal and spiritual power to the Roman church over the extant Roman Empire.
In France we find these same people, quite numerous and in swelling numbers, known as ALBIGENSES because they had an important centre and school at Albi, while in the north of that area these same folk were designated as POPLICANI, a Latinised form of Paulician, BETRAYING THE EASTERN ORIGIN of the organised alternative religious system. The CATHARS also appeared around this time.
Historians recognise that the Waldensian church believed itself to be the living extension of the original true church or religious community that Christ built! Note the admission by Walker now:
“A legend even appeared to the effect that the Waldensians were directly descended from the primitive Church, HAVING EXISTED AS A SEPARATE GROUP since the time of Constantine…” (159 emphasis mine). Further, “Isolated individuals condemned every feature of institutional religion. But there was also A FULLY ORGANISED DISSENTING CHURCH, with its own ministers and congregations, claiming to represent the pure form of Christianity” (143 emphasis mine).
The Waldenses apprehended their ascent formed in the earlier Bogomil movement – indeed, they realised both their unity with and genesis origin from the Balkans – and historian Walker connects the dots in a further admission:
“Believing themselves to be THE ONE TRUE CHURCH, the Bogomils had their own hierarchy of bishops – the Orthodox Church with its sensuous liturgy and vestments was regarded as an apostate body” (149. All emphasis is my own).
All these dissenting Sabbath organisations and assemblies had their origins in the Nazarene Messianic Movement created by the Lord Yeshua the Messiah back in 30 CE with the giving of the Ruach of Yehovah on SHAVUOT – the day of Pentecost! And all of them are linked not only by the observance of the seventh day Sabbath, but in their insistence that the Roman Church was an entirely NEW organisation brought into being in the days of Constantine.
Even the Cathars “believing that the Catholic church had been corrupt since Constantine… repudiated its sacraments, along with images and the cross. They had their own ministers – bishops – and deacons” (151).
And, it is important to note, many of these organisations acknowledged a universal salvation in the Messiah!
By the 11th century the ancient Waldensians had spread themselves almost right across the entirety of Europe and in “the time of William the Conqueror (1070) and his son, William Rufus, it appears that the Waldenses and their disciples out of France, Germany, and Holland, had their frequent recourse and did abound in England; and had, about A.D. 1080, generally corrupted all France, Italy and England” (Thomas Crosby, History of the English Baptists, 1738, Vol.2:43,44).
During the 12th and 13th centuries Sabbatarianism began to flourish throughout England and Wales as more Waldensian preachers emigrated to that region from Europe. J. Lee Gamble and Charles H. Greene have written (largely quoting from Lewis’ Sabbath and Sunday), “Toward the middle of the twelfth century, a society of Waldenses made its appearance in England, coming originally from Gascoyne [a French province], where being numerous as
the sands of the sea, they sorely infested France, Italy, Spain, and England… In the thirteenth century the Waldenses had spread abroad through twenty-two countries of Europe, Britain being one… There was not among them all perfect agreement in sentiments; yet that they were opposed to the pretensions and innovations of Rome, and that they clave only to the text of Scripture, is admitted by all [and especially in respect of Easter and other festivities of
Saint days]” (Gamble & Greene’s The Sabbath in England in Seventh Day Baptists in Europe & America, 1910, 1:32,33).
By 1260 there were estimations in Britain alone of somewhere between 800,000 and 3,000,000 spiritual descendants of the ancient Nazarenes practising and outworking their faith in the face of a ruthless enemy that was the Roman Catholic Church. Considering the density of the British population in the 13th century these figures show the enormous popularity of this alternative Christian movement.
In 1315, taking advantage of the prevalent free evangelism that was so attractive to European religious freedom forces (i.e., those of anti-Catholic sentiment), Walter Lollard, a seventh day Sabbath-observant Waldensian (thought to have been Dutch or German) travelled as an evangelist to England with his brother Raymond, and brought the true and full Gospel message to the Isles creating Sabbatarian churches wherever he went. Returning to Germany he was arrested for heresy, and burnt at the stake in 1322 in Cologne. The universalist intellectual John Wycliffe – known as “The Morning Star of the Reformation” and whose name is far more familiar with Christians than that of Lollard due to his translation of the Bible – was actually converted through the teachings of Walter Lollard. When Wycliffe took administrative control of the Lollards in the 14th century every second man in Britain was “born again.” Not only was the knowledge of God’s authentic seventh-day Sabbath being restored so was the joyous FULL GOSPEL of universal salvation in Christ being grasped!
Religious persecution necessarily followed!
Of course, there were those Waldensians that did not keep the Sabbath, but there were myriads that did! Scholars admit:
“That we [Waldenses] are to worship one only God, who is able to help us, and not the Saints departed; that we ought to keep holy the Sabbath day” (Perrin, Luther’s Forerunners, 1624, 38).
“For centuries evangelical bodies, especially the Waldenses, were called Insabbati because of Sabbath-keeping” (Manueld Gui, Inquisiteur, n.d.).
“In 1310, two hundred years before Luther’s theses, the Bohemian brethren constituted one fourth of the population of Bohemia [modern Czechoslovakia], and that they were in touch with the Waldenses who abounded in Austria, Lombardy, Bohemia, north Germany, Thuringia, Brandenburg, and Moravia. Erasmus pointed out how strictly Bohemian
Waldenses kept the seventh day Sabbath” (Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, 1890, 313; Robert Cox, The Literature of the Sabbath Question, 1865, II, 201,202).
“Also the priests have caused the people to keep Saturdays as Sundays [in Norway]” (Theological Periodicals for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Norway, Vol.1, 184).
“We wrote of the Sabbatarians in Bohemia, Transylvania, England and Holland between 1250 and 1600 A.D” (B.G. Wilkinson, Truth Triumphant, 309).
Dupin’s Ecclesiastical History speaks of Wycliffe’s followers spreading even through Germany, and states that one of their “errors” was the belief “that the damned in hell and the evil angels should one day be saved.” And Langham, Archbishop of Canterbury, convened a council in 1368 where judgment was passed on thirty heresies being currently taught by Lollards in his province, one of them being “all the damned, even the demons, may be restored and become happy.” Wycliffe’s words and Lollards testimony have been relegated to the scrap heap of embarrassing data — embarrassing to the apostate churches which laud their efforts against Roman error while hiding their eyes from the glorious light of the Gospel.
They have to hide their eyes. The truth would burn them out!
The followers of Lollard gave rise, eventually, to the Anabaptists (re-baptisers). They also carried the torch bequeathed to them concerning the free Grace of God in salvation as is attested to by such scholars as Dr Francis White, Russen, Cawdrey, Palmer and others. In the Seventeenth Article of Augsburg Confession drawn up by Luther and Melanchthon in 1530 we read: “We condemn the Anabaptists, who maintain that there shall be an end to the punishment of the damned and of the devils.”
It is nothing less than intriguing that the IMCF today teaches precisely the same exact notions and truisms that were promulgated by the Nazarenes, including the doctrines of the Sabbath, the full Gospel of universal salvation in Christ, the New Covenant and New Messianic Torah, the Divine spark (spirit) in man as outstanding evidence of Humankind being made in the direct Image of the Creator, the proper pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton of God – YeHoVaH and, not least, God incarnating in Man so that we might become ONE WITH our Father God.
All these doctrinal divergencies were evidenced in the histories of the dissenters against Rome, from the end of the fourth century to the present time period, and to the degree that Protestants (and to a lesser extent, Catholics and Orthodox) were directly and indirectly influenced by these same Witnesses of the God of Israel, we can say confidently that Enlightenment persisted even through the darkest of times.
Some of the original Nazarenes were, as Gibbon suggested, absorbed into the apostate church and to the extent that they successfully persevered in their arguments against the established religion so the truth even in its minimal form has survived and authentic converted Christians can be noted among them in today’s world for the SPIRITUAL ekklesia of God is an organic union – an organism – and decidedly NOT a humanly structured organisation. True – authentic – believers can be found scattered throughout the modern churches, denominations and sects, and are judged by the God of Israel in the same way we are: judged daily for what we do with what we know to be the truth, and NOT judged by God for what we do not know is the truth.
It is slowly being recognised by certain theologians that the Middle Ages saw the emergence in POWER of a fully invigorated religious and spiritual movement with its own ministers – and teaching colleges – replete with a distinctive belief that they were THE ALTERNATIVE CHRISTIAN FAITH in opposition to despotic Roman Catholicism. It brought on itself the cruel wrath of Roman intolerance. Millions eventually perished by flame and sword first at the hands of pagan Rome, and then as the Papacy did its very best through the instrumental availability of secular state authorities to destroy Christ’s Messianic Movement and Work of Gracious Salvation.
The International Messianic Community of Faith (IMCF) has its roots in the original Nazarene Movement and we exist primarily as a JEWISH Messianic and eschatological WORK OF GOD uniquely raised up to RESTORE LOST JEWISH THOUGHTFORM TO THE BIBLICAL REVELATION for such a time as this.
May we ALL – once and for all time – CATCH THE VISION.