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He who judges the first century by the nineteenth will fall into countless errors. He who thinks that the Christianity of the fourth century was identical with that of the New-Testament period, will go widely astray. He who does not look carefully into the history of religions before the time of Christ, and into the pagan influences which surrounded infant Christianity, cannot understand its subsequent history. He who cannot rise above denominational limitations and credal restrictions cannot become a successful student of early Church history, nor of present tendencies, nor of future developments. History is a series of results, not a medley of happenings. It is the story of the struggle between right and wrong; the record of God’s dealing with men. The “historic argument” is invaluable, because history preserves God’s verdicts concerning human choices and actions. Events and epochs, transitions and culminations, are the organized causes and effects which create the never-ceasing movement, and the organic unity called history. Hence we learn that[vi] ideas and principles, like apples, have their time for development and ripening; that the stains of sin, the weakness of error, and the influence of truth commingle and perdure through the centuries; that good and evil, sin and righteousness, persist, or are eliminated, in proportion as men heed God’s voice, and listen to His verdicts.

The scientific study of history reveals the norm by which ideas, creeds, movements, and methods are to be tested. Such a standard, when contrasted with the speculations of philosophy, is granite, compared with sand. God’s universal law, enunciated by Christ, is: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

The efforts of partisans to manipulate early history in the interest of special views and narrow conceptions, have been a fruitful source of error. Equally dangerous has been the assumption that the Christianity of the third, fourth, and fifth centuries was identical with that of the New Testament, or was a fair representative of it. The constant development of new facts shows that at the point where the average student takes up the history of Western Christianity, it was already fundamentally corrupted by pagan theories and practices. Its unfolding, from that time to the present, must be studied in the light of this fact. The rise, development, present status, and future[vii] history of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, cannot be justly considered, apart from this fact. The fundamental principles, and the underlying philosophy of these divisions of Christendom originated in the paganizing of early Christianity. This fact makes the re-study of the beginnings of Christianity of supreme importance. The pagan systems which ante-dated Christ, exercised a controlling influence on the development of the first five centuries of Western Christianity, and hence, of all subsequent times. This field has been too nearly “an unknown land,” to the average student, and therefore correct answers have been wanting to many questions which arise, when we leave Semitic soil, and consider Christianity in its relation to Greek and Roman thought. “Early Christianity” cannot be understood except in the light of these powerful, pre-Christian currents of influence; and present history cannot be separated from them.

This book presents a suggestive rather than an exhaustive treatment of these influences, and of their effect on historic Christianity. The author has aimed to make a volume which busy men may read, rather than one whose bulk would relegate it to the comparative silence of library shelves. The following pages treat four practical points in Christianity, without attempting to enter the field[viii] of speculative theology, leaving that to a future time, or to the pen of another—viz.: The influence of pagan thought upon the Bible, and its interpretation; upon the organized Church, through the pagan water-worship cult; upon the practices and spiritual life of the Church by substituting pagan holidayism for Christian Sabbathism, through the sun-worship cult; and upon the spiritual life and subsequent character of the Church, by the union of Church and State, and the subjugation of Christianity to the civil power, according to the pagan model. Facts do not cease to be facts, though denied and ignored. They do not withdraw from the field of history, though men grow restive under their condemnation. I have dealt mainly with facts, giving but brief space to “conclusions.” I have written for those who are thoughtful and earnest; who are anxious to know what the past has been, that they may the better understand the duties of the present and the unfolding issues of the future. Such will not read the following pages with languid interest nor careless eyes.

The issues involved are larger than denominational lines, or the boundaries of creeds. They are of special interest to Protestants, since they involve not only the reasons for the revolt against Roman Catholicism, but the future relations of these divisions[ix] of Christendom, to each other, and to the Bible. The supreme source of authority in religion is directly at issue in the questions here treated. That is a definite and living question which cannot be waived aside. At this threshold, the author extends the welcome which each searcher after facts and fundamental truths gives to fellow investigators.

Abram Herbert Lewis.

Room 100, Bible House,
New York City, May, 1892.

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