In the 16th century, King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church over divorcing Catherine of Aragon, and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. The Church of England began shortly afterward, and it grew in numbers for a very long time.
Fast forward to 2007. In mid February of last year came the astonishing prediction that "Roman Catholicism is set to become the dominant religion in Britain for the first time since the [Protestant] Reformation because of massive migration from Catholic countries across the world" (The Times, Feb. 15, 2007).
Then in late December we saw the headline "Britain: A Catholic Country" (The Sunday Telegraph, Dec. 23, 2007). Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is among the more recent converts.
Traditional Christianity in decline
Yet attendance figures of both these Christian faiths continue to drop (the Anglican by a greater degree) as they have for several decades. Another Sunday Telegraph feature article stated that "attendances are falling at traditional churches" (Dec. 23, 2007). The number of Christian clergy in most denominations has also declined rather sharply in recent times.
But in spite of the aggressive campaigns of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, "the percentage of people identifying themselves as atheists remains low at around eight per cent" (Britain in 2008). Another 10 percent consider themselves agnostics. Others merely say that they are not religious. Nonetheless, about 72 percent of the British population still identifies itself as Christian.
A "fuzzy fidelity"
Yet what we are apparently seeing is a sort of "fuzzy fidelity" among the "fuzzy faithful." These are the terms used by Professor David Voas of the Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research in Manchester, England. He talks about a "fuzzy fidelity, an attitude of uncommitted but real interest in God and spiritual matters. Its adherents include half the population of Britain and similar proportions in other European countries.
"This group has only a vaguely defined notion of a 'divine entity,' and says it makes little difference to their lives" (Britain in 2008). According to Professor Voas, "Many continue to pray but have relinquished specific Christian beliefs such as Jesus being the Son of God. They go to church only for the main festivals or for life's rites of passage" (ibid.).
Individuals in these nontraditional groups express their beliefs and practices in various ways:
• I don't believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a higher power of some sort.
• I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others.
• I can't remember the last time I went to church.
• I have my own set of spiritual beliefs—just my own little voice.
Somewhere in the process of time the relevancy of God has been lost to these people. Our Creator has been marginalized along with His great office and power. At some point in the past, either these individuals or their parents (or perhaps a previous generation) probably attended church services regularly and subscribed to a more traditional version of Christianity.
But was even that truly based on the teachings of the Bible?
Enter the New Testament Church
What about first-century apostolic Christianity? What ever happened to the Church that Jesus built? Do the churches and various nontraditional groups of today really reflect the beliefs and practices of the early New Testament Church?
Some who have diligently studied church history have discovered that most Christian denominations have absorbed many pagan and secular traditions—philosophical, cultural and religious—into their basic belief systems.
(To understand more, request our free booklet This Is the United Church of God. The sidebar on page 20, "What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?" shows what the Bible says about the Church's original teachings. We challenge you to contrast these biblical truths with what is generally taught today.)
Over the centuries there has been a virtual explosion of contradictory practices and conflicting factions in the Christian world. Over time a counterfeit Christianity has arisen. In the first century Jesus Christ and the apostles predicted that false ministers and false brethren would emerge, and indeed had already begun to appear in the apostles' time.
After about 400 years, by the time of the Emperor Constantine, much of Christ's original gospel was hardly recognizable.
The warnings of Christ and His apostles
Consider the words of Christ Himself: "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name…and will deceive many" (Matthew 24:4-5; compare 2 Peter 2:1-2, emphasis added throughout). These many deceivers would claim the name of Christ and His authority, but teach an altogether different brand of Christianity—based not on God's Word, but human traditions instead.
Even in Jesus' day He told the scribes and the Pharisees that their religious practices were "making the Word of God of none effect through your tradition which you have handed down" (Mark 7:13). These same practices continue right down to our day.
The apostle Paul warned us all not to accept human traditions in place of the true teachings of Christ. "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men…and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
The New Testament speaks of both a false and a true Christianity. What about the true one?
The Church Christ built
Jesus Christ spoke of His little flock that would enter the Kingdom of God (Luke 12:32). He clearly stated that He would build His Church (Matthew 16:18). Later during that first century, the apostle Peter described the genuine Church of God. "You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." He continues this glowing description: "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:5, 9-10).
The apostle Paul adds: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20).
So the true Church is built upon the apostles (representing the New Testament) and the prophets (representing the Old Testament), joined together by Jesus Christ. "In whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord" (verse 21).
Peter also urges his readers to "be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets [the Old Testament], and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior [the New Testament]" (2 Peter 3:2).
Pillar and ground of the truth
Paul called it all "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). You need to know more about The Church Jesus Built. Please request or download our free 68-page booklet by that title. It explains about a spiritually transformed people, describing their mission as well as their responsibility to God the Father and Christ the Son. WNP