Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 4, 1957
NUMBER 47, PAGE 9a-10a

Mystery Of Iniquity Works Again

Elton S. Hughes, Center, Texas

"For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way." (II Thessalonians 2:7.)

The church of Christ was established more than nineteen hundred years ago, when upon the day of Pentecost, after the resurrection of Christ, He began to build men into that divine institution. Upon that day the gospel of Christ was preached as fact for the first time. Upon that day men heard for the first time the resurrection gospel, and believing in the Christ whom they had crucified, and whom God had raised from the dead they cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37.) They were told to, "repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . . ." (Acts 2:38.) When men heard the exhortation of the apostle Peter to obey these commands, the record says in Acts 2:41, "They that gladly received his words were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." These were the first members of the church purchased by the blood of Christ — first men and women who were born of the "water and the Spirit" under the New Covenant, sealed and sanctified by the blood of Jesus.

The church that thus began with the preaching of the facts of the gospel — the death, burial and resurrection of Christ had a wonderful history for several years. Under the guidance of Spirit-filled, Spirit-inspired men, the growth of the church was almost miraculous. Thousands were converted to the Lord, and in every case of conversion under the teaching of these inspired men the form of obedience was the same. Study closely the examples of conversion in the book of Acts and note that without exception every one of these converted was of an age and intelligence that they could hear, understand, and believe the gospel. Note also that following that faith they were taught to repent of their sins, and to confess their faith in Christ, and to be baptized for the remission of sins. This is not a record of some being saved one way and some another, but in every case the procedure is the same. The gospel was the power of God unto salvation. (Rom. 1:16.) God showed no favoritism to Jew or Gentile but required the same knowledge, the same faith and obedience in each case. The growth of the church under this preaching was astonishing.

If we today were all preaching the same thing (I Cor. 1:10), men would be led by the thousands to turn from sin and ungodliness. Today there are so many doctrines taught that man becomes lost in a maze as he tries to investigate them all, and soon he turns to infidelity. Satan knew that this would happen, and that is the reason he has instituted all the false ways in the world. He wants the true way to become so obscured by the multitude of false ways that man will not be able to find it, hence, be lost. In those early days there was but one way, and men gladly came to it. They would do the same today if men could be led to lay down their quarreling creeds and take up the Bible as their guide.

In the first few years after the establishment of the church the gospel swept over the Roman world as a sweeping wind. The Jews and the Roman government had put to death the Son of God, but he had burst the bars of death and came forth victorious. From the beginning of eleven, poor, and unlearned men on a windswept hill in Palestine, who saw him rise with the clouds of heaven and heard the angels promise his return, the church grew to be a dominating influence in the Roman Empire. In fifty years there was established in every principal city of the empire a church to the honor and glory of his name. These were all churches of Christ. (Rom. 16:16.) And in one faith they swept on until within another two hundred years over fifty percent of the Roman people had been converted to the Christ whom they had put to death: The secret of this success was the power of God which aided them in their labors. They remained true to the word of God and with one message to preach, and one obedience to require of all men, they were sweeping the world for Christ.

Satan, however, had been trying to get something into operation to put a stop to this triumph of Christ and his church. Paul has said while he was yet living; "For the Mystery of Iniquity doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way." (II Thess. 2:7.) Paul could see the beginning of the working of Satan in the church, and he was set to restrain that evil force so long as he lived. Paul was finally put to death and the DEPARTURE from the truth was accelerated. The church began to suffer and decline under the onslaughts of Satan, and as departures were made from the word of God, innovations were introduced into the worship of the church. Then, it was, that a pall of darkness began to spread itself over the Israel of God.

The apostasy, or falling away, did not come in a day. But slowly and gradually it crept upon the church of our Lord. In the beginning there was a plurality of elders in each congregation. Year by year these men usurped power and authority and extended their rule over other congregations. Finally one elder who had longed to extend his measure of authority and power, proclaimed himself UNIVERSAL FATHER, and the papal system had its beginning. The church of Christ was a powerful body of people hundreds of years before the papal ecclesiasticism began. But as this usurpation of power was taking place. men were introducing into the worship of the church various pagan rites and ceremonies which seem to please the people. With the apostle Paul the commandment of the Lord had been final, and nothing was added merely to please the people. With these leaders of later years, the question was, "What will please the people, and increase our popularity." Thus, the church was corrupted in morality and worship. Finally the mechanical instruments of music, which God had left out of the New Testament worship, were brought in, and men no longer appealed to the Bible for their authority, but rather appealed to the people. The church in this apostate condition became the enemy of the Bible and even put to death those who desired to read and study its sacred pages. The Bible was translated into Latin, a dead language, and one that could not be read by all the people. All other copies that could be found were destroyed, and Bible knowledge perished from the people. WHAT IS THIS DARK PERIOD TO WHICH WE ARE REFERRING? Without searching for it; without any theory to guide you to it. Just follow the stream of history, and you will find before long that the "sun of the church's" glory begins to decline. Faithfulness and purity are supplanted by pride and pomp, and lust for power, with their train of falsehood and corruption. It reflected more and more of the world, and less and less of heaven, until at last amid foreboding of an awful future, the sun goes down, twilight comes on, the shadows deepen; then the last lingering ray disappears from the horizon, and night with sable mantle covers the whole earth. That was surely a day of darkness and despair for the church of the Lord. They are in the gloom, the awful gloom of the "dark ages." It reminds one of the day when the Israelites were carried captive into Babylon for disobeying the commandments of God. David said of this: "By the river of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion, Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged our harps." Surely this was a parallel time of sadness for the people of God as the church passed from the sight of men, and the dark ages like a pall of darkness, settled upon the earth for a period covering more than twelve hundred years.

This condition was caused by one thing, and only one thing: Men began to exalt their own way above the way of God. Men turned from the word of God and would not abide by its guidance. Men began to legislate for God upon the earth and say their decisions were as binding as the word spoken by the Lord. This is always destructive of spiritual life. It has always been introduced by Satan from the Garden of Eden down to the present time. He was the one who led these religious leaders of that day to turn their backs upon the word of God and led them into the wilderness of despair. Satan has always tried to destroy the word of God and the church, and often uses religious leaders, preachers and elders to do this deceiving, because men will follow them more readily, it seems.

When we see how Satan worked in those early days of the church to lead it into destruction, we should be warned, lest a similar fate come upon us. When men, elders or preachers, teach that the commandments of Christ are non-essential, and that the church can legislate where Christ has not spoken, beware of such men, for surely they are those emissaries who would lead you into destruction.

When we look out into the religious world of our day, do we not see the very things which led the church into apostasy and darkness. Do we not see powerful organizations today that have been built up for the government of God's people? Whether this government is in the form of synod, council, "sponsoring church" Missionary Society, institution, or convention, it is not of God. God's form of church government has always been a plurality of elders over each congregation, with each congregation being its own autonomous in operation and work. When we behold the machinery set up to do the work God intended for each congregation to do, when we behold the creeds men have written and the theologies which they teach, usurping the rightful place of the New Testament as the authority and guide of the church, we know we are seeing the spirit of lawlessness going on unchecked. Yes, we see the "MYSTERY OF INIQUITY" WORKING AGAIN. How long? How long ? How long? Will we go on in blindness for ever? Let us not forget the martyrs of the "dark ages." Let us not forget this long night of slumber. Let us not forget those men of courage who saw the deplorable condition of the world, and with a zeal which was commendable, worked and fought to break the chain of oppression that men may read the word of God for themselves. Let us not forget the mistake of the Reformation, which must still be remedied by the religious world — the failure to go back to the original foundation. They sought to reform the institution in which they found themselves. Failing in this, they simply carried out of her such things as they liked, and set up their own city outside her walls. Had they cut loose from every tie and had gone to the Bible for authority in all things they would have succeeded in pleasing the Lord and defeating Satan.

Let us also remember that Modernism is the outgrowth of disrespect for the word of God as authority in matters of religion, and it can never be overcome until men return in all things to the Bible. We cannot say that we will return in some things and not in others. There must be a complete return. We must throw overboard every creed and doctrine of man. We must give up the man-made way of doing things and return to the divine pattern. This will mean the discontinuance of everything we have no authority for in the New Testament. This will mean the end of division. There will be an end to this confusion which has disturbed the minds of so many, and caused them to turn in despair to the doctrine of infidelity.

This will promote love instead of hate — there will be unity instead of division. Then will the church of Christ be recognized and glorified. We must take our stand on the old foundation and build on the original ground, the Bible, and the Bible alone. This will put an end to strife, discord among the brethren.