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Silent Retreats: Be Still and Know I AM

Maybe you know the feeling. The days are too short and the demand for your time is overwhelming. You rush from one thing to the next and often fall into bed at the end of your waking hours, exhausted.

Even when you spend time with God, the next thing on your list is hovering in the background. We struggle to switch off and connect with the One who created us.

Enter the silent retreat: A quiet place to shut away the world, for an hour or a day, and spend time in the presence of God.

What is a silent retreat?

It may seem obvious you’re required to be silent during a silent retreat, but a few more details might be helpful.

Your silent retreat may be many things. While some silent retreats are really only about not speaking, others may include guided meditation. As retreats go, there are short retreats and long retreats. Virtual retreats can be done online, from the comfort of your own home, or you can go away to a camp or retreat center. Some retreats are strict, and others, less so. Some retreats might provide worship, teaching, small group discussion, prayer support and godly counsel.

More than just being silent, a silent retreat is an opportunity to reflect, find rest in God and process what you are thinking calmly and productively. It takes you away from the stresses and the busyness of everyday living.

The idea behind a silent retreat is to channel your attention toward inner and upper contemplation. A silent retreat pushes back the world and creates intentional time with you and your Father. You will emerge physically and spiritually refreshed.

Should I take a silent retreat?

Yes, definitely. You may want to consider a silent retreat if you have been spiritually weary. Perhaps you’re feeling empty-hearted and there is a yearning in you for something more. We have an infinite Father; there is always more.

It may be the Lord prompting you, inviting you to come closer and to rest in His presence. Even Jesus often went away to pray in solitude. When was the last time you took time for just the two of you?

A typical silent retreat day

A whole day in silence may seem like a long time if you are not used to being still before God. It’s recommended you create plan to give rhythm to your time of solitude. This retreat by Levaire may be done across seven hours, one hour per lesson. You may choose to do those seven hours in a single day or you may opt to do one hour per day for a week.

An extended silent retreat can entail typical ordinary things such as sleeping, bathing or eating. These mundane activities can be enjoyed anew when you’re walking in God’s presence. You can experience the familiar in new ways.

However, don’t be afraid to let God lead you into new experiences. Perhaps you’ve never just sat and looked at a flower. Maybe you’ve never prayed aloud. If you have never walked with God through a forest, why not add that to your day? You may get up at dawn or stay awake long into the night. Be creative in planning your silent retreat, but also be open to go where God wants to take you. Let your focus be simply to be with Him.

Here are some additional elements you could add to your silent retreat:

  • Exercise
  • Reading the Bible
  • Private prayer
  • Private worship
  • Take communion
  • Taking a nap (no, really)
  • Fasting
  • Journaling
  • Write gratitude notes
  • Spend time in nature and soak in God’s creation
  • Just sit still and lift your heart to Him

Cancelling Public Enemy #1: “I don’t have time”

When you feel there is no time to get close to God, it is probably the time you most need to connect with Him. Practicing silence and solitude helps you slow down and connect with the One who is your only source.

A silent retreat is not about being alone. It is about getting alone with Him. We get away from the world to draw nearer to God. A silent retreat is a planned, but loosely guided time for you to recover from your busy season, reconnect with joy, forgive, let go or grow deeper in your relationship with God.

Whether you want to plan your own silent retreat or go to an organized one, tell a trusted friend about it. Such a person can pray for you during your time of solitude, which can be a blessing in itself.

So, why not get clear of the world for a few hours with a silent retreat? God has treasures in store for you.

Take this free silent retreat…

20 Bible Study Tips: How to Read the Bible

In church, we’re taught to read the Bible but not how to read the Bible. It seems daunting, but reading and understanding the Bible is an essential part of Christianity. New believers and lifelong learners alike can struggle when it comes to being consistent and understanding God’s word.

I was introduced to the Bible as a child, but never read or studied it until attending a Christian high school. Even then, I remember struggling with the terms and style of writing that’s used. Some stories stuck, many didn’t.

For years I was intimidated by the Bible, even overwhelmed. It just didn’t make sense to me! If you’re there, keep reading. Even if faith has been a part of your life for a long time, there’s always room to improve your Bible study habits.

1. Get the right translation

Very few people will actually prefer the King James version over others. It’s the most difficult to read and doesn’t make as much sense to today’s modern English speakers. Many churches use the NIV, which is a well-respected translation. The ESV is often referred to as one of the most accurate translations.

Check out Bible.com where there’s many different translations of the same verses and get a feel for which you prefer. There are dozens of translations, so find the one that helps you learn the best.

2. Write in your Bible

Are you sure? Yes, you heard me. Don’t be afraid to highlight or take notes in your Bible. Mark the passages that are important to you, and it will be easier to find what you need when you come back to it later on.

3. Start small

Some people like to start from the start and begin by reading the Bible right from Genesis. If that works for you, great. But for many, that’s a daunting task. Start with reading one chapter a day and once that becomes a habit, you can up your game.

4. Schedule Bible study

Consistency is key here. When it’s planned, you do it. When it’s a wish, it doesn’t happen. Schedule time on a consistent basis to read and study the Bible. Make it the same time each day so you develop a routine, and pair it with events that trigger your brain into remembering. For example, open your Bible with breakfast each day.

5. Pray first

Ask God for focus and understanding while you read your Bible. Use this time to build your relationship with the Lord. Open your heart to the Lord and ask to see and hear his message. It makes a difference.

6. Forgive yourself

The Bible doesn’t say “Thou shalt read one chapter each day.” Some days you may only read a verse, and others you may miss altogether. Don’t fret, be easy on yourself. It’s a difficult journey, and to succeed in the long haul you’ll need to be forgiving of yourself.

7. Write scripture

Everyone’s heard that writing things down helps you remember. Make it a habit to find one verse each day that you like and to write it down, whether on a notebook, journal, or whiteboard. Keep a log for this purpose because someday you’ll be able to look back at what you were thinking about during those times. It’s a record of your walk with God.

8. Choose a book

Certain books, like Philippians and the Gospels are easier to read, especially for beginners. Many of these verses are powerful and meaningful. Some also say the New Testament is easier to read than the Old Testament. Try it out for yourself and see what works for you.

A big mistake that beginners often make is opening the Bible and just starting to read. While this is great, having a solid plan of action will help you to be consistent and succeed with your Bible study in the long term. Bible study is rewarding, so create your plan today and get started on your journey of becoming closer to God.

9. Read the full context

It seems pretty simple to find a verse that sounds good to you, but in order to truly understand the Bible, read the surrounding chapters and verses to find out the whole story. Invest time into finding the author, who it was written to, and why it was written. Only then can you obtain the full understanding of what’s being talked about.

It’s common to see verses online and on social media taken out of context. The Bible is much more than reading a singular verse, and the full picture must be grasped in order to truly have the real meaning of a passage.

10. Have a teachable spirit

One thing I know for sure is just how much I don’t know. There are many things in the Bible we wrestle with. Concepts, truths, theology- it’s hard. Sometimes we just want to understand a basic truth! Dig and ask questions, but remember that we can’t and won’t understand it all. Keep asking the hard questions and don’t quit!

11. Allow God to speak

The Bible is not about, “what’s in it for me?” Read to understand, not to check off a list. The Word truly comes alive once you begin to soak in what you read. As you spend time in the Word daily, God begins to reveal more and more to you.

12. Choose a character to get to know

Find someone in the Bible and get to understand everything about them. This is a fun way to read the Bible while diving into someone’s life. It’s almost like watching a movie about that character. Ask questions like, how do they know Jesus? What’s their relationship like? What do I have in common with them? And, what can be learned from their life?

13. When you learn, write it down

We forget 80% of the things we read and hear, so use a notebook or journal to write down important insights you gain throughout your readings. When we show respect toward the things we learn, God is willing to share more. Keeping a journal of your learnings also makes it easy to go back weeks, months, or years down the road and remember key points that were important to you.

14. Listen to it

Who says we have to read the Bible? Listening to it can be a good change of pace and can offer up a different perspective. Plus, it’s easy to listen while you drive, cook, or tidy up around your home. Some podcasts and websites will even break down passages for you and explain it to you in terms easier to understand.

15. Share it with someone else

Those around us can enhance our study. Read an interesting story? Share it with a friend or family member. When you share what you read out loud, you’re more likely to remember it and it opens up discussion to deepen your connection with Christ.

16. If you don’t understand it, look it up

Let’s face it; you’re not going to understand everything you read. There will be terms that don’t make sense to you and terms that are tough to fully understand. Don’t hesitate to hop on Google and search a word or phrase. Thousands of others have probably asked the same question and there’s an abundance of resources out there to help you gain understanding of the Word of God.

17. Pause and listen

It’s great that you’re seeking out the word of God, but just as important is to slow down and listen. When we quiet our minds and meditate after reading the Bible, God can better work to enlighten us through the Holy Spirit.

Like how you prayed before reading the Bible, pray after as well. Ask God for understanding and the ability to remember what you read. Ask Him to clear up anything that’s still confusing to you and to provide you with the strength to continue on your journey of becoming closer to God.

18. Study with others

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” — Proverbs 27:17

For some, sticking to a new habit may be difficult without help. However, if we dedicate times to study with someone else or with a study group, we now have accountability. The major benefit of studying with others is the addition of new perspectives. Stuck on a verse or not understanding a story? It might make perfect sense to someone else, and they’d be happy to share their thoughts on the subject.

19. Seek guidance

While some questions can be Googled, sometimes it’s best to reach out to your Pastor, priest, or Bible study teacher. These individuals have wisdom from years of Biblical study and have a much more mature understanding of what you’re reading.

20. Stay positive

Learning the Bible is a lifelong journey. God is pleased with effort to learn His words, regardless of how clear your understanding is. With time and consistency, you will begin to understand deeper and God will show us more of His kingdom.

Bryson Bernarde is the author for Keep God in Life, a blog focused on providing helpful life tools to Christians to give them the strength, hope, and motivation to stick with Christ. As a lifelong entrepreneur who’s made it all and lost it all, Bryson pulls from his experience in struggles and hardship, understanding what it’s like to go from the very top to the bottom, quickly. This ignited his newfound focus on helping others to not lose faith as they climb to get to where they want to be in life.

Love Does | Session 7 of a Self-Guided Christian Meditation | Deeper Still

This is the final session of a seven-part self-guided Christian mediation used for personal retreats. We recommend this devotional series be performed over the length of seven hours (for a one-day retreat) or one devotional per hour over seven days as a week-long practice. The complete devotional series, with supporting scriptures, can be found at https://levaire.com/retreat.

God’s love is supernatural. His love through us changes even the most challenging relationships in our lives.

If only life was simple. Unfortunately, it’s often not, and we may find ourselves confronted with difficult or even painful situations.

The saying “What would Jesus do?” originated in the late 19th century when Charles M. Sheldon wrote the novel In His Steps. The book’s popularity surged in the late 1990s as part of a Christian youth movement. Sheldon’s story revolves around a town where people begin asking themselves, “What would Jesus do?” before making decisions, and the practice leads them into kingdom transformation. This slogan has since become a moral and ethical guide, encouraging believers to consider Jesus’ example and teachings when faced with hard situations.

Now, even though we ask this question, it doesn’t mean the answers come easily. However, there is one common response that may help. In answer to “What would Jesus do?” consider the answer, “He will love first.” Jesus rewrote the definition of love.

Our Lord did not idly stand by and let the world suffer. In the words of John 1, verse 12, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”

Isn’t this the essence of Christianity? Jesus leads us into our Father’s love.

Allow Jesus to love through you.

In many of life’s situations, it seems impossible to love. Often, we don’t even want to love, and even if we did, we may not know how. We could easily say, “I am not Jesus! God cannot expect me to love like He did!”

Or can He?

He can, and He does. In fact, Jesus commanded us to love one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

In Luke 6:27, Jesus also said we must love even our enemies and do good to those who hate us. Does this sound impossible? It is. This kind of love does not come naturally. It is not of this world. This kind of love only comes through God.

The only hope we have of demonstrating this love is through faith. We can only love this way if we have surrendered our lives to Jesus—the One who is love. He loves through us.

How to love others through faith.

  • Remember what Jesus did for you. He first loved you, even when you did not deserve that love. (1 John 4:19)
  • Know you aren’t enough. Apart from Him, our love will always fail. This is why God gave us the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit that loves through us. (Romans 5:5)
  • Yield troubled relationships to Him. Ask Jesus to heal the hurt and any emotional scarring you carry. He offers you total freedom through forgiveness.
  • Trust He will show you the way. He will give you the words and actions to demonstrate His love. And finally,
  • Choose love. Depend on the Holy Spirit to help you bless others when pain and frustrations arise from difficult relationships in your life.

Grow in love.

As you intentionally lean into loving others through faith, your heart will change. Our Father’s love does this. God is always faithful. He will teach you how to let Jesus love through you, even when it’s uncomfortable.

This kind of love is only possible because Jesus loved us first, and through our belief in Him, He gives us “the right to become children of God.”

“The love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent His only Son into the world,
so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:9)

Who is the Man of Lawlessness, that Son of Perdition?

Who is the man of lawlessness of 2 Thessalonians 2? And who is his restrainer? The man of sin, that son of perdition, often finds himself in an Antichrist mashup, used to color a shadowy world leader who is said to rise and take over the world in the last days.

In this lesson, we’ll take a closer look at the man of sin and identify a few candidates.


  • Establish the timing for the fulfillment of this prophecy
  • Review the four different views on the son of perdition
  • Become familiar with Josephus’ picture of life during the Great Revolt of Judea
  • Answer the question, “Who is the man of lawlessness?”

Touted as one of the toughest passages in the New Testament, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 has defied theologians ever since the early days of the Church. In his City of God, completed by 426 AD, early Church father Augustine of Hippo writes of the general confusion surrounding this passage and its harrowing imagery of the Antichrist.

Who is the Man of Lawlessness (Son of Perdition)?

The only place we see the “man of lawlessness” title in Scripture is in 2 Thessalonians 2. Writing in the early 50’s AD, Paul shifts from discussing Christ’s return on the last day (sometimes called Judgment Day, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12) and now addresses a more immediate concern for the young church in Thessalonica. Time is running out: 20 years have passed since Jesus sat upon the Mount of Olives and predicted a time of terrible tribulation.

For the full lesson transcript, go to https://prophecycourse.org/session/more/man-of-sin/

Prophecy Course Bible study

How to Produce Spiritual Fruit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:16-18)

Galatians 5 has become a treatise on the spiritual life. Paul identifies the Holy Spirit as the source of spiritual life and character. Jesus said in John 3:6, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. He was teaching that no matter how hard the flesh tries to be spiritual, he will always fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It then becomes necessary for the believer to develop a living relationship with the Holy Spirit to find the quality of life purchased for each believer by Jesus Christ at Calvary. To walk by the Spirit means to live daily life under His influence. Without His ability, each one is subject to being controlled by the desires of the flesh. The leading of the Holy Spirit takes the believer beyond the ability of the Law of Moses or any religious system.

Spiritual Fruit

In Verses 22-23, Paul lays out the method the Spirit uses to empower believers in His character by introducing the fruit of the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love. It is a list of nine fruit, but the original Greek uses the singular form of the verb, “to be,” suggesting that the eight other fruit following love are subsets of love, agape, God’s love, a self-sacrificing love. We believe this to be true since God is love (1 John 4:8, 16); everything He does is based on that love.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love [self-sacrificing], joy [gladness], peace [concord, agreement between persons], patience [forbearance, a person who is able to avenge himself yet refrains from doing so], kindness [lovingkindness in action, opposite of severity], goodness [benevolence, active goodness], faithfulness [trustworthy, reliable], gentleness [submissive to God and His Word]], self-control [curbing fleshly impulses]; against such things, there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk [keep in step] by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

Walking by the Spirit

This list follows the fifteen works of the flesh, the products of the human condition that each one faces every day. Fruit can only be produced by life in the Spirit and is possible when the believer puts on the new man, submitting his will to that of the Holy Spirit. Living by the Spirit means walking by the Spirit. According to Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Let our practice correspond to the ideal principle of our spiritual life-namely, our standing by faith as dead to, and severed from, sin and the law’s condemnation. ‘Life by the Spirit’ is not an occasional influence but an abiding state. Ephesians 4:22-24 says,

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Partakers of the Divine Nature

The three major sources of New Testament theology come from Paul, John, and Peter. Paul uses the term “in Christ” or “in Him” to define this new spiritual relationship known as the new covenant. John’s preferred terminology is “born again”, “born from above”, or “born of God.” Peter also uses “born again”, but he has a deeper description of the process, likened to Paul’s commentary on the fruit of the Spirit, and found in 2 Peter 1.

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power [Holy Spirit] has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge [full, complete] of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these, He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them, you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:1-4)

Peter addresses believers in Jesus Christ, a faith of the same kind as ours, and a faith received by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Like Paul, his hope is that believers would experience God’s grace and peace, multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. According to Ellicott’s Commentary, Grace is the peculiar state of favour with God and Christ, into which the sincere Christian is admitted. Peace is the state of mind resulting from the sense of that favour.  Peter lays the foundation of a truly spiritual relationship with God when he references His divine power, represented by the Holy Spirit, who has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness. This is Peter’s unique expression of the quality of the new covenant. By His glory and excellence, the new covenant believer is granted precious promises through which he is a participant in the divine nature.

Applying All Diligence

Now for this very reason also, applying [adding more] all diligence [zeal, earnest effort], in your faith [firm persuasion, conviction, belief in truth] supply [support, provide lavishly] moral excellence [virtuous action], and in your moral excellence, knowledge [spiritual knowledge], and in your knowledge, self-control [curbing fleshly desires], and in your self-control, perseverance [bearing up under, related to circumstances], and in your perseverance, godliness [devotion to God], and in your godliness, brotherly kindness [a fervent, practical care for others], and in your brotherly kindness, love [agape]. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge [full, complete] of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:5-11)

Like the description of the fruit of the Spirit, Peter lists nine virtues that help define the fullness of the new covenant relationship. He starts with diligence [spoude – zeal, earnest effort]. According to Ellicott’s Commentary, bringing in all diligence to the side of God’s gifts and promises; making your contribution in answer to His. He has made all things possible for you, but they are not yet done, and you must labour diligently to realize the glorious possibilities opened out to you. The premise is that Christianity is not passive, but requires the believer’s effort in the form of diligence, given the foundation of a perfect relationship with God “in Christ.” The following eight virtues flow from an earnest effort by each believer to walk in that perfect position. Just as the perfect position begins with agape love in Galatians 5:22, a believer is to furnish, supply, or support his life through diligence with these virtues.

Spiritual Qualities

Galatians 5:22-23 | 2 Peter 1:5-7

  1. agape – self-sacrificing, unconditional love | diligence – zeal, earnest effort
  2. joy – deep, abiding gladness | faith – firm persuasion, trust, belief in truth
  3. peace – inner repose, quietness | moral excellence – virtuous action, good conduct
  4. longsuffering – forbear under provocation | knowledge – knowledge by the Holy Spirit
  5. kindness – lovingkindness in action | self-control – curbing fleshly impulses
  6. goodness – character in action, energized | perseverance – bearing up under (circumstances)
  7. faithfulness – trustworthy, reliable | godliness – Godly devotion
  8. gentleness – submissive to God & His Word | brotherly kindness – fervent care for others
  9. self-control – curbing fleshly impulses love | self-sacrificing, the highest good for others

God’s intention is that these qualities are yours and are increasing; they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge [full, complete] of our Lord Jesus Christ. God wishes that we would not be blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, He wishes the believer to use that diligence to make certain about his calling and election through the exercise of these spiritual qualities that confirm salvation. One’s godly behavior is a warranty deed for himself that Jesus Christ has cleansed him from his past sins and, therefore that he was in fact, called and chosen by God. This believer will not stumble. According to Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 2 Peter 1:11, for in this way, the entrance shall be richly provided for you into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord richly provides the entrance of His kingdom to those who operate in the spiritual qualities of a walk led by His Spirit.

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15)

In the believer’s pursuit of a deeper relationship with Christ, he finds His glory!

Christian Church History & Persecution (Timeline)

A Brief Survey of Faithful Israel Throughout History

Throughout the ages, Christianity has experienced both great growth and great persecution, often in the same breath. In fulfillment of Christ’s words, “In this world, you will have trouble…” (John 16:33), from generation to generation, God’s faithful remnant has experienced trial, even at the hands of others who declared Jesus as Lord. Who is faithful Israel? In this lesson, we journey across history to survey the arc of the people of God, even in the face of terrible persecution.


  • Error entered even the first-generation Church as they drifted from New Testament teaching
  • Persecution came through paganism, Judaism and finally, through the Church itself
  • There has always been a faithful remnant, from Noah to today

Early Church: 30-500 AD

Writing in the late 50’s AD, Paul quotes 1 Kings 19:8 as an encouragement to the young Roman church. His message: Though the days may darken and persecution increase, God has always kept a faithful remnant:

2 God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he interceded to God against Israel saying, 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and demolished your altars and I alone remain, and they seek my life.” 4 But what did God say to answer him? “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” 5 Even so, at this present time, there is also a remnant according to the election of grace. (Romans 11:2-5)

Throughout the age of the Jews (ending in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple and the dissolution of the Mosaic rites) and continuing to today (the times of the Gentiles, per Luke 21:24, Romans 11:25), God continues to call His elect. But, who are God’s elect? They were defined by the prophet Malachi when he spoke of a “day of the Lord” sifting following the reappearance of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6; cf. Matthew 11:14 where Jesus refers to John the Baptist as Elijah.)

…You shall discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Malachi 3:18)

God’s elect are seen again in Revelation 12:17, when John’s vision tells us:

The dragon (Satan, the enemy) was furious with the woman (faithful Israel), and went to make war with the remnant (the faithful Church) of her seed (Jesus, the Jewish Messiah), those who keep the commandments of God, and who have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Our definition is clear then: God’s elect are those who remain true to God, following Him and the one He sent, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Division Enters the Early Church

Though it’s often proposed the fracturing of Christianity began with the formation of the Roman state church—denominationalism, also known as sectarianism—had taken root in God’s holy people long before. Denominationalism can first be seen in the division between the Jews and Samaritans, and again as the Jewish cult continued to splinter, first into the Pharisees and Sadducees, then the Essenes, and soon after, the Zealots. In fact, as Christianity exploded onto the scene during the Pentecost of Acts 2, both Jew and Gentile viewed Christianity as simply another sect of Judaism. In its earliest days, the Church was, after all, a mainly Jewish population believing the prophecies of Israel’s Messiah had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, Judaism had split again, this time between those who believed Jesus was the Christ, criminalized and crucified upon a Roman cross, and those who still awaited another. This explains why persecution from Jewish religious leaders was so fierce (cf. Acts 23, 25:3, 26:9-11, etc.) Christianity was seen as a blasphemous aberration threatening to consume those faithful to the Law of Moses; it had to be stamped out.

Throughout the New Testament, evidences of this division can be seen. Likely the result of the ongoing conflict between Jews and Christians, the Roman historian Suetonius writes about the expulsion of Jews from Rome under Claudius Caesar, also seen in Acts 18:2:

“He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.” (Divus Claudius 25. Chrestus was a popular Greek and Roman variation of Christus, meaning “the anointed one,” an obvious reference to Jesus.)

Perhaps Galatians 4:22-31 best illustrates the division between Old and New Covenant Judaism:

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24 This is an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai bearing to bondage, is Hagar. 25 For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and represents Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. (v22-26)

So maybe it should come as no surprise when we see the early stages of division creeping into the Christian Church by the time Paul writes his first letter to the new church in Corinth. A mere 20 years after Jesus, Paul has become aware of quarreling within the Corinthian body and he exhorts that there be “no divisions among you”:

12 Now I say this, that every one of you says, ‘I am of Paul’ and ‘I of Apollos’ and ‘I of Cephas’ and ‘I of Christ.’ 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest any should say that I had baptized in my own name.” (1 Corinthians 1:12-15)

In 2 Peter 2, Simon Peter counsels against false teachers and deceivers creeping into the Church:

1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many shall follow their depraved ways; because of them the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3 Through their greed, these teachers’ lies shall exploit you. Their judgment has been long lingering, yet their destruction slumbers not.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

In the third epistle of John, we see the apostle addressing a wayward Church leader, “…Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first [and] does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9). Diotrephes was apparently allowing his position over his local church go to his head.

Paul warns the leaders at Ephesus to be watchful when he says,

29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)

See also the second and third chapters of Revelation where Jesus Himself admonishes the local churches of the day for drifting into error and warns of His impending judgment:

“I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)

Christian Persecution Increases

Not only was Stephen stoned by the Jewish authorities within a few short years of the birth of the Christian Church (Acts 7), we see by Acts 12, James killed by the sword and Peter imprisoned under Herod. Paul tells of his own beatings and stonings (2 Corinthians 11:25) before he was eventually beheaded in Rome in 66 AD, possibly about the same time as Peter’s crucifixion. According to Church tradition, many of the early disciples met grisly deaths during this time:

“Stephen was stoned, Matthew was slain in Ethiopia, Mark dragged through the streets until dead, Luke hanged, Peter and Simeon were crucified, Andrew tied to a cross, James beheaded, Philip crucified and stoned, Bartholomew flayed alive, Thomas pierced with lances, James, the less, thrown from the temple and beaten to death, Jude shot to death with arrows, Matthias stoned to death and Paul beheaded.” (Carroll, Blood, p.30.)

Joining the Jewish affliction and growing in-house division, was a mounting crescendo of pagan persecution coming down from the highest levels of the Roman state. Though state-sponsored persecution seems to have begun with Claudius Caesar, the trophy for “Most Infamous” goes to his successor, Nero.

Nero and the Roman-Jewish War

Following Claudius’ poisoning by his fourth wife, Agrippina the Younger, the way was made clear for her 16-year old son, Nero, to ascend the throne. Initially guided by wise counsel, the first five years of Nero’s reign were marked by prudent changes for the empire, including empowering the Senate and ending secret political trials. Alas, his last decade spiraled into insanity and depravity. Among other evils, Nero is credited for exiling and murdering his first wife, murdering his brother and mother, kicking his pregnant second wife to death (and then castrating and marrying a boy who looked like her), and engaging in a reign of terror over Christianity following the famous Great Fire of Rome. Tacitus writes, following the fire,

Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all [Christians] who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Annuls 15.44.)

As seen in the examples of Pharaoh and King Nebuchadnezzar, men were positioning themselves and their pagan gods for worship long before the emperors of Rome. Like his predecessors, Nero also promoted emperor worship, an intolerable idolatry to committed Jews and Christians. Though many compromised their faith to continue participating in local commerce, increased taxation and forced pagan worship mixed with Messianic expectation eventually kindling Jewish rebellion. During the Roman-Jewish War (66-73 AD), the Judeo-Christian community further separated themselves from their Jewish heritage by not answering the call-to-arms. Instead of throwing in on the revolt against Rome and rushing to the aid of Israel’s besieged cities, the Christian community heeded Jesus’ Olivet Discourse warning to flee Judaea (Matthew 24:16, Luke 21:21-22), taking up residence in the mountain wilderness of Pella, east of the Jordan River. This was the fulfillment of Revelation 12:6,14 where “the woman fled into the wilderness, having a place prepared by God, where she will be nourished for 1,260 days” (3½ years or ‘time, times and half a time’ per v14).

After the fall of Jerusalem and the razing of the Temple in 70 AD, the war devolved into a three-year manhunt for any remaining Jewish rebels still clinging to their Messianic fervor. The last Jewish stronghold to fall was the mountain fortress of Masada, where Josephus reports 960 people (consisting of Jewish families and an extremist faction of Zealot rebels called Sicarii) took their own lives rather than face capture by the Romans.


Though paling in comparison with Nero’s terror, at the close of the first century, it seems Jews and—by proximity, Christians—may have experienced renewed persecution under emperor Domitian. However, if there was state-sponsored oppression of Christianity under Domitian, it has not been well-recorded by history. In his Church Fathers (3.17), Eusebius does say,

“Domitian, having shown great cruelty toward many, and having unjustly put to death no small number of well-born and notable men at Rome, and having without cause exiled and confiscated the property of a great many other illustrious men, finally became a successor of Nero in his hatred and enmity toward God. He was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us.”

Church father Tertullian reports Domitian’s persecution was brief and that he “even recalled those whom he had banished.”

The Great Persecution

Around the late second century, Tertullian writes of the rising popularity of Christianity, even in the face of civil persecution:

“We are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all the places that belong to you—cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges; the military camps themselves, tribes, town councils, the palace, the senate, the market-place; we have left you nothing but your temples.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, XXXVII.)

Like the early Hebrew nation in the land of Goshen under Pharaoh, this growth alarmed the pagan Roman Empire. Though laws against religious minorities were already being partially enforced across the empire, in February 303 AD, Caesar Galerius persuaded Emperor Diocletian to initiate civil persecution of Christians as enemies of the state. By 304, Galerius passed an edict forcing all Roman citizens to sacrifice to the empire’s pagan gods under threat of arrest, forced labor or execution.

Eventually succeeding Diocletian as emperor, Galerius continued his savage hostility toward Christians in what became known as the Great Persecution. This oppression persisted for eight years until Galerius fell seriously ill during the winter of 310 AD. Recognizing years of formal persecution had yielded only growth among the Christians, and possibly suspecting his failed health as judgment by the Christian God, Galerius issued a formal edict of toleration on April 30, 311, granting the Christians recognized freedom to pursue their faith openly. This Edict of Serdica was the first formal legalization of Christianity in history.

Christianity Legalized and Compromised

Through the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy—a series of conflicts between Rome’s coregents in the early 300’s—Constantine I eventually emerged as emperor supreme in 324 AD. Eucebius reports Constantine was moved by an open vision of a red cross in the sky emblazoned with the words, “In this sign you shall conquer.” Constantine took this vision to mean he would conquer and unify the known world through Christianity. Subsequently, he re-established dynastic rule under himself and—with the first ecumenical (empire-wide) Council of Nicaea in 325—he instituted church-state cooperation that would eventually lead to Christianity’s takeover as the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire. (What could go wrong?) The downside? This secular state influence in Church government would invite syncretism and political compromise from this point forward. Additionally, local churches began trading in their self-governed executive autonomy (thereby abandoning the New Testament model) and looked instead to the Roman state for legislative direction and support.

Yet, as Constantine pushed for the favor and unification of all Christians under the Roman banner, the pagan Roman Senate pushed back. This opposition led Constantine to establish a second Roman capital at the eastern city of Byzantium. Gratuitously renamed Constantinople, this move foreshadowed the future denominational split from Rome, which would establish the center for Greek Orthodox Christianity centuries later in 1054 AD.

Doctrinal Error Advances

Through these centuries of tribulation, doctrinal error continued to creep into the Christian Church. Beside the merging of church and state, one of the first tenants to fall was baptism. New Testament baptism was a believers’ baptism, requiring one to hear and understand the Gospel message, repent of sin and make their public declaration through immersion (Romans 6:3-5, Acts 2:38, 8:12, 8:38-39).

Nonetheless, the writings of Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian all seem to indicate baptism of children began among the local churches as early as the second century. One of the causes for this shift may have been the developing idea that baptism enabled salvation instead of simply being a symbol of it. This thinking also encouraged infant baptism in a time when infant mortality was high. Though not doctrinally sound, some Christians today still hold infant baptism as a continuation of its predecessor, infant circumcision, as seen in the Mosaic Law (Genesis 17:10-14, Leviticus 12:2-3).

As Paul points out in Galatians 2:16, however, the works of the flesh accomplish nothing. Circumcision was always intended to lead to circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, Romans 2:29). To be clear, it is the belief in the finished work of Christ that saves, not baptism. Romans 10:9 plainly states if we confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved.

Disagreement with salvific and infant baptism among the local churches, coupled with a healthy distrust of Rome after centuries of abuse, led to many churches staying away from the ecumenical council meetings. Undeterred, by 418, the Roman Catholic Church signed infant baptism into law thereby making it compulsory across the empire. In effect, forced paganism had now been exchanged for forced Christianity, casting a shadow over religious freedom once again.

The Middle Ages: 500-1500 AD

The downfall of Rome in 476 created a power vacuum that could not be recovered by the weaker nations and tribes that rushed to fill it. It was during this decline of state rule and the ensuing rise of feudalism when the Roman Catholic Church rose to power. Though the term “Middle Ages” describes the time roughly between 500-1500 AD, the expression “Dark Ages” speaks to the first 500 years, where darkness reflects either a lack of cultural advancement or merely the weak historical documentation surrounding this period. As the gap between New Testament teaching widened, many errors became encoded into the Catholic Church during these years. Ratified through ongoing council meetings, these errors included:

  • hierarchical legislative government (325 AD);
  • the official marriage of church and state (380 AD);
  • the suppression of religious freedom (391 AD);
  • infant baptism as a means to salvation (418 AD);
  • worship of Mary as the “Mother of God” (known as “Mariolatry,” a play on the word “idolatry”, 451 AD);
  • image and saint worship (787 AD);
  • purgatory and indulgences (payments to the Catholic Church for heavenly mercies, 1095 AD);
  • forced celibacy of priests (1123 AD);
  • inaugurated the Inquisition (1184 AD) to stamp out all “heresy” which included Jews, Muslims, pagans and non-Catholic Christians, a ratcheting up of the Catholic Church’s bloody religious wars known as the Crusades, already in progress;
  • confession to priests and transubstantiation—the doctrine that the communal bread and wine was not a symbol but the literal body and blood of Christ (1215 AD); and finally,
  • made possessing any copies or fragments of the Bible illegal (so as to reduce “private interpretation,” 1229 AD).

The condemnation of particular Christian groups who refused to join the Catholic order was a frequent topic at these councils. Christians rejecting the Catholic institution, with its Pharisaical laws and increasingly pagan doctrines, found themselves accused of heresy. Many groups were targeted, including the Paulicians, Cathari, Patarenes, Donatists, Anabaptists, Petrobrusians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Waldenses and Albigenses. Though some of these strains really were heretical—like the Cathari, Patarenes and Albigenses—the Catholic response was decidedly more in step with the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ time than with Jesus Himself. Still, God was keeping a group of people for Himself who had not departed from the New Testament teachings.

Reformation: 1400-1600 AD

Following these centuries of brutality and bloodshed, we now enter a period of, well… more bloodshed. With its lust for oppression, legalism and corruption, the need for reform within the Church was becoming painfully obvious to Catholic piety who still had access to Scripture. Reformation became the cry from within, but was violently rejected by the Catholic Hierarchy who sought to protect its power. Change was led by devout Catholics like John Wycliff and John Huss, and like Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, who went on to begin the Lutheran Church in Germany, and Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, whose work launched the Presbyterians of Scotland. Even so, within several short decades, these churches joined their Catholic mother in achieving state sponsorship, securing for themselves both power and compromise.

During all this upheaval, the Catholic Church of England was having its own trouble. King Henry VIII—motivated by his desire to divorce Catherine, his wife, in exchange for her maid of honour, Anne Boleyn—broke from the Roman Church so he could have his marriage annulled. This placed Henry as the head of a new Church of England, Catholic though it was. Reformation entered the English Church during this time but was soon reversed when Catherine’s daughter, Mary, took the throne and placed the church back under papal authority. In doing so, she burned hundreds of Protestant “heretics” at the stake, earning the nickname “Bloody Mary.” She died five years into her reign and was succeeded by Elizabeth, Anne’s daughter, who returned the Church of England to its Protestant arc.

Recognized as established state churches, these new Protestant Churches of England, Germany and Scotland soon joined the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches in persecuting those outside their doctrinal borders. Without governmental authority, religious liberty was withheld from those who worshipped apart from the established institutions. Imprisonment, fines, beatings, banishment and loss of property still fell upon those who preached the Gospel or opposed child and infant baptism.

Post-Reformation: 1600-Today

In 1611, the King James Bible was made available to the commoner, further eroding papal power. The growing number of independent churches—now called “Congregationalists”—began to return to New Testament conduct. These self-governed churches adopted policies for remaining separate from state influence, held themselves apart from worldly values, esteemed the Bible as their standard and considered Jesus their head. Still, abuse by the larger state-sponsored denominations continued.

As colonial migration amped up during the 17th century, families fleeing religious persecution joined the exodus to America. Unfortunately, Europe’s established churches were also migrating to the New World, bringing with them the same intolerance those religious refugees had hoped to escape.

In time, the Church of England began to recognize religious oppression of fellow Protestants was not in the Crown’s best interest. Through a series of formal toleration acts from 1688 to 1854, the pressure on “dissenters”—all who remained apart from the Church of England—turned to liberty, eventually including even Catholics. Christianity had finally attained religious liberty from itself. Mostly.

Who are God’s Elect?

Represented by the Acts 2 Church of the first century, the 7,000 who refused to bow the knee to Baal, and the persecuted people of God who have remained steadfast across the ages, the faithful remnant continues to grow with every generation. They are not marked by denomination, nor by national heritage, nor by geographic location, but by faith and obedience. As Galatians 3:7-9 reminds us,

7 Therefore, know that they who are of faith are the children of Abraham. 8 The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, first preached the gospel to Abraham, saying, ‘In you, all nations shall be blessed.’ 9 So then they who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

Today, Christianity remains the world’s most predominant faith, and the most persecuted. According to Open Doors, an organization that tracks Christian oppression across the globe, 5,621 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in 2022. Over 2,110 churches were attacked and 4,542 Christians were detained. Since the time of Noah, there has been a faithful remnant—God’s elect—who have stayed true to God and His commandments, even in the face of persecution unto death.

As I’ve illustrated in this brief survey of doctrinal erosion and religious persecution, it is on every believer to cleave to the tenants of God’s Word. We must regularly compare our congregational doctrines and liturgies with the biblical record, for we see historically—apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit—drift happens. The models for church conduct and sacraments were clearly established in the New Testament. Throughout the ages, and even within the Word itself, we have seen what happens when men take matters into their own hands, soon departing from God’s standards.

And so, beloved, when persecution comes, whether from within or without, let us take comfort from the words of Peter:

The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment,” (2 Peter 2:9).


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