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The Faith Which Was Once Delivered

by: Lani W. Finley

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3).

This scripture is frequently quoted by Believers, who feel the need to regain the faith and doctrines of the First Century New Testament churches.  Primarily, because modern Christianity has left many worshippers with the feeling that something is missing in their theology.  However, very few Believers have taken the time to make an impartial and unbiased study of what doctrines and beliefs were embrace by these first century Christians.    

It is important for us to pay close attention to the phrase “once delivered,” which Jude used in his instruction to the churches.  This phrase is crucial, and conveys a very important message to all Christians.  The Matthew Henry’s Commentary explains the significance of  these words. 

It is the faith once, or at once, once for all, delivered to the saints, to which nothing can be added, from which nothing may be detracted, in which nothing more nor less should be altered. Here let us abide; here we are safe; if we stir a step further, we are in danger of being either entangled or seduced (from Matthew Henry's Commentary Jude 1:3-7  PP3). 

I am sure all Christians would agree with Matthew Henry’s statement that the “faith once delivered,” should never be altered or changed.  Having said that, the question, which remains to be answered is, Did the "faith which was once delivered" to the New Testament saints include partaking of communion on the evening of the Fourteenth day of Nisan, and observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread?  

Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth1 Cor 5:7-8.

It is evident by the Apostle Paul’s statement that he exhorted the gentile churches to observe the Passover and to “keep the feast” of Unleavened Bread.  Nonetheless, is there any historical evidence, which proves that the first century saints continued to observe these festivals? 

Fortunately, historical evidence does exist in the form of a letter, which Eusebius, a priest and noted historian of the early Roman Catholic Church, preserved in his book, The History of the Church, (From Christ to Constantine).  Eusebius is so highly regarded as a Catholic historian, that he has been hailed as, “the father of ecclesiastical history – the first, the only historian of the Church {Catholic Church} bordering on primitive times.”   

In his collection of early church documents, Eusebius preserved a very important letter, which was written by Polycrates and sent to Victor of Rome.  Polycrates was a bishop, who presided over the churches in Asia Minor.  Victor was an early leader of the Roman Catholic Church and occupied the position that would become known as, “The Pope.”  In this letter, which was written over one hundred years after the crucifixion of Jesus, Polycrates protested Victor’s demand to replace Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread with the pagan-based festival of Easter.   Polycrates’ refusal to submit to Victor’s demands is recorded in the following letter: 

We for our part keep the day scrupulously, without addition or subtraction.  For in Asia great luminaries sleep who shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s advent, when He is coming with glory from heaven and shall search out all His saints – such as Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis with two of his daughters, who remained unmarried to the end of their days, while his other daughter lived in the Holy Spirit and rests in Ephesus.  Again there is John, who leant back on the Lord’s breast, and who became a sacrificing priest wearing the mitre, a martyr, and a teacher; he too sleeps in Ephesus.  Then in Smyrna there is Polycarp, bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, the bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who also sleeps in Smyrna.  Need I mention Sagaris, bishop and martry, who sleeps in Laodicea, or blessed Papirius, or Melito the eunuch, who lived entirely in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis waiting for the visitation from heaven when he shall rise from the dead?  All of these kept the fourteenth day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal festival, in accordance with the Gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of Faith.  Last of all I too, Polycrates, the least of you all, act according to the tradition of my family, some members of which I have actually followed; for seven of them were bishops and I am the eighth, and my family have always kept the day when the people put away the leaven.  So I, my friends, after spending sixty-five years in the Lord’s service and conversing with Christians from all parts of the world, and going carefully through all the Holy Scripture, am not scared of threats.  Better people than I have said: “We must obey God rather than men.”( p. 231) 

This document is invaluable when it comes to establishing the beliefs and observances of the first Christian churches.  This letter provides undeniable proof, that more than 100 years after Jesus died, true Christians were still observing communion on the fourteenth day of Nisan and also putting leavening out of their homes during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as commanded by Jesus Christ in Exodus 13:6-7.   

However, in order to attract more heathen worshipers to the quasi-Christian religion of Rome, the imperial religious powers blended pagan customs with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and demanded that the pagan festival of Easter replace God’s holy feasts.  This was proposed in 325 A.D. by the Council of Nicea and decreed as law, by the Roman Emperor Constantine.  This is confirmed in the Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition, Vol. VIII, pp. 828-829): 

"There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. . . . The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish [that is, God's] festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed. Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it, of Christ as the true Paschal Lamb and the first fruits from the dead, continued to be observed.

"A final settlement of the dispute was one among the other reasons which led Constantine to summon the council at Nicaea in 325. At that time the Syrians and Antiochenes were the solitary champions of the observance of the 14th day. The decision of the council was unanimous that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world... 

Constantine also declared that anyone who continued to keep God’s feasts were Judaiziers and encouraged the people to ostracize them from the community.  In time, the constant pressure from Constantine and his military power prevailed, and the pagan festival of Easter gradually replaced the commanded assemblies of God.  

It is true that Constantine stopped Christians from being martyred.  However, he did so to gain popularity among the Christian population, in order to increase his base of political supporters.  Although he claimed to be a Christian, the fruits of his actions proved differently.  He killed his own son, in order to protect his selfish desire for complete control and power.  Several years later, and supposedly for the same reason, he ordered his wife suffocated, while she was relaxing in a Roman steam bath.  

During his reign as Emperor, Constantine continually attacked neighboring countries, killing multitudes of people.  He committed these heinous acts, in order to increase his power, possessions and satisfy his insatiable ego.  He is also responsible for blending pagan customs with Christian themes, which resulted in the creation and forced observance of such holidays as Christmas and Easter.  Constantine refused baptism until confined to his death bed around the age of 64.  Just before his death, he requested to be baptized by Roman bishops, in order to escape God’s judgment for his innumerable sins. Only upon his death-bed and after a lifetime of murder, bribery, lies and corruption did He think of escaping eternal death, by calling on the sacrifice of Jesus.    

History proves that Constantine was a cunning and ruthless dictator, who corrupted the truth of God and used this new theology to attract pagan worshippers.   He is the father of most modern Christian doctrines and customs.  If we continue to follow these customs, then we have placed his doctrines above those of God.  Do sincere Believers really want to place their eternal salvation in the hands such an evil and wicked Roman Emperor? 

As we have discovered, it was not God’s free-gift of grace in Christ, which eliminated His ordained feasts from Christianity, but the imperial powers of Rome.  If a Believer is sincere about worshipping in concert with the First Century New Testament Christians, and truly desires to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,then he must be willing to abandon all man-made religious customs and agree with the words of  Polycrates,  “We Must Obey God Rather Than Men.” 



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