Kelly Marshall - How Armstrong Lied About the "Lost Century"

10 Dec 2020 - Kelly Marshall

The following article is an excerpt from Kelly Marshall’s Mystery of the Ages: A Critical Review, which can be found as a PDF at Exit Support Network.

It is a long read, but it documents a typical method Armstrong would use to get quotes to seem as if they said something they really do not.

PCG Watch is reposting it here as we feel it will make it easier to access rather than having to search through Marshall’s complete book to find it.

HWA wants his readers to believe that early church history is scanty and suspicious,” a product of a great cover up orchestrated by the devil himself. … Confident of his findings, HWA paints a picture of scholars and historians agreeing with his assessment:

Scholars and church historians recognize that events in the early Christian Church between A.D. 50 and 150 can only be seen in a vague outline—as if obscured by a thick mist. (p. 280)

In the interest of “proving all things” we will look at the sources that HWA gives in the MOA and see if he is guilty of misquoting, omissions, and misrepresentations, which would certainly not be the fruits of a man of God. First HWA quotes Edward Gibbon:

Now we quote from a book of history, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume I and chapter 15: "The scanty and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the Church." I have often called it "the lost century" because the history of that Church was lost at that time. (p. 280)

Now I will supply the full quote. The red text is the sentence quoted in the MOA. The bold lettering is my emphasis, while the historians’ footnote commentaries to Gibbon’s writings are in brackets:

Part I. The Progress Of The Christian Religion, And The Sentiments, Manners, Numbers, And Condition Of The Primitive Christians.*

[Footnote *: In spite of my resolution, Lardner led me to look through the famous fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of Gibbon. I could not lay them down without finishing them. The causes assigned, in the fifteenth chapter, for the diffusion of Christianity, must,no doubt, have contributed to it materially; but I doubt whether he saw them all. Perhaps those which he enumerates are among the most obvious. They might all be safely adoptedby a Christian writer, with some change in the language and manner. Mackintosh see Life, i. p. 244. - M.]

But this inquiry, however useful or entertaining, is attended with two peculiar difficulties. The scanty and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the church. The great law of impartiality too often obliges us to reveal the imperfections of the uninspired teachers and believers ofthe gospel; and, to a careless observer, their faults may seem to cast a shade on the faith which they professed. But the scandal of the pious Christian, and the fallacious triumph of the Infidel, should cease as soon as they recollect not only by whom, but likewise to whom, the divine Revelation was given. The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings.*

A candid but rational inquiry into the progress and establishment of Christianity may be considered as a very essential part of the history of the Roman Empire.While that great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up insilence and obscurity, derived new vigor from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the Cross on the ruins of the Capitol. Nor was the influence of Christianity confined to the period or to the limits of the Roman Empire. After a revolution of thirteen or fourteen centuries, that religion is still professed by the nations of Europe, the most distinguished portion of human kind in arts and learning aswell as in arms. By the industry and zeal of the Europeans, it has been widely diffused to the most distant shores of Asia and Africa; and by the means of their colonies hasbeen firmly established from Canada to Chili, in a world unknown to the ancients.

[Footnote *: The art of Gibbon, or at least the unfair impression produced by these two memorable chapters, consists in confounding together, in one undistinguishablemass, the origin and apostolic propagation of the Christian religion with its later progress. The main question, the divine origin of the religion, is dexterously eluded (otherwise avoided) or speciously conceded (erroneously accepted); his plan enables him to commence his account, in most parts, below the apostolic times; and it is only by the strength of the dark coloring with which he has brought out the failings and the follies of succeeding ages, that a shadow of doubt and suspicion is thrown back on the primitive period of Christianity. Divest this whole passage of the latent (underlying or hidden) sarcasm betrayed by the subsequent one of the whole disquisition, and it might commence a Christian history, written in the most Christian spirit of candor. - M.] (Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Random House, N.Y., ch.15, p. 382).

Read in complete context, we begin to understand the full meaning of what was really said. This book concerns the Roman Empire—its rise to world power, and its fall— and how Christianity triumphed in the face of the Empire’s decay and final collapse. When one understands how fervently the powerful Roman officials tried to stamp out this “new religion,” it truly is a miracle that it not only survived, but prospered, outlasting the Empire itself. So inspite of what seemed to be “silent and obscure” beginnings for this humble religion, it has managed to triumph beyond the confines of the Empire, and become established throughout the world. The great Empire that once was responsible for persecuting this new religion, by quirk of fate, was now responsible for the spread of this same religion. The historian accurately discerns the error of Gibbon’s comments concerning the unfair impression he givesconcerning the “shadow of doubt and suspicion” of primitive Christianity. He correctly points out Gibbon’s error in blending the early origins of Christianity (which exist as accurate records) with its later progression (possibly referring to the thirty years after the destruction ofJerusalem in 70 A.D.) in order to reach his conclusion.

HWA undoubtedly read these very same records, but extracted one sentence to prove that his claims of lost church history were true. HWA misrepresented the writings of Gibbon’s by not divulging the full context of Gibbon’s discussion. His failure to point out the authentic historicalchurch documents in existence is nothing short of deception.

Now let’s examine the second quote given by HWA:

The noted English scholar Samuel G. Green in A Handbook of Church History wrote: "The thirty years which followed the close of the New Testament Canon and the destruction of Jerusalem are in truth the most obscure in the history of the Church. When we emerge in the second century we are, to a great extent, in a changed world." (p. 280)

HWA continually challenged his followers to “prove all things.” How can one prove these things if HWA refuses to give out precise information so one can follow this specific dictate? Notice that the source that HWA has quoted above contains no publisher, no dates, no pages numbers, no footnotes, nor an Appendix. For one who claims to have the “truth,” he isn’t very forthcoming with particulars. One reason, of course, is to make it difficult to verify his information. But another reason for this is to screen out those who were willing to put their total trust in his claims—these are the ones HWA is looking for. How many of us thought, “I’ll have to look that up and see if what he says is true,” only to never get around to doing it? Others of us started to look up these claims, only to be frustrated by the inability to locate the information. So we gave up and said, “He seems to know what he’s talking about, so I’ll trust he’s telling the truth.” Still others, who questioned the minister about these sources, were told, “These books are no longer in publication. They were written in the early 1900s, back before evolution and other false teachings permeated society. These older books contained valuable information before Satan caused worldly scholars to edit most of these truths out.”(Members can easily recall HWA’s penchant toward the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica as a prime example of this reasoning).

Today, fortunately, the Internet can be very helpful with procuring information and after much searching I was able to locate a copy of this book. The full quote is provided below. The red lettering is the portion quoted in the MOA:

Obscurity of the History, A.D. 70-100. - The thirty years which followed the close of theNew Testament Canon and the destruction of Jerusalem are in truth the most obscure in the history of the Church. When we emerge in the second century we are, to a great extent, in a changed world. Apostolic authority lives no longer in the Christian community; apostolic miracles have passed; the Church has fairly begun her pilgrimage through "the waste of Time." (A Handbook of Church History, From the Apostolic Era to the Dawn of the Reformation, Samuel G. Green, D.D., The Lutterwoth Press, London:1937, p. 22).

Notice that the sentence quoted by HWA states, “When we emerge in the second century weare, to a great extent, in a changed world.” The sentence says “changed world”—not “changed religion.” In fact, if there had been specific quotes about this, we can guarantee that HWA would have quoted it in his usual dramatic, over-emphasized style. Remember—what HWA doesn’t say is just as important—if not more so—than what he does say. This author alsodoes not validate HWA’s “lost century” dogma. Green states that church history was obscure (but not completely lost) for only 30 years—from 70 A.D to 100 A.D. Remember, HWA stated(bolding mine):

Scholars and church historians recognize that events in the early Christian Church between A.D. 50 and 150 can only be seen in a vague outline—as if obscured by a thick mist. (p. 280)

I have often called it "the lost century" because the history of that Church was lost at that time. (p. 280)

This is why HWA omitted the first part of the paragraph “Obscurity of the History, A.D. 70-100.” He didn’t want to publish any dates that would be contrary to his theory and make readers suspicious. Clearly, Dr. Green does not support the notion of a “Lost Century” and HWA knew this and tried to hide this fact.

Now let’s look further into the context of Green’s book and see if it supports this “lost century/false church emerges in Rome” theory. Predictably, HWA does not quote the previous paragraph of this book.

Extent of the Church at the close of the Century. On the whole, the later part of the first century instructively shows that the kingdom of God cometh not with observation. At its close, however, Christian Churches were already planted in the chief cities of Syria andof Asia Minor; possibly also in Mesopotamia; in Greece, in Macedonia, and Dalmatia; in Rome, and possibly in Northern Africa and Western Europe. The remnant of the Churchof Jerusalem, returning from Pella, lingered amid the ruins of the Holy City (now called Aelia Capitolina), under, it is said, the Presidency of Symeon; the Gentile mother-church in Antioch flourished under the care of Ignatius; Polycarp had commenced his lengthened and illustrious ministry in Smyrna; and in Rome the chief pastor Clement, often thought, but on insufficient grounds, to have been the "fellow-labourer" of the Apostle Paul (Phil.4:3). (A Handbook of Church History, From the Apostolic Era to the Dawn of the Reformation, Samuel G. Green, D.D., The Lutterwoth Press, London: 1937, p. 22).

If church history had been lost, then these historians seem to have had no trouble finding it. In fact, by the end of the first century, the church was well established and thriving, and manyof their writings were preserved. HWA did not quote Samuel G. Green’s previous paragraph,because he knew it would flush his bogus “lost century” theory down the toilet.

If HWA taught that “theologians and scholars are deceived” and “don’t understand” even the simplest “truths,” why is he quoting these very same “deceived” scholars and theologians? If they are truly instruments of the devil, why would he quote them at all? HWA bashes them throughout this chapter of MOA, but whenever he can find something they say that remotely agrees with him, he quotes them as sources of proof!

HWA quotes another historian without giving any precise information:

In Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, William Fitzgerald wrote: "Over this period of transition, which immediately succeeds upon the era properly called apostolic, great obscurity hangs...." (p. 280)

Again, we must question why HWA did not supply the reader with information to look up this particular quote. Wouldn’t he want his readers to be able to verify what he says, if it is indeed,true? Now let’s look at the full context of what William Fitzgerald was discussing. First, Bishop Fitzgerald describes the primacy of the Jerusalem church:

While that city stood, the Church there formed a sort of local centre to the early churches, with far higher claims than Rome could reasonably pretend to. It was, in reality – whatthe Church of Rome so falsely and so absurdly calls herself – the mother of all churches,to which all the lines of spiritual descent in other places converged, and in which they met. It was the place in which our Lord's own ministry had closed, and in which the presence of the Comforter had been first manifested, and it was the golden link ofconnection between the old and the new dispensations.

Bishop Fitzgerald observes the importance of the dissolution of the Jerusalem Church:

With such advantages as these, it is not wonderful that the Church of Jerusalem should have exercised great influences over the whole circle of the Christian community, andthere certainly was no small danger that, especially after the guiding hand of the inspired Apostles was withdrawn from this central wheel as it were of the ecclesiastical machine,its movements might have been highly prejudicial to all that depended on it. There was manifest danger that the national peculiarities of the Church of Jerusalem might beimpressed upon Christianity itself, and a character thus given to the religion which wouldrender it unsuitable to discharge its important function of blending freely with theinstitutions of all nations and all climes and all ages, in which the true secret of its realstrength and permanence lie.

The almost synchronous events of the removal of the Apostles, and the disruption of the Jewish polity, seem thus to have been so arranged by Providence that the latter to some extent compensated for the former. And just at the time when the Judaising tendency of the Church of Jerusalem was likely to do most mischief, the Roman arms drove it from its metropolis and violently broke up the associations of local dignity to which it owed its influence.

Without the influence of the original apostles, it would have been far too easy for the central church to fall prey to Judaizing or Galatianism. God used the Roman army to scatter theJerusalem Church to prevent this from happening. Bishop Fitzgerald continues:

By these events, however, as I said, the churches were for a certain space deprived of the means of combined action. That central tie of common government, or at least a common point of contact, which had been supplied by the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem, was taken from them, and nothing of the same sort substituted in its room. Thus each separate Christian community was thrown upon its own resources for the conservation of the apostolic faith and the working out of such institutions of church order as might suits its own case.

After this scattering, there was no central church government, or point of contact. Each believing community had to work out its own church order. This, in turn, had quite remarkable results, as we will later see. Next comes the quote that HWA provided in the MOA: [HWA’s quote in red]

Over this period of transition, which immediately succeeds upon the era we call apostolic, great obscurity hangs. I shall endeavor presently to assign some reasons forthat obscurity.

Now why would HWA ignore the sentence after his quote? Did he not think that readers woulddesire to hear Bishop Fitzgerald’s explanations? Or is it because he wanted them to believe that church history was lost, even if it means misrepresenting the words of a Bishop? HWA claimed that church history was lost during this period, “as if obscured by a thick mist.” He claimed that the curtain began to lift around A.D. 150, but now this “original church” hadbecome a totally different church, but still called itself Christian. Continuing from the quoteabove, let’s see if Bishop Fitzgerald agrees with this assessment:

But what I wish to remark at present is that the fact of such obscurity, combined with all the antecedent probabilities of the case, and the little that we do know of the history of that interval, seems to make it certain that no great piece of combined action on the part of the whole Church in its federative capacity can have taken place during it. Such an event could not have occurred without impressing some permanent record of it soccurrence upon the annals of the time. And therefore, when in the middle of the next century the mist begins to clear off, and shows us the spectacle of the churches diffused over the whole surface of the Roman Empire, and beyond it, acknowledging everywhere the same essential articles of faith – tracing their religion to the samepersons, founding their faith upon the same miraculous facts, appealing unanimously to the same documents as the well-attested records of their founders' teaching – and practicing the same external rites as delivered down to them by those founders, this is very strong and convincing evidence that such an uniform system of belief and practice could not have originated in that short, dark interval. There was in that interval no common authority which could have fixed these things for all the churches diffused over so wide a surface...It is surely incredible that any such universal empire as this should, like Jonah's gourd, spring up in a night and vanish with the day. But if therewas none, then it is plain that the unanimity which meets our view in the secondcentury was the result of the independent testimony of the several churches, each preserving for itself, by diligent inquiry and examination, the records of the apostolic teaching. It is the uncoerced testimony of a multitude of independent separate witnesses to the same truth. (Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, William Fitzgerald, D.D., Vol. 1, pp. 132-134; London, 1885.27)

According to Bishop Fitzgerald, when the mist began to clear around A.D. 150, churches were established all over the Roman Empire. Even more miraculous was the fact that even without acentral authority, they were all in agreement—not only with each other—but with the founders of the original church! This is nothing short of remarkable. The original teachingshad been preserved in spite of the fact that there was no central authority overseeing this operation. Clearly, we see HWA omitting information that did not agree with his claims concerning the transformation of the early church into the false church. This would explain why he did not provide adequate references. He did not want his readers to find what he wastrying to hide.

The next proof that HWA gives states: (bolding mine)

In The Course of Christian History William J. McGlothlin wrote: "But Christianity itself had been in [the] process of transformation as it progressed and at the close of the period was in many respects quite different from the apostolic Christianity." (p. 280)

Let us once again, carefully observe what is said. Since HWA lifted this sentence out of context, we cannot know what exact “period” that the author was referring to. We can clearly see that the author was speaking of a definite historical time period that had come to close. Knowing what specific time period the author was referring to would make a major differencein the context of this sentence. Past experience with HWA’s dishonesty in quoting and/oromitting historical records would appropriately cast suspicion toward his direction.

HWA repeatedly refuses to supply precise information so one can look up this quote. Howdifficult could this have been? He doesn’t even provide a footnote! I was able to locate a copyof Dr. McGlothlin’s book. Below is the full quote in context, plus the exact source from where it was derived. The red type is quoted in the MOA, while the bold type is my emphasis:

Second Period – 100 to 323 A.D.


We have now followed the rapid spread of Christianity over the empire during the second and third centuries, and have seen it finally conquer the emperor and achieve its freedom. But Christianity itself had been in process of transformation as it progressed and at the close of the period was in many respects quite different from the apostolic Christianity of A.D. 100. At every step it had been changing and these changes were making the Catholic church.28 (The Course of Christian History, page 27; W. J.McGlothlin, Ph.D., D.D., The MacMillan Company, 1919).

HWA plainly tampered with this sentence, omitting the date of A.D. 100. Why? Because on page 293 of the MOA, he claimed: (bolding mine)

There ensued a hundred years in which all history of the New Testament Church was destroyed.

HWA claims that these scholars recognize that events in the early Christian church between A.D. 50 and A.D. 150 can only be seen in a vague outline, as if obscured by a thick mist. In thisbook, William J. McGlothlin makes no such claim. Instead, Dr. McGlothlin confidently states that apostolic Christianity existed up until A.D. 100, reducing the time of the “lost century” by 50 years! HWA obviously couldn’t have that piece of evidence floating around, so he altered the sentence to make it agree with his theory. How can anyone trust a man that would knowingly alter a pertinent piece of information in order to make his theories sound correct?

Also contained in this book are thorough outlines of eight historical periods of the Church to the present day, and lengthy details of each period. At this point in our review, we are only interested in the first two periods. The First Period covers the time from 1 A.D. to 100 A.D. The Second Period extends from 100 A.D. to 323 A.D. This should adequately cover the “lost century.” Dr. McGlothlin makes some interesting observations during these time periods. Under the First Period, Dr. McGlothlin writes:

"What is certain is that by the end of the first century Christianity was firmly established in most if not all the great cities of the empire, that it had spread into many of the smaller towns and even into country districts. In some sections Christians constituted a large and influential element in society." (The Course of Christian History,page 17, Section 10, Saul's Conversion and Work).

This author certainly doesn’t seem to agree with HWA’s assessment of a lost century. Primitive (apostolic) Christianity, by the end of the century, was firmly established throughout theempire and flourishing, which easily corroborates with Samuel Green’s earlier assessment.

On page 247, HWA faulted traditional churches for having a “democratic” form of government.Dr. McGlothlin also informs us what type of church government the early church established:[bolding mine]

"Organization is necessary to success in any great task and so we very early find theChristians organized into bodies which they called ecclesiae, a word which is translated intoEnglish by the word churches. The basis of organization was fraternal equality. "Call no man your father, for one is your Master and all ye are brethren." This is fundamental democracy, and these early churches were undoubtedly democracies in principle as far as possible in practice. Paul appointed elders for the churches, but it must have been in consultation with the brethren in whose hands the ultimate authority rested. (The Course of Christian History, page 17, Section 11, The Churches).

HWA’s top-down government (which he claims to be theocratic, but in reality is a dictatorship) that he had supposedly “restored” from the early church is a false claim. We also see that theword ecclesiae (ekklesia) simply means churches, and contains no “hidden meaning” such as “called out ones.”

The final quote HWA gives as proof that a century of church history was lost:

In History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff wrote: "The remaining thirty years ofthe first century are involved in mysterious darkness, illuminated only by the writings of John. This is a period of church history about which we know the least and would like toknow the most." (pp. 280-281)

How difficult would it have been for HWA to give the exact source of this information? One would think that he would be enthusiastic for his readers to “prove all things” and would have made it easier for the reader to locate these quotes. Instead, he has intentionally made this an arduous task so the reader would become discouraged and simply take his word at his claims. Notice carefully that Schaff states that the remaining 30 years of the first century were considered obscure (70-100 A.D.), which corroborates with Samuel Green’s statements.Schaff’s statement clearly does not support a lost century, but only three decades, and those decades weren’t completely lost. John was still living and writing during this time.

Below we have supplied Philip Schaff’s full quote in context. The red type is the quote found inthe MOA: [Bold type mine, comments in brackets mine]

Sources of Information.

The author of Acts records the heroic march of Christianity from the capital of Judaism to the capital of heathenism with the same artless simplicity and serene faith as the Evangelists tell the story of Jesus; well knowing that it needs no embellishment, no apology, no subjective reflections, and that it will surely triumph by its inherent spiritual power.

The Acts and the Pauline Epistles accompany us with reliable information down to the year 63. [HWA's "50 A.D.- 150 A.D." date is clearly debunked here]. Peter and Paul are lost out of sight in the lurid fires of the Neronian persecution which seemed to consume Christianity itself. We know nothing certain of that satanic spectacle from authentic sources beyond the information of heathen historians. A few years afterwards followed the destruction of Jerusalem, which must have made an overpowering impression and broken the last ties which bound Jewish Christianity to the old theocracy. The event is indeed brought before us in the prophecy of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, but for the terrible fulfillment we are dependent on the account of anunbelieving Jew, which, as the testimony of an enemy, is all the more impressive.

The remaining thirty years of the first century are involved in mysterious darkness, illuminated only by the writings of John. This is a period of church history about which we know least and would like to know most. This period is the favorite field for ecclesiastical fables and critical conjectures. How thankfully would the historian hail the discovery of any new authentic documents between the martyrdom of Peter and Paul and the death of John, and again between the death of John and the age of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, First PeriodApostolic Christianity A.D. 1-100, Volume I, Chapter III. THE APOSTOLIC AGE.)

Observe how HWA carefully avoided quoting the sentence immediately following the one displayed in the MOA. Could it be because, as Schaff astutely described, he is guilty of propagating critical conjectures and ecclesiastical fables concerning this time period? Notice that Schaff did not say historical writings were non-existent. He simply states his desire for any new authentic documentation that would shed more light during this 30-year period. This would undoubtedly put to rest the many fables generated by false teachers concerning this time period. HWA has discovered a fertile field in which to sow his seeds of suspicion, much to the chagrin of church historians.

In conclusion to this Lost Century discussion, we have seen HWA clearly omits information in order to prove his false theory true. He built up the false belief that church history was lost,and then excerpted comments to make it seem that church historians agreed with him. If HWA were truly a man of God, he would have had nothing to fear IF he did indeed have the Truth. Apparently, he knew better and had to stoop to lying through omission of key information thatdidn’t substantiate his claims.