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Seven Church Ages

John Collins10/13/2013We have received more than one question today regarding the "Seven Church Ages," and whether or not they align with scripture.  It seems to be pressing on the minds of even the current followers of William Branham, because many are now aware that while claiming to be standing directly under the "Mystery Cloud," it is very evident that the words proceeding out of Branham's mouth are not true.

To understand the answer to this question, you will need some background -- all while studying the Bible.  Church "ages" are not described in the Bible, however seven "Churches" are.  (The seven churches of Asia Minor that are described in the book of Revelation).

The background:

You must study the history of dispensationalism, because it was nothing new when William Branham bundled it up as "revelation."  A it all starts with a mystic woman named Jane Leade -- who started a fellowship many would consider a cult in the 1600's named the Philadelphia Society.  Leade had several prophecies which proclaim the "Latter Rain," which some have associated with Pentecostalism and Azusa Street.  Her prophecies were found in the possessions of Charles Price, whose church Branham preached several times in Los Angeles.

Leade's idea of God hiding his face from the world was nothing new, and Irenaeus condemns this idea in his book "Against Heresies".  (Irenaeus, remember, is who Branham chose as the 2nd Church "Age.")  Groups who believe they are the only ones who hold the "mystery" that God has hidden have gone on for centuries, since the rise of mysticism into the early church.  But Leade's prophecies imply that God hid his light, showing just a little for each "age," and at the last age, the "restorer" would come to fulfill.  

This idea was spread to John Darby, who has been named the "Father of Dispensationalism"  -- but he obviously was not the first.  But Darby's influence spread to Cyrus Scofield.

Scofield is the opposite of what you would consider a theologian that one would respect.  Swindling people out of money, lying to evade taxes, not supporting his own family to have an affair with another woman, even while in prison for theft.  But suddenly, Scofield rises with his Scofield Notes in the King James Bible.  Those notes were taken directly from John Darby.

So with this history, introduce Clarence Larkin.  Larkin takes Darby's (and Scofield's) idea of dispensationalism and produces several drawings.  One of the drawings contain the "Seven Church Ages", and have the same dates that William Branham gives as "divine revelation."  Branham, remember, claims that an "angel" gave him this revelation.

Branham preached "Daniel's Seventy Weeks" from Larkin's study of Daniel, as well as the "Seven Church Ages" and more.  Interestingly, Branham's next sermon he was preparing for before he died was the "Trail of the Serpent," which was another title from Larkin.

But Branham took the dates of Clarence Larkin's "Church Ages," and assigned "messengers" for these ages.  The first, obviously, was Paul.  The second was Irenaeus.  If you read Irenaeus "Against Heresies," you'll find him condemning the "Serpent Seed" doctrine, "Seven Lights," and many other "revelations" by William Branham.  Irenaeus says that these doctrines came from ancient pagan worship, and explains perfectly how each heresy came to be.  

Then, we have Martin of Tours, who Branham says helped to save the "little bride" from the punishment of death by the king.  Yet Martin of Tours was sparing the lives of Gnostic group called the "Precillianists," and they were deeply involved with a pagan form of worship.  Martin was against the death penalty, but did not support their pagan form of worship.

But the most interesting is the "messenger" Columba.  He was not even alive during his "church age."  Columba died in June 597, and the dates that Larkin chose (and Branham copied) for the Thyatira church age began in 606 -- 9 years after the death of Columba.  

So from these "seven church ages," William Branham uses Larkin's teaching to bind them to the "seven seals."  

Branham says that he has a prophecy of five angels (and says that it has to be five, because the word "GRACE" has five letters in the English Language -- which obviously does not make sense if you are Spanish, French, or any other language.)  He says that he needs to go out west to receive the instruction from the Lord, and to visit these five angels.  This is all to take place on a hunting trip in Arizona.

While there, he receives a call from the photographer's son (who took the halo picture), and goes to Houston, TX to help gather support against the death penalty.  The hunting trip he mentions has not started, and hunting season for Javelina was not yet open.  He had plenty of time, as hunting season was March 1-10.  (The cloud, remember, was Feb 28, before hunting season).

While preaching in Houston, he says that he needs to go back to arizona for the hunting trip, and to receive instruction from the Lord.  He returns, hunts, and goes back to Jeffersonville to preach the seven seals.

While preaching, he says that he knew absolutely nothing about these seven seals until an angel met him in the room.  The angels, according to branham, met him one-by-one to open each seal.  But then, claiming this as revelation, Branham preaches several teachings that Larkin has described in his books of the seven seals, dispensational truth, and other various works.  Larkin's work seems to be the basis, though Branham deviates here and there on minor subjects.

Then, several sermons later, Branham is handed a copy of the Look magazine "Mystery Cloud."  He says that he was standing directly under this cloud when the angels "gave him the mystery of the seals."  

So here we have a problem.  Now, the story has changed from five angels to seven.  The location has changed from Jeffersonville to Arizona.  And the date has changed from his hunting trip (march 1-10) to February 28.  All to read directly from the works of Clarence Larkin.

An interactive timeline and summary of quotes has been compiled here: 

So with this background, and knowing that these works descended from mysticism, one must remember to compare strange doctrine with the Bible.  We don't find any idea of "church ages," Paul just mentions the "Church."  And he mentions men who would rise to separate themselves from the Body.  

Paul does not describe a "fading light" that will be rekindled by a "restorer."  Instead, he says that the work Christ did on the cross at Calvary was once-for-all.  Paul says that there is no mystery, and nothing is hidden between the lines.  In fact, Paul was speaking against rising Gnosticism before Irenaeus wrote "Against Heresies," and warned that it would continue to rise through false prophets and false teachers.

So for me personally, I do not feel that this doctrine can align with true Christianity.  If the work Christ did on the cross would suddenly fade until the last "church age," then the power of the cross has been limited.  If the other six church ages only had a "little truth" as Branham claimed, then they were not serving God in "Spirit and in Truth" -- they were walking blindly.  

I think the biggest thing missed in the Book of Revelation is the first few words in the first verse of the first chapter:  "The revelation of Jesus Christ"

Anything we lift into our spirituality as a "restorer" or a "redeemer" besides Christ is an idol, and has replaced the cross.  To believe in church "ages," you must also believe in a "restorer" at the end of the age -- not the resurrected Savior that has already done the restoration for us on Calvary.

My favorite verse in the Bible is found in Ephesians 2:8-9:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."