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Home : Articles :
The Church Fathers

 

The Traditions of the Early Church Fathers
 The Heart of the Problem!
By Beresford Job
Essex England

Will the Bad Guys Please Stand up?

We now address the reasons as to why churches are so different from the way in which Jesus had the apostles establish them, and examine the main historical influences which overruled the authority of the New Testament and became the Christian Church's ultimate authority. The contents of this section will amaze you!

We really have a big question before us now, don't we? After all, if what I am saying is in accordance with the New Testament - and as I have demonstrated, no scholar of note would suggest it isn't - then why are churches set up so completely differently from how the apostles established them to be? And not just churches today either, or even churches at certain epochs of history, it's churches from virtually the first century and the death of the apostles onwards. We must understand what caused the changes, and why; although it isn't actually a what at all, but rather a question of who! So allow me to introduce you to the Early Church Fathers.

This term is generally used by church historians to refer to the men who were the most influential of the leaders amongst Christian churches for the first two or three centuries after the original apostles died. It was these guys who held the fort against heresy and false teachings concerning the very nature and means of salvation, and some of them did so at the cost of being eventually martyred. They defended and preserved the truth of the deity of both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and through their leadership and influence the Christian gospel was preserved and propagated at a time when it was arguably at it's most vulnerable.

In this respect they were quite clearly the good guys, so why am I labeling them the bad guys in regards to the issue of what churches ought to be like? Well, it's because they threw a spanner in the works and messed that side of things up really quite appallingly. They introduced teachings and practices that not only didn't conform to the New Testament, but actually went directly against it, and with a vengeance too!

We must understand as well though that, unlike ourselves today, they didn't have the New Testament to tuck under their arms and constantly refer to. They couldn't give people systematic teaching from the entire Word of God because they didn't have the entire Word of God from which to have a systematic understanding themselves, let alone pass on to others. Throughout the years that they led churches and taught and discipled new converts, the New Testament only existed - though in it's entirety - in the form of various letters and documents spread out all over the place. Only in the third and fourth centuries could it be said to have been compiled into one volume, and therefore available in the way we understand today. That was a very great handicap for them, and I reckon they did pretty well considering.

Imagine yourself as a church leader trying to ward off and counter the most complex heresies and false teachings with just the Old Testament scriptures, maybe a couple of Paul's writings, a gospel or two, and perhaps John's third letter. It's not really all that much to go on, is it? Without the entire New Testament at my disposal I shudder to think what a mess I might have made of things. Come to think of it, I shudder at the mess I tend to make of things even though I do have the entire New Testament at my disposal! So I am a bit of a fan of these guys, and a coward like me can only tip my hat in respect to those who risked death for the Lord every day of their lives. Yeah, I think they did pretty good, even though I now have to show you just what a mess they made of the churches they had influence over, and what way out and awful teachings and practices they developed and introduced. (There are those, and better men among them than I, who think I'm too soft on these guys and ought not try to excuse them in the way I have done. They think they should have known better, and that is the end of it! And maybe they're right, I don't really know for sure! I just feel I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and that I would have done no better, and probably a lot worse.)

We must, however, be somewhat more strident in our censure of those leaders who followed on from them once the New Testament was fully compiled and available. They should have seen how far the church had departed in it's set up and practice from what the Lord had originally intended and made clear in His Word, and they should have made the appropriate changes. We will be seeing why this was such a hard thing for them to do, but they should nevertheless have given final place to the teaching of Jesus and His apostles in the New Testament, and not, as they did, to the Early Church Fathers. Rather than test the legacy of the Fathers in the light of the Word of God, they argued instead that you could only really understand the New Testament properly in the light of the teaching of the Fathers, and that they were the key to understanding it. This is the outrageous error of judgement that has haunted the Christian Church ever since. Here we have the mistake, and a mistake of almost unimaginable significance and import, that changed the way things should have been virtually beyond recognition.

So come with me on a journey through some of the developing teachings and practices of men who loved the Lord and suffered greatly for Him, but who nevertheless got some of the most important New Testament truths about the Christian Church totally and utterly wrong. We are not here dealing with what one might think of as sideways steps, or with small and unimportant moves away from what should have been. No! We are rather going to see a wholesale departure from biblical truth, and one which resulted in churches not merely being different from what Jesus wanted, but virtually the opposite, the very antithesis, of what He had intended!

We come now to the heart of the problem - the error and false teaching concerning the Christian Church handed down to us by the Early Church Fathers!

The Early Church Fathers - The Heart of the Problem!

The Foundational Error

Let me introduce you at last to the six of the Early Church Fathers whose teachings will be occupying our attention. In order to give you an idea of the historical backdrop and chronology of what we're going to be seeing, it's helpful to bear in mind that the experts reckon that the apostle Paul died around AD 64. They reckon too that John, the longest surviving of the apostles, went home to the Lord around AD 98. Here goes then: (All quotes concerning the Early Church fathers are taken from "The Early Christian Fathers : A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius" by Henry Bettenson (Translator). Oxford University Press, September 1969)

Clement of Rome

He was one of the early leaders of the church in Rome. He wrote a letter to the Corinthian Church, as Paul had once done, about AD 95, and we shall be having a look at it. He died in AD 100.

Ignatius - Bishop of Antioch.

He wrote 7 letters to different churches, some of which we will refer to, whilst traveling to Rome to be eventually martyred around AD 110.

Justin Martyr

This guy wasn't a church leader in quite the same way some of the others were, but was rather an apologist and philosopher, the C S Lewis of his day, so to speak. He was martyred in Rome around AD 165.

Irenaeus

Irenaeus studied under Polycarp, the famous Bishop of Smyrna, and himself became Bishop of Lyons in France in AD 177.

Tertullian

We here have another apologist/philosopher, and he was converted in AD 193. His many writings date from AD 196-212. He lived in Carthage in Africa.

Cyprian - Bishop of Carthage

He lived in the same place as Tertullian but some years later. He became a Christian in AD 246 and was made Bishop there within two years.

We are going to concentrate on various of their wrong teachings, but must start with a detailed look at what was their first and most serious one. I tend to think of it as being what I call their foundational error, the seed-bed, so to speak, from which other false teachings and practices inevitably grew and flourished. The fact is that the Early Church Fathers developed an increasingly wrong understanding of the nature of the government and leadership of the Christian Church, and it was this that led to the eventual redefining and transformation of the very nature of the Christian Church itself.

We have already seen from the New Testament that churches were established to be led by a plurality of co-equal male elders, referred to also as bishops or overseers, and pastors or shepherds. These men were home grown and arose from within the body of the particular church they were to lead. This arrangement was completely non-hierarchical, and they were thought of as performing a function as opposed to holding an office, there being in churches no positional distinction whatever between leader and led. We saw too that this governing of churches by such elders was consensual wherever possible, and that church meetings were such that all were expected to play their part in building up and encouraging the gathered assembly and sharing together from the Word of God. No-one led the proceedings, not even the elders, and each person was responsible to respond to the leading of the Lord Himself through the working of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the main thrust was precisely that there would be no big chief. Having one man in charge and leading things was the very thing such an arrangement was designed to preclude and prevent. Why? To safeguard against deception and abuse of authority, and to uphold the fact that every believer is to be a channel through which the Lord moves and speaks! So what teachings did the Early Church Fathers develop and propagate in this regard? (All quotes taken from: "The Early Christian Fathers". Edited and Translated by Henry Bettenson. Oxford University Press. 1996. Originally published 1956.)

Clement of Rome, in his epistle to the Corinthian Church in AD 95, wrote:

"The high priest has been given his own special services, the priests have been assigned their own place, and the Levites have their special ministrations enjoined on them. The layman is bound by the ordinances of the laity."

At around the time the apostle John is putting the finishing touches to the Book of Revelation on the Isle of Patmos, we here have someone coming up with the grand idea of applying the Levitical Priesthood in the Old Testament to the Christian churches. Here, as early as AD 95, we have the introduction of the concept of leadership being by a priesthood, and with the resultant distinction between priest and people. The clergy/laity divide started not with Jesus or his apostles, and is nothing whatsoever to do with the teaching of the New Testament; it started with Clement of Rome who took church leadership, as set up by the apostles (elder, bishop or overseer, pastor or shepherd), and turned it into a priesthood separate from the laity. (I wonder what the high priest will turn into?) Let's move on to the next phase and move forward some 15 years:

Ignatius - Bishop of Antioch AD 110

To the Ephesians:

"Your REVEREND presbytery is tuned to the Bishop as strings to a lyre...Let us be careful not to resist the Bishop, that through our submission to the Bishop we may belong to God...We should regard the Bishop as the Lord Himself..."

To the Magnesians:

"I advise you to always act in godly concord with the Bishop, presiding as the counterpart of God, and the presbyters as the counterpart of the council of the Apostles...As the Lord did nothing without the Father, either by Himself or by means of the Apostles, so you must do nothing without the Bishop and the presbyters."

To the Trallians:

"...respect the Bishop as the counterpart of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and the college of the Apostles: without those no church is recognized."

To the Smyrneans:

"Let no-one do anything that pertains to the church apart from the Bishop...it is not permitted to baptize or hold a love-feast independently of the Bishop. But whatever he approves, that is also well pleasing to God."

Where have we come? Notice that now the presbytery (this is where the word priest eventually came from in English) is a reverend presbytery, growing both in importance and spiritual authority. (This is, of course, where we get the designation of Reverend as a title for a church leader from.) Moreover, non-hierarchical co-equality is gone too, as this ordained ministry is now headed up by a Bishop. And just note the incredible authority the Bishop is here given, he is to be looked upon "as the Lord Himself." (At least they were still having love-feasts, even though you had to get the Bishop's permission first.)

Tertullian - AD 200

"The supreme priest (that is the Bishop) has the right of conferring baptism: after him the presbyters and deacons, but only with the Bishop's authority. Otherwise the laity also have the right...how much more is the discipline of reverence and humility incumbent upon laymen (since it also befits their superiors)...It would be idle for us to suppose that what is forbidden to PRIESTS is allowed to the laity. The distinction between the order of clergy and the people has been established by the authority of the Church."

Ninety more years have passed and we now have a full-blown priesthood under a Bishop with the priests being seen as the superiors of the mere laity, and the Bishop being regarded as supreme. These guys now claim the authority to sanction their own system and are, in effect, beyond question or challenge.

Cyprian - Bishop of Carthage AD 250.

Fifty years later you will be amazed to discover that this Christian priesthood is now considered to be a sacrificing one, and is thought to be mediating between God and those who are not themselves priests. Writing of the Lord's Supper, Cyprian declares:

"If Christ Jesus our Lord and God is Himself the High Priest of God the Father, and first offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father, and commanded this to be done in remembrance of Himself, then assuredly the priest acts truly in Christ's place when he reproduces what Christ did, and he then offers a true and complete sacrifice to God the Father, if he begins to offer as he sees Christ Himself has offered."

What was to eventually become the full-blown Catholic Mass is here in germinal form as early as AD 250. The supremacy of the Bishop eventually gave way to an even more complex priestly hierarchy culminating in the Bishop of Bishops, the Pope!

And so we see how the Early Church Fathers took the Christian Church from being a proliferation of little localized extended families and made it instead into a worldwide hierarchical religious corporation. It is quite evident too how this first error, what I've called their foundational one, made it inevitable that more were soon to follow. Their wrong teaching about the nature of the leadership and government of the church gave leaders, now Priests and Bishops, such authority that whatever else they ended up teaching was accepted virtually automatically. It was indeed a seed-bed in which grew other plants of error and deception to which we will turn our attention in the next article.

A question arises here though, and it is simply this: How on earth did they get away with it? We here have people who redefined and changed the very nature and essence of the Christian Church, and turned it into something utterly foreign to, and totally at variance with, the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. So just how do you do something that monumentally and seriously mistaken and get away with it? The answer is that they claimed to have a theological justification for it, and introduced a concept that came to be known as the doctrine of the Apostolic Succession.

Remember, the Christian Church faced all manner of problems down the years with heretical teachings about Jesus and salvation, all of which claimed for themselves the inspiration of God. The most ridiculous ideas were being put forward. Jesus was said by some to have been an angel, and actually neither God nor man. Others claimed Him to be truly God, but only looking like a man and merely appearing to die, being actually a solid looking specter. Still others said He was merely a man, but one on whom the 'divine Christ' descended from Heaven at his baptism only to depart again at the crucifixion. Salvation was also being postulated to be through secret knowledge and not faith in Jesus, and all this demonic deception coming from people claiming to be led by the Spirit, and therefore speaking the inspired Word of God. Remember too that, unlike us, they were without the fully compiled and available New Testament. We can do no better here than to return to Dr John Drane (Lecturer in practical theology at Aberdeen University. Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, California. Visiting Professor at Morling College, Sydney):

"It is important to realize that the movement towards a more authoritarian church hierarchy originated in the fight against unacceptable beliefs. At a time when Gnostics were claiming a special authority because of their alleged endowment with the Spirit it was important for the mainstream church to have it's own clear source of power. It was of little practical use for the church's leaders to claim - even if it may have been true - that they, rather than their opponents were truly inspired by the Spirit. They needed something more than that, and they found it in the apostles. In the earliest period supreme authority had rested with them. So, they reasoned, anyone with recognized authority in the church must be succeeding to the position held by the apostles. They were the Apostle's successors, and could trace their office back in a clear line of descent from the very earliest times. They stood in an apostolic succession." ("Introducing the New Testament". Chapter 22 and the section on The Institutional Church on page 397, and a sub-section entitled "Authority". Published by Lion. Revised 1999 Edition)

In effect, the Early Church Fathers claimed the same authority as had the original Apostles, and thereby argued that what they taught was therefore necessarily correct. One might argue that this was fine for where they were right, and they were right about a great many things, but it is conversely unarguable that it was not so good for where they were not. In fact, it was disastrous! Let's see them actually argue this:

Clement of Rome:

"The Apostles have received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ was sent forth by God and the Apostles by Christ. Both these appointments were made in an orderly way according to the will of God...The Apostles appointed the first-fruits of their labors to be bishops and deacons for those who would believe."

We remind ourselves here as well that, by bishop, the apostles and the Fathers meant completely different things. To the apostles it was simply one of the words used to describe the function of an elder (pastor or shepherd), whilst to the Fathers it was denoted a high ranking position in an ecclesiastical and organizational hierarchy.

Irenaeus - Bishop of Lyons:

"By knowledge of the truth we mean: the teaching of the Apostles: the order of the church as established from the earliest times throughout the world: the distinctive stamp of the Body of Christ preserved through the episcopal (bishops) succession: for to the Bishops the Apostles committed the care of the church which is in each place, which has come down to our time, safeguarded without any written documents."

Cyprian - Bishop of Carthage. (Writing on the procedure for choosing a Bishop):

"Therefore we should be careful to observe and keep the procedure we received from the Divine Tradition, and from the practice of the Apostles which is kept among us."

The argument basically goes like this: God sent Jesus and Jesus sent the apostles; therefore the apostles were divinely inspired and authoritative. (Thus far the argument is sound and in keeping with the Word of God.) The apostles then sent the leaders who came after them (i.e. the Fathers), therefore the Fathers were inspired just like the apostles. And that, of course, didn't necessarily follow in the slightest. God's plan was to eventually have a written record of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, the New Testament, as the yardstick for what was inspired and true, not the teaching of the Early Church Fathers.

Once it was eventually realized that this New Testament, this written record of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, was at variance with the way things had turned out under the Fathers, the decision should have been made to make the necessary changes to anything that didn't square with it. Everything should have been tested by, and in the light of, this newly and wonderfully available inspired document containing all that they needed to know. But things didn't quite work out that way. Instead, the then leaders of the religious organization that was the Christian Church decided that the New Testament was rather to be interpreted in the light of the teaching of the Early Church Fathers. And I wonder if here we have the reason why the blatantly right course of action to take, testing everything by the New Testament, proved too difficult for them. I wonder if the fact of the matter is simply that the power, prestige, and authority vested in the position church leaders were by then so used to exercising was just too much for them to give up. Could it be that the corrupting influence of that power had just gone too deep for too long? I rather think so! Ironically, all the dangers the teaching of the New Testament concerning leaders was designed to help avoid, happened. None of the safety features built in to the specifications given in the Word of God were there to come into play, for the specifications were now changed beyond recognition, and the accidents happened and the damage was done again and again and again. Against all the counsel of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles too much power was given to individuals, and the result was inevitably the emergence of spiritual pride and arrogance, the perfect climate in which deception and error naturally flourish. Church leadership, a function of servant hood, was transformed into a position, and one of spiritual prestige and hierarchical power to boot!

Let's remind ourselves again how the apostles (and they got their ideas straight from Jesus Himself) understood church leadership. They set churches up to be led, consensually wherever possible, by plural, male, co-equal, non-hierarchical, home grown elders, referred to also as bishops or overseers, and pastors or shepherds. They performed a function without holding a position, and did so within the context of a small group of believers sharing their lives together as an extended family, meeting in each others homes. The Early Church Fathers could not have actually got it more wrong, and the challenge for us today is to actually start getting it right again.

Let's be clear too that although priesthood and clericalism are the extreme form of all this, it is not only churches that practice leadership by priesthood which are in error. The essence of the wrong teaching introduced by the Fathers was hierarchy and institutionalism, priesthood just happened to be the form it took. Whether you have the Catholics and Anglicans at one end of the spectrum, or Baptists and Pentecostals at the other with churches led by a 'Pastor' or 'Minister' who is not only imported and in charge, but usually titled and referred to as Rev. So and So, the error is exactly the same. The nature of the church, with all the unbiblical rigmarole of led services and religious buildings, and all the trappings of institutionalism, is still fundamentally and wrongly changed. Indeed, many so-called 'house churches' with their 'pyramid structures' and 'senior elders', all considered to be under the authority of some hierarchically positioned 'apostle', are still just another variation on the same old erroneous theme. As we will see again and again, the issue is not actually how far down the wrong road any church is regarding these things, it's that any church is on the wrong road in the first place. It's the right road we need to be on, and nothing less will do. Whether it's Priest, Pastor or Senior Elder, or whatever other variations there might be, it's still not what the New Testament teaches and is the traditions of men making void the Word of God.

We will move on to look at other wrong teachings and practices which came from this foundational, or seed-bed one, and see how the transformation of the Christian Church from what it should have always been, into what it should never have become, was finally completed. I'll leave you here though with a quote that might make more sense to you now than it would have done before you read this article. Ray Simpson is an ordained Anglican priest. He is evangelical and Spirit-filled, and worked with the Bible Society for some years. In the May/June 1988 issue of a magazine called 'Prophecy Today' , edited by Clifford Hill, he wrote:

"I can justify staying in the Church of England because it is committed to the teaching of the Bible and the Early Church Fathers." (Italics mine.)

(Used with permission.)

Can you see the problem? It sums up everything I'm saying! If you are committed to both the teaching of the Bible and the Early Church Fathers, which do you go by should you find they don't agree? (And no scholar would claim that they do agree, they very blatantly do not.) I say we should go by the New Testament. For the last 1900 years the Christian Church has been saying we should go by the Early Church Fathers. What do you say?

Donald Guthrie, "The Lion Handbook of the Bible", 2nd Revised Edition, 1978. Section on I Corinthians 11v17-34 on page 594:

"In the early days the Lord's Supper took place in the course of a communal meal. All brought what food they could and it was shared together." (Used with permission.)

Dr John Drane, "The New Lion Encyclopedia", Section on the Lord's Supper on page 173:

"Jesus instituted this common meal at Passover time, at the last supper shared with His disciples before His death...the Lord's Supper looks back to the death of Jesus, and it looks forward to the time when He will come back again. Throughout the New Testament period the Lord's Supper was an actual meal shared in the homes of Christians. It was only much later that the Lord's Supper was moved to a special building and Christian prayers and praises that had developed from the synagogue services and other sources were added to create a grand ceremony." (Used with permission.)

J G Simpson, in "The Dictionary of the Bible", edited by James Hastings. First published 1909. T and T Clark Edinburgh, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Under entry for the Eucharist:

"The name Lord's Supper, though legitimately derived from 1 Corinthians 11:20, is not there applied to the sacrament itself, but to the Love Feast or Agape, a meal commemorating the Last Supper, and not yet separated from the Eucharist when St. Paul wrote."

Canon Leon Morris, Commentary on 1 Corinthians for the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, published by Inter-Varsity Press, 1976.

General Editor: R V G Tasker. On page 158:

Ch 11 "...reveals that at Corinth the Holy Communion was not simply a token meal as with us, but an actual meal. Moreover it seems clear that it was a meal to which each of the participants brought food." (Used with permission.)

I Howard Marshall, "Christian Beliefs", Chapter 6 - The Christian Community, on page 80. Published by Inter Varsity Press, 2nd Edition, 1972:

"(The Lord's Supper)...was observed by His disciples, at first as part of a communal meal, Sunday by Sunday." (Used with permission.)

Each church practiced non-hierarchical plural male leadership that had arisen from within itself. These men were known as elders, pastors (or shepherds) and bishops (or overseers), these being synonymous terms in the New Testament:

Donald Guthrie, "The Lion Handbook of the Bible", 2nd Revised Edition, 1978. Section on 1 Timothy 3 on page 620

"It was Paul's practice to appoint several elders (the same thing as bishops) to take charge of each church." (Used with permission.)

A M Renwick, "The Story of the Church". Chapter on The Apostolic Age on page 20-21)

"When we come to consider the permanent officers of the Church we find that in the days of the Apostles elders and deacons were appointed and their duties defined. The office of elder is variously described in the New Testament as bishop, pastor, teacher, preacher, minister and steward. The various terms mentioned referred to the same officer, but each presented a different aspect of their work. Thus 'pastor' indicated their duty to 'shepherd the flock' of Christ. Bishop, a word used to translate the Greek 'episkopos', indicated that as 'overseers' they had to 'feed the Church of God' (Acts 20) That the 'presbuteros' and 'episkopos' (elder and bishop) were the same is shown by many facts...Furthermore, the qualifications for bishop and elder were the same. Scarcely any scholar today would dispute the words of the late Dr J. B. Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham, and an undoubted authority: 'It is a fact now generally recognized by theologians of all shades of opinion, that in the language of the New Testament the same Officer in the Church is called indifferently bishop, and elder or presbyter.'" (Lightfoot's commentary on Philippians, page 93) (Used with permission.)

Dr John Drane, quoting R.P.C. Hanson:

"Of official Christian priests we must honestly admit that there is in the New Testament not the faintest whisper."

Dr John Drane, "Introducing the New Testament". Chapter 22 and the section on The Institutional Church on page 397 Published by Lion. Revised 1999 Edition:

"Instead of the community of the Spirit that it had originally been, the Church came to be seen as a vast organization. Instead of relying on the Spirit's direct guidance it was controlled by an hierarchy or ordained men, following strict rules and regulations which covered every conceivable aspect of belief and behavior and when the Spirit featured in this scheme it was taken for granted that what the leaders decided was what the Spirit was saying. By the middle of the 2nd Century the change was complete. At the beginning the only qualification for membership of the Church had been a life changed by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, at the start there had been no concept of church 'membership' at all...But by the end of the 1st Century things were rather different. Now the key to membership of the Church not found in inspiration by the Spirit, but in acceptance of ecclesiastical dogma and discipline. And to make sure that all new members had a good grasp of what that meant, baptism itself was no longer the spontaneous expression faith in Jesus as it had originally been. Now it was the culmination of a more or less extended period of formal instruction and teaching about the Christian faith. And in all this we can see how the life of the Spirit was gradually squeezed out of the Body of Christ, to be replaced as the church's driving force by the more predictable if less exciting movement of organized ecclesiastical machinery." (Used with permission.)

On the section on Authority on page 403 he continues:

"It is important to realize that the movement towards a more authoritarian church hierarchy originated in the fight against unacceptable beliefs. At a time when Gnostics were claiming a special authority because of their alleged endowment with the Spirit it was important for the mainstream church to have it's own clear source of power. It was of little practical use for the church's leaders to claim - even if it may have been true - that they, rather than their opponents were truly inspired by the Spirit. They needed something more than that, and they found it in the apostles. In the earliest period supreme authority had rested with them. So, they reasoned, anyone with recognized authority in the church must be succeeding to the position held by the apostles. They were the Apostle's successors, and could trace their office back in a clear line of descent from the very earliest times. They stood in an apostolic succession." (Used with permission.)

W E Vine, "Expository Dictionary of Bible Words". One Volume Edition first published 181. 1985 reprint. Published by Marshall, Morgan and Scott. Under heading for Priest, Section 1 (c).):

"The New Testament knows nothing of a sacerdotal (priestly) class in contrast to the laity."

Under heading for "Bishop (Overseer):"

"Lit: an overseer...". Note: Presbuteros, an elder, is another term for the same person as bishop or overseer."

Under heading for "Pastor":

"...this was the service committed to elders (overseers or bishops)..."

(Used with permission.)

So I rest my case! None of this is merely my own interpretation of the Bible. This is what the scholars are fully agreed on because it is what the Bible unmistakably shows us. Incredible though it may seem, there is no dispute among scholars as to how churches were established, or how they operated and functioned. I could fill books with similar quotes from many other equally eminent experts. The apostles quite simply set churches up to be the same, and this apostolic blueprint, this shape that churches in the New Testament took, was uniform. You don't have to take my word on it, just read the Bible and check it out with the scholars.

So why are things not like this any more? Why is it virtually impossible to find a church like those we see in the pages of the New Testament? If the apostles did things a certain way when it came to planting churches, then why do Christians almost universally do it differently, and for pretty much the last 1900 years as well?

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