Scriptures

Men Who Changed New Testament Documents

Introduction

The Organization of the Church Changed

After the establishment of the church in Jerusalem in 29 A.D., it spread throughout the Roman Empire at a rapid rate.  At first, the apostles played the dominant role in its spread and growth.  Soon we see other men called evangelists taking on the important role of evangelizing.  Some assisted the apostles while others went in different directions.  Next elders appear in local congregations. This is not strange as synagogues had elders.  The work of elders in the synagogues was similar to the work of elders in the church.  No doubt in Jerusalem whole synagogues were converted.

It was an easy transition for synagogue elders to adapt to the work of an elder in the church.  At the close of Paul’s first missionary journey, he and Barnabas returned over the same route they had already taken appointing elders in the churches they had established.  The main difference would be that these Christian elders received some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which would enable them to teach and stabilize the churches they oversaw as there was no written word (Bible) that soon.  Still, later deacons appear.

There was opposition to the doctrine Paul and Barnabas taught.  It came from Judaizing teachers who seem to follow Paul everywhere he would go.  As soon as Paul would move on the Judaizers moved in and would attempt to convince the new Christians they were to observe certain things outlined in the Old Testament, especially circumcision.  These false teachers were converted Jews who taught that certain items in Judaism were still intact.

This was especially true in reference to the act of circumcision.  They argued that Gentile converts should be circumcised.  Paul and Barnabas made a special trip to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles and elders about what these false teachers were saying.  The Judaizers claimed they had been sent out by the church in Jerusalem which was false.  The matter was settled but it did not stop the Judaizers as they continued to infiltrate many churches with this false doctrine.

Another very disturbing false doctrine was Gnosticism.  It declared that Jesus did not come in the flesh because anything material was evil.  Thus, Jesus would not come in the flesh because this would be sinful.  He only appeared to have flesh.  What they saw was only an illusion.  This false doctrine would continue to be a thorn in the side of the church on into the third century.

The second-century would bring in a second generation of Christians.  These Christians seemed to have been faithful to the Scriptures with the exception of the role of elders in the local churches.  The apostles had seen to it that a plurality of elders existed in each church.  There were qualifications set forth for a man to qualify to become an elder in the church. They considered elders would serve in this office for a lifetime.

For some reason, this second-generation seems to feel the church would function better under the leadership of one man rather than a plurality of men.  The names elder and bishop both applied to the same work.  The apostles made no distinction between the two names but later on, churches selected one man to be the primary leader of the church.  He was addressed as the “Bishop.”

Elders and deacons continued to function but were not considered as being on the same level of authority as a Bishop.  Most of these men seemed to be more prominent than the rest of the elders.  Sometimes he was called the “President” over the local church.  Later on, this was replaced by the exclusive title of “Bishop.”  It is interesting that in some churches of Christ in England today they still have a president.

He does not have the authority of an elder or bishop but presides over the order of worship, the Lord’s Supper introduces the speaker, and sits on the pulpit throughout the sermon.  It is difficult to trace where the practice of appointing men to be “Bishops” began and why they felt the need for only one bishop.

They also thought that the office of an elder lasted for a lifetime.  Upon his death, they would select a successor.  It could be that in selecting a successor they sought out a man who seemed to have superior abilities than the remaining elders.  About the best we can say is that it started and was practised in the early part of the second century.  Among this second generation of Christian, there were a number of men who wrote letters to individuals and churches.

The name “Apostolic Fathers” was given to Christian writers because it was thought that they were personal disciples of the apostles.  However, it does not seem that this was true. However, they were men who were loyal to the scriptures which were handed down from earlier Christians.  They were not inspired and did not write as inspired men.  They wrote seeking answers and often gave advice to churches.

As an example, there were letters from the church in Rome which were penned by one of its bishops to the church in Corinth.  The writer may have been a man called Clement who signed his letters as “Bishop of Rome.”  Ignatius a writer who lived in Antioch wrote several letters mostly to churches in Asia Minor.  He mentions false doctrine that the churches were being threatened by resulting in division. His solution was to bring all the members under the authority of one bishop in each church.

It soon becomes evident that each church moved in the direction of having one bishop ruling over the members with elders being in subjection to the “Bishop.”  This was a dangerous and devastating departure from the word of God.  It would be the beginning of a hierarchical pyramid that would later bring into existence the Catholic Church, and subsequently affect the Church of England and the Episcopal Church,

Polycarp is supposed to have been a student of the Apostle John.  He was a saintly man put to death for his refusal to deny Christ.  He wrote a letter to the church in Philippi describing the responsibility of elders. However, he gives no indication of any office higher than that of an elder.  Yet he was regarded as “the bishop of the church in Smyrna.”

Early church historians noted that the offices of elder and bishop were identical, and were not differentiated until later on and that a plurality of elders was the norm for church government.  Jerome (347 – 420) said, “Elder is identical with bishop.”  Chrysostom (349 – 407) voiced the same sentiment.  They also say that the churches were governed by a joint council of elders.

The changes listed above might have seemed small to some, however, no one had the right to propose something they thought was better.  Look again at what the apostles authorized.  Each church had complete autonomy.  Each church was under the oversight of a plurality of older men. The change would end up eventually with one man (the Pope) ruling over the entire church.

Churches no longer had any independence which opened the door for many false doctrines to be brought into the churches which now had no authority to reject them.  It has always been difficult for men to accept the simple directions given to the church through the New Testament.  Men seem to think they can improve on God’s ways.  Israel was not satisfied with the system of Judges given to them.  They wanted a king like the other nations which would bring on many difficulties for the nation.

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