In this third bulletin article on church history, the book I have been gleaning my material from has expressed the importance of the Church’s inward growth. By that is meant the growth in doctrine (teaching) and organization.
Interestingly the author of this church history book spoke truly when he said “[t]he theory that doctrine is not important is not only shallow and foolish, it is also crafty. It is one of the devil’s best tricks” (The Church in History, Kuiper, p.15). It’s unfortunate, however, when he mentions that from the first through the early portion of the fourth century the organization and doctrine developed (p. 16). Of course, this is true when viewed from the perspective of man-made institution, but from the perspective of the Holy Spirit this is not true at all. Peter wrote that at the time he lived all things that pertained unto life and godliness had been revealed (2 Peter 1:3; cf. Jude 3). Paul stated it this way: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV).
There are a number of doctrinal items worthy of discussion in this bulletin article, but only one that I want to reference now: “the development of the episcopate.” This is the title of the section dealing with how the church developed a doctrine wherein one man stood above and before others. In fact, “[b]y the middle of the second century practically all churches had monarchical bishops” (p. 20).
The term “monarchical bishop” is a term for a single man who rules alone in a particular religious community. The reason for this single-man rule, we are told, was because of the heresy of the day (known as Gnosticism and Montanists) needed to be opposed and this was best accomplished in one man. We are told the “Church had to establish its position as the authority who decided the meaning of the Bible” (p. 18), and this was exercised through the episcopate or monarchical bishop. This was (and is) a most unfortunate sentiment because it dismisses (unintentionally, I believe) what the Lord’s revealed word had already determined. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NKJV).
When the Lord gave His charge to the apostles to take His message into all the world, He gave them and those they taught (2 Timothy 2:2) the adequate tools to thwart the fiery darts of Satan. Man, in his own wisdom, decided to set aside that which the Lord taught and make some adjustments to the pattern set forth by the Lord. This presumptuous action, even if it was done with good intentions, puts both the teacher and those taught in a precarious position (at best).
In this same church history book the author clearly recognizes that in the New Testament this form of leadership (government) is not present. “At first the organization of the Church was very simple. The officers were the elders and deacons. The elders were known as presbyters, since presbyter is the Greek word for ‘elder’” (p. 19, italics in original). Thus, based on what we just read, the Lord’s simple plan was made more complex by man. Herein is the problem; “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Our challenge is to stay true and fiercely adhere to the teachings of the New Testament. If one would simply allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves, then man’s complex ways could be dismissed. The sacred Scriptures need to be put exactly where the Lord placed them: as the revealed pathway of life (2 Corinthians 5:7; Romans 10:17).