Last week we gave attention to what the Holy Spirit said was going to be a “departing from the faith.” We noticed this occurs because a person has ears to hear, but chooses not to hear that which the Lord said; instead, there is a desire to hear what others think and see what others have done, then follow that pattern. This is not a recent phenomenon, of course, for it goes back to the days of the prophet Samuel. It was during the days of Samuel’s judgeship the people wanted a king; Samuel protested their desire, but the Lord said to grant them the request, and give warning concerning the nature of their king. Samuel did so; the people responded, “Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20, KJV).
In the pages of the New Testament, the structure of the local church is placed in the hands of the Lord Jesus. It was He who said that He would build His church and the gates of Hades (Hell) will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:13-19). The gates of Hades refer to death. Paul wrote to Timothy, “and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Timothy 1:10, ESV). Satan’s power over man was his death, both physical and spiritual.
Satan, however, can have no success at getting evil “in” the church (if you will) unless he is let in, and the Lord won’t do it! If the local church holds true to what the Lord taught, that is, the collective body of the saints (not a building), Satan is defeated every time. In relation to church history, it was not long before the “doors” of the New Testament church opened up and the “gates of Hades” made their way in!
In the New Testament, the church of our Lord appointed men to serve as elders (a term equivalent in function/work to bishops, presbyters, overseers or pastors), as leaders of the local congregation. Up until sometime after the end of the first century, going into the second century, this was the norm. Later, it changed. “It is evident, however, that till some time after the year 100, Rome, Greece, and Macedonia had at the head of each congregation a group of collegiate bishops, or presbyter-bishops, with a number of deacons as their helpers” (A History of the Christian Church, Williston Walker (1918), p. 46).
Is this an insignificant occurrence in church history? Not a chance! It was one of the first structural changes of the church after the simple plan of the New Testament was put in place by the Lord; He never gave authorization to a single man to alter what He set forth in the New Testament.
In another church history volume, the writer mentions that after A.D. 135, there was a single bishop in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus, because it was not until after the time of the apostles the monarchal (single) bishop came into existence (Christianity Through the Centuries, Earle Cairns (1954), cf. pages 126, 88).
When the structure on New Testament leadership is changed, as it was so long ago, it is but a short time later that others changes creep in also. History attests to this having occurred. Leadership in the New Testament church is a leadership that respects and insists on the Lord’s way, and only His way. A failure of leadership is to do things some other way. RT