Ex. 20:19 π Ex. 25:14 π 1 Sam. 8:19-20 π 2 Sam. 6:6-7 π Mt. 13:25; 2nd π Mt. 14:29-31 π Mt. 25:5 π Mk. 7:13 π Jn. 3:19-21 π Jn. 17:20-23 π Gal. 3:3 π Eph. 4:13-16 π 2 Ths. 2:3 π 2 Ths. 2:11-12 π Heb. 12:2
The Reformation of the 15th century had many goals - many of which were never realized - and because of this the cry to finish the Reformation has gone out in various times and in various ways. But those who desire to be the spotless bride ready for the Bridegroom's return will certainly be required to finish the works that were left undone in God's sight and may indeed need to go further than even the leaders of the Reformation foresaw.
Charles Clayton Morrison (author and editor of The Christian Century wrote:
"Christianity did not begin as an organization; it began as a religion of the Spirit - hardly less than explosive in its emergence - and assumed organs and a structure as need arose for them." (The Unfinished Reformation, 1953, p. 178)
One is reminded of Paul's rebuke of the Galatians:
"Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" ( Gal. 3:3; top )
Historically, the bishop's office evolved as a way to direct and control the funds collected for the works of service performed by the deacons (servants) and as a substitute symbol for the Headship, authority and governance of Christ over His people. Philip Schaff, an excellent church historian, writes,
"The episcopate proceeded...from the apostolate and the original presbyterate conjointly...without either express concert or general regulation of the apostles, neither of which, at least can be historically proved. It arose, instinctively, as it were, in that obscure and critical transition period between the end of the first and the middle of the second century. It was not a sudden creation, much less the invention of a single mind. It grew, in part, out of the general demand for a continuation of, or substitute for, the apostolic church government. It was further occasioned by the need of a unity in the presbyterial government of congregations, which, in the nature of the case and according to the analogy of the archisunagogos, required a head or president...
...the whole church spirit of the age tended towards centralization; it everywhere felt a demand for compact, solid unity; and this inward bent, amidst the surrounding dangers of persecution and heresy, carried the church irresistibly towards the episcopate. In so critical and stormy a time...the existence of the church at that period may be said to have depended in a great measure on the preservation and promotion of unity, and that in an outward, tangible form, suited to the existing grade of culture. Such a unity was offered in the bishop, who held a monarchial, or more properly a patriarchal relation to the congregation. In the bishop was found the visible representation of Christ, the great Head of the whole church. In the bishop, therefore, all sentiments of piety found a centre. In the bishop the whole religious posture of the people towards God and towards Christ had its outward support and guide. And in proportion as every church pressed toward a single centre, this central personage must acquire a peculiar importance and subordinate the other presbyters to itself; though at the same time...the remembrance of the original equality could not be entirely blotted out, but continued to show itself in various ways." (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, p. 141-143)
In the light of the spiritual life in Christ, let us review some of the words Schaff chose as we consider how well or how poorly the first century acted by assuming "organs and a structure as need arose for them." (Morrison, p. 178) Hear these key words well!
Schaff the historian tells us that the episcopate arose "instinctively" out of a "general demand" for leadership when "heresy and persecution" stirred a perceived need for "centralized, tangible, outward unity" suited to the existing culture - and the bishop provided a "visible representation" that acted as an "outward support and guide" even as it gave the man "a peculiar importance" over "the other presbyters."
One is reminded of the story of Uzzah who, when the ark seemed about to fall off the cart (it was supposed to be carried by men using poles - Ex. 25:14 ), reached out his hand to steady the ark. He died that day when the anger of the Lord broke out against him. ( 2 Sam. 6:6-7 ) And all these same motivational elements were present when the people demanded that Samuel give them a king. Samuel warned them clearly of the realities of having a king.
"Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, 'No, 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 Sam. 8:19-20; top )
Rather than have Christ alone as their Head, the first century believers carelessly ( "While men slept..." - Mt. 13:25; top ) opted for a visible representative to replace Christ. This subtle substitution (which is no longer very subtle 2,000 years later) made the place for all the so-called abuses of the office that would follow because it made the office! And this was done apart from the direct, explicit leading of the Spirit. Men would then later use that manmade office for their own temporal advantage (money, power, fame, self-gratification, etc.) but to their eternal destruction. But the original equality was not erased and throughout church history, the Holy Spirit has repeatedly called upon men to return to the way in which Christ is truly the only Head over His people.
In truth, the first ekklesia began with a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit "explosive in its emergence" (Morrison, p. 178) but within two generations works of the flesh had already taken places of acceptance and even preeminence, the beginnings of inviolable human tradition that causes the word of God to have no effect in our lives. ( Mk. 7:13; top )
"They had as yet no ecclesiastical organs through which to express their interdependence and unity, but they were one church, the veritable body of Christ, and were being guided by the Holy Spirit toward the attainment of a structure and organs through which their unity could be given empirical manifestation and guarded against dispersion into an atomistic multitude." (The Unfinished Reformation, p. 178)
Here Morrison and Schaff are in agreement - they both believe the people of the first and second century needed an outward, tangible symbol of unity that would prevent them from "dispersion into an atomistic multitude." But Jesus had prayed:
"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." ( Jn. 17:20-23; top )
Is there some reason to believe that Christ's prayer would not be answered? Is there some reason to believe that the first century followers of Christ did not sin by doubting that Christ could hold them together in unity without a visible, outward tangible symbol? Is it not the sin of unbelief to demand a symbol while we push the Reality (which the symbol symbolizes) away from us into some distant, secondary status?
This history of Christian unity in the first and second century is much like Peter walking on the water - Peter got out of the boat and even walked on the water until he was at least somewhat near to Jesus. But then, seeing the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to doubt. After Jesus got Peter back in the boat, He gently chided and reproved him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" ( Mt. 14:29-31; top )
Those who long to see the people of Christ actually function in unity must recognize that it will happen only as we forsake all organizations of men, embrace primarily only our own local ekklesia - that is, our closest brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we live and work alongside (though we are, of course, free to visit with any other ekklesia as the Lord so leads!) - and trust in Christ's ability to overcome the elements of this world that seem daunting and even lethal. We, like Peter, can walk through the winds of heresy and on top of the waves of persecution so long as we don't stop to think (analyze and organize) too long about what it is that we are doing but, instead, willfully fix our eyes on Him who is the start and finish (and all points in between!) of our faith. ( Heb. 12:2; top ) Start to finish and all points in between certainly includes our corporate unity too!
So while the people of the first century succumbed to the leading of fears ( "While men slept..." - Mt. 13:25 , also see Mt. 25:5 ) and they turned to a "visible representative" where Christ desired a personal unity with Himself (much like the Israelites sending Moses up the mountain of God - Ex. 20:19; top ), they erected a visible structure for their idol that, because it was built with the tools and materials of the devil and the demonic, could only prevent the very unity they sought to preserve.
But note well that even Morrison concedes the initial lack of structure which is an integral and necessary part of the New Testament pattern of assembly:
"They had as yet no ecclesiastical organs..." (p. 178)
Why can we not accept the idea that they had no ecclesiastical organs because they did not need them? Morrison believed that the Spirit led them "toward the attainment of a structure and organs" but there is no written historical record that the Spirit so led them in that direction, and instead of clear instruction from Christ or even the apostles, we find only a historical record of, as Schaff reports, a vague "instinct" and a perceived need - both of which run contrary to the rightly divided, written words that we do have from Christ and His apostles. Those with ears to hear, can hear, across the centuries, Jesus gently chiding and reproving the people of the first and second centuries, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" But even though men slept, the will and purpose of God to ultimately establish His kingdom has not been thwarted or diverted from its appointed schedule in any way. His kingdom will come on the day God has set for it to come - it is inevitable. Ours is to choose whether we will come into His light because what we do is of Him or whether we will hide in our own darkness because what we do is really evil and we know it to be so. ( Jn. 3:19-21; top )
There is only one way to finish the Reformation and that is for us all to grow up. To grow up means we have to submit and serve only the one true King by and through the leading of His Spirit. Once we are grown up individually and corporately, we will be able to interact with one another's differences in maturity, no longer tossed around by the deceptions of men who really seek only followers after themselves nor caught unawares by the wily schemes and strategies of Satan and his demonic legions. We can simply walk away from all manmade organizations that compete with the organism that is the body of Christ in our day and time as there will be no temptation to be over or under anyone (in any capacity or function) nor any need to prove ourselves "acceptable to God" by the fruit of our own labors (an impossible mission, to say the least). And then we can all do the part God has given us to do and be (however "large and significant" or "small and insignificant" that role might be) so that the whole body can grow up to be mature and one in Him. (see Eph. 4:13-16 ) There is no other way to avoid being a willing participant in the great falling away from the faith that occurs before the Lord's return ( 2 Ths. 2:3 ) and to keep from coming under the strong delusion that God sends upon those who prefer the unrighteousness of their favorite "church" more than they desire and long for the truth that will cost them everything this world has to offer. ( 2 Ths. 2:11-12; top )
Let he who has ears hear.
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