Mt. 13:25 π Mt. 13:28-29 π Mt. 13:41 π Mt. 15:3-9 π Mt. 20:25-25 π Mt. 26:39 π Mk. 7:6-13 π Mk. 10:42-43 π Jn. 7:17 π Jn. 10:27 π Acts 6:5 π Acts 14:23; 2nd π Acts 16:13 π Acts 16:34 π Acts 20:17; 2nd; 3rd; 4th; 5th π Acts 20:28; 2nd; 3rd π 1 Cor. 1:11-13 π 1 Cor. 3:1-4 π 1 Cor. 12:28 π Gal. 5:13 π Gal. 5:20 π Eph. 4:11 π Phlp. 1:1; 2nd; 3rd π Phlp. 1:23,24 π 1 Tim. 3:2; 2nd π 1 Tim. 3:4-5 π 1 Tim. 3:6 π 1 Tim. 5:17 π Tit. 1:5; 2nd π Tit. 1:7; 2nd π Jas. 5:14 π 1 Pet. 2:25 π 1 Jn. 2:18-19 π Rev. 2:6; 2nd π Rev. 2:14 π Rev. 2:15; 2nd
There is a teaching that equates the “pastor” (in some places, the “senior pastor”) with “bishop” (the Greek word “episkopas”) and teaches that the “pastor,” singular, is responsible (almost entirely and almost only) to Jesus and that he, again singular, bears the responsibility to guide and direct the ministry of a “local” “church” – “church” here referring to an isolated group of believers who have sequestered themselves away from other groups of believers in their area by use of their own building, religious traditions and exclusive brand name and not at all referring in any way to the real local body of Christ in a given area. This teaching places this senior “pastor,” the “bishop,” the “episkopas,” over the other elements of the local “church” and makes a distinction between “episkopas” (“bishop”) and “presbuteros” (“elders”). Often the “elders,” “deacons,” or board members (or whatever title is given to the “pastor’s” yes-men) of this kind of “church” can be hired or fired at the whim of the “pastor! Thus we can rightly conclude that the “pastor” is lord over even the “elders.” But let’s consider what we really see in the New Testament regarding this distinction between “episkopas” and “presbuteros.”
In writing to Titus, Paul writes, “I left you in Crete, that you should…appoint elders (presbuteros)…” ( Tit. 1:5 ) He then writes, “For a bishop (episkopas) must be…” ( Tit. 1:7; top ) Same context, same people, same “office,” same function – same thing.
In writing to Timothy, Paul writes, “Let the elders who rule well…” (literally, “well-ruling elders” – “kalos proestotes presbuteroi”). ( 1 Tim. 5:17 ) Previously he had written, “A bishop (episkopas) them must be…one who rules his own house well…” (“kalos proistamenon” – same verb only in different person) “…(for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the ekklesia of God?)” ( 1 Tim. 3:2 , 4-5; top ) Same requirements, same Greek construction, same “office” – same thing.
In writing to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “To all the saints…with the bishops (episkopas plural)…” ( Phlp. 1:1 ) This is the same ekklesia that was started after Paul’s vision to come to Macedonia. He did not appoint elders (presbuteros) in Philippi as was his custom (see Acts 14:23 ) because there were only women meeting at the place of prayer ( Acts 16:13 ) and the Philippian jailer was a recent convert. ( Acts 16:34 ; compare 1 Tim. 3:6; top ) By the time Paul writes his epistle to them, the ekklesia has matured and has elders (bishops) and deacons. Same “office,” same function, same role – same thing.
In speaking to the elders (presbuteros) of Ephesus ( Acts 20:17 ), Paul said, “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopas)…” ( Acts 20:28; top ) Same men, same function, same “office” – same thing.
Paul had absolutely no conception of any distinction between “episkopas” and “presbuteros.” They were one and the same thing in his mind. There was not even the concept that the episkopas was a “first among equals.” W.E. Vine clearly confirms this similarity of bishop and elder when he says,
“Presbuteros, an elder, is another term for the same person as bishop or overseer. See Acts 20:17 With verse 28; top . The term ‘elder’ indicates the mature spiritual experience and understanding of those so described; the term ‘bishop,’ or ‘overseer,’ indicates the character of the work undertaken. According to the Divine will and appointment, as in the New Testament, there were to be bishops in every local [ekklesia], Acts 14:23 ; 20:17 ; Phlp. 1:1 ; Tit. 1:5 ; Jas. 5:14 . Where the singular is used, the passage is describing what a bishop should be. 1 Tim. 3:2 ; Tit. 1:7; top ” (The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, pp. 120-121 on “Bishop”)
It is often the case that, although these “churches” claim that the “pastor” is the same thing as a bishop, an episkopas (some fortunately obscure Bible translators have even translated “episkopas” as “pastor”!), when most “pastors” are first installed, they are either too young physically or too immature spiritually or simply lacking in one area or another to meet the Scriptural qualifications of being a bishop or overseer. Many “pastors” are placed into the office of “pastor” or “senior pastor” in their 20s and 30s – hardly old enough to be either an elder or a bishop. But because he is called the “senior pastor,” and not overtly called a bishop or elder, this discrepancy is overlooked – to the hurt of all who come underneath his rule.
If this giving of the “episkopas” (bishop, overseer) superiority over the “presbuteros” (elders) does not come from the pages of the New Testament, then where does it come from? Church history gives us this answer.
A.T. Robertson, perhaps the most respected Greek scholar to date, writes:
“Ignatius shows that in the early second century the office of bishop over the elders had developed, but Lightfoot has shown that it was not so in the first century. Each [ekklesia], as in Jerusalem, Philippi, Ephesus, had a number of ‘elders’ (‘bishops’) in the one great city [ekklesia].” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. III, p. 346 on Acts 20:17; top )
“With the bishops (sun episkopois). ‘Together with the bishops,’ thus singled out from ‘all the saints.’ See Acts 20:17 and 28; top for the uses of this most interesting word as equivalent to presbuteros (elder). It is an old word from episkeptomai, to look upon or after, to inspect, so the overseer or superintendent. In the second century episcopas (Ignatius) came to mean one superior to elders, but not so in the New Testament. The two New Testament [ekklesia] officers are here mentioned (bishops or elders and deacons). The plural is here employed because there was usually one [ekklesia] in a city with several pastors (bishops, elders).” (Word Pictures, Vol. IV, p. 435 on Phlp. 1:1; top )
So who is this Ignatius? Why is he so important in church history? Simply put, he is about the only writer (there are only two other major writers) of the immediately post-apostolic period – and he was martyred, all this somewhere around 107
Let us first consider what Ignatius wrote in regards to the episkopas. These are passages from the shorter Greek text as quoted by church historian Philip Schaff:
“If anyone is able to continue in purity (i.e., in the state of celibacy), to the honor of the flesh of our Lord, let him continue so without boasting; if he boasts, he is lost; if he become known more than the bishop (i.e., better known, more esteemed, beyond or apart from), he is corrupt. It is becoming, therefore, to men and women who marry, that they marry by the counsel of the bishop, that the marriage may be in the Lord, and not in lust. Let every thing be done for the honor of God. Look to the bishop, that God also [may look] upon you. I will be in harmony with those who are subject to the bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons; with them may I have a portion near God!” (Epistle to Polycarp, c. 5 and 6. This passage is one of the strongest, and occurs in the Syriac Epistle to Polycarp as well as in the shorter Greek recension. It characteristically connects episcopacy with celibacy: the ascetic system of Catholicism starts in celibacy, as the hierarchical organization of Catholicism takes its rise in episcopacy.)
“It becomes you to be in harmony with the mind (or sentence) of the bishop, as also you do. For your most estimable presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.” (Epistle to the Ephesians, c. 4)
“It is evident that we should look upon the bishop as we do upon the Lord Himself.” (Epistle to the Ephesians, c. 6)
“I exhort you that you study to do all things with a divine concord: the bishop presiding in the place of God, and presbyters in the place of the college of the apostles, and the deacons, most dear to me, being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before all ages, and in the end appeared to us.” (Epistle to the Magnesians, c. 6)
“Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Christ [was subject] to the Father according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ and to the Father and to the Spirit, in order that the union be carnal, as well as spiritual.” (Epistle to the Magnesians, c. 13. The desire for “carnal” unity is significant.)
“It is necessary, as is your habit, to do nothing without the bishop, and that you should be subject also to the presbytery, as to the apostles of Jesus Christ.” (Epistle to Trallian, c. 2)
“As many as are of God and of Jesus Christ, are also with their bishop.” (Epistle to the Philadelphians, c. 3)
“Let all of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ [follows] the Father; and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons as the ordinance of God. Without the bishop let no one do anything connected with the [ekklesia]. Let that eucharist be accounted valid which is [offered] under the bishop or by one he has appointed. Wherever the bishop is found, there let the people be; as wherever Christ is, there is the catholic [ekklesia]. Without the bishop it is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast.” (Epistle to the Smyrnans, c. 8. This is the first time that the term “catholic” is applied to the [ekklesia] and that episcopacy is made a condition of catholicity.)
“He that honors the bishop, shall be honored by God; he that does anything without the knowledge of the bishop serves the devil.” (Epistle to the Smyrnans, c. 9. Quotes and comments from Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, pp. 146-148)
Anyone who thinks the shepherding movement is only a modern phenomenon has never read Ignatius! According to Ignatius, the bishop, the episkopas, is God incarnate. Salvation, walking in obedience to God, virtually nothing of the Christian life is possible or permissible apart from being on good terms with the bishop. It is also significant that Ignatius refers to “unlawful acts” apart from the bishop, as his Episcopal system is truly that of a “Christian law” completely inconsistent with the grace and Headship of Christ.
Ignatius’ seven letters are also tainted with a morbid fanaticism with martyrdom that
“exceeds the limits of the genuine apostolic soberness and resignation, which is equally willing to depart or to remain according to the Lord’s good pleasure. (Compare Phlp. 1:23,24 and Mt. 26:39; top ) It degenerates into boisterous impatience and morbid fanaticism. It resembles the lurid torch rather than the calm light.
“There mingles also in all his extravagant professions of humility and entire unworthiness a refined spiritual pride and self-commendation.
“And, finally, there is something offensive in the tone of his epistle to Polycarp, in which he addresses that venerable bishop and apostolic disciple, who at that time must have already entered upon the years of ripe manhood, not as a colleague and brother, but rather as a pupil, with exhortations and warnings.” (Schaff, “History, Vol. II, pp. 658-659)
In addition to this streak of morbid fanaticism and arrogant, spiritual pride (also attested to by his surname, “Theosphorus,” the “bearer of God”), we are not even sure the letters are completely genuine. There are three “original” versions and scholars cannot completely agree as to which letters of parts of letters were written by Ignatius, by Pseudo-Ignatius or Hyper-Ignatius. The shorter Greek text which survives has some factors which point to Ignatius’ authorship but even its complete textual purity cannot be authenticated. The longer Greek text contains elements which were obviously inserted at a much later date to support such things as the rule of the pope over the people of God under the Roman Catholic system.
What does it mean to be a “Nicolaitan”? The term Nicolaitan comes to us only John’s Revelation. Two ekklesias, Ephesus and Pergamum, received these cryptic statements:
To Ephesus: “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
To Pergamum: “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” ( Rev. 2:6 , 15; top )
No description is given of this group about their characteristics or their activities. The Scriptures simply state that the Ephesians hated the practices of the Nicolaitans whereas some of the Pergamites held to the teachings of the Nicolaitans.
So, who are the Nicolaitans? Iraenaus wrote:
“The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, where they are represented as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Schaff, History, Vol. II, p. 464)
This Nicolas of Antioch, one of the seven “deacons” of Jerusalem ( Acts 6:5; top ) is supposed to have turned from the faith and taught hyper-indulgence of the flesh as a means to overcome the flesh. Whether this is even historically accurate is debatable. A.T. Robertson writes: “There was such a sect in the second century (Tertullian), but whether descended from Nicolas of Antioch is not certain, though possible (Lightfoot). It is even possible that the Balaamites of verse 14 were a variety of the same sect (verse 15 ).” (Word Pictures, Vol. VI, p. 300 on Rev. 2:6; top )
If it is only “possible” that this sect is the very same group to whom Christ is referring in His letters to Ephesus and Pergamum, then it is also possible that He is not referring to followers of Nicolas of Antioch. When we consider Iraenaus’ linking of the Nicolaitans and Balaamites – a linkage that is neither apparent nor necessary in the text of the letters to Ephesus and Pergamum – it becomes apparent that Iraenaus simply saw a vague similarity to this group and applied the label. The true application of this label to a group of people not even mentioned in the New Testament seems unlikely when Christ chooses the strong word “hate” to describe His attitudes toward them. And since the time of Iraenaus, no other group (at least to the extent of my knowledge of church history) has been labeled, “the Nicolaitans.”
The more likely explanation of “Nicolaitan” is found in the meaning of the word itself. “Nico,” in Greek, is “to rule over or conquer,” and “lait” is “the common people,” the laity. What Christ is really referring to is the practices and teachings of the clergy who lord it over a congregation of saints and who have unwittingly placed themselves under their “care.” He is referring to people who turn their lifestyle of “ministry” to the saints into a position whereby they can exercise power and authority over others. This is completely contrary to Jesus’ strong statement, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you…” ( Mk. 10:42-43 , also see Mt. 20:25-25; top ) His strong “it shall not be so among you” is much more consistent with His strong “which I also hate” than is equating the Nicolaitans with the licentious followers of Nicolas of Antioch, a sub-sect almost entirely forgotten in church history.
From there, it is no mean feat to conclude that Ignatius of Antioch is simply church history’s first recorded Nicolaitan, being the first known proponent of elevating the episkopas over the presbuteros. If it were not for his celebrated martyrdom (which later appealed to the many superstitious types who venerated the fallen saints), perhaps his erroneous views would not have been given the weight they were given by later writers and leaders – except perhaps by the power-hungry popes and would-be popes of Rome who used any writing they could find to justify their position of power, prestige and authority. And if there had been the emphasis then that there is now on historical authenticity, Ignatius’ writings might have been dismissed entirely. How different our practice of Christianity would be if that were so!
Church historian Bruce Shelley gives the three typical answers given to the question of “what to make of bishops.” He writes:
1) Some Christians argue that the men who guided the destiny of the early [ekklesia] willfully and sinfully departed from a divinely authorized pattern, so that the changes they made should be repudiated and reversed.
This is the assumption of most attempts to “restore primitive Christianity.” We sometimes call them “back-to-the-Bible” movements. It is the common characteristic of most reforming movements in the history of the [ekklesia]. Such movements always face the troublesome task of deciding how much of what the apostolic [ekklesia] did was intended to be part of the permanent pattern which the [ekklesias] of all ages should follow. If, for example, we accept the office of elder as a norm for our times, shall we also insist that women remain silent in the [ekklesia]?
2) Other Christians contend that the [ekklesia] and its leaders were exercising the liberty they had in the absence of any divinely authorized pattern. The government they developed may have served a good purpose in their time but it is open to change to meet the needs of later generations, including our own.
This position is usually held by those impressed with the [ekklesia] as a social institution immersed in the stream of historical development. It is the position of “modernists” who want the [ekklesia] to adapt to the times. Such Christians suffer the disadvantage of being unable to identify any faith or pattern of [ekklesia] government that has the seal of Christ’s approval. In its extremes it is Christianity without ultimates and absolutes. Everything is up for grabs.
3) Still other Christians argue that the Holy Spirit so dwelt in the [ekklesia] and guided its decisions that the “developments” of the early centuries in doctrine and [ekklesia] structure were the work not of men but of God. They are, therefore, permanently binding for the [ekklesia].
This third answer, advanced by most “catholic” Christians, makes much of what its spokesmen call the “witness of history.” But if the changes made in the second, third, and fourth centuries are attributed to the Holy Spirit, why not the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth? Why must we stop with the so-called “catholic” centuries?
Our question – what authority does the rise of the Episcopal (or bishop’s) office have for Christians – suffers not from silence but from conflicting responses. Our disagreements explain, in part, our denominational differences to this day. However, even in the third century many felt that the coming of the episcopacy meant the departure of the Spirit.
In the first and second centuries, Christians looked for proof of the Spirit’s power, not in an office, but in the lives of the believers. They saw the Paraclete in terms of moral energy…
At the beginning of the third century, however, something significant happened. The extraordinary moral fiber in the [ekklesia] weakened. Montanus was not entirely wrong. By the year 220 it was evident that the Christian [ekklesias], together with their bishops and clergy, were no longer what they had been. (Church History in Plain Language, pp. 87-89)
The third position, that the “church” system that evolved was truly of God, is rather easily dismissed. If the flawed “church” system of the third century (which gave us an un-Scriptural papal hierarchy) was a work of God’s Spirit, then God is no longer perfect, infallible. He made a mistake somewhere in His design of the system that would mature His people. But Scripture says that God is perfect. He would not, could not – and did not – design a flawed system. We must conclude then that the “church” system, as it has evolved today with its elevated “pastors,” was designed by someone else. Given John’s warning that the spirit of antichrist was busy at work even in his day ( 1 Jn. 2:18-19; top ) and our vantage point after centuries of “the witness of history,” it is not really difficult to identify the true author of “church.”
The second position, that of exercising liberty in the absence of any divinely authorized pattern, is also readily dismissible in two ways. First, there is a clearly discernable pattern in the New Testament for those who are not already blinded by their preconceived notions (paradigms) of what they think the Scriptures say. Apostles, prophets and evangelists took the gospel to new places bringing (respectively) order, truth and light to previously dark places. (Each of these giftings, which are still in operation today, is clearly defined in the Scriptures and false giftings or even distortions of these giftings are not difficult to recognize for those who listen to the Holy Spirit for themselves.) Local men who met the character qualifications were recognized by the people and apostles as both elders and overseers (same persons, function and role). Younger and less spiritually mature men who showed a servant’s heart were recognized as deacons (literally, servants). In most cases, the elders saw a need and sent a deacon (servant) to address the need. There was only one assembly or gathering (Greek, ekklesia) in each town and that was the only work of God in that town. The New Testament knows nothing of the sects (dissensions) and divisions (heresies) of modern denominational “Christianity” – in fact, it clearly condemns it. ( Gal. 5:20 , see divisions dichostasia ; 1 Cor. 1:11-13 ; 3:1-4; top ) In addition, all the saints were a part of a body which had a Head, Christ Jesus, and if they would simply obey Him from moment to moment as they were taught to, they would conform to the pattern He had given them, perhaps without their even having fully understood that there even was a pattern. But because the pattern could not be conformed to by simply being moral, religious, philosophical or intellectual – which many Greek and even Jewish believers were still under the influence of these things – but required a spiritual dependence upon Christ alone, the pattern was virtually unattainable and obscured by the practices of the clergy, the Nicolaitans. But to say that there was a total “absence of any divinely authorized pattern” simply reveals that such people who say this were (and still are) unwilling or unable to see the New Testament pattern. Let he who has ears, hear.
Second, even if there were any opportunity for liberty, we must heed Paul’s admonition: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh…” ( Gal. 5:13; top ) Many who maintain their “right to Christian liberty” in the matter of assembly and body life are quite often those who hold Nicolaitan positions of power or are those who are quite comfortable in the responsibility-free position of “layman.” The “number two men” gain great benefits, validity and recognition by supporting the right “number one man” in a trickle-down authority structure. And to recognize that God requires something else from them which is entirely different from what they are accustomed to and from what they desire to do “for God” requires more faith than they are able to muster. Their own will is of greater worth to them than the will of God. (see Jn. 7:17; top )
The first position, that early leaders “willfully and sinfully departed from a divinely authorized pattern” (Shelley, Church History, p. 87), is closest to the truth but it is not stated as accurately as is possible. The historical truth is that the vast majority of believers of the first and second centuries were far more concerned with living the life of Christ than they were in recording their thoughts and actions or in gaining a following for their own teachings. The extremely few writers who did record (and whose works have survived – again, there are only two other writers contemporary with Ignatius, as but one example of the great sparseness of writings from this period) give us only very limited glimpses into the time period, glimpses also colored by the writers’ (and readers’!) presuppositions and spiritual flaws. In addition, many believers, especially the writers and leaders, brought morality, logic and reason (not to mention outright pagan practices) into their version of following Christ – this being the independent-from-God’s-leading, (whether intellectual, emotional or willful) decision-making process of choosing between right and wrong which is the same choice Adam was faced with when he stood before the two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once again, man chooses the wrong tree. But whereas Christ had given the apostles the Holy Spirit to live His righteous life, the successive generations took up a “Christian law” and attempted to live and defend the life that Christ taught. It was this turning from the Spirit of God to the intellect of man that was the true downfall of the early believers. The decline in the operation of spiritual gifts, giftings and miracles and the introduction of the Nicolaitans and other divisions were only the signs that the majority of people had turned away from the purity of their first love, a vibrant, personal, dependent relationship with the Head through the operation of the Holy Spirit, the “nervous system” of Christ’s body.
But was this degeneration willful and sinful? Sinful, perhaps, and definitely filled with devastating consequences for the generations to come, but probably not willful. The words negligent and careless are much more appropriate. Jesus said that while men slept the enemy sowed tares among the wheat. And instead of uprooting the tares at the risk of the wheat, He graciously (or in judgment, if viewed from an eternal perspective) has allowed them both to grow to maturity. ( Mt. 13:25 , 28-29; top ) If most people throughout church history had known the source of many of their most cherished (but un-Scriptural and spiritually harmful) practices and traditions, they would have rejected them immediately and both the tares and the wheat would never have been allowed to grow to maturity. It is only now, as we near the time when the angels will be sent to carry out the uprooting of the tares and the harvesting of the wheat (see Mt. 13:41; top ) that Christ is speaking to all those who have ears to hear that they must purge themselves of all forms of leaven, not just the ones the heaped-up teachers say are wrong.
We must also examine how this first position is commonly dismissed. “It’s only another one of those back-to-the-Bible movements.” While this dismissal may sound correct and even wise when first heard or read, there is something monstrously subtle concealed here. Our beliefs are not operating in a vacuum. If we do not find our beliefs in the written words of God, where do we find them? In this case (speaking of the elevation of the bishop over the elders), we have to turn to the imaginations, iniquities and pretensions of Ignatius of Antioch and 2,000 years of successive Nicolaitans – none of which bear the stamp of God’s approval as do the authors of the Bible. If we will not find our beliefs in the Bible then let us be honest and stop calling ourselves followers of Christ for surely we are merely practitioners of lawlessness doing only that which is right in our own eyes. When we embrace the traditions of men that contradict the clearly revealed word of God, we have only declared our enmity against God. ( Mt. 15:3-9 ; Mk. 7:6-13; top )
It is also interesting to note that this historian says, “[The repudiating and reversal of the early “church fathers’” changes] is the common characteristic of most reforming movements in the history of the [ekklesia].” (Shelley, Church History, p. 87) Perhaps this common thread exists precisely because the Holy Spirit has been persistently trying to lead the people of Christ back to its first love, to a place where it can receive the commands of the Head for itself and operate according to the will of God instead of according to the will of men. Surely resisting this effort of the Holy Spirit is neither healthy nor wise.
Another aspect of Shelley’s explaining away of this first response should also be addressed. He wrote, “Such movements always face the troublesome task of deciding how much of what the apostolic [ekklesia] did was intended to be part of the permanent patter which the [ekklesias] of all ages should follow. If, for example, we accept the office of elder as a norm for our times, shall we also insist that women remain silent in the [ekklesia]?” (Shelley, Church History, p. 87) His example plainly represents the entire problem – and that is the problem of trying to give an answer while enmeshed in 20th century paradigms of what following Christ corporately is supposed to be like. Actually, there is a wonderfully simple answer to this dilemma: Let the Spirit guide you into all truth. Don’t try to get things organized. Let God build and take care of His body. After all, He’s the One that’s supposed to be doing it! (see 1 Cor. 12:28 ; Eph. 4:11; top ) Unfortunately, most “churches” (even house “churches”) that teach this idea have failed to follow their own advice and still bring in “pastors,” “elders,” “deacons,” committees, boards or simply submit to a clique mentality. They try to force the work of the Holy Spirit into their 20th century paradigms of what they think “church” ought to be and virtually limit His work to one small function. They quench the Spirit and over-organize what little niche their pet notions are, at best, supposed to fill. Any individual or group that will simply let Christ be the Head, that is the all-encompassing passion and pursuit of their existence, will not have any difficulty in deciding what parts of the “apostolic pattern” should be practiced. They will simply be the people of Christ carrying out the will of God on the earth.
Shelley’s statements that “even in the third century many felt that the coming of the episcopacy meant the departure of the Spirit” and “by the year 220 it was evident that the Christian [ekklesias], together with their bishops and clergy, were no longer what they had been” (Shelley, Church History, pp. 88,89), should leap off the page at us! The decline of the manifestations of the Spirit are directly related to the coming of the episcopacy and when we embrace the episcopacy, Nicolaitanism by its real name, the superiority of the bishop over the elders and the rest of the people (even in its subtle and cleverly disguised manifestations as in many house “churches”), we cannot help but set up an obstacle to the work of the Holy Spirit. Certainly God honors every sincere seeker of Him – even while they attend a Nicolaitan-run “church.” But it is to be noticed that mature believers do not, indeed cannot remain in slavery to the Nicolaitan system of the “church” and continue to grow in their obedience to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls, Christ Jesus. (see 1 Pet. 2:25; top )
Most “pastors” feel and even believe (wrongly) that they have the form of government God desires for His people (most often mislabeled as a “theocracy”) and that they have a biblically sound and balanced understanding of what that form is supposed to be. But this sincere intention does not change the fact that they are still following Ignatius’ error in regards to the episkopas and are following neither the Scriptures nor the Holy Spirit. One of the clearest demonstrations of the truth about this deception is that it is virtually impossible to bring any words of correction to any “pastor” of a “church” – no matter how blatant his sins or errors may be. If you disagree with the “pastor” you are only free to leave and go find another sect with which you do agree. This is a clever snare of the devil and until you simply refuse to play this game, you will be incapable of reaching true spiritual maturity.
When you are able to recognize that Ignatius’ and the many other “church fathers’” elevation of one man over the rest is a gross misrepresentation of God’s desires for His people, then you are free to approach the New Testament and church history with fewer preconceived misconceptions and can begin to seek God’s revelation as to what He has in mind for His people.
Most people who attend a “church” with a Nicolaitan overlord “pastor” have no notion that the “pastors” are in error or that the strange dichotomy of behavior that exists between the “fellowship” side and the “business” side of the “church” ought not to exist at all – and most don’t even care to know. But there are still a few, even in today’s “churches,” who have not defiled their garments and they long to walk only with the true Shepherd. His voice they will hear in spite of their routine and dangerous exposure to the voices of the Nicolaitan overlords. Those who do not hear His voice will not listen to the truths contained in this writing either – and actually they have a much greater problem on their horizon than whether they are able to recognize this particular truth about virtually the whole of denominational (abominational) Christendom. They have to worry about the eternal condition of their soul for those who do not hear the voice of the Shepherd simply are not His sheep. ( Jn. 10:27; top )
Let he who has ears hear.
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