Jdgs. 2:10-12 π Mt. 9:2-6 π Mt. 13:33 π Mt. 20:25-26 π Mk. 10:42-43 π Lk. 22:25-26 π Jn. 15:5 π Rom. 12:2 π 1 Cor. 5:6-7 π 2 Cor. 6:17-7:1 π Eph. 4:11 π 1 Ths. 5:23 π 1 Tim. 3:1-7 π 2 Tim. 3:1-5 π 1 Pet. 2:25 π Rev. 2:6 π Rev. 2:15
There are a myriad number of answers to the question of: Where did the ekklesia go wrong and cease being the fullness of the body of Christ? One can look back to 1611 and see the insertion of the word "church" in the place of "ekklesia" to find the seeds of one of the worst catastrophes the body of Christ has ever experienced. One could look back to the Reformation and see the failure of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the other reformers to revive the practices of the apostles, prophets, and ekklesia as they revived the New Testament doctrines. Or one could look at Constantine's "Christianizing" of the Roman empire and find one of the earliest and largest disasters for the people of God.
And it is in looking at that last event, when Constantine seized power over the whole of the Roman empire in 312 a.d., that certain questions arise. And these questions are important in light of how God is restoring the government of His kingdom to the apostles and prophets today. The most nagging question is: why were the apostles and prophets silent when Constantine did this? After all, those who should have known what error he was committing should have been quite vocal in protesting against it. But I know of no record of spiritually inspired and spiritually accurate dissent against Constantine's "Christianizing" of the Roman world at the time it occurred.
As the history of the ekklesia of the first two centuries is both complex and shrouded in antiquity, the answer to this can be a bit hard to find. And I would not want anyone to suppose that I have found the definitive or final answer. I am only presenting certain facets of history which I have found in my search for the truth.
In describing the second century of Christianity, one historian wrote:
The voice of the apostles had scarcely fallen silent when the [ekklesia] faced the need to define the faith in terms that intelligent men could understand. A clear presentation of the gospel calls upon the powers of reason. God has made men to think so the truth advances, at times, as Christians defend the gospel against pagan arguments and the errors of professing disciples.
Men can reason, however, only with the knowledge and concepts they have. In the ancient world this meant Hellenic (Greek) philosophy and pagan authors. So Christianity was forced by the needs of men and the mission of the [ekklesia] into the world of pagan thought. (Church History in Plain Language, Bruce L. Shelley, p. 93)
This historian's analysis is poignant with many a clue as to why the prophets and apostles were silent when Constantine "Christianized" the Roman empire. But to recognize these clues, we need to first understand that man is made up of three parts - spirit, soul and body. (see 1 Ths. 5:23 for example; top)
The spirit is that part of man which is effectively locked behind the walls of the soul and body until released by godly or demonic activity. The spirit is not truly alive until given new birth by God although certain people seem able to tap into powers that come either from the spiritual realms or possibly from buried "paranormal" powers of the soul. The soul, is the "heart" - the mind, will and emotions - of man. It is where he thinks, chooses and feels. The body is simply the physical vehicle which transports the soul and spirit through life - though its chemical and physical makeup can place limitations or demands which must be obeyed upon both the soul and the spirit.
When the people of Christ succumbed to "the need to define the faith in terms that intelligent men could understand," they turned from the voice of the Spirit of God to the voice of reason and intelligence - that is, the voice of the soul. That is not to say that none of the people writing in those days were influenced by the Holy Spirit. Rather, because the ekklesia sought and preserved the intellectual writings, the ekklesia was diverted from a purely spiritual existence into a soulish existence - the beginnings of a tragic plunge into deception.
So when this historian says, "A clear presentation of the gospel calls upon the powers of reason," he is vastly mistaken. A clear presentation of the gospel calls upon the powers of the Spirit of God. Anything other than the clear light of truth revealed by the Spirit of truth - however "reasonable" - is a dead work which will require the practitioner to repent.
And when he says, "God has made men to think so the truth advances" he has made another error. The argument is usually stated in this way: "God gave us a good mind and He expects us to use it." This short-sighted argument fails to recognize the clear command given to us by Paul: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." ( Rom. 12:2 - emphasis added; top) If our mind is so good, why does it need to be spiritually renewed before we can even know what God's will is?
Thus when this historian says, "Christianity was forced by the needs of men and the mission of the [ekklesia] into the world of pagan thought," he is correct in that an aggressive body of Christ would have to penetrate and confront pagan thought. What he leaves unsaid, though, is the tragedy of the people of God entering this spiritual battle with carnal weapons and picking up many pagan practices in the process.
Other events of the time we are examining bear testimony to this process also. The same historian writes:
Paul made sure, however, that the [ekklesias] planted in the path of his missionary journeys had pastoral leaders to care for the spiritual needs of believers in a given place. These local leaders were of two sorts. One group was called elders or presbyters (from the Greek for "elders"). These same men were also known as bishops (overseers) or pastors (shepherds). The other group of leaders was called deacons.
The duties of these leaders varied from place to place but generally speaking the presbyters taught new converts, led in public worship, and maintained discipline. The deacons assisted the presbyters in every way except perhaps presiding at the Lord's Supper. Thus the apostolic age knew both a traveling group of Spirit-empowered leaders and a resident group caring for the needs of established congregations.
This general picture, however, soon changed. After the turn of the century Ignatius, the pastor of the [ekklesia] at Antioch, wrote a series of letters. In these he speaks habitually of a single bishop (or pastor) in each [ekklesia], a body of presbyters and a company of deacons. God's grace and the Spirit's power, he teaches, flow to the flock through this united ministry.
No one seems to know just how the single pastor, assisted by the elders and deacons became the widespread pattern within the [ekklesias] but we know it did. Several factors probably influenced the trend. Apparently one of the presbyters emerged to correspond with other [ekklesias], to handle the funds for the poor, to preach the true faith in the conflicts with heretical teachers, and to administer the Lord's Supper (or Eucharist).
It took some years before Ignatius' threefold ministry was adopted everywhere. We know, for example, that Alexandria had no single bishop until about a.d. 180. (Shelley, pp. 85- 86)
It is to be noted that this historian is not careful with the Greek terms and their English "equivalents." "Bishop" or "overseer" is the Greek word "episcopon." "Elders" (never used singularly in the New Testament) is "presbuteros." And "pastor" ("shepherd") is "poimen." It has been a common error to assume that "bishop"/"overseer" is precisely the same thing as a "pastor"/"shepherd." This is not the case. For Peter describes Jesus as being the Bishop ("episcopon") and Shepherd ("poimen") of our souls. ( 1 Pet. 2:25; top ) If bishop and shepherd (pastor) are exactly the same thing, then this verse is a nonsense statement.
The more accurate understanding of the office of bishop is that it is equivalent with that of elder, with all its prerequisite qualifications. (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7; top ) A bishop is simply a single elder and an elder is simply a matured deacon. Both elders and deacons can be gifted with any of the five leadership giftings - each might be either an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a shepherd or a teacher. (see Eph. 4:11; top ) When an elder is appointed by the trans-local apostle, he does not suddenly become a shepherd. He is still whatever gifting he was gifted with from God. Thus a bishop might be a prophetic elder, an apostolic elder, an evangelistic elder, a teaching elder or a pastoral elder or some combination of any of the five giftings.
Ignatius' error was in isolating one man to be in a top position. The New Testament knows nothing of this system - except to call it Nicolaitan and hated by God. ( Rev. 2:6 , 15; top ) Thus when Ignatius taught that "God's grace and the Spirit's power, flow to the flock through [the] united ministry...of a single bishop in each [ekklesia]," who was supported by "a body of presbyters and a company of deacons," he planted the seeds for the influx of the pagan practice of having certain leaders assume the role of bridges between God and man - the pontiffs. By the time Constantine "Christianized" Rome, the practice of a single bishop over every local congregation was securely established and fully accepted. Another large step in the tragic plunge into deception that we call "church history."
There was another milestone in this tragic plunge into pagan practice that ought to be examined as well. At about the same time as the first "church" buildings were starting to come into practice (around a.d. 200), a man history knows as Victor I was the bishop of Rome. Victor is most known for insisting that Easter be celebrated on a Sunday (in contrast to celebrating it on the 14th day of the Jewish month Nisan - a date which could fall on any day of the week.) Only Polycrates of Ephesus, speaking for the churches of Asia Minor, opposed this and insisted on celebrating the resurrection on the same day as the Jewish Passover - the 14th of Nisan. For this, Victor was going to have Polycrates excommunicated until Irenaeus of Lyons interjected his opinion that this matter was not important enough to excommunicate someone over. Thus Victor, because of his attempt to control the actions of the bishops of other cities, is known as the first pope.
Irenaeus was not error-free either, however. Another historian records:
In opposition to the Gnostic dualism Irenaeus teaches that there is but one God, who is the creator of the world and the father of Jesus Christ; one divine economy of salvation; and one revelation. He develops the Pauline doctrine of the anakefalaiosis, or recapitulation in Christ of all things: Christ as the new Adam renews all creation and leads it back to its author through the Incarnation and the Redemption. Mary, the Mother of God, is the new Eve. Visible creation is good, not evil, and the body will rise again. The Eucharist is both a Sacrament containing the real body of Christ and the true sacrifice of the New Law. As a witness to Apostolic tradition and a champion of the inspiration of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, Irenaeus is one of the most important writers of the early Church.
One of the most frequently quoted passages of Irenaeus is a statement [from] Adversus haereses (The Detection and Overthrow of the False Gnosis) 3.3.3... There is no settled translation of this passage and the difficulties are compounded by the lack of the original Greek text. Some think that the translation should read: "For with this [Ekklesia] on account of its more effective leadership every [Ekklesia] must agree, that is, the faithful throughout the world, in which the apostolic tradition has always been preserved by [faithful] everywhere."(New Catholic Encyclopedia. v. 7, p. 632)
This translation, though used to substantiate the rule of the Roman bishop over the others, is probably more accurately translated thus:
"in this [Ekklesia] [whether this refers to the Roman "church," the universal Ekklesia, or to any ekklesia founded by an apostle cannot be established beyond all doubt] the Apostolic tradition has always been preserved and better than in other [Ekklesias] formed by the faithful living in all parts of the world."
The historian then goes on to say,
"In spite of the uncertainties as to the correct translation of the passage, one point seems clear from the context: Irenaeus is primarily concerned with establishing the correct teaching handed down from the Twelve Apostles." (New Catholic Encyclopedia. v. 7, p. 632)
It is unfortunate then that, either because of Irenaeus' error or through poor communication or just the loss of the original Greek text, Irenaeus' writings have been used to further the stranglehold of the single bishop over the body of Christ.
But it is this entire controversy which points out the overall lack of spiritual direction of the church at this time. These were the leading bishops of the "church" who were haggling over which "church" should have the pre-eminence. In light of Jesus' clear statement that the apostles were not to lord it over anyone ( Mt. 20:25-26 ; Mk. 10:42-43 ; Lk. 22:25-26; top ), this whole controversy is completely ludicrous - even demonic.
During this same period of time, the seeds of the superiority of certain of the saints were being planted. One historian writes:
In Carthage Cyprian confronted those who held that the confessors [those who maintained loyalty to Christ under torture] by their unusual courage had achieved a special power from God. The Holy Spirit had ordained them extraordinarily so that they had the power to absolve men of their sins. They could "cover with their merits the demerits of the lapsed." [those who had denied Christ under torture] Many urged Cyprian to announce such a blanket pardon.
Cyprian declined, however, in favor of a system of readmission based on the degrees of seriousness of the sins. Leniency, he said, should be extended to those who had sacrificed only after excruciating torture and who well might plead that their bodies, not their spirits, had given way. Those, however, who had gone willingly to make sacrifices must receive the severest punishment.
His argument won general approval, so to deal with these degrees of guilt, the [ekklesia] created a graded system of penance. Only after varied periods of sorrow for sin (penance) were the sinners allowed to return to the Lord's Supper. The bishop extended forgiveness to the fallen, provided they proved their sorrow by coming before the congregation in sackcloth and with ashes on their heads. After this confession and act of humility the bishop laid his hands upon the penitent as a symbol of restoration to the [ekklesia].
The proposal from the North African confessors, however, was only temporarily defeated; it did not die. It reappeared years later in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Treasury of Merit and the practice of indulgences. In these, too, the [ekklesia] transferred the merits of the unusually spiritual (the saints) to needy sinners.
The most prominent voice for the traditional strict policy came from Rome. A presbyter and highly respected theologian, Novatian, argued that the [ekklesia] had no power to grant forgiveness to those guilty of murder, adultery and apostasy. It could only intercede for God's mercy at the Last Judgment.
Novatian met the stiff opposition of another presbyter named Cornelius, who held that the bishop could forgive even grave sins. The [ekklesia] was split over the matter. The past arrayed against the future. The primitive concept defended by Novatian considered the [ekklesia] as a society of saints; the new view advocated by Cornelius saw the [ekklesia] as a school for sinners.
Cornelius' view was popular enough to get him elected bishop of Rome by a majority. Novatian received the backing of a minority. Soon Novatianists built up a network of small congregations and considered the Catholic churches polluted as a result of their lenient attitude toward sinners. They may have been right, for the Catholic churches now offered unlimited forgiveness to all who sinned.
Along with baptism, and ever after it, Catholics had a second sacrament; it was still without form, but they relied upon it as a thing which had form, and considered themselves justified in applying it in almost every case - it was the sacrament of penance. By a simple ceremony the church administered forgiveness. Grace had come to terms with time. The bishop controlled the Spirit. (Shelley, pp. 91-92)
Any time any man thinks he controls the Spirit of God, that man is mistaken. All he has succeeded in doing is substituting his own actions for those of the Spirit. In this case the crucial repentance to be directed towards God was now administered by bishops. A more diabolical error would be hard to imagine.
The argument here revolves around whether or not certain sins could be forgiven by the bishops. Nowhere in Scripture does it speak of any man ever forgiving sins. The Pharisees rightly pointed out that only God could forgive sins and were offended when Jesus, whom they did not receive as God, forgave sins. (see Mt. 9:2-6; top ) That leaders of the body of Christ should be arguing over the degree to which they could forgive someone only points out the blind nature of these leaders - a blindness that surpasses that of the Pharisees! Our "church" leaders of today have a fine heritage - and they are living their role to the hilt.
It is also interesting to note that at this time the people had already succumbed to the error of electing their leaders. Whereas the New Testament speaks of trans-local apostles, who are clearly established and confirmed by God, appointing elders and bishops in a local area, these people were electing their own leaders. Whenever the power to govern is derived from the people who are governed, the system is at odds with the kingdom of God wherein all power and authority is vested in the King, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His sole delegate, the Holy Spirit. When men choose their leaders rather than leaving that task to God, it is only a recipe for spiritual disaster.
If we step back now and look at the broad picture all this "church" activity of the first and second centuries presents, it becomes easy to see why the prophets and apostles were silent when Constantine "Christianized" Rome. They were already gone. They had been ostracized as heretics or dismissed as extremists while the scholarly but unspiritual treatment of the gospel was given pre-eminence.
As the history of the gospel progressed beyond the apostolic era, two things happened. First they began to look to a single bishop as the source of what God was saying to his people. Then these leaders began to rely on man-made doctrines and logical reasoning rather than the direct leading of the Holy Spirit (as is seen in the book of Acts) and they turned to the scholars to provide protection and direction. When this practice became widely accepted, it led to Constantine being able to Romanize Christianity without a protest.
The danger of losing so much within even a single generation must not be overlooked. This happened with the Israelites. "When all that generation [the generation after Joshua] had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger." ( Jdgs. 2:10-12; top ) That so much deceptive work could be done by the spirit of antichrist in such a short period of time is quite consistent with the tendency of human nature to refuse to learn the lessons of their parents and forefathers.
It must be stated unequivocally, however, that the power of the ekklesia, the called-out people of Christ, can also be seen in the overturning of the Roman empire - in spite of all the work done by the spirit of antichrist to diminish the potency of the ekklesia. The power of the ekklesia, even though polluted with the antichrist practices of the single bishop and influenced somewhat by the soulish and intellectual ruminations of a few scholars, was still a sufficient power base which could change the direction of the Roman empire. It can never be assumed that the "Christianizing" of Rome was accomplished by one man, Constantine. Constantine is merely the emperor during whose reign the schemes of the enemy and the permissive will of God coincided to bring about the leavening of Christianity Christ spoke of when He said: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." ( Mt. 13:33; top )
Jesus' choice of symbology is exact here - and it is an exact match, albeit in one sentence, of the whole of church history. Leaven in Scripture is always a symbol of sin, wickedness, unrighteousness and hypocrisy, usually of a religious nature. Though many have tried to say that this parable means that the kingdom of God will be spread all around the world, this is just not consistent with the other symbology used in this parable.
Why three measures of meal? Why not twelve, seven, six, two or any other number? He chose three because there are three main branches of historical Christianity: Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical.
Who is the woman? To fully answer that question would require a history lesson that is beyond the scope of this essay but I'll give you enough to start your own research. We see her depicted in the book of Revelation as having ridden upon all the nations and empires of the world since the time of Nimrod: the Whore of Babylon, Mystery, Religion. Every world empire has had its religion and every one of these religions has had its "mother of god" figure. This goddess has gone under the name of Semiramus, Cybele, Isis, Istarte, Rhea and Mary. And she has introduced elements of pagan mythology into every religion she is associated with - including Christianity.
The idolatrous input of Mary, the "Mother of God," into the Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity is much more obvious. The input of the Whore of Babylon, Mystery, Religion is much more subtle in the Protestant and Evangelical vein. It is the leftover paganistic practices - the exalted clergy and the local temple - which are her greatest contributions to Protestant Christianity.
Paul wrote, "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened." ( 1 Cor. 5:6-7; top )
"Come out from among them and be separate," says the Lord. "Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters," says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. ( 2 Cor. 6:17-7:1; top )
Paul also wrote, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." ( 2 Tim. 3:1-5 - emphasis added; top)
I don't think I could add much of anything to those warnings. Let he who has ears to hear use them wisely.
The point of all this is poignant. As God moves to restore the government of His kingdom to the apostles and prophets - this being one of the required steps in the preparation of the bride of Christ - we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the first century. Where they settled for intellectual teachings and doctrines and being ruled over by a solitary bishop, we have the opportunity to throw off the shackles of man-made religion and attempt to walk in a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This outpouring will not be tainted with the ways of man - for this time the Bridegroom will return for a spotless and blameless bride. It will not be hyped on radio or television - it will be quietly and powerfully lived in the lives of all those who genuinely hunger and thirst after righteousness and truth. It will not be received in the "churches" - in fact it will be violently opposed - but it is the narrow way which leads to life. The "churches" will attempt to lure many Spirit-led people back into their dying clutches - be sure God is leading you; unless everything you do is done in Christ, it amounts to nothing. ( Jn. 15:5; top )
One last observation of the first century is in order. Though the scholars and the bishops took over, the vast majority of the people who followed Christ were neither scholars nor bishops. This vast majority, who were neither tainted with soulish intellectualisms nor Nicolaitan doctrines and practices, simply lived in Christ and therefore greatly impacted and changed their whole world. When the ekklesia truly worships God in spirit and in truth and refuses to resort to worldly methods and gimmicks to promote their way of life, miracles happen and people are added to the Lord daily - and the pagans and hypocrites will be afraid and too uncomfortable to join such a truthful and truth-loving group of people without feeling the need to repent themselves. This has been true from the days of Ananias and Sapphira and it is still true today.
We have the opportunity to reject the demonic system of a single-bishop (or "pastors") lording it over the flock in our time. We have the opportunity to reject the soulish reliance on scholarly understanding of God's Word, a reliance we maintain at the expense of a spiritual revelation from the Holy Spirit. We have the opportunity to be a spotless and blameless bride ready for the Bridegroom's return.
Let he who has ears to hear, hear. And may he or she who has the courage, make every effort to press on and lay hold of the high calling in Christ Jesus.
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