Ex. 20:4 π Josh. 9:14 π 1 Sam. 8:7 π Isa. 58:6-7 π Mt. 5:48 π Mt. 11:25 π Mt. 13:25 π Mt. 13:30 π Mt. 18:17 π Mt. 20:25-26; 2nd π Mt. 23:9 π Mk. 5:35-36 π Mk. 5:38 π Lk. 5:37 π Lk. 8:41-49 π Jn. 10:27 π Jn. 14:23-24 π Jn. 15:5 π Jn. 16:13 π Acts 2:46 π Acts 4:34-35 π Acts 5:1-2 π Acts 5:4 π Acts 6:3 π Acts 6:10 π Acts 8:21-23 π Acts 17:30 π Acts 18:8-17 π 1 Cor. 3:4 π 1 Cor. 12:25 π 2 Cor. 4:7; 2nd π 2 Cor. 11:3 π Gal. 1:8 π Gal. 3:3 π Gal. 5:20 π Eph. 1:20-23 π 1 Tim. 3:8-13 π 2 Tim. 2:22 π 2 Tim. 2:24-25 π Tit. 1:9 π Heb. 5:9 π 1 Pet. 2:9 π 2 Pet. 2:21 π Rev. 2:4; 2nd π Rev. 2:6; 2nd π Rev. 2:15; 2nd
In the first half of the second century (approximately 110
We cannot understand the scope and nature of the errors of these two men - errors perpetuated to this day - until we receive the enlightenment, revelation and instruction from the Lord as to how we are to come together. So many have assembled for so many centuries under the errors begun under these two men that very few have been able to find their way back to the simplicity that is in Christ.
Though Christ's way is simple, we must not suppose that men, operating in any way apart from His Spirit, are capable of understanding or implementing it. To date, no movement of men in the name of Christ has succeeded in eliminating every error that attached itself to the simple way of following Christ in those historically darkened years. In part, this is because the deceptions are indeed quite subtle - too subtle for carnal, natural men to avoid - and, in part, this is because God has allowed these deceptions to remain in place so that the wheat (the sons of Christ's kingdom) and the tares (the sons of the devil, the deceiver and usurper) could both grow up together in the same place until they reached maturity. ( Mt. 13:30 ) Throughout the centuries of church history, various groups have overcome at least one or more of these errors even as they have succumbed to various others. All of these errors have been overcome to one degree or another throughout church history, but no one group has, singularly, overcome them all. In this background of confusion and contradiction, sorting out truth from error from private interpretation requires the leading of the Holy Spirit of truth. ( Jn. 16:13; top ) And this is the challenge before the bride of Christ who must be pure and spotless, ready for her Husband's return.
The first requirement to understanding the errors is to grasp the truth of how all believers in Christ are to assemble. The first insight we need to receive is that Christ did not preach the same "gospel" the "church" preaches today nor even a gospel that focussed on how the followers of Christ are to assemble. When we discover the true focal point of the gospel, we will be many steps closer to proper, spiritual assembly. The gospel Christ and all His apostles preached was the gospel of the kingdom. "The Kingdom is here - repent!" was the central core of their teachings.
In order for there to be a kingdom, there must be a King, an Absolute Monarch who alone has the right to command His subjects however the Lord of the realm deems best - whether those commands are agreeable to the subjects or not and whether those commands are beneficial or costly to the subjects is immaterial. The King is to be obeyed - period.
And this is precisely the picture the New Testament paints:
"[Jesus] became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." ( Heb. 5:9 - emphasis added)When we truly submit to the headship of Christ - personally, individually and then corporately - we will start to see the aberrant practices of the "church" for what they are: error, heresy and apostasy. The "gospel" the "church" preaches - intentionally or otherwise - is:
"Truly, these times of [men's idolatrous] ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent." ( Acts 17:30 - emphasis added)
"[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the ekklesia, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." ( Eph. 1:20-23 - emphasis added; top)
"Come hear our guy preach and see what we do and teach. If you like what you see and hear, you can come back as often or as little as you like and you can do as much or as little for God as you like."
This is a very different gospel! (see Gal. 1:8; top )
There is a very good reason the "church" (and all its refugees who have inadvertently continued in its more subtle errors) do not practice the Headship of Christ - it, the "church," has a second head that interferes with the place and role of the true Head, Christ Jesus. And the teaching that emplaces this second head finds its first historical expression in Ignatius of Antioch who wrote:
"It is evident that we should look upon the bishop [Greek, episkopas] as we do upon the Lord Himself." (To the Ephesians, c. 6)
"...do all things with a divine concord: the bishops presiding in the place of God..." (To the Magnesians, c. 6)
"Without the bishop let no one do anything connected with the church [Greek, ekklesia]." (To the Smyrnans, c. 8)
This is, quite simply, the first historically recorded version of the pyramidal, trickle-down, Nicolaitan (Greek, "over the people" - Rev. 2:6 , 15; top ) authority structure.
Philip Schaff, an excellent church historian, gives four explanations for the rise of the episcopate (the bishop presiding over the presbyters - elders - and the whole congregation):
"[The episcopate] 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 Jewish arch-synagogue ( Mk. 5:35-36 , 38 ; Lk. 8:41-49 ; Acts 18:8-17; [top] ), required a head or president."
"...the whole church spirit of the age tended toward 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."
"...there was also a powerful practical reason for elevating the powers of the bishop... In primitive times every case of poverty or suffering was separately brought to the notice of the bishop [the administrative officer by whom the charitable funds were received and the funds disbursed] and personally relieved by a deacon." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, Ante-Nicene Christianity
A.D.100-325, p. 141-143)
Let us review these four explanations:
- popular demand
- perceived need answered by the Jewish synagogue pattern
- desire for security in the face of apparent disunity and disagreement among the elders
Let us note well that direct instruction from the apostles (as recorded in the New Testament) for taking this direction is completely absent from this list. So too is the direct leading of the Holy Spirit absent from this list.
Schaff offers these conclusions:
"[The episcopate] 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." (Schaff, p. 141)
Instinctive - not well thought out, not discussed, not brought into the light and its fruit examined, no overt seeking of the mind of Christ, no direct asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom, discernment, enlightenment and instruction - simply the growing weight of practice that becomes entrenched tradition. "Everybody's doing it this way, so it must be right." By the year 220
"...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 monarchical, or more properly a patriarchical relation to the congregation. In the bishop was found the visible representative of Christ, the great Head of the whole church. In the bishop, therefore, all sentiments of piety found a center. In the bishop the whole religious posture of the people towards God and towards Christ had its outward support and guide." (Schaff, p. 142-143)
Would Christ's ekklesia truly have ceased to exist if the bishop had not arisen to take over Christ's place as head over the local assembly? Is Christ suddenly so weak and helpless that the invisible God now needs visible representatives? No! The bishop was merely a living graven image made in the likeness of God. (see Ex. 20:4 ) As a result, the people fell from their first love of simply walking with Christ ( Rev. 2:4; top ) and settled into a philosophical, intellectual religion that, over the centuries, because it filters the words of God through the person of the bishop (now most commonly known as the "pastor"), has progressively departed from following the Spirit of God. Today, "Christianity" is divided into thousands of sects built upon the eloquence and ability of the speaker to lure in followers after himself and his peculiar doctrines (teachings) and private interpretations. The result is lawlessness (doing what is right in one's own eyes) as the people choose which "pastor" and "church" matches up with whatever list of criteria the individual cares to use.
Replacing Christ is the particular strategy of the spirit of antichrist. "Anti" in Greek carries both the idea of "against" or "in opposition to" as well as the idea of "in the place of." There is no better place for the demonic to divert the people of Christ away from simple, personal obedience to Christ than from popularly-accepted places of leadership. The way of following Christ includes no representatives of Deity - that is, those who act in the place of Christ or God in His absence, place or stead - the genuine followers of Christ are only those who present the treasure that is God from within their own earthen vessels (see 2 Cor. 4:7; top ) - not re-present Him! If God and Christ is absent, He is simply absent and there is no life in that work - no matter what words are said or actions are done in His name (even though, God, who transcends all human limitations placed upon His words, may still draw a sincere seeker to Himself in spite of the spiritually lifeless, even demonically contaminated rendering of His truths!) If anyone stands in His place or acts in His stead, that one is merely the victim of the deceiver and acting out the role of a usurper of stolen authority.
We should note well that the first century believers' inward bent toward centralization created a desire for outward, tangible unity that fit in with the existing culture. As a result, the people accepted a man to take on the role of Father and King even though Christ had clearly instructed His followers not to do this. ( Mt. 23:9 , 20:25-26; top ) Thus, while "the whole religious posture of the people" was nominally towards God and Christ, by going through the man - to whom power, prestige and authority naturally gravitated and accumulated (things that belong rightly to God alone) - the worship, service and existence of the people of Christ and God was contaminated, stunted and changed from the purity of its first love.
This is not to say that the first set of believers were perfect but rather that, as the first recipients of the outpoured Spirit died off, men diverged from the purity of that event. Instead of relying on the Spirit to provide divine, spiritual power, instruction and enlightenment, they turned to an institution, a man in a place of God, to impose perceived order - order that usurped and replaced God as Father and King in very real and tangible ways. One is reminded of Israel's demand for a king. God relented and allowed them their king, telling Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people...; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them." ( 1 Sam. 8:7; top )
"...at the same time [as the episcopate was being elevated], as the language of Clement and Irenaeus, the state of things in Egypt, and even in North Africa, and the testimony of Jerome and other fathers, clearly prove, the remembrance of the original equality could not be entirely blotted out, but continued to show itself in various ways." (Schaff, p. 143)
The writings and history of practices clearly prove the original equality of the episkopas and the presbyters. God was faithful to see to it that those records survived and has been drawing men back towards the original outpouring of His Spirit ever since. Thus church history is a series of movements that sought - with varying degrees of success and failure and even of varying light by which to understand what they were attempting - to restore that which had been lost. Restoring the equality of the bishops and elders, along with removing the bishop from the place of Christ and God, are two key elements of the first ekklesia's practices that must be restored if we are to be a pure, spotless bride ready for Christ's return.
Regarding the bishop as the administrative officer, Schaff writes: "Afterwards institutions were founded for widows and orphans, poor and infirm, and generally placed under the superintendence of the bishop; but personal responsibility was diminished by this organized charity, and the deacons lost their original significance and became subordinate officers of public worship." (Schaff, p. 143)
At the first, every case was brought to the attention of the bishop and attended to by a deacon. This is based on the precedent set in Acts 4:34-35; top where those who owned lands or goods sold them and gave the proceeds to the apostles who then distributed to those who had need.
But there is no indication in the Scripture that this was anything but the usual reaction of the human heart and life to being suddenly immersed in the divine nature. We should note well that this practice led to the first corporate sins - and deaths! - in the first ekklesia. Ananias and Sapphira sold a possession, held back a portion, giving most of it to the apostles, and then lied, saying this was all. ( Acts 5:1-2 ) We should note well Peter's rebuke to Ananias:
"Was the property not yours to do with as you pleased? After you sold it, was the money not yours to control? Why did you lie - and to the Holy Spirit? What were you thinking?" ( Acts 5:4; top )
This practice of placing resources in the hands of the apostles was not meant to be a precedent that established vicarious giving and completely eliminated personal caring and giving! The apostles were to be merely transmitters and carriers of gifts of love where the givers had no personal connections with those in need.
But God's way of giving is always personal. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah,
"Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out, when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?" ( Isa. 58:6-7 - emphasis added; top)
That the practice of allowing the bishops and the deacons to attend to the needs of the people devolved into an institution that diminished the personal care and giving of individuals should expose to us the impurity in the roots of the elevated-episcopate system.
We should also note well that organized charity relegated the deacons to a place of merely officiating over portions of the public worship. Whereas before, the deacons - men filled with the Spirit and character of God ( Acts 6:3 , 1 Tim. 3:8-13 ) who attended to the needs of the orphans, widows, the sick and dying and who could be found overcoming the false ideas and philosophies of the best the Jews could put forward ( Acts 6:10; top ) - now they led parts of a "church" "service." They were placed in visible but empty positions of "leadership" and then paraded before the people? as "ushers" and "doormen" - but they no longer served any real, vital function. How sad. How the mighty had fallen.
Regarding Ignatius, Schaff writes: "In [Ignatius'] view Christ is the invisible supreme head, the one great universal bishop of all the churches scattered over the earth. The human bishop is the center of unity for the single congregation, and stands in it as the vicar [a person who acts in the place of another, a deputy or delegate] of Christ and even of God (each bishop being thus a sort of pope). The people, therefore, should unconditionally obey him, and do nothing without his will." (Schaff, p. 146)
A vicar is a representative. He is sent as a deputy of delegate of the sender to attend to some business or agenda in the absence or place of the sender. Jesus said, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing." ( Jn. 15:5 ) And Paul wrote, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." ( 2 Cor. 4:7 ) There is not one Scripture that ever once says Christ delegated or gave His authority to anyone to use apart from the leading of His Spirit. And the confirmation that any one is speaking for the Lord in any capacity will be the unanimous agreement among all those who are truly led by that same Spirit of truth. The New Testament calls this being "of one accord." ( Acts 2:46 , etc.; top)
Unconditional obedience is given only to the Lord Himself and never to any man. Any man who demands obedience to himself has stolen a place that belongs only to Christ and God. Ignatius is simply the first historically recorded Nicolaitan teacher-pope and Nicolaitanism is simply the acceptance and use of the principle of delegated authority, supposedly - but never found anywhere in the Scriptures - given by God.
Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice." ( Jn. 10:27 ) It does not matter whether He chooses to speak through an elder (overseer or presbyter - Tit. 1:9 ) or a child ( Mt. 11:25 ) or anyone who simply serves the Lord ( 2 Tim. 2:24-25 ) - those who love Jesus will obey His commands and those who do not love Him will not obey Him. ( Jn. 14:23-24; top ) This is the basis of authority in the body of Christ. It is not based on titles men have assumed or given to one another nor on perceived positions of leadership. Christ's authority is based always and simply on the source of the command or instructions: Himself. Anything else is mere deception.
"The Ignatian episcopacy, in short, is congregational, not diocesan [an arbitrary region or area as on a map]; a new and growing institution, not a settled policy of apostolic origin." (Schaff, p. 148)
Schaff rightly concludes that Ignatius' letters reveal that the episcopate was a new and growing institution and not a settled policy handed down from the apostles. Why is this significant? It shows that the rise of the episcopate was an aberration, a devolvement, from the original move of the outpoured Spirit of God. It was not a continuation of the leading of the Spirit but the beginning of departure from that leading as men turned to other men rather than first turning to God.
The episcopate developed into an institution. Though these organizations are popular among men, the very word seems to be absent from God's vocabulary. Nowhere in Scripture is the word "institution" to be found - even the concept is difficult to find except where God relented and allowed men to deviate from His perfect will! Institutions are simply the hardened wineskins completely incapable of containing the new wine of the Holy Spirit. ( Lk. 5:37 ) Though the Holy Spirit will meet sincere seekers within institutions that claim the name of Christ - just as He will meet sincere seekers in whatever sin or debauchery that has ensnared them - but those who refuse to follow Him out of that institution will remain, at best, stunted and immature in their spiritual development or, at worst, will find themselves apostate, departed from the faith and may well one day discover that it would have been better for them to have never known about the way of righteousness at all. ( 2 Pet. 2:21; top )
"Ignatius glows with the fire and impetuosity of the Greek and Syrian temper which carries him beyond the bounds of sobriety... He is the incarnation, as it were, of the three closely connected ideas: the glory of martyrdom, the omnipotence of episcopacy, and the hatred of heresy and schism. Hierarchical pride and humility, Christian charity and churchly exclusiveness are typically represented in Ignatius. ...his martyr-spirit exceeds the limits of the genuine apostolic soberness and resignation... [and] ...degenerates into boisterous impatience and morbid fanaticism. It resembles the lurid torch rather than the clear 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 as a young man learned from the apostle John], who [Polycarp] 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, such as: 'Strive after more knowledge than thou hast.' 'Be wise as the serpents.' 'Be more zealous than thou art.' 'Flee the arts of the devil.' This last injunction goes even beyond that of Paul to Timothy: 'Flee youthful lusts' ( 2 Tim. 2:22 [top]), and can hardly be justified by it." (Schaff, p. 657-659)
Let us recall that Ignatius saw Christ as "the invisible supreme head, the one great universal bishop of all the churches scattered over the earth." (Schaff, p. 146) Yet Christ has not taken the place of real and true sovereignty in Ignatius' own heart. One is reminded of Peter rebuking Simon, the Samarian magician:
"You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." ( Acts 8:21-23; top )
Simon (known as Simon Magus in church history) failed to heed this warning and went on to become the father of Gnostic heresy. Whether Ignatius was ever similarly warned is lost to history. But from our vantage point of two millennia later, we can now see that Ignatius, at least in the eyes of history, can rightly be called the father of the Nicolaitan heresies.
"Flee the arts of the devil" was Ignatius' arrogant injunction to the older Polycarp. But it was advice he himself had not taken. His own heart was contaminated with a subtle "refined spiritual pride" and what can only be called a spiritual schizophrenia. He hated heresy (division occasioned by error) and schism but he held to the worst kind of heretical and schismatic teaching of all - Nicolaitanism - whereby the bishop usurped the place of Christ and men followed after other men instead of Christ. (see 1 Cor. 3:4; top ) Ignatius' arrogance, spiritual pride and schismatic heresy are all indicators that he was the victim of the main art of the devil and the demonic - deception - and was in no position to be instructing anyone, let alone someone probably much older and wiser in the faith than he was. Ignatius may very well be simply yet another expression of a younger generation's impatience and contempt for the "foolish" and "old-fashioned nonsense" of the previous generation - yet it is often this very impatient contempt for the wisdom of one's elders which opens the doors to demonic enslavement.
"The doctrinal and churchly views of the Ignatian epistles are framed on a peculiar combination and somewhat materialistic apprehension of John's doctrine of the incarnation, and Paul's idea of the church as the body of Jesus Christ... He thus applies these ideas of the apostles directly to the principle and institution of the growing hierarchy." (Schaff, p. 659)
This is the Ignatian recipe: two parts truth, one part error, one part flesh. The materialistic or carnal element is precisely what will cause Montanus (the second subject in this article) to react. What is a materialistic apprehension in Ignatius will flower and bloom into a stale, lifeless dogma throughout the rest of the Christian world as the progressively more complex, man-made institution replaces the simplicity that is found in Christ and His way. ( 2 Cor. 11:3; top )
"It is remarkable that the idea of the episcopal hierarchy...should be first clearly and boldly brought out...by a bishop of the Eastern church...transplanted by him to the soil of Rome, and there sealed with his martyr blood. Equally noticeable is the circumstance, that these oldest documents of the hierarchy soon became so interpolated, curtailed and mutilated by pious fraud, that it is today almost impossible to discover with certainty the genuine Ignatius of history under the hyper- and pseudo-Ignatius of tradition." (Schaff, p. 660)
Though Ignatius' teachings were not native to Rome, they were certainly later snatched up and used as a basis for the superiority of the Romish sect headed by the ultimate Nicolaitan, the pope. And the fact that these documents were not protected and preserved by God (as the Old and New Testaments have been) should speak loudly to us about the source of Ignatius' teachings and ideas. The fruit tells us a great deal about the root.
One cannot grasp the full significance of Montanism without considering the atmosphere in which it occurred. Fist is the rationalistic Gnostic heresy, of which Montanism is its supernaturalistic opposite. Gnosticism relied on knowledge and denied the supernatural - Montanism relied on spiritual revelation and the supernatural, at times to the complete exclusion and suspension of all reason. Gnosticism, having been born in paganistic religions, is really just a twisted amalgamation of heathen philosophy and religion with Christian doctrines and philosophies.
In addition to this Gnostic influence, the bishops and their congregations were acquiring a moral laxity. Montanus appeared on the scene (around the middle of the second century) bringing a hyper-spirituality (quite comparable to the hyper-charismania of today as well as of various movements throughout church history) as well as a wholesome puritanical ethic and rigorous ascetic standard that, at first, stood as a welcome breath of fresh air in contrast to the growing laxity among the "catholic" (universal) bishops and assemblies. But just as Montanus' spiritual antics proved excessive, so too were the moral requirements too rigid and demanding. Montanus was reportedly a reformed pagan priest who was filled with fanatical zeal.
"Montanism was not, originally, a departure from the faith, but a morbid overstraining of the practical morality and discipline of the early church. It was an excessive supernaturalism and puritanism against Gnostic rationalism and catholic laxity. It is the first example of an earnest and well-meaning, but gloomy and fanatical hyper-Christianity, which like all hyper-spiritualism, is apt to end in the flesh." (Schaff, p. 417)
Montanus certainly went too far. He went into trances and sleep-walking ecstasies and "considered himself the inspired organ of the promised Paraclete or Advocate, the Helper and Comforter in these last times of distress" (Schaff, p. 418), confusing his opponents into believing, because he often spoke for God and the Holy Spirit in the first person ("I"), that he was claiming to be the Paraclete or even the Father. Schaff writes,
"They called themselves spiritual Christians (Greek, pneumatixoi), in distinction from the psychic [soulish] or carnal Christians (Greek, psuchixoi). The bishops and the synods of Asia Minor, though not with one voice, declared the new prophecy the work of demons, applied exorcism, and cut off the Montanists from the fellowship of the church." (Schaff, p. 419 - emphasis in original)
In an interesting twist, one of the so-called "church fathers," Tertullian, a Montanist who probably never returned into the bosom of Catholicism, played a prominent role in this controversy. Schaff writes,
"Tertullian was inclined to extremes from the first, especially to moral austerity. He was no doubt attracted by the radical contempt for the world, the strict asceticism, the severe discipline, the martyr enthusiasm, and the chiliasm [millennial reign of Christ] of the Montanists, and was repelled by the growing conformity to the world in the Roman church, which just at that period, under Zephyrinus and Callistus, openly took under its protection a very lax penitential discipline, and at the same time, though only temporarily, favored the Patripassian error of Praxeas, an opponent of the Montanists. Of this man Tertullian therefore says, in his sarcastic way: He has executed in Rome two works of the devil; has driven out prophecy (the Montanistic) and brought in heresy (the Patripassian); has turned off the Holy Ghost and crucified the Father. Tertullian now fought the catholics, or the psychicals, as he frequently calls them, with the same inexorable sternness with which he had combated the heretics. The departures of the Montanists, however, related more to points of morality and discipline than of doctrine; and with all his hostility to Rome, Tertullian remained a zealous advocate of the catholic faith, and wrote, even from his schismatic position, several of his most effective works against the heretics, especially the Gnostics. Indeed, as a divine, he stood far above this fanatical sect, and gave it by his writings an importance and an influence in the church itself which it certainly would never otherwise have attained." (Schaff, p. 821)
Praxeas came to Rome under Marcus Aurelius (emporer 161-180
As we can now see, this is not, as historians and tradition blindly assert, Tertullian the schismatic rebel vs. the absolutely correct catholic church. The bishops and the synods - from their Nicolaitan positions - exercised authority over the Montanists. Rather than having the entire ekklesia come together in one accord to bring correction ( Mt. 18:17; top ), the representatives of visible "Christian" unity and order - the new and groing hierarchical institution of men who stood in the place of Christ in the local assembly - foolishly and futilely relied on their supposedly delegated authority to bring the Montanists back into order. Further, not only were the bishops operating from a position of false authority, too many, like Praxeas, were further enmeshed in philosophies and ideas concocted in their own fleshly imaginations.
"All the ascetic, rigoristic, and chiliastic [millennial reign of Christ] elements of the ancient church combined in Montanism. They there asserted a claim to universal validity, which the catholic church was compelled, for her own interest, to reject; since she left the effort after extra-ordinary holiness to the comparatively small circle of ascetics and priests, and sought rather to lighten Christianity than add to its weight, for the great mass of its professors." (Schaff, p. 417 - emphasis added)
Ascetics and priests - two classes that have no existence in the New Testament (we are all called to be holy as He is holy - Mt. 5:48 - and we are all supposed to be priests - 1 Pet. 2:9; top ) - were tolerated in their practice of "obedience" to Christ as they practiced what they privately (apart from the Holy Spirit) considered to be "holiness." What this reflects is twofold: first is a misunderstanding of holiness. To be holy is to be set apart for God's will and purposes. While right and wrong is certainly included in this concept, God's will and purpose is not a thing that can be codified by men. There are certain common denominators, of course, but there is also an individual element unique to each believer and there are unique callings for various ekklesias or travelling groups.
The second factor is that as the people abandoned functioning in one accord in the Holy Spirit and instead relied on their Nicolaitan representatives, the bishops and their synods, to compile standards and creeds that made lists of behaviors and beliefs that were "universally" correct, the first love of simply and obediently walking with Christ by the leading of His Holy Spirit was lost.
So what we have here is a collision, a cluster of errors. The error of the Ignatian bishops is that of excessive or even hyper-order. The error of Montanus and his followers is excessive or hyper-spirituality. And Tertullian's error is excessive, even hyper-asceticism. All these were attempting, in at least three different directions, to complete a work begun in the Spirit through the power of the flesh. (see Gal. 3:3; top ) and accomplished what is perhaps the very first historically-recorded denominational split.
Let us examine this cluster of sins and errors in more detail.
- Loss of one's first love. The first century followers of Christ neglected to maintain their loving, personally obedient relationship with Christ and God through the Holy Spirit. ( Rev. 2:4; top ) This first sin aided in bringing in all the rest.
- The teaching of the Nicolaitans. ( Rev. 2:6; top ) Ignatius and many others taught that it was right and proper for a man to stand in the place of God.
- The practice of the Nicolaitans. ( Rev. 2:15; top ) Bishops across the world stepped into the place of Christ as King and Father over the local assemblies.
- Moral laxity and disunity. Because the standard had quietly changed from personally obeying Christ through the leading of His Spirit to varying codes of moral and spiritual conduct as concocted by the various and competitive bishops, the oneness of the body was forfeited and the stage was set for sectarian division. (see 1 Cor. 12:25; top )
- Use of delegated authority. Because the bishops and synods mistakenly believed themselves to be the delegated possessors of Christ's authority and power, they used that authority to expel those who believed differently than they did. Though history most often labels the Montanists as the schismatic rebels, the first schismatics were the bishops and the synods. ( Mt. 20:25-26; top )
- Dissension and heresy. The Catholics, the Montanists, the Tertullianists, all these denominations resulted from this conflict. Today there are literally thousands of denominations - each one built on the sins of dissension and heresy. ( Gal. 5:20; top )
All these sins of the first and second century are the same sins we must all overcome in our day if we are to be spotless, purified bride of Christ ready for her Husband's return.
Let he who has ears hear.
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