Ex. 20:19 π Ex. 25:14 π 1 Sam. 8:19-20 π 2 Sam. 6:6-7 π Ezek. 18:20; 2nd π Mt. 11:25; 2nd π Mt. 13:25 π Mt. 13:30 π Mt. 13:31-32 π Mt. 13:32 π Mt. 13:38 π Mt. 14:29-31 π Mt. 16:18; π 2nd π Mt. 18:17 π Mt. 20:25-26; 2nd π Mt. 21:16 π Mt. 23:3-4 π Mt. 23:8-10 π Mt. 24:12 π Mt. 28:18 π Mk. 4:11 π Lk. 10:21 π Jn. 3:19-21 π Jn. 8:44 π Jn. 10:27 π 2nd π Jn. 12:23-24 π Jn. 14:23-24 π Jn. 16:13 π 2nd π Jn. 17:20-23 π Acts 2:17 π Acts 15:19 π Acts 21:17-18 π Acts 21:20-25 π 1 Cor. 1:12 π 1 Cor. 3:1 π 1 Cor. 3:3-4 π 1 Cor. 3:4 π 1 Cor. 5:4-5 π 1 Cor. 5:11-12 π 2 Cor. 8:14 π Gal. 1:18-19 π Gal. 2:6 π Gal. 2:9 π Gal. 3:3 π Gal. 5:20; 2nd; 3rd π Gal. 6:2 π Eph. 1:22; 2nd; 3rd π Eph. 2:19-22; 2nd π Eph. 4:3 π Eph. 4:8 π Eph. 4:11 π Eph. 4:12; 2nd π Eph. 4:13 π Eph. 4:15 π Eph. 4:16 π Phlp. 1:1 π 2 Ths. 2:3 π 2 Tim. 2:24-26 π 2 Tim. 4:22 π Tit. 1:9 π Tit. 3:15 π Heb. 5:13 π Heb. 8:10 π Heb. 12:2 π Heb. 13:8 π Jas. 2:2 π 1 Pet. 2:2 π 2 Pet. 1:3-4 π 2 Pet. 1:20 π 1 Jn. 2:20 π Jude 3 π Rev. 1:20 π Rev. 2:1 π Rev. 2:4 π Rev. 2:4-5 π Rev. 2:5; 2nd π Rev. 2:6; 2nd; 3rd π Rev. 2:15; 2nd; 3rd π Rev. 3:10
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The Unfinished Reformation by Charles Clayton Morrison (Harper Bros., New York, 1953)
Congregationalism (Morrison’s complete quote)
Normative and Mandatory
That They All May Be One
All That Remains
In this chapter, Morrison is again looking ahead to “a united church,” offering his ideas (compiled in the late 1940s) as to how to overcome what he saw as three major obstacles to “ecumenical unity”:
“These problems…are 1) the historic episcopate, 2) immersion baptism and 3) congregationalism as a theory of church polity.” (p. 160)
As we have seen though, Morrison’s views fail to grasp how deep the changes would have to go to truly finish the Reformation. The major changes we have already examined in this series would simply eliminate the first two problems entirely. Those changes are:
- Ekklesia rather than “church.” The ekklesia must again be seen as the “executive arm” of “the mystery of the kingdom of God” Mk. 4:11 , etc.) which includes “the whole building” ( Eph. 2:19-22; top ) purified from all counterfeit “church” contaminants.
- Local ekklesia rather than sectarian commuter “church.” The ekklesia must again be seen as and practiced by the residents of a locale and no longer be a man-made collection of like-minded (along party – denominational – lines) followers of mere men. ( 1 Cor. 3:3-4; top )
- The mind of Christ rather than the “theologies” (traditions) of men. We must look to the Spirit of truth and not to favorite teachers to resolve differences of opinion regarding teachings (doctrines), beliefs and practices.
When these changes have occurred, the “historic episcopate” and the need for “ordination” and “apostolic succession” will be seen as the Nicolaitan deceptions they really are. And the “problem” of immersion baptism will be resolved at each local ekklesia when, as each opportunity to baptize someone arises, they will simply obey the Head Christ Jesus, relinquishing our own opinions and following the unanimous voice of Christ in His people, speaking for that particular occasion. We may even find that Christ Himself does not care how we are baptized but rather that we are baptized! We may even find local and individual varyings from case to case! Would that upset anything besides some “Bible scholar’s” “theology” or the demonic who look for any relatively minor point of contention whereby they can stir up strife and contention between brothers in the family of Christ?
But Morrison’s third major obstacle, “congregationalism,” deserves a careful scrutiny. In fairness to Morrison’s arguments, here is what he has to say on the matter. Morrison wrote:
The term “congregationalism” is used, not to refer to a particular denomination, but to a theory of church polity or organization which Congregationalists share with Baptists, Disciples and numerous other bodies. It is the theory that regards the local church as invested with complete independence and autonomy and that rejects every form of connexionalism which involves an ecclesiastical bond or union between local congregations and the church as a whole. This is a statement of the abstract principle or theory of congregationalism. As we shall see, the main denominations which carry this theory in their tradition and emphasize it as a structural – or perhaps we should say, structureless – principle of church polity do not exemplify it in their practice. But since it is the theory that inhibits these denominations from a candid recognition of the contrary theory, we shall have to devote some attention to it as a general principle.
But first it should be made clear why this absolute congregational principle is an obstacle that must be surmounted in preparation for a united church. It is obvious that a united church, emerging from the dissolution of the churchism of the denominations, must itself assume a structure or form of its own. It need not and should not be an elaborate form. But it should provide those orderly procedures that will enable the church to enjoy an integrated ecclesiastical fellowship and to act as a whole in those matters which are the true functions of the whole church. That this is possible without restricting local autonomy in those matters which are the true functions of the local congregation is universally recognized by all who participate in the ecumenical movement. But all parts of the church must be integrated on the broad principle of their ecclesiastical obligation to the whole church. It is quite unthinkable that any part of the church should set itself up as absolutely independent and autonomous. Least of all could local congregations so consider themselves. Nor can the whole church consider itself superior to or independent of the local churches, for, as we have seen in Chapter V [“Protestant Unity and Catholic Unity Compared”], the ultimate responsibility of any united church which Protestants are able to conceive or willing to enter must ultimately rest upon the democratic consent of the local churches.
Thus it should be plain why the theory of unqualified congregational independence and autonomy is incompatible with the ecumenical ideal. This principle cannot be carried as a theory into a united church. Union requires that it give way explicitly to its opposite, namely, the interdependence and mutual responsibility of the local churches to one another and to the church as a whole. If this obstacle to Christian unity is to be surmounted, it is necessary to consider the abstract principle in detachment from the inconsistent practice of the denominations which profess their adherence to it. In a word, we have to consider whether it is a sound principle of the Christian faith. Our conclusion may be stated in advance. We shall find that, strictly as a theory, it is a thoroughly unsound principle, and, as a matter of fact, belied in practice by those denominations which profess to be founded upon it.
It is maintained by these denominations that their theoretical position is derived from the New Testament: 1) that the New Testament knows no other empirical church except the local congregation; 2) that these congregations were independent and autonomous, there being no organized or recognized churchly interdependence among them; 3) that the emergence of organization (assumed to be some time after the New Testament period) represented an apostasy from the order established at the beginning; and 4) that this New Testament pattern is normative and mandatory upon the church for all time.
It will be impossible in a brief space to utilize the ample New Testament evidence in opposition to this congregational theory, nor shall we attempt it. But the theory must be rejected at all points. We shall take them in reverse order, beginning with the one last mentioned.
There is not a word or suggestion in the New Testament to warrant the assumption that the formal pattern of the primitive church is normative and mandatory for all time. This is a sheer dogma held sincerely by many Christians, not all of whom belong to denominations of the congregational persuasion. This view takes no account of the fact that the New Testament church was the infant church. It assumes that the church came into existence at Pentecost fully implemented with a fixed order which could not be expanded as the church “grew up.” Many other things changed – from the Jewish messianism of Peter at Pentecost, to the universalism of Paul’s Letters, to the mysticism of the Fourth Gospel. The New Testament is rich in the variety and diversity of its interpretations of the gospel, none of which, let us hasten to say, changed the gospel. We are bound to believe, are we not, that these varieties of interpretation were manifestations of the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, and we would dishonor the Spirit were we to fix our attention upon the earliest of these interpretations to the exclusion of the later ones.
If, then, we allow for change and variety to appear at the very center of the Christian faith, on what grounds can we take the embryonic structure – or lack of structure – of the infant church as definitive and mandatory for all time? If the Holy Spirit was manifested in the developing interpretations of the gospel itself, why may there not have been development in the structure of the church under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit? As a matter of fact, there are clear indications in the New Testament that there was such a development even in New Testament times.
Those who insist upon the pattern of the primitive church as normative and mandatory for all time should just as logically insist upon the Old Testament as the sole Bible of the church for all time. The primitive church had no other Bible save the Old Testament. The New Testament was itself a slow growth and was not available as Scripture until well on into the second century. The earliest writings in our New Testament (the only ones contributed by an apostle) are Paul’s letters, composed twenty-five years after Pentecost. These were followed by the Gospels of Mark and Matthew at the time of Paul’s death, about
A.D.65. But Paul’s Letters had been the possession of the several churches to whom they were addressed, and were not collected for general use until sixty years after Pentecost, at about which time Luke wrote his Gospel and the Acts. The latest of our “books” were the Fourth Gospel, the three Johns (or four, including the Apocalypse), the two Peters, James, the two Timothys, Titus, Hebrews, and Jude.
Some of these later books contain allusions which presuppose the existence of a formalized interdependent connexionalism among the churches, including even a bishop of the churches in a particular area. [Footnote: I suggest some books for the reader who would pursue this subject further: R.R. Williams, Authority in the Apostolic Age (London: S.C.M. Press, 1950); Clarence T. Craig, The One Church (New York and Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951); E.J. Goodspeed, The Formation of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926); Daniel Jenkins, The Nature of Catholicity (Landon: Faber and Faber, 1949).] How early this development of polity began is not known, but its existence was evidently taken for granted by the New Testament writers, not one of whom conveys the slightest hint that it represented an apostasy.
During all this time – roughly a full century – the church had no Bible save the Old Testament. Yet all Christians believe that the development of the New Testament was guided by the Holy Spirit. Why should it not be equally believed that the developing organization of the church was guided by the same Holy Spirit. And if the Spirit through the bishops of the middle second century gave us the canon of our New Testament, why must we go back to the infancy of the church when there was as yet no integrated organization of the rapidly proliferating units of an ecstatic spiritual movement to find the normative organizational pattern of the church for all time? Christianity did not begin as an organization; it began as a religion of the Spirit – hardly less than explosive in its emergence – and assumed organs and a structure as need arose for them.
But this is not all that must be said. We are not concerned here with what particular structure and organs are really normative – for example, whether the threefold ministry of bishops, elders and deacons is normative. Our sole concern is whether the local churches of the primitive church were independent and autonomous. That they did not so conceive themselves, even before they had any organization, is plainly indicated in the New Testament itself. Professor Craig has pointed out two distinctly recognized limitations on the local churches: one, the authority of the Apostles, the other the special position of the mother church in Jerusalem. Neither of these represented the authority of ecclesiastical status, but rather what Professor Williams, the Anglican scholar, has finely described as moral or spiritual authority. In the case of the apostles, it was the personal and moral authority of those who alone could bear firsthand witness to the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. In the case of the Jerusalem church, it was a parental solicitude for the churches to which it had given birth and which recognized in love the mother’s right to guide her own children. The point here, however, is not as to the kind of “authority” that was exercised, but the fact that it was recognized by the local congregations.
That is to say, even in the earliest period of Christianity, no local church claimed independence and autonomy. Such a claim would have been repugnant to the churches themselves. They had as yet no ecclesiastical organs through which to express their interdependence and unity, but they were one church, the veritable body of Christ, and were being guided by the Holy Spirit toward the attainment of a structure and organs through which their unity could be given empirical manifestation and guarded against dispersion into an atomistic multitude. In a word, the Christian Church was ecumenical from the beginning. As an abstract theory, congregationalism must, therefore, be regarded as a heresy. Its espousal as an absolute principle of church polity cannot be expected to figure as a factor in determining the form of the united church.” (p. 174-179 – emphasis in original)
“In a word, we have to consider whether it is a sound principle of the Christian faith.” (p. 175)
Indeed, let us subject congregationalism and how it contradicts ecumenicalism to a close scrutiny. And, as we examine Morrison’s views, let us recall what he said in another place:
“Our Christian faith, in accordance with our Lord’s own promise, has been discovering new meaning in His gospel and new imperatives in the mission of His church.” (p. 7)
Since Morrison wrote his book in 1951, the Lord has opened up many insights into His gospel – insights, in this case, that bring out where Morrison (and apparently the ecumenical movement as well) saw only dimly and in part, where he relied on divine revelation and where he leaped to erroneous conclusions and walked in both delusion and error. In short because he was filtering God’s call for unity through his understanding of the “church” paradigm with its yet unexposed Nicolaitan heresies, he concluded that congregationalism was “a thoroughly unsound principle” (p. 175) which “must, therefore, be regarded as a heresy.” (p. 179)
By the time we are done with examining Morrison’s views, we will see that the way the ecumenical movement interpreted and implemented God’s call for unity is the real heresy – in effect, all they’ve done is create the “ecumenical denomination,” a sect formed upon tolerance of the sins of dissensions and heresies (denominationalism – Gal. 5:20 ) and Nicolaitan clergyism. ( Rev. 2:6 , 15; top )
It must be noticed that one can remain denominationalistic (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, etc.) and be welcome in the ecumenical circle. So long as one claims loyalty to some tradition of men (like Luther, Cranmer, Calvin, etc.), in spite of Paul’s clear denouncement of such a practice ( 1 Cor. 3:4; top ), one can be included in Morrison’s “united church.” But if you insist that Christ alone is to be the Head of the local ekklesia, you are a rebellious heretic whose “theories” must be eradicated. As intellectual and wise as Morrison’s views might sound to some, they are nothing less than a demonic scheme intended to keep Christ’s people from experiencing again the fullness and purity of the outpoured Holy Spirit of God.
Let us dissect Morrison’s mistaken view here and see what the truth really is. Morrison wrote:
“It is maintained by these denominations that their theoretical position is derived from the New Testament:
1) that the New Testament knows no other empirical church except the local congregation;It will be impossible in a brief space to utilize the ample New Testament evidence in opposition to this congregational theory, nor shall we attempt it. But the theory must be rejected at all points. We shall take them in reverse order, beginning with the one last mentioned.” (p. 175-176)
2) that these congregations were independent and autonomous, there being no organized or recognized churchly interdependence among them;
3) that the emergence of organization (assumed to be some time after the New Testament period) represented an apostasy from the order established at the beginning; and
4) that this New Testament pattern is normative and mandatory upon the church for all time.
At the risk of putting words in Morrison’s mouth, let us summarize and outline his rebuttal in a point-for-point format and see what he is really offering in contradiction to congregationalism.
4) The New Testament ekklesia was only an infant that needed to grow up – something was lacking in the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that lack was and still must be supplied by the organizational skills and actions of men.
3) The organization that developed can be found in the New Testament (by certain scholars) and is not an apostasy but rather the leading of the Holy Spirit.
2) Local congregations recognized the moral and spiritual authority “of the apostles and of the mother church in Jerusalem.” (p. 178) This moral and spiritual authority was different in character from the later authority of ecclesiastical status but it still shows us that the local congregations were interdependent and unified, one ekklesia.
1) “The Christian Church was ecumenical from the beginning.” (p. 178)
Let us note that his reverse structure serves only to support his underlying goal that his “unified church” of the future must be built on the global structure of the ecumenical movement that was being erected during his lifetime. Morrison, in the last chapter of his book, said,
“The ecumenical movement presupposes that the united church will have freed itself from the major causes that have produced Protestant divisions in an endless series of chain reactions. If this presupposition is unsound, the ecumenical ideal is an illusion.” (p. 186)
The ecumenical ideal – as implemented through the organizational skills and activities of men - is an illusion (a work of deceptive appearances) precisely because the presupposition is unsound. Not that the major causes of division can be tolerated, but rather Morrison’s presupposition about what constitutes the major causes is unsound. And it is here in his rejection of what some theologians now call “congregationalism” that he rejects a very basic building block by which “the whole building” ( Eph. 2:19-22; top ) is to be built.
Let us also note well that although Morrison claims “ample New Testament evidence in opposition to this congregational theory,” he does not offer one single reference or even use one specific instance in the New Testament to support his claim. Rather, he refers (mostly in a footnote) to obscure scholars to support his claim. In other words, his claim that this “theory must be rejected at all points” is simply a matter of his and his favorite scholars’ private interpretation ( 2 Pet. 1:20; top ) – the very problem that has perhaps contributed the most to the sin of denominationalism. Morrison’s refusal to attempt to bring forward this “evidence” is most regrettable – exposing all the presupposed definitions and “church” paradigm distortions he has to have relied upon would be beneficial to all who hold similar views.
But not only does the whole structure of Morrison’s arguments fall apart at the slightest touch, each individual point he raises fails, in one way or another, as well. Let us consider Morrion’s four rebuttals of congregationalism, following his reverse order.
“There is not a word or suggestion in the New Testament to warrant the assumption that the formal patter of the primitive church is normative and mandatory for all time. This is a sheer dogma held sincerely by many Christians, not all of whom belong to denominations of the congregational persuasion.” (p. 176)
Actually, there are many words in the New Testament that show the pattern of the ekklesia as normative and mandatory (although not in some rigid or static form as the “church” has produced) for all time:
- Jude described the faith as “once for all delivered to the saints.” ( Jude 3 - emphasis added)
- Peter wrote that “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness… through [His exceedingly great and precious promises] you may be partakers of the divine nature…” ( 2 Pet. 1:3-4 - emphasis added; top)
Should we conclude that, in spite of these clear statements, that God somehow forgot or failed to include His ways for us to assemble and bring about spiritual growth? Is there no possibility that the pattern might be obscure to carnal men but readily discernable to spiritual men?
But there is no “formal pattern” (that would imply something like the “church’s” institutionalized imitation of abundant life) and the ekklesia was not “primitive” (that is, ignorant, undeveloped, backward). In experience, the first ekklesia was the recipient of the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Church history is nothing but a dilution of and departure from that event interspersed with multiple and varied repetitions of men listening (in varying degrees of success and failure) to the Spirit’s call to return to the heights from which the first century ekklesia had fallen. ( Rev. 2:4-5 ) The pattern is simple and has one overarching element: Christ is the Head of all things for His people ( Eph. 1:22 ) and needs no one to assist Him or represent Him as He builds His ekklesia. ( Mt. 16:18; top ) That this pattern excludes men from positions of power, prestige and limelight is what makes the pattern so objectionable and “heretical.”
“This view takes no account of the fact that the New Testament church was the infant church.” (p. 176)
Perhaps this is because the first ekklesia’s supposed infancy is not a fact – it is merely Morrison’s and some scholars’ opinion! This infant analogy is a picture taken from the New Testament completely out of context. Where the New Testament speaks of babies and infants ( Mt. 11:25 , 21:16 , Lk. 10:21 , 1 Cor. 3:1 , 1 Pet. 2:2 , Heb. 5:13; top ), it is speaking of literal or spiritual children or is addressed to individuals who are spiritual babies within ekklesias – never does the New Testament use this picture for the ekklesia as a whole. There is not one Scripture that ever says what Morrison is saying here, that the first ekklesia was an infant.
“It assumes that the church came into existence at Pentecost fully implemented with a fixed order which could not be expanded as the church ‘grew up.’” (p. 176)
It is the inability of Christ’s people to find God’s fixed order that has been the prime culprit in keeping the people in spiritual immaturity. Paul wrote,
“When [Christ] ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” ( Eph. 4:8; top )
Paul then goes on to expound on those gifts – apostles, prophets, heralds, shepherds and teachers. ( Eph. 4:11 ) The purpose of these “gifts to men” was to equip the saints so that they could do the work of serving God and one another which would result in the body of Christ being built up. ( Eph. 4:12 ) This fixed order is to be in place
“until we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” ( Eph. 4:13; top )
This is Morrison’s “united church.” But because men forsook God’s Way and concocted their own way – exalting the bishop to stand “in the place of God” (Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, c. 6) – the people of Christ have been immature and divided. To these many divisions, Morrison’s lament over the whole history of Protestantism amply attests. It is the call and attempt to return to God’s fixed order – however well or poorly the call has historically been understood, interpreted and implemented – that is the basis of what Morrison denounces as mere “restorationism.”
It is not the whole ekklesia that needs to “grow up” – that is, expand into some manmade organization that exalts a few men at the expense of the masses and the exclusion of the ones and twos. It is when all the “joints” and “parts” do their share as God has provided them to do that the whole body will grow (in strength and numbers) and be built up in love. ( Eph. 4:16; top ) Morrison’s skewed understanding of spiritual growth is built on his false assumption that the first ekklesia was an infant that would need to fundamentally change so as to become a mature adult.
There is another aspect of growth that is overlooked by consigning the first ekklesia to mere infant status. Another parable that Jesus gave as descriptive of the kingdom of God described the sons of the kingdom as wheat and the sons of the devil as tares or weeds sown among the wheat. ( Mt. 13:38 ) Both were to be allowed to grow together until the time of the harvest. ( Mt. 13:30 ) Jesus said in that parable, “…while men slept…” ( Mt. 13:25 ) He did not say, “…while an infant slept...” Jesus, on another occasion, also said that when the tree that sprouted from His death and resurrection (see Jn. 12:23-24 ) was grown, the birds of the air (the demonic) would nest in its branches (the denominations – Mt. 13:31-32; top ) There is nothing less than a blind scholarly arrogance that sees the first ekklesia as a mere infant and the modern “church” as the adult of that child.
“Many other things changed – from the Jewish messianism of Peter at Pentecost, to the universalism of Paul’s Letters, to the mysticism of the Fourth Gospel. The New Testament is rich in the variety and diversity of its interpretations of the gospel, none of which, let us hasten to say, changed the gospel.” (p. 176)
Here is one of the planks of Morrison’s private interpretations. Rather than seeing the Bible as the written portion of the one faith delivered to the saints once for all, Morrison essentially sees three gospels: Peter’s messianic gospel, Paul’s universal gospel and John’s mystical gospel. Rather than seeing these as complementary aspects of one integrated whole, Morrison relies on some scholar’s analysis to exploit what he sees as differences of interpretation within the parameters of the New Testament. Using this analysis, Morrison concocts a justification for his theory that the “infant church” needed to “grow up.” This is yet another instance of where the scholar has forgotten that he is a guest and not the master of the house.
“We are bound to believe, are we not, that these varieties of interpretation were manifestations of the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, and we would dishonor the Spirit were we to fix our attention upon the earliest of these interpretations to the exclusion of the later ones.” (p. 176)
One is bound to believe as Morrison does only if one subscribes to the notion that there truly are “varieties of interpretation” rather than varieties of personalities and perspectives presenting the one Lord. And Morrison here is asking us to subscribe to the supposed opposite of congregationalism – place more emphasis on supposedly “later” interpretations than the “earliest” ones because the “infant” had “outgrown” them and no longer needed them. It is dishonoring to the Spirit of truth wherever we fail to allow Him to lead us into all truth. ( Jn. 16:13; top )
“If, then, we allow for change and variety to appear at the very center of the Christian faith, on what grounds can we take the embryonic structure – or lack of structure – of the infant church as definitive and mandatory for all time?” (p. 176)
Change and variety are not at the very center of the Christian faith ( Heb. 13:8 ) – change and variety stand wherever the oneness of the faith is not at issue. The lack of overall visible, temporal structure is supposed to point us toward the pre-existent, overall, invisible and eternal structure that Christ builds. ( Mt. 16:18 ) Again, if Morrison did not presuppose the infant, there would be no imaginary adult as a logical conclusion that we need to grow up into. We could instead “in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” ( Eph. 4:15; top )
“If the Holy Spirit was manifested in the developing interpretations of the gospel itself, why may there not have been development in the structure of the church under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit?” (p. 176)
If it was the Holy Spirit that had truly been guiding, how does one account for the fruit of division and error that begins early and continues throughout all of church history? By the same argument Morrison uses, if the demonic lured men into error and heresy (division), why may not the development in the structure of the “church” also have been under the guidance, trickery and manipulations of those same demonic spirits? That the tares would need to simultaneously grow with the wheat, that men would sleep while the devil installed his children among the children of the kingdom, can be found in Jesus’ teachings. The notion of an infant needing to grow to maturity must be forced through one’s pre-existing “church” paradigm to enable one to confuse demonically inspired “church” structure (inherently heretical – divisive – and Nicolaitan in character) with the leading of the Holy Spirit.
“As a matter of fact, there are clear indications in the New Testament that there was such a development even in New Testament times.” (p. 176)
These “clear indications,” like his “ample evidence” above, exist only in Morrison’s mind and in his private interpretation – but since he did not think it necessary to include them in his book (not even in a footnote), we cannot refute his interpretations. It is indeed regrettable that he considered his opinion so solid that he didn’t even need to show from what Scriptures his opinions were formed. It is all the more regrettable since his opinions are so mistaken. It comes across as a demonically inspired arrogance that Morrison simply believed that he just could not be wrong.
“Those who insist upon the pattern of the primitive church as normative and mandatory for all time should just as logically insist upon the Old Testament as the sole Bible of the church for all time. The primitive church had no other Bible save the Old Testament.” (p. 177)
What Morrison is referring to here is simply evidence that church history is not about growth from infant status to adulthood. Rather, church history is about God’s “intrusion” into human history and the dilution and deviation of human obedience from that event. One could easily argue that, had the first ekklesia stayed, in fear and trembling clinging to their first love ( Rev. 2:4 ), obedient to the Holy Spirit who was writing the laws of God on their hearts ( Heb. 8:10; top ), there would have been no need whatsoever for the writings we now call the New Testament. But again, men slept and God allowed it to be so.
“The New Testament was itself a slow growth and was not available as Scripture until well on into the second century.
The earliest writings in our New Testament (the only ones contributed by an apostle) are Paul’s letters, composed twenty-five years after Pentecost. These were followed by the Gospels of Mark and Matthew at the time of Paul’s death, about
A.D.65. But Paul’s Letters had been the possession of the several churches to whom they were addressed, and were not collected for general use until sixty years after Pentecost, at about which time Luke wrote his Gospel and the Acts. The latest of our “books” were the Fourth Gospel, the three Johns (or four, including the Apocalypse), the two Peters, James, the two Timothys, Titus, Hebrews, and Jude.” (p. 177)
Fruit is not produced instantaneously. If we accepted only the writings from the lifetime of Jesus, we would have nothing. If we arbitrarily select only those things written within say 10 years, we would only have an immature and incomplete view of Christ’s work among men. As it now stands, the canon of Scripture produced over time represents what God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen (yes, through the agency of men in this case) to preserve as much of His truth as He knew would be necessary and appropriate to accomplish His purpose of ultimately establishing His kingdom on earth (in spite of the work and acts of men in His name).
Part of restoring the original practice of the first ekklesia is to get away from, so to speak, a reliance on the written words of the New Testament and rely instead on the Spirit of truth and the living Word (which will never contradict the rightly-divided, Spirit-illuminated understanding of the Spirit-inspired writings). That the first ekklesia had no “New Testament” writings contributed both to the spiritual obedience of some and the spiritual disobedience of others. But this reliance on God alone (especially if possession of a Bible becomes a capital offense!) – and not upon our carnal misunderstanding of God – is one aspect of the first ekklesia that needs restored most of all. “My sheep hear My voice,” said Jesus ( Jn. 10:27; top ) and if we would simply obey Him, this alone would solve the vast majority of the corporate spiritual problems that abound today.
Some of these later books contain allusions which presuppose the existence of a formalized interdependent connexionalism among the churches, including even a bishop of the churches in a particular area. [Footnote: I suggest some books for the reader who would pursue this subject further: R.R. Williams, Authority in the Apostolic Age (London: S.C.M. Press, 1950); Clarence T. Craig, The One Church (New York and Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951); E.J. Goodspeed, The Formation of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926); Daniel Jenkins, The Nature of Catholicity (Landon: Faber and Faber, 1949).]” (p. 177)
Since Morrison doesn’t include any references, we cannot be certain what “allusions” he is referring to. But his language suggests the King James’ inscriptions at the end of 2 Timothy and Titus which add to the Greek text:
“The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians, was written from Rome, when Paul was brought before Nero the second time.” ( 2 Tim. 4:22 KJV)
“It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians, from Nicopolis of Macedonia.” ( Tit. 3:15 KJV; top)
These inscriptions have quietly disappeared from the NKJV, NIV, NASB, Amplified and all other modern translations. That this is an addition is even internally apparent as it contradicts the New Testament’s usage of the terms “bishop” and “ekklesia.” These inscriptions are, at the latest, a 3rd or 4th century insertion. Morrison may very well have allowed these inserted inscriptions to color his thinking.
The only other likely situation in the New Testament to which Morrison may be alluding is James’ supposed position as the “bishop of Jerusalem” (a designation found nowhere in Scripture and found only in second or third century pseudo-Clementine forgery literature where “James of Jerusalem appears as the superior of Peter of Rome” and is even called the “supreme bishop of the whole church.” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, p. 650, 135) In the New Testament, however, James can also be seen as merely the leader of the stand-offish, legalistic Judaizers whom Paul contended with so often, particularly in his letter to the Galatians.
Wherever Paul meets with James, he can be seen as standing apart from the brethren (see Gal. 1:18-19 , Acts 21:17-18 ) and he is very Judiastic and follows the Lord’ opening of the gospel to the Gentiles in a most concessionary way ( Acts 21:20-25 , 15:19 ) as if the Gentile Christians should be whatever they were going to be (just do it somewhere else with someone else, please) but Jewish Christians should be Jewish first (because Jewish is still better). (see also Gal. 2:9 ) James, it should be noted, is the only New Testament writer to speak of his readers as still attending the synagogue. ( Jas. 2:2 ) Whatever James was to some of the people of Jerusalem, he “added nothing” to Paul ( Gal. 2:6 ) and there is not enough conclusive evidence regarding James to make him an example to emulate. Jesus alone – not even His brother – is Head of all things to the ekklesia. ( Eph. 1:22; top )
It should also be noted that Morrison has found these allusions by reading the works of Bible scholars whose publications range from 1926 to 1951. If one had enough time, one could trace the theories and findings of these scholars and find out which, if any, have not been contradicted by later findings and other “scholarly opinions.” Or one could simply submit to the Holy Spirit and be led into all truth. ( Jn. 16:13 , 1 Jn. 2:20; top )
“How early this development of polity began is not known, but its existence was evidently taken for granted by the New Testament writers, not one of whom conveys the slightest hint that it represented an apostasy.” (p. 177)
When one recognizes that God was allowing the wheat and the tares to mature together, it becomes rather obvious why “Nicolaitan” ( Rev. 2:6 , 15 ) would not be explained or expounded upon as clergyism (a Latin word not yet in use in Christian circles at any rate), why dissensions and heresies (Greek “dichostasia” Gal. 5:20 ) would not be commonly associated with denominations, why the apostasy, the great falling away from the faith ( 2 Ths. 2:3; top ) would not be called a counterfeit “church.” If the Lord had spoken these things this plainly, no one would have the opportunity to overcome the deception these things represent – they would simply have walked away from it all! As it now stands, it would seem that only those who desire God’s will above their own are given these revelations from the Spirit of truth. Those who rely on carnal intellect to decipher the Scriptures can only concoct their own private interpretations that twist the true, rightly-divided meaning of God’s words.
But yet again, whatever was “evidently taken for granted by the later New Testament writers” in Morrison’s opinion is not available for us to evaluate.
“During all this time – roughly a full century – the church had no Bible save the Old Testament. Yet all Christians believe that the development of the New Testament was guided by the Holy Spirit. Why should it not be equally believed that the developing organization of the church was guided by the same Holy Spirit.” (p. 177)
This is Morrison’s favorite argument, it would seem – he certainly relies heavily upon it, much more heavily than the facts will bear. The people, both those in process of departing from the purity of the initial outpouring and those who would later inherit the accumulation of error and heresy, would need the written, almost incontrovertible words of the New Testament. First, to begin the Reformation in the sixteenth century, and second, to finish the Reformation and restore the ekklesia to its first love and take it on to completion as the mature and ready bride for Christ.
And since the New Testament clearly shows the devil as a deceiver ( Jn. 8:44; top ), why can we not believe him capable of constructing a counterfeit organization that would usurp the place and role of the Head Christ Jesus over people who claim to be His but who don’t fully submit to His Headship? Because men are too wise and too good to be fooled on such a grand scale? Once again, a monstrously blind arrogance appears in our usual readings and understandings of the Scriptures.
“And if the Spirit through the bishops of the middle second century gave us the canon of our New Testament, why must we go back to the infancy of the church when there was as yet no integrated organization of the rapidly proliferating units of an ecstatic spiritual movement to find the normative organizational pattern of the church for all time?” (p. 177-178)
Why must we skip past the bishops of the middle second century to the practice of the original ekklesia? Because even though those bishops were used to create the canon, they themselves were also in the beginning stages of negligent departure from the pure faith of simply walking with Christ. They were being used by the demonic to create what would become a major part of the apostasy (the office of the bishop) even as God led them to preserve what writings were necessary for faith and godliness over the ages. The people who brought in the canon of Scripture were the very same people who had already succumbed to the teachings and practices of the Nicolaitans. Men slept and God allowed it to be so – but His overarching will and purpose was not thwarted by this seeming “setback” any more than it was in the Garden when Adam chose poorly.
But note here that even Morrison admits that the supposed “infant church” (in reality the Spirit outpoured on all flesh was just new to human experience – Acts 2:17; top ) had “no integrated organization of the rapidly proliferating units of an ecstatic spiritual movement.” (p. 178 – emphasis added) And even in his admission that the first ekklesia had no overarching organization, there also lies the real explanation. The rapidly proliferating units needed no integrated organization because they had the Spirit of God to lead them. Why can we not see how the first ekklesia traded down by opting for an organization of men that, of necessity, presses men away from their reliance (individually and corporately) on Him? Because it is very unfavorable to men? Truth, no matter how unpleasant or unflattering or downright insulting to our egos, is to be accepted and dealt with – not denied and dismissed.
“Christianity did not begin as an organization; it began as a religion of the Spirit – hardly less than explosive in its emergence – and assumed organs and a structure as need arose for them.” (p. 178)
One is reminded of Paul’s rebuke of the Galatians:
“Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” ( Gal. 3:3; top )
Historically, the bishop’s office evolved as a way to direct and control the funds collected for the works of service performed by the deacons (servants) and as a substitute symbol for the Headship, authority and governance of Christ over His people. Philip Schaff, an excellent church historian, writes,
“The episcopate proceeded…from the apostolate and the original presbyterate conjointly…without either express concert or general regulation of the apostles, neither of which, at least can be historically proved. It arose, instinctively, as it were, in that obscure and critical transition period between the end of the first and the middle of the second century. It was not a sudden creation, much less the invention of a single mind. It grew, in part, out of the general demand for a continuation of, or substitute for, the apostolic church government. It was further occasioned by the need of a unity in the presbyterial government of congregations, which, in the nature of the case and according to the analogy of the archisunagogos, required a head or president…
…the whole church spirit of the age tended towards centralization; it everywhere felt a demand for compact, solid unity; and this inward bent, amidst the surrounding dangers of persecution and heresy, carried the church irresistibly towards the episcopate. In so critical and stormy a time…the existence of the church at that period may be said to have depended in a great measure on the preservation and promotion of unity, and that in an outward, tangible form, suited to the existing grade of culture. Such a unity was offered in the bishop, who held a monarchial, or more properly a patriarchal relation to the congregation. In the bishop was found the visible representation of Christ, the great Head of the whole church. In the bishop, therefore, all sentiments of piety found a centre. In the bishop the whole religious posture of the people towards God and towards Christ had its outward support and guide. And in proportion as every church pressed toward a single centre, this central personage must acquire a peculiar importance and subordinate the other presbyters to itself; though at the same time…the remembrance of the original equality could not be entirely blotted out, but continued to show itself in various ways.” (Schaff, Vol. II, p. 141-143)
In the light of the spiritual life in Christ, let us review some of the words Schaff chose as we consider how well or how poorly the first century acted by assuming “organs and a structure as need arose for them.” (p. 178)
The episcopate arose “instinctively” out of a “general demand” for leadership when “heresy and persecution” stirred a perceived need for “centralized, tangible, outward unity” suited to the existing culture – and the bishop provided a “visible representation” that acted as an “outward support and guide” even as it gave the man “a peculiar importance” over “the other presbyters.”
One is reminded of the story of Uzzah who, when the ark seemed about to fall off the cart (it was supposed to be carried by men using poles – Ex. 25:14 ), reached out his hand to steady the ark. He died that day when the anger of the Lord broke out against him. ( 2 Sam. 6:6-7; top ) And all these same motivational elements were present when the people demanded that Samuel give them a king. Samuel warned them clearly of the realities of having a king.
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’” ( 1 Sam. 8:19-20; top )
Rather than have Christ alone as their Head, the first century believers carelessly (“While men slept…”) opted for a visible representative to replace Christ. This subtle substitution (which is no longer very subtle 2,000 years later) made place for all the so-called abuses of the office that would follow because it made the office! And this was done apart from the direct, explicit leading of the Spirit. Then men would later use that manmade office to their own temporal advantage (money, power, self-gratification, etc.) but to their eternal destruction. But the original equality was not erased and throughout church history, the Holy Spirit has called upon men to return to the way in which Christ is both Head over His people.
In truth, the first ekklesia began with a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit “explosive in its emergence” (p. 178), but within two generations works of the flesh had already taken places of acceptance and even preeminence.
“But this is not all that must be said. We are not concerned here with what particular structure and organs are really normative – for example, whether the threefold ministry of bishops, elders and deacons is normative.” (p. 178)
Here Morrison’s own “church” paradigm is exposed – “the threefold ministry of bishops, elders and deacons…” Nowhere in Scripture do we find the leadership so categorized. Only succumbing to the general demand and perceived practical “necessity” brought about the separation and elevation of the episkopos (bishop) over the presbuteros (elders). The “threefold ministry” found in the New Testament is “saints, bishops and deacons.” ( Phlp. 1:1 , comp. Eph. 4:12; top )
“Our sole concern is whether the local churches of the primitive church were independent and autonomous.” (p. 178)
Morrison gives a clearer idea of what he has in mind when, earlier in the section we are quoting, he wrote,
“Union requires that it give way explicitly to its opposite, namely, the interdependence and mutual responsibility of the local churches to one another and to the church as a whole.” (p. 175)
Morrison here claims that the opposite of congregationalism has two components. First is interdependence. But does the New Testament really tell us to rely on one another? There is indeed to be an equality as those with more of a particular thing or resource share with those who lack ( 2 Cor. 8:14 ) but one cannot rely on the charity of others – not even the people of Christ. And we are told to “bear one another’s burdens” ( Gal. 6:2 ) but never are we told to rely on one another – the word is not even used in the New Testament! Our faith and trust are to be in Him alone! And, for those who do suffer lack or need help in some way, it is very comforting (and simultaneously challenging to one’s faith) to know that the Head is best qualified to stir up His people to meet the needs of others. But in an age when most are doing only what is right in their own eyes (lawlessness - Mt. 24:12; top ), needs are being met in a slipshod, haphazard fashion and inequality is the primary characteristic of the day as some believers struggle to find their daily bread while other purported believers lounge (and preach!) in crocodile-leather shoes!
Morrison’s second component that is the opposite of congregationalism is “mutual responsibility,” first to other local assemblies and second to the ekklesia as a whole (and, by implication, to those who represent the whole since the whole cannot possibly be gathered as a whole in one temporal location. This component too is closely related to his previous remarks in this section.
“It is quite unthinkable that any part of the church should set itself up as absolutely independent and autonomous. Least of all could local congregations so consider themselves.” (p. 175)
The local ekklesia does not have to “set itself up” as autonomous and independent (from the rule of mere men) – it is already so in the mind, plan and purpose of Christ and God. In the New Testament pattern, each local ekklesia was a self-contained lampstand, capable of shining its own light. ( Rev. 1:20 ) Jesus did not say to the ekklesia of Ephesus that they would be held responsible for the sins of the other six ekklesias ( Rev. 2:5 ) nor did He promise to keep any ekklesia but the Philadelphians from the trial that is to come upon the whole world. ( Rev. 3:10 ) Just as individuals are alone responsible for their own lives and actions, so too is the local ekklesia alone responsible for its own life and actions. The soul that sins shall die ( Ezek. 18:20 ) – the ekklesia that fails to repent and overcome shall have its lampstand (existence as an ekklesia) removed from the presence of Christ. ( Rev. 2:5; top )
When a group of believers gather in a truly localized meeting, seeking to attend to the local affairs of the kingdom of Christ, and they are unanimous in their following of the Head – that is unanimous in their appraisals of one another and unanimous in the group’s corporate actions and directions – what else should this group depend upon and obey besides the Head? After having heard the Head, should they seek a second opinion? No! And what better method of curbing the power-hungry tendencies of men than that of putting it safely into the confines of a small location, thoroughly checked and balanced by the need for unanimity? In rejecting God’s fixed order, men have virtually guaranteed that the apostasy would come.
Each truly localized (as is evidenced by a fair and reasonable reflection of the locale’s demographics), genuine ekklesia (Christ’s gathering of called-out ones) must be and see itself as responsible to Christ alone for its own area and actions. No man and no other ekklesia has been delegated authority (this is the Nicolaitan error!) to dictate to or rule over the ekklesia. That is, no one has any more authority than we all have to say and command what Christ is saying and commanding (what R.R. Williams called “moral or spiritual authority.” - p. 178) It is Christ (whether through men or through divine intervention) who will reprove or rebuke or discipline an errant ekklesia. He is quite capable! But each truly local ekklesia is that locale’s ultimate authority to the exact same extent that it is following and functioning under the Headship of Christ. The pattern is simple – but again, because it keeps men from power, prestige, popularity and wealth (at the expense of the flock), this teaching must be in error and heretical.
“That they did not so conceive themselves, even before they had any organization, is plainly indicated in the New Testament itself. Professor Craig has pointed out two distinctly recognized limitations on the local churches: one, the authority of the Apostles, the other the special position of the mother church in Jerusalem. Neither of these represented the authority of ecclesiastical status, but rather what Professor Williams, the Anglican scholar, has finely described as moral or spiritual authority. In the case of the apostles, it was the personal and moral authority of those who alone could bear firsthand witness to the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. In the case of the Jerusalem church, it was a parental solicitude for the churches to which it had given birth and which recognized in love the mother’s right to guide her own children.” (p. 178)
In this twisted barrage of mis-matched errors and truth, Morrison is wrestling with a truth ahead of its time. Professor Williams has indeed categorized authority well – at least in scholarly labels. But if Morrison’s application of “moral authority” to the apostles and “spiritual authority” to “the mother church in Jerusalem” (an error discussed in a previous section) is also from Williams, then that work suffers from confusion as well.
One of the problems the people of Christ have faced throughout church history is authority. Where does it come from? Does it come from God who “delegates” it to a man? Is it truly “the consent of the governed” from which one derives authority? Does a man have authority just because he has a title attached to his name? Are we bound to obey sinful commands just because some titled “church” official commands us? Will we get a “Get Out of Hell Free” card on judgment day if we say, “But ‘Pastor’ said to!”? No, we will not. “The soul that sins shall die.” ( Ezek. 18:20 - emphasis added; top) The soul that dies is experiencing the second death.
“The point here, however, is not as to the kind of “authority” that was exercised, but the fact that it was recognized by the local congregations.” (p. 178 – emphasis in original)
When Paul (whose use of authority is seen the most) issued a command, did he do so because he was the Great Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles? No. Paul knew the “secret.” Christ’s sheep hear Christ’s voice. ( Jn. 10:27 ) Those who love Him will obey Him – those who don’t love Him will not obey Him. ( Jn. 14:23-24 ) It doesn’t matter whether He speaks through babies and infants ( Mt. 11:25 ) or elders ( Tit. 1:9 ) or anyone who would simply serve the Lord. ( 2 Tim. 2:24-26 ) His sheep who love Him will hear Him and obey His commands. What are we supposed to do with those who claim to belong to Him but obviously don’t obey Him? Unanimously shun them. ( Mt. 18:17 , 1 Cor. 5:4-5 , 11-12 ) All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Christ ( Mt. 28:18 ) and He has never given one least little bit of it to any one man or group of men so that they can independently tell their brothers how to live and act. The New Testament calls this “lording over,” saying it shall not be so among us. ( Mt. 20:25-26 , 23:8-10 , etc.; top)
In the same way as Paul “exercised authority” in the pages of the New Testament, the truly-local, genuine ekklesia, already committed to the Headship of Christ will walk in obedience to Christ – whether that command comes through someone inside or outside the local ekklesia. What need is there for another organization or system? Who does one turn to when one turns away from the Spirit of Christ and God?
“That is to say, even in the earliest period of Christianity, no local church claimed independence and autonomy. Such a claim would have been repugnant to the churches themselves.” (p. 178)
As was already pointed out in the previous section, no ekklesia ever claimed to be Pauline, Petrine, Christocentric (in fact the Corinthians factions were rebuked for calling themselves something like that! – 1 Cor. 1:12; top ) or kerygmatic but they were all these things and more because the labels scholars use today do not fully cover the spiritual reality. The people so labeled simply lived the life of Christ in their time. It was only as the way of following Christ became more polluted with intellectual philosophies and traditions of men that it became more susceptible to the language of the scholars.
But to say the people of a historic period did not use the language of the modern scholar, therefore, the people of that period did not do or believe something, is to mix apples with hand grenades. And claiming that, were it somehow possible to get these people to understand the modern scholar’s language and intent, this thing would be repugnant to them is an easy claim to make when one is sitting in a comfortable office nearly 2,000 years after these people died, having left only a handful of writings that expressed the thoughts and attitudes of less than a dozen of their number. Again, there arises that subtle scholar’s smug arrogance amid Morrison’s otherwise wonderful observations and insights.
“They had as yet no ecclesiastical organs through which to express their interdependence and unity, but they were one church, the veritable body of Christ, and were being guided by the Holy Spirit toward the attainment of a structure and organs through which their unity could be given empirical manifestation and guarded against dispersion into an atomistic multitude.” (p. 178)
Here Morrison and Schaff are in agreement – they both believe the people of the first and second century needed an outward, tangible symbol of unity that would prevent them from “dispersion into an atomistic multitude.” But Jesus had prayed:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” ( Jn. 17:20-23; top )
Is there some reason to believe that Christ’s prayer would not be answered?
This history of Christian unity in the first and second century is much like Peter walking on the water – Peter got out of the boat and even walked on the water until he was at least somewhat near to Jesus. But then, seeing the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to doubt. After Jesus got Peter back in the boat, He gently chided and reproved him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” ( Mt. 14:29-31; top ) Those who long to see the people of Christ actually function in unity must recognize that it will happen only as we forsake all organizations of men, embrace only our own local ekklesia (though we are, of course, free to visit any other ekklesia!) and trust in Christ’s ability to overcome the elements of this world that seem daunting and even lethal. We, like Peter, can walk through the winds of heresy and on top of the waves of persecution so long as we don’t stop to think (analyze and organize) too long about what it is that we are doing but, instead, willfully fix our eyes on Him who is the start and finish (and all points in between!) of our faith. ( Heb. 12:2; top ) Start to finish and all points in between certainly includes our corporate unity too!
So while the people of the first century succumbed to the leading of fears (“While men slept…”) and they turned to a “visible representative” where Christ desired a personal unity with Himself (much like the Israelites sending Moses up the mountain of God – Ex. 20:19; top ), they erected a visible structure for their idol that, because it was built with the tools and materials of the devil and the demonic, could only prevent the very unity they sought to preserve.
But note well that even Morrison concedes the initial lack of structure which Congregationalists declare to be an integral and necessary part of the New Testament pattern of assembly:
“They had as yet no ecclesiastical organs…” (p. 178)Why can we not simply accept the idea that they had no ecclesiastical organs because they did not need them? Those with ears to hear, can hear, across the centuries, Jesus gently chiding and reproving the people of the first and second centuries, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” But even though men slept, the will and purpose of God to ultimately establish His kingdom has not been thwarted or diverted from its appointed schedule in any way. His kingdom will come on the day God has set for it to come – it is inevitable. Ours is to choose whether we will come into His light because what we do is of Him or whether we will hide in our own darkness because what we do is really evil and we know it is so. ( Jn. 3:19-21; top )
“In a word, the Christian Church was ecumenical from the beginning.” (p. 178)
This is merely historical scholarly revision. The word “ecumenical” simply means “general or universal” – just as the word “catholic” simply means “universal.” This was
“classically defined in the fifth-century ‘Vincentian canon’ as ‘what has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” (F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 262)
“Ecumenical” and “catholic” simply refer to the “least common denominators” that men have compiled from among the Christian beliefs and tenets.
But this description, definition and concept are words never once used at the time. Neither “ecumenical” nor “catholic” are to be found anywhere in the New Testament. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107 or 115
But Morrison says it himself:
“Christianity…began as a religion of the Spirit. …they were one church, the veritable body of Christ, and were guided by the Holy Spirit…” (p. 178)
The “Christian Church” was not ecumenical from the beginning – it was spiritual! But what was begun in the Spirit devolved into a contaminated, impure mixture of flesh and Spirit. Only when we, the people of Christ, shake off all leaven and return to a spiritual life under Christ as our rightful and only Head, will we finish the work that was started so long ago.
“As an abstract theory, congregationalism must, therefore, be regarded as a heresy.” (p. 178-179)
Heresy is not simply some error that contradicts truth – it is defined (in koine Greek) as “a choosing.” Choosing to believe what one wishes or desires to be the truth rather than simply believing the truth whether it is desirable or not. In the end though, it is not congregationalism that is the heresy. Denominational structure is quintessentially the opposite of congregationalism and is as much a heretical replacement of the Headship of Christ as is the “ecumenical ideal” as it was understood and implemented in the late 1940s. Any organization or structure that turns one away from a purely individual reliance upon Christ (which that individual experience must usher into a corporate unity with others similarly reliant upon Christ alone or it is yet another deception) is only another divisive tactic of the devil and the demonic designed to delay, distort and even divert the maturing of the individual believers into the mature, spotless and blameless (corporate) bride of Christ.
“Its espousal as an absolute principle of church polity cannot be expected to figure as a factor in determining the form of the united church.” (p. 179)
This is closely related to his previous remarks in this section:
“Thus it should be plain why the theory of unqualified congregational independence and autonomy is incompatible with the ecumenical ideal. This principle cannot be carried as a theory into a united church.” (p. 175)
Yes, it is very plain (after 60 years of experience and further revelation from God over that time period) – the principle of congregationalism cannot be carried into a united “church” organized, dominated and run by mere men operating under “delegated” (Nicolaitan) authority. But it will be the guiding principle of the united ekklesia nonetheless. This is evidence that either Morrison’s understanding of “the ecumenical ideal” really is only a flawed, carnal understanding of spiritual unity or else “the ecumenical ideal” is truly incompatible with and antagonistic to Christ’s true ekklesia and is only yet another scheme of the enemy to divert the people of Christ from being and being in their real place in Christ.
Since Morrison has incorrectly insisted that
“this congregational theory…must be rejected at all points” (p. 176)
let us take care to show how his refutation – at each and every point – is short-sighted and mistaken.
“…the main denominations which carry this theory in their tradition and emphasize it as a structural – or perhaps we should say, structureless – principle of church polity do not exemplify it in their practice.” (p. 174)
Of course they don’t – even cannot - practice it! They are under the sinful delusion of denominationalism. But if the bishops practicing the sins of Nicolaitanism could produce the canon of Scripture, why is it so impossible for denominations practicing the sins of dissensions and heresies to rightly understand (and preserve for future generations even as they fail to practice it themselves) the concept of local ekklesia independence and autonomy? The sin of denominationalism is the exact opposite of congregationalism. Abandon the denominational structure (including the ecumenical structure), re-establish the ekklesia as intensely local and no longer divided along sectarian lines and congregationalism comes more into view.
“If this obstacle to Christian unity is to be surmounted, it is necessary to consider the abstract principle in detachment from the inconsistent practice of the denominations which profess their adherence to it. (p. 175)
The idea that we should abandon congregationalism because its main adherents don’t practice it is a false argument. Shall we abandon justification by faith simply because it was once handled and taught by the Catholic sect, who even as they failed to practice it or even preach it very often, managed to preserve it in their monasteries where they faithfully copied the Scriptures to the best of their scholarly abilities? Shall we simply throw away God’s Law because the Pharisees and Sadducees were hypocrites placing large burdens on men but doing nothing to help lift or carry them? (see Mt. 23:3-4; top ) As with so many other facets of the Christian faith, congregationalism is yet another case of “do as they say but not as they do.”
“It is obvious that a united church, emerging from the dissolution of the churchism of the denominations, must itself assume a structure or form of its own. It need not and should not be an elaborate form. But it should provide those orderly procedures that will enable the church to enjoy an integrated ecclesiastical fellowship and to act as a whole in those matters which are the true functions of the whole church.” (p. 174-175)
Why is this so obvious? It is only obvious to Morrison and those scholars who share in his private interpretation. What world-wide organization of representatives (the most one could ever expect to gather in one time and in one place) could ever put together “orderly procedures” for the whole without taking the place of the one who is Head over all things for His people? (see Eph. 1:22 ) How would any group of men cause the whole to enjoy “integrated ecclesiastical fellowship” without lording over someone ( Mt. 20:25-26 , etc.) and usurping some role of the Holy Spirit in whom our true unity is to be found? (see Eph. 4:3 ) What “true functions of the whole church” could mere men orchestrate that the Head couldn’t do better? Just what are these “true functions of the whole church” and why would any individual person or any local ekklesia ever need to be concerned about such things? Can he and they not simply trust the Head to coordinate their activities into the global picture? This supposed need for global structure and form is simply men deceived by the “church” paradigm into building a bigger nest for the birds of the air (the demonic) to lodge themselves in. (see Mt. 13:32; top )
No global compilation of saints in one place at one time is possible – such a gathering would be called the whole but this is mere deception. Those already dead, those not yet converted and those incapable of travel would be excluded from their rightful place in the whole. With the impossibility of gathering the whole, we must trust the One who already stands in the midst of the lampstands ( Rev. 2:1; top ) to manage and oversee them. There simply is no need for any global structure of men to coordinate the global ekklesia. To imagine there is some need for men to be in (let alone function with effectiveness in) this capacity is a monstrous arrogance indeed. The divine structure already in place is much more than capable for the task – if those who claim to belong to Christ would just submit to Him!
“That this is possible without restricting local autonomy in those matters which are the true functions of the local congregation is universally recognized by all who participate in the ecumenical movement. But all parts of the church must be integrated on the broad principle of their ecclesiastical obligation to the whole church.” (p. 175)
Here is the flip side – what functions are not the true functions of the local ekklesia? Every function of ekklesia is available to the local ekklesia and there simply is no man who should command the ekklesias in the way the Head Christ Jesus does. What loyalty to “the whole church” does one have that is not incorporated into one’s loyalty to the Head? Those who truly minister to the Lord also minister one to another. Any theory, philosophy or “theology” that separates these two in any way is mistaken.
“Nor can the whole church consider itself superior to or independent of the local churches, for, as we have seen in Chapter V [“Protestant Unity and Catholic Unity Compared”], the ultimate responsibility of any united church which Protestants are able to conceive or willing to enter must ultimately rest upon the democratic consent of the local churches.” (p. 175)
If the overarching structure produces “orderly procedures” that only those assemblies who so choose need to follow and obey, how is that unity? If the local assembly must democratically vote whether or not to come under or follow after this global umbrella, how are the local assemblies not autonomous and independent? Morrison is speaking from both sides of his face here and produces only mere confusion and subterfuge designed (by its true author – unknown to Morrison) to deceive people who claim to follow Christ into submitting to a second, counterfeit head. This is the work of the spirit of antichrist – “anti” in Greek containing both the element of “opposition or against” as well as the element of “in the place of.” This spirit works long and hard to get us to follow after any person or thing we have blindly or negligently or mistakenly allowed into any rightful place of God, Christ or His Spirit. Evidence clearly shows this spirit is exceedingly effective at what he does.
It is valuable for us to see the confusion Morrison was under:
- He mistakenly assigned the effects of the Protestant clergy to be the effects from the sinful practice of denominationalism.
- He considered the “reformist” denominations’ split from the Catholic denomination as qualitatively different from (what he called) “restorationist” denominations’ splits from the “reformist” denominations. (Some splits were qualitatively different – but Morrison was not capable of equating them as all feathers of one bird.)
- He opposes denominationalism as rank sin even as he seeks to merely modify it and allow it a subordinate place in his “unified church.”
- Now, in this section, he fails to see that congregationalism – the local ekklesia independent and autonomous from the controls of mere men – is the true opposite of denominationalism.
- And he fails to see that ecumenicalism, in providing an umbrella structure and organization of mere men that steps into roles and responsibilities reserved either to the Head Christ Jesus or to the local ekklesia, is simply another form of denominationalism and is a sin and error just as grievous.
It is amazing that, with his clear and accurate denouncement of the denominations (dissensions and heresies – Gal. 5:20 ) and Catholic clergy (Nicolaitanism, though Morrison does not use that term – Rev. 2:6 , 15; top ) that he would make such errors as these above. All this in Morrison is simply evidence of the devil’s ability to deceive. Being able to oppose denominationalism and, at the same time, oppose its true opposite in the name of a similar counterfeit to denominationalism – within the context of a very committed Christian – shows that the devil can deceive people into opposing the very thing for which they invest their lives into. Morrison worked very hard to achieve a united ekklesia under the Headship of Christ but was tricked into believing theories that opposed the reality which he could see on the horizon. Nearly every “pastor” could take a lesson here.
Let he who has ears hear.
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