We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Friday, July 6, 2018

A History Lesson, Part 1


Over the past decade I’ve posted my own articles, and links to other articles, which are critical of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox teachings, as well as examining doctrinal differences between them. In order to understand the positions of these churches today, we have to learn the history of them up to where they parted company.  This history will be lengthy and therefore posted in parts, but will put all the puzzle pieces together which show how Rome claimed supremacy for itself and how the division between the Eastern and Western Churches came about. 

Bear in mind that the word “catholic” merely means “universal,” as in the “universal Christian church.” For purposes of discussion, the modern academic term “Byzantine empire” will be used of the Eastern half of the empire to differentiate it from the Holy Roman Empire — as the Western empire came to be called in the ninth century.  However, it must be understood that those in the Eastern half saw themselves as a continuation of the Roman Empire, and the leader was still called “Caesar.” The Byzantine emperor was referred to as the Roman emperor, and the citizens spoke of themselves as Romans.

The first local congregations were under the care of the apostles, but as the Christian faith spread across the world the apostles appointed elders, or presbyters (from the Greek for “elders”) to be the local authorities. These men were also called “bishops” (“overseers”) or “pastors” (“shepherds”). Assisting these men in their duties were “deacons.”  As time went by, these local congregations would place themselves under a local leader, known as the bishop of the city.

After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, the center of Christianity moved north and then west. The first “headquarters”  after Jerusalem was Antioch of Syria. The third bishop of Antioch was Ignatius, who was martyred during the reign of terror under emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). After the turn of the 2nd century, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to several churches in which he speaks of a single bishop in each church, under which is a body of presbyters and supported by deacons. Apparently the “bishop” was seen as the head presbyter/elder/overseer/pastor. It wasn’t until the end of the 2nd century that this system became common. (Many churches have this system today, with the pastor as the teaching elder supported by a board of elders, with deacons providing service to the congregation.)

At the end of the 2nd century the Christian church had to deal with Gnostic groups who claimed their secret teachings were passed down directly from Jesus. However, a mid-second century historian, Hegesippus, had traveled from Palestine to Rome hearing Christian teachings from the various churches, and discovered that Christian teachings were public and available to all, and the same in every location. He then drew up succession lists of at least the bishops of Corinth and Rome, showing how their teachings came directly from the apostles, who themselves had been taught by Christ.  Later that century, Irenaeus in Gaul and Tertullian in North Africa followed this leading and pointed out direct succession for their teachings for all the bishops, proving that the Gnostics were the ones in the wrong.

During the 2nd century, and even moreso in the 3ed century, many changes were made in the understanding of essential Christian beliefs, including ideas as to the meaning of the Lord’s supper, and the development of the idea of “original” sin, for which infant baptism later became necessary.  Part of this was caused by melding some pagan beliefs with those of Christianity.  

One of the ideas that changed during the first two centuries was the idea of forgiveness for sin. Bruce L. Shelley, in his excellent book, Church History in Plain Language, gives us a good synopsis of this issue and how it related to Rome claiming a special position in the church:

During the first two centuries most Christians believed that baptism cancelled all sins committed up to that moment in the believer’s life.  Serious postbaptismal lapses called for special treatment.  Three sins in particular - sexual immorality, murder, and the denial of the faith (apostasy) - were considered forgivable by God, but never by the church.  The penalty for any one of these was exclusion from the fellowship of the church and deprivation of the Lord’s Supper.  Since the Communion, most believed, was a special channel of divine grace, withholding it placed a person’s salvation in peril.  Ignatius called it “the medicine of immortality and the antidote of death.”

The first half of the third century was a long period of calm for the church; few were called before Roman officials to renounce their faith.  Spiritual warfare seemed like a thing of the past, so many called for a relaxation of church discipline.

The first to accept repentant sinners as a matter of policy was the bishop of Rome.  Callistus (217-222) readmitted penitent members who had committed adultery.  He argued that the church is like Noah’s ark.  In it unclean as well as clean beasts can be found.  Then he defended his actions by insisting that the church of Rome was the heir of Peter and the Lord had given keys to Peter to bind and loose the sins of men.  This marks the first time a bishop of Rome claimed this special authority.  (p.74)

My next post will pick up the tale in 250 AD.

4 comments:

Jacco Pippel said...

That’s very interesting Glen. Especially the part about original sin and baptism. I’d like to read more about that.
I’m already looking forward to reading the next post.

Jacco Pippel.

Jesse said...

The Church of Rome is well-known for its claims regarding the authority of the holy Scriptures and the possession of the fullness of truth. This religious organization claims to be the sole, infallible interpreter and compiler the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church proudly boasts itself to be the original church established by the Lord Jesus Christ during the first century. In short, this large human institution has made several inflated claims regarding itself. This article strives to simply provide a few simple counterpoints to the traditional Roman Catholic narrative on claims to authority.

If the authority claims of Roman Catholicism have truly been set forth since the first century, then why do we fail to see the establishment of the Papal office in Scripture? Where do we find the necessity of an infallible interpreter, or Rome as being our global headquarters? Why is it that so many doctrines taught by the Roman Catholic Church either contradict the in teachings of the Bible, or cannot be found in its pages? How come the Jewish church of the Old Testament was never led by an infallible hierarchy?

If the Bible was a "Catholic Book", then why do we have so many conversion testimonies to Protestant Christianity as a result of directly reading the Bible? Why is it that people usually convert to Roman Catholicism because of having poorly developed theology, emotional distress, attractions to the beauty of Catholic Churches, wanting a marital partner of the opposite sex, or indifference to spirituality? How are such conversions any different than conversions to Islam or Mormonism? If the Bible was a "Catholic book", then why are there so many reputable non-Catholic church historians and Bible scholars?

If the Bible was a "Catholic Book", then why do Catholic apologists usually cite uninspired writings from much later centuries to establish the validity of their unbiblical doctrines? Surely, the Roman Catholics would be pointing us directly to the Scriptures to substantiate their doctrines, if they themselves were confident of their doctrines being biblical! Neither would the Pope be making such a big fuss over the issue of "private interpretation", if the Catholic hierarchy had nothing to hide from its members. Furthermore, it is a circular appeal to use the Bible to prove the church and the church to prove the Bible.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

We haven't even gotten to the Catholic Church yet! That is upcoming.

Anonymous said...

Glenn,
I do not always agree with everything you post (most of it I do, but a few things I don´t), but this was very good and thank you, brother.