OriginalChristianity

Not Traditional, Original

The Vision of OriginalChristianity.Net

The vision of OriginalChristianity.Net is to look at the beliefs and practices of the the original Christians.  The reason why this is important is that over the millennium Christianity has developed numerous factions that all claim that that they are the true continuation of original Christianity.  I heard exactly that when I visited a Greek Orthodox Church, I have read it in Roman Catholic literature, it is in the bulletin of a local non-denominational church in my area.  They make these claims despite the fact that they have disagreed, even violently at times.  For other articles on this topic, see A Major Objection to the Restoration Movement Is That Christianity Has Not Changed Substantially Over Time, and Another Claim of Original Christianity in Practice Today,

Throughout this website are numerous articles written on the numerous divisions in the Church that we have today, how a lot of these doctrines developed that are behind all these divisions, and some key points on how original Christianity differed from today.  It is important to look at all these things because they are part of Christianity now and play a big part, perhaps more as obstacles, in the faith of the individual believer.

But the key point of this website is to be able to envision what original Christianity, and in particular the time of Jesus and the apostles and disciples that he touched was really like. There was an incredible spirituality. With the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and afterward the sending of the Holy Spirit we see the most incredible movement of God on earth since creation.

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This was a time of power, miracles, healing, and deliverance, not only by Jesus, but by those he touched, his apostles and disciples. People saw God in action through these men. They saw the word of God living, because they lived it together. There was incredible community and sharing. There was incredible believing. There was great faith.

It was a time of simple doctrine.  There were no official doctrines on infant baptism or believer’s baptism. There was no doctrine that prophecy and the other gifts and manifestations of the spirit had ceased. There were baptisms being carried out, and the last supper repeated as a memorial, but there were no “sacraments”, somehow mysteriously conveying grace by ritualistic practices. There were no autonomous churches disputing which form of church government was doctrinally correct, which end times theology was correct, or arguments over whether or not there was eternal security.

There was no argument over the status of the Bible, because there was no Bible. Jesus had referenced the law and the prophets, including the Psalms, as the word of God. And only those books with the addition of the words of Jesus were considered the word of God. There were no written Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There were no epistles of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, John, and Jude. So there was no argument over doctrines derived from them like eternal security, justification by grace, predestination, or even the Trinity.

Philosophy was rejected as an unwise practice of the Greeks that actually tore down faith more than it built, so discussion of faith wasn’t an analytical exercise in the nuances of the meanings of words, but rather simple directives, and powerful stories and analogies that emphasize the important meanings to be focused on while ignoring the myriad details that can lead people astray.

What existed was the good news that Jesus the Messiah had come, that he had fulfilled the law, had sent the Holy Spirit, and now many believers were walking in great faith and power. What existed was great praise, great faith, and great love of God.

All of this is not to say that this was an easy time. There were persecutions, challenges, and trials, as both the Jews and the Romans saw this burgeoning Christianity as a threat. But this just served to bring the Christians closer together, and more united in their faith.

Original Christianity was a time of great unity, simple doctrine, great believing, with many believers walking in the love of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

So as you read these articles that discuss all of the divisions, and developments, both good and bad throughout the millennia of history of Christianity, it is important to maintain the focus of the simple vision of original Christianity.  Pray, praise the Lord, walk in the power of the spirit, love God and love your neighbor, and rejoice in what Christ has done. Join together with any Christian who is doing the same.  And in the process perhaps we can bring some of what made original Christianity so great back to life.

© copyright 2012 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

Welcome to Original Christianity.Net

It appears that universally, in the church, we Christians marvel at both at Jesus’ miracles and the wisdom in his parables. We especially are in awe of his life, his incredible birth, his short but incredibly powerful ministry, his passion, death, and resurrection. We love him for those. We are also moved by the depth of the wisdom and inspiration of books like the Psalms and Proverbs. Almost universally, although most would say all true Christians, acknowledge him as Lord, and strive to follow his leadership as we walk in a dark world filled with daily challenges, including overcoming evil.

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In fact, there are some universal, and some almost universal, elements in Christianity. Universally held elements of Christianity include this deep awe of Christ, and likewise, for the bible. The bible, or at least for some, sections of the bible, such as the parables of Christ in the gospels, the powerful poetry of the Psalms, and the wisdom in Proverbs are universally held in the deepest regard. Almost universally held elements include the belief in Christ as the only begotten son of the Father, physically born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, who died for out sins, and was raised from the dead and is presently seated at the right hand of God. Christians look forward to spending eternity with the Lord. Even more, there is common ground as churches promote worship, baptism, and communion with some similarity.

But beyond some basics like these, there is far less agreement on the tenets of Christianity. In fact, there is an elephant in the Church, an elephant of disagreement resulting in tens of thousands of sects, disagreeing on many doctrines.

The disagreements have been legion, often bloody, and always confusing. Christians have killed other Christians for defying the rule of infant baptism and proclaiming “believer’s baptism”. Many Christians have declared other Christians apostate because of their view of the Bible, whether it is inerrant, infallible, or at least partially of human origin.

And even if they agree on the status of the Bible, they don’t agree on what it says on these issues. For example, there is disagreement over basic principles of interpretation like whether the overriding principle is based on the covenants of God versus which dispensation we are in.

There are Christians that call other Christians apostate (traitorous) because they believe that the gifts of the spirit, i.e., prophecy and speaking in tongues, etc. still exist, and vice versa. These days there are sharp divides over homosexuality, abortion, the Word of Faith movement, the emergent Church movement, and the role of women in the church.

Even if Christians don’t call others apostate, they still disagree to the point of not fellowshipping over issues like: dietary laws (whether they need to be followed), drinking alcohol, end times (Eschatology), eternal security, evolution vs. literal seven days of creation, giving vs. tithing, predestination, psychology: the acceptability of Christian counseling, sacraments as conveyers of grace or not, the “in the name of Jesus” debate, and pacifism vs. the concept of a just war, and other issues.

Then there is the ecumenical concept of Christian “orthodoxy” that suggests that none of the issues so far discussed really matter even there are huge divisions over them. The only issue that really matters in “orthodoxy” is whether one accepts the doctrine of the Trinity, that Jesus the man is really God and a person in a triune godhead with two other persons, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is promoted as the absolutely most important concept in Christianity even though this emphasis is totally missing for the first centuries of the church.

And let alone that the very doctrine of the Trinity has been disputed over the centuries with more Christians killing other Christians over this issue than any other. It appears that for some that as long as a church accepts the doctrine of the Trinity it doesn’t matter if it teaches that homosexuality is normal or apostate, and/or abortion is choice or murder, and/or baptism should be infant baptism or believer’s baptism, and/or there are two “ordinances” or seven sacraments, and so forth, and so on.

This mess is a huge blemish on the body of Christ. Some of these issues may be legitimate, but to have so many “orthodox” churches teaching so many disparate doctrines flies right in the face of Paul’s charge for believers to have the same mind:

Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all say the same thing, and there be no divisions among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10 LITV)

If, as Paul teaches, we corporately are the body of Christ, then does the current collective body of competing Christian theologies accurately reflect the mind of Christ. Certainly, no one can think so.

But, before the present time with our tens of thousands of Christian denominations, and before the Reformation that shifted the focus of Christianity from the decisions of church councils and the Pope to the Bible as the principle source of guidance, and before the great schism about a thousand years ago, even before there were arguments over the nature of Christ, the Trinity and whether Mary was the mother of God in the beginning of the age of Christendom (fourth century), even before there was a Catholic church (110 A.D.) there was original primitive Christianity.

While some of the focus of Christianity remains, much has changed over the millennia. The question is whether all or even any of the different traditions that have developed are correct, or the original believers were the ones that actually got it the most right. The place to start is by looking at the beliefs and practices of original, primitive Christianity, and seriously consider embracing them again even though some of them may be radically different from what you or I hold today.

In the days of original, primitive Christianity:

(In the listings below hyperlinks offer more information on the point being made.)

Elements usually still held today:

Elements still held today by some:

Elements held today by few, if any believers:

Elements that are divisive today but didn’t appear to exist then:

The most current blogs (articles) are below. The articles can touch on a large number of topics including ancient history, the original language of the bible, grammar and logic, dividing doctrines besides the basics of Christianity, what Jesus taught, and development (movements) in Christianity throughout the centuries. For an organized listing of the blogs (articles) to get an overview and better understanding of the contents on this web site, go to the table of contents. There is more information on design of this website on this page; look on the right sidebar under Original Christianity and click “Why? Click to Read More…”

T 1.9 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 9, Church Government in the Body of Christ

Who was in Charge in the Apostles’ Tradition?

While there is no manual on Church government in the New Testament, there are numerous sections of scripture that itemize requirements of leadership as well as records of leadership decisions. But, most importantly, the role of the headship of Christ and the operational capacity of the Holy Spirit in the church is emphasized.

Jesus Christ is in charge, the body operates in sync in The Holy Spirit.

The Apostles’ tradition shows a church under Jesus Christ via Holy Spirit guidance.  First Christ is in charge:

which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come. He put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things for the assembly, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  (Eph 1:20-23 WEB)

Yahweh gave Christ to be head over all, the above verse says.  The prophet, the apostle, the pastor and teacher, the bishop all are under Christ.  Christ heads the church and directs the church via the Holy Spirit.

Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and God which he purchased with his own blood.  (Act 20:28 WEB)

We read in the above verse that the Holy Spirit makes people overseers. Christ is the head but the energization, the enablement is done via the Holy Spirit.  That concept is explained more in John chapter 16, starting in verse 13:

However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming.  (Joh 16:13 WEB)

The above verse explains that it is the Holy Spirit that does the guiding, but the Spirit is only acting on what he is told.  The next verse tells the source who is telling the spirit:

He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. (Joh 16:14 WEB)

This is Jesus speaking, and he said that the spirit gets his information from him.  Next, Jesus said where he, Jesus, gets his information:

All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you.  (Joh 16:15 WEB)

Here Jesus said that he gets his information from the Father. Putting these verses together Jesus is declaring that He will be in charge, but he is just reflecting the Father’s will, and the Holy Spirit is carrying out that same will of the Father via Christ when he guides the church.

In T 1.7 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 7, The Apostles Taught the Body of Christ Energized in the Spirit we read how Christ’s church works as a body where every member has been set by God. The members include apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, miracle workers, healers, helps, government, speakers in tongues, interpreters of tongues, and more.  All members manifest the spirit in the work that they do.  The holy spirit is the glue and the driving force of all the members of the body.

Government is listed as one of those members. Government is the Greek word kubernesis, G2941 in Strong’s, and means pilotage, directorship. The church needs Holy Spirit guided government.

When the term church is used it refers both to the local congregation and to the total body of believers. I Corinthians 1:2 refers to a local church.

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  (1Co 1:2 ESV)

Colossians 1:18 refers to the whole body as the church.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1:18 ESV)

Acts 20:28 above refers to the whole body of believers.  The Holy Spirit is to make all the overseers in the whole body, the whole church.  That doesn’t mean that overseers can’t be mistakenly appointed without the Spirit’s guidance, just that the Father set it up that the Spirit appoints the ones that are to be made overseer.

While we are on the topic of churches it is important to note that the church is a group or assembly of believers, not a building.

However, the Most High doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says, ‘heaven is my throne, and the earth a footstool for my feet. What kind of house will you build me?’ says the Lord. ‘Or what is the place of my rest? Didn’t my hand make all these things?’ (Act 7:48-50 WEB)

As far as the buildings go this new church was very practical as to where these new churches would meet. For the most part they met in houses:

Likewise, greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.  (Rom 16:5 KJV)

It says greet the church that is in their house. First-century churches often met in houses for the most part.

The word church above is the Greek word ekklesia, G1577 in Strong’s, and means assembly. The church is that group or assembly of people, not the building. Interestingly, while the word for synagogue is a different word in Greek, it also means assembly. Ekklesia is translated assembly in the WEB version and others while it is translated church is still others.

The assemblies of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you much in the Lord, together with the assembly that is in their house. (1Co 16:19 WEB)

to the beloved Apphia, to Archippus, our fellow soldier, and to the assembly in your house: (Phm 1:2 WEB)

Paul rented a house in Rome to teach from.

Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who were coming to him, (Act 28:30 WEB)

There is Paul’s Christian teaching center in a rented house. The fact that there is not more guidance about facilities is indicative a lot of flexibility in the choice of this matter. And, notice that there are no building drives in scripture, nor are there mentions of expensive temples in the New Testament. Not that it would be wrong to buy a building, or even have a large beautiful facility, but that was not the emphasis. The place where they met for fellowship was of lessor concern. The greatest concern was the spread of the word of God.

There are records of churches being started and leaders put in place in the New Testament but there are no intricate guidelines in the bible for church governance. Jesus Christ is the head, who guides through the Spirit. And sometimes we will see that the guidance included elections by the members of the church which means there was human input, but only with the validation of the Spirit.   This all indicates that there is some freedom and flexibility built into the plan on how to spread the word of God, and build and govern churches.

The initial headquarters of the church was at Jerusalem which coordinated efforts in spreading the word, including resolving issues.

Who was the overseer in Jerusalem?  Many people assume that Peter was the first overseer because of his acts of leadership. Peter stands up in Acts 2 and becomes the spokesman. Yet we see when we look at Acts that it was James who is actually the head of the church at least when Paul went there. Notice that when Paul went in to present himself to the church it was to “James” and the elders.

And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
And when he had saluted them, he rehearsed one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry. [Act 21:17-19 ASV]

This is really a case of Paul presenting himself to leadership, in this case it appears it was James who was in charge of the Apostles.  And, incidentally. James is listed with the apostles,

But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. [Gal 1:19 ASV]

There are numerous records that show that the leadership at Jerusalem directed the efforts on different fronts. For example, the Jerusalem leadership had heard that there were believers in Samaria that had received the word of God but did not manifest the spirit of God (the Holy Spirit had not fallen on them). Jerusalem sent Peter and John.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus.  (Act 8:14-16 WEB)

Here is another record of Jerusalem’s oversight. There was a quarrel over the gentiles who had received the spirit and what needed to be done.

Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. When Peter had come up to Jerusalem, those who were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men, and ate with them!” (Act 11:1-3 WEB)

This is the fantastic record where the Jerusalem leadership learns that Peter was directed by the spirit to minister to Gentiles and that they had received the Holy Spirit just like they had.

And another example of oversight was recognizing who to minister to Jews and who to the Gentiles.

(for he who worked through Peter in the apostleship with the circumcised also worked through me with the Gentiles); and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision. (Gal 2:8-9 WEB)

Headquarters received some of the moneys collected. Here we see that local churches sent offerings for different purposes to Jerusalem. First, we see a general collection.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I commanded the assemblies of Galatia, you do likewise. On the first day of every week, let each one of you save, as he may prosper, that no collections are made when I come. When I arrive, I will send whoever you approve with letters to carry your gracious gift to Jerusalem. (1Co 16:1-3 WEB)

Next, we see a collection for the poor at Jerusalem.

For it has been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are at Jerusalem. (Rom 15:26 WEB)

As far as collections for the saints went, Jerusalem was not the only recipient. Not all moneys went to the headquarters.  Here different local churches are supporting Paul’s missionary journeys directly.

However you did well that you shared in my affliction. You yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the Good News, when I departed from Macedonia, no assembly shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only. (Php 4:14-15 WEB)

Missionaries were sent by Church Leadership with guidance from the Spirit and not just from the main headquarters.  There were more than one centers of Christianity.  Antioch was a center of Christianity while Jerusalem was the main headquarters initially.  The leaders at Antioch prayed and fasted and were told by the Spirit to send Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey.

Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.  (Act 13:1-3 WEB)

Significantly, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch and reported back to them what had transpired.

From there they sailed to Antioch, from where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. When they had arrived, and had gathered the assembly together, they reported all the things that God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith to the nations. (Act 14:26-27 WEB)

Paul and other Apostles appointed leaders in places where they started churches.  Here is a record of Paul and Barnabas appointing elders.

When they had appointed elders for them in every assembly, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed. (Act 14:23 WEB)

There is no record that headquarters in Jerusalem had any say in this matter.  Paul’s ministry, the administration of the church to the Gentiles, included appointing the elders in those churches. This indicates the office of apostle includes governance.

Here Paul appoints Titus to oversee Crete including appointing elders in the cities.

I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; (Tit 1:5 WEB)

As far as Paul’s ministry with concerned, he had a number of people, a team if you will, whom he sent to minister and he wrote recommendations for them so that they would be well received.

All my affairs will be made known to you by Tychicus, the beloved brother, faithful servant, and fellow bondservant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, together with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you everything that is going on here. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you received commandments, “if he comes to you, receive him”), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for God’s Kingdom who are of the circumcision, men who have been a comfort to me. (Col 4:7-11 WEB)

But we beg you, brothers, to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to respect and honor them in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. (1Th 5:12-13 WEB)

Demetrius has the testimony of all, and of the truth itself; yes, we also testify, and you know that our testimony is true. (3Jn 1:12 WEB)

Paul also “unrecommended” people.

I wrote to the assembly, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, doesn’t accept what we say. Therefore if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. Not content with this, neither does he himself receive the brothers, and those who would, he forbids and throws out of the assembly. (3Jn 1:9-10 WEB)

On the other hand, Acts 15 shows that Paul subjected himself to the leadership in Jerusalem.  And we have this:

As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered the decrees to them to keep which had been ordained by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. So the assemblies were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. (Act 16:4-5 WEB)

Each local church was connected to headquarters from which decrees were disseminated from and sometimes these missionaries disseminated the decrees personally.

Now, there was some hierarchy in these appointments by Paul:

I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; (Tit 1:5 WEB)

Now, we see Titus, under Paul’s authority appointing elders. Paul appointed elders who appointed other elders.  However, there is no record that these elders reported exclusively to Titus who reported to Paul, although that may be what happened most of the time.

Additionally, although Paul was the apostle that founded many churches, when he later dealt with problems in those churches, he didn’t just rule on everything but delegated to the local leadership which was wasn’t necessarily just one overseer.

I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to think the same way in the Lord. Yes, I beg you also, true partner, help these women, for they labored with me in the Good News, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.  (Php 4:2-3 WEB)

Evidently Euodia and Syntyche had a dispute.  Paul asked some unnamed partner to help resolve it. Next, in Corinth someone did something sinful and was rebuked and the person repented but the matter was not quite resolved.

But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow, not to me, but in part (that I not press too heavily) to you all. This punishment which was inflicted by the many is sufficient for such a one; so that on the contrary you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his excessive sorrow. Therefore I beg you to confirm your love toward him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things. Now I also forgive whomever you forgive anything. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2Co 2:5-11 WEB)

Then there is the matter of incest that evidently wasn’t taken care of.  Paul wrote:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles, that one has his father’s wife. You are arrogant, and didn’t mourn instead, that he who had done this deed might be removed from among you. For I most certainly, as being absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as though I were present, judged him who has done this thing. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, are to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1Co 5:1-5 WEB)

So, Paul ordained elders and he even charged some elders to ordain more elders.  The local elders handled some things but Paul intervened at times. And it is an apostle that is setting up these government positions.

There is no New Testament example of a stronger hierarchy than this. But there is an Old Testament example of spirit led hierarchy of authority under Moses.  Remember that while we are no longer under the law the Old Testament it is given for our learning and there is some useful wisdom in Old Testament examples:

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through perseverance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 WEB)

If you read management advice you will find that one person can only successfully lead a small number of people in a team.  The optimal size is 8-10 people under you.[1]  That is not a biblical law expressly but there is the example of Jethro’s advice to Moses that suggests that.

Moses appointed a hierarchy:

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God. Aaron came with all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. On the next day, Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from the morning to the evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, “What is this thing that you do for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning to evening?” Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a matter, they come to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to perform it yourself alone. Listen now to my voice. I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You represent the people before God, and bring the causes to God. You shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the way in which they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men which fear God: men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. Let them judge the people at all times. It shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge themselves. So shall it be easier for you, and they shall share the load with you. If you will do this thing, and God commands you so, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.” So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. They judged the people at all times. They brought the hard causes to Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves. Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way into his own land. (Exo 18:12-27 WEB)

“Rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” indicates a hierarchy where the basic unit is about 10.  And the advice is simple, everyone is trained in the statutes and laws and how everyone should walk and what work needs to be done.  Each ruler has oversight over his group and advises that group, handling most matters at the local level. Issues in the group are handled in the group unless it is a great matter which would go up the hierarchy all the way to Moses if necessary.  So, there is a biblical example for a hierarchy.

And there is more.  You see the great Moses, and he truly was great, got so burned out that he literally said to Yahweh, “Kill me now.”  Yes, it’s true.

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent; and Yahweh’s anger burned greatly; and Moses was displeased. Moses said to Yahweh, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why haven’t I found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Have I conceived all this people? Have I brought them out, that you should tell me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which you swore to their fathers?’ Where could I get meat to give all these people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. If you treat me this way, please kill me right now, if I have found favor in your sight; and don’t let me see my wretchedness.”  (Num 11:10-15 WEB)

Moses was pretty upset here.  But the Lord was gracious and provided help. Moses received revelation, word of wisdom, to farm out his responsibilities even further:

Yahweh said to Moses, “Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit which is on you, and will put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you don’t bear it yourself alone.  (Num 11:16-17 WEB)

So, there we have the example of division of labor in leadership.  Moses was led by the Spirit to start a council of leadership that shared his leadership responsibilities.  These new counselors were empowered with the holy spirit to make godly decisions.

Back in the New Testament, there are guidelines given for the selection of these elders that were appointed,

I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; if anyone is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, who are not accused of loose or unruly behavior. For the overseer must be blameless, as God’s steward; not self-pleasing, not easily angered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for dishonest gain; but given to hospitality, a lover of good, sober minded, fair, holy, self-controlled; holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict those who contradict him. (Tit 1:5-9 WEB)

This is quite the list of requirements and will be discussed further in a future article. Notice it says the overseer needs to be faithful to the “word which is according to the teaching”. Part of the tradition of the apostles is that the elders, the overseers, teach what the Apostles taught. And not only the elder himself needs to be upright but also his family needs to be godly.  Timothy was told this:

This is a faithful saying: someone who seeks to be an overseer desires a good work. The overseer therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, modest, hospitable, good at teaching; not a drinker, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having children in subjection with all reverence; (but how could someone who doesn’t know how to rule one’s own house take care of God’s assembly?) not a new convert, lest being puffed up he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover, he must have good testimony from those who are outside, to avoid falling into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Ti 3:1-7 WEB)

This is a similar list to what is in Titus. One thing new in this list is that he can’t be a new convert, a bishop, an overseer, has got to be experienced.

As far as the deacons are concerned, in Acts 6:1-6 the apostles directed the people to select seven men to act as administrators in the business end of the ministry. These men were the first deacons.

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service. The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.” These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (Act 6:1-6 WEB)

The word deacon in the bible is the Greek word diakoneo, G1247 in Strong’s, and means to be an attendant, or to wait upon.  These men were to oversee the daily distribution which was either food, or money provided to the widows in the church.  This service identifies them as deacons. The apostles, and other gift ministries ministered the word and prayed steadfastly.  But the other work, in this case, the daily ministration required appointment of people of good report, full of holy spirit, and wisdom. These people are deacons.

There are guidelines for selecting deacons also in Timothy.

Servants, in the same way, must be reverent, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for money; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Let them also first be tested; then let them serve if they are blameless. Their wives in the same way must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let servants be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well gain for themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.  (1Ti 3:8-13 WEB)

The Church Council

There is one church council in the New Testament from which we can learn a few things.  The council at Jerusalem was called to settle the matter of circumcising the believers. It was held at headquarters in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas reported to the whole assembly where the Judaizers called for both circumcising the gentiles and keeping the law of Moses. (No wonder Paul writes so heavily about the law in his epistles.) The apostles and elders gathered to reconcile the question.  The Apostle Peter rose up and gave his judgement that they “abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood”, but not troubled with trying to keep the law.  And they qualified their judgement with:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: (Act 15:28 WEB)

How did they know that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit?  There is only one way, the manifestations of the spirit.  That means word of knowledge and/or word of wisdom.  And we know that there were prophets there who are charged with the task of confirming whether something or not is of the spirit:

Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers with many words, and strengthened them. (Act 15:32 WEB)

So, the apostles and elders decided the question under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Notice that there is no mention here of bishops in the decision.  The offices mentioned in this outcome were apostles, elders, and prophets.

Prophets as spokesmen for God, encouragers and comforters and confirmers of the Word are seen here and other places. They also were instrumental at times in governing the church.  Here Agabus foretold the famine and a relief effort was set up.

Now in these days, prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up, and indicated by the Spirit that there should be a great famine all over the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius. As any of the disciples had plenty, each determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea; which they also did, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. (Act 11:27-30 WEB)

We also have the record of multiple prophets telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

Having found disciples, we stayed there seven days. These said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. (Act 21:4 WEB)

Coming to us, and taking Paul’s belt, he bound his own feet and hands, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit: ‘So will the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and will deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Act 21:11 WEB)

As I state in T 1.31 More on Paul’s Decision To Go To Jerusalem, How Tradition Can Affect Translation And Meaning, Accepting Deliverance When Available I believe Paul was being told not to go to Jerusalem and he couldn’t hear it so he went anyway.

Prophets were at the Jerusalem council and spoke encouraging words about the decisions made there.

So far it appears that the church in original Christianity operated pretty much in a hierarchical way.  I believe that to be true. But we do have records in the time of Jesus’s ministry, and in the time of the apostles that show believers administering independently of the main organization.

First, Jesus himself was asked a question in this topic.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone who doesn’t follow us casting out demons in your name; and we forbade him, because he doesn’t follow us.” But Jesus said, “Don’t forbid him, for there is no one who will do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For whoever is not against us is on our side. For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Christ’s, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward. (Mar 9:38-41 WEB)

This is the Lord Jesus himself talking. John asked him about someone else who was, according to the script, casting out devils in Jesus’s name! How amazing is that? Almost as amazing to me is that God says the Apostles forbade him to continue. But Jesus straightened them out. He said not to forbid anyone. He said that whoever is not against us is on our side. If this isn’t an endorsement of the availability for people to start ministries independent of the main group, I don’t know what is.

And we have the record of Apollo in the book of Acts.

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately. When he had determined to pass over into Achaia, the brothers encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he had come, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he powerfully refuted the Jews, publicly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. (Act 18:24-28 WEB)

So here we have an independent, a man named Apollos. He is mighty in the Scriptures. It says he taught accurately the things concerning Jesus. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, it is.

Look what happens next, Priscilla and Aquila heard him, and they told him to quit, right? No, they “explained to him the way of God more accurately”. Then it says the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to receive him.  From this point it looks like Apollos was incorporated into the church.

So, we have a couple of records that show that there is no authority to stop people from preaching and/or performing the mighty works to God for people.

We have been looking at the records in the New Testament that describe the governing of the church. First, we acknowledged that Jesus is the head who gets his guidance from the father. Then we acknowledged that the Holy Spirit, who gets his info from Jesus Christ, works in us in this awesome body of Christ. There are many members in the body of Christ, and some of those members relate to the governing, the directing, the pilotage of the church.

We saw that there is a headquarters at Jerusalem from which a lot of activity was directed. We also saw that there were other centers like Antioch. Most people today see the bishop and his staff as the leadership of the church. We saw that in original Christianity the leadership of the church was directed via the spirit through apostles, prophets besides overseers (bishops) and deacons.

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, are necessary for the church to grow up because those are the offices that God has set in the body to enable that.

He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love.  (Eph 4:11-16 WEB)

Remember the teaching about the uniqueness of the members of the body. The eye is the eye and does the seeing. The ear is the ear and it does the hearing. The eye can’t hear and the ear can’t see. For the Holy Spirit to operate it assigns functions to different members. Now, in truth some people have multiple functions like pastors and teachers, Paul was an apostle and a teacher and he prophesied. But one of the points about this lesson is that we need to call things what they are, and set things up the way God does set them up to be.  The role of the bishop is not the role of the apostle, or prophet. The office of Bishop doesn’t automatically include the office of apostle and/or prophet.  God set up the church with apostles, and prophets etc. because all those capacities are needed for the body to work.

The need for “building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine” did not go away with the passing of the apostles. Thus, the need for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers didn’t go away either. And they are of vital part of the body of Christ, including the governing of the body of Christ.

Bishops are vital in their roles. They need to be well grounded in the apostles doctrine, apt to teach, given to hospitality and the like. But the bishop’s role is not the apostle’s role, or the prophet’s role. The bishop’s role is the bishop’s role.. The apostle’s role is the apostles role. The prophet’s role is the prophet’s role.

As far as hierarchy is concerned, and division of authority, we see in these records in the New Testament great examples from which to work. There is some hierarchy, but it is not rigid and it is always flexible to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

That is the apostles tradition that was set up in Original Christianity, and it is what we are charged to follow.

[1] https://wideangle.com/many-direct-reports-can-manager-successfully-lead/, https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/whats-the-optimal-span-of-control-for-people-managers

Apostolic Succession – Biblical or Not?

“The first Christians had no doubts about how to determine which was the true Church and which doctrines the true teachings of Christ. The test was simple: Just trace the apostolic succession of the claimants.”[1] So starts a pro-Catholic article on catholic.com.  The principle of Apostolic Succession says that the original apostles ordained bishops and authorized them and them only to ordain succeeding bishops. A primary benefit of this succession is the guarantee that this process ensures that the apostolic truth continues from generation to generation.

Apostolic succession is seen written about in the first writings of the church fathers. Here is Clement (C. 90AD):

“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of oversight. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those already mentioned. Afterwards, they gave instructions, then when those men should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of the opinion, therefore, that those appointed by the apostles, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed a good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry.”[2]

Here Clement of Rome is testifying that apostolic succession is a practice ordained by the apostles themselves.

Irenaeus (C. 180 AD) had some interesting things to say about apostolic succession.

“Therefore, it is within the power of all in every church who may wish to see the truth to clearly examine the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the world. And we are in a position to reckon up those who were instituted bishops in the churches by the apostles, and the succession of these men to our own times…. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries,… They would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men.”[3]

Here we see the link between knowing that it is the truth in apostolic succession. “It is within the power of all in every church who may wish to see the truth to clearly examine the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the world” says just that.  The way you know that is the truth is if it is something that has been handed down from generation of bishops to generation of bishops all the way back to the Apostles.  This cannot be emphasized enough.  The Catholics and others that rely on this doctrine say that apostolic succession is a guarantee for truth.  When a Catholic bishop is ordained that ensures that they will be “very perfect and blameless in all things”.  The process of apostolic succession is the transference of the apostles’ authority and power from generation to generation. Considering the other side, a bishop without apostolic succession does not have the truth, or authority of the apostles.

One place where you can see this in action is in the General Councils. The bishops in the General councils believed that they received the power to rule on these matters because of apostolic succession.   That gave them the right to proclaim what was apostolic doctrine and who was speaking apostolic truth and who was a heretic.[4]  According to the doctrine of apostolic succession, all of the decrees of the General Councils have apostolic authority.  That means every one of them.

Now, something else that is very interesting is in Irenaeus’ quote in the sentence “For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries,… They would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the churches themselves.” This sentence possibly allows for the possibility that some things were handed down orally. Possibly this phrase allows for things not found in the bible to be called truth.  That would be very similar to the claim of the Jewish elders who claimed that after Moses revealed the Law, there were other sayings not written down that were verbally communicated from generation to generation which became the Jewish Talmud.  However, it might also be a rejection of Gnostic teaching that there was secret knowledge.  In any case, apostolic succession says that the bishops ordained by apostolic succession would know because they would know what was handed down.

Irenaeus also said:

“In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same life-giving the faith, which has been preserved in the church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.”[5]

There it is again, the true faith of the apostles is continued exclusively through apostolic succession.

Other church fathers including Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyprian as well as church councils and the apostolic constitutions document affirm this teaching that goes back to just after the time of the apostles and has continued until the present.

So, you can see that this has been a long-standing doctrine of the Catholic Church. Some Protestant denominations also make the claim of apostolic succession including Anglican and some Lutheran churches.

Calvinist International presents some of the counter-argument in an article by Ian Mosley.[6]  Basically, the argument starts with that there is little if any scriptural support for apostolic succession.  (Not one of the church fathers discussing apostolic succession is considered a writer of Scripture.) Furthermore, none of the church fathers’ statements about apostolic succession correspond to statements in scripture. Additionally, in these writings of the church fathers on apostolic succession, there appears to be mud in the water over the terms “bishop” and “presbyter”. They are not clearly and distinctly used. And as the terms bishop and presbyter are key terms in these church fathers’ statements that affirm this principle of apostolic succession then that also challenges the basis for claiming the validity of apostolic succession.

We opened with 1st Clement 44, but the version on the CalvinistInternational site has some subtle differences, namely the use of these words; bishop and presbytyr.

“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those presbyters already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters…(1 Clement 44)

Clement begins by referring to the episcopate, but then seems to refer to the same ministers as “presbyters.” He alternates between the terms throughout, never clearly intending any kind of transition to discussing a separate ministry.”[7]

Clement apparently uses the words bishop and presbyters interchangeably while these terms are used more precisely in the other quotes of the church fathers.  Also notice the inclusion of “the consent of the whole church” as part of the process, another divergence from traditionally stated apostolic succession doctrine.

Mosley also points out the statements in Hippolytus writings and the Apostolic Constitution that both set the process of selecting a bishop as an election by the people.  Hippolytus (c. 215 AD) wrote:

Let the bishop be ordained after he has been chosen by all the people[8]

Williston Walker notes in his A History of the Christian Church is that the development of church government and hierarchy is obscure in the New Testament epistles whereas it suddenly is very clear in the epistles of Ignatius.  Walker says that in contrast to the New Testament Ignatius “exalts in every way the authority of the local monarchial bishop…”[9]  He further adds Clement of Rome “traces the existence of church officers to apostolic succession” which he believes Clement bases on an apparent misunderstanding of 1 Cor 15: 15-16.[10]

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.  (1Co 16:15-16 ESV)

These verses show that converts in Achaia became servants to the ministry, but it does not say that Paul ordained them to be overseers giving them his same authority and power, and then charged them to transfer the same to prospective leaders in their care.  Thus this is not biblical support for apostolic succession.

The Protestant position is that since there are no real supporting scriptures this is not a valid doctrine.  Furthermore, there is no basis for saying that any decree of the General councils or practice of the Catholic Church is true based on apostolic succession.

So, we have the Catholics including some Orthodox churches, some Lutherans and the Anglicans promoting Apostolic Succession while the bulk of churches in the protestant tradition do not.

[1] What the Early Church Believed: Apostolic Succession,  https://www.catholic.com/tract/apostolic-succession, quote is from 1 Clement 44

[2] A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David W Bercot, Hendrickson publishers, Peabody, Mass., 1998, P. 70

[3] ibid., P. 31

[4] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepursuitofholiness/2020/09/1198-apostolicsuccession/

[5] A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. P. 31

[6] The Historical Untenability of Apostolic Succession, https://calvinistinternational.com/2020/02/05/the-historical-untenability-of-apostolic-succession/

[7] ibid

[8] https://www.catholicfaithandreason.org/st-hippolytus-of-rome-170-236-ad.html, also The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1, William A Jurgens, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, 1970, p. 105

[9] A History of the Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1958, p. 41

[10] Ibid, p.42

T 1.7 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 7, The Apostles Taught the Body of Christ Energized in the Spirit

The epistles are packed with references to the body of Christ.

For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot would say, “Because I’m not the hand, I’m not part of the body,” it is not therefore not part of the body. If the ear would say, “Because I’m not the eye, I’m not part of the body,” it’s not therefore not part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling be? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired. (1Co 12:12-18 WEB)

We are not actually the physical ears, eyes, feet, hands, elbows, and knees of the physical body of Jesus Christ.  This is an analogy.

Google defines an analogy as “a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.”  Here a physical human body is used as an analogy of how Christ’s church works.   A body has many parts like the eyes, ears, hands, and feet mentioned above. It’s just a partial list, we know there are many more; arms, elbows, knees, lungs, liver, on and on.  We are going to see below a comparison of how the body with a list of these parts is like our great church with its parts and we will see a lot of these church parts or roles mentioned.  We will see verses with these parts of Christ’s church; apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, miracle workers, healers, leaders (governments), helps, speakers in tongues, and interpreters of tongues.  This also is a partial list as there are more church roles talked about in Scripture, but we will see verses with these offices below in the article.  These church roles are comparable to how the different parts of a human body consist of different parts with each one having unique functions and all of them being important to the essential operation of a human body.  All of the roles listed for the church are just as unique and important for the essential operation of the church.

In this analogy, the inference of, say, “Because I’m not the eye, I’m not part of the body” is that the help can’t say, “Because I’m not the apostle, I’m not part of the body.”  And, just like God set the hand to be the hand, he set each office, the help, the prophet, the apostle, the speaker in tongues, etc., where it is.  If God sets something up, who are we to change it, or to say it is changed because we don’t see it or agree with it or whatever reason.

And one point from the above verse I want to focus on now is that we are baptized into this body in one Spirit, and we as a body are energized by that same spirit.  Paul emphasizes the Spirit as both the driving force and the glue! We are baptized in one Spirit and we all drink of that same Spirit.  Above these verses, we read some about how the Spirit works.

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” but by the Holy Spirit. Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord. There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all. (1Co 12:3b-7 WEB)

Simply put, these verses just say that there are different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service, different kinds of workings, and there are those awesome manifestations. These are all different things. In other parts of Scripture Paul elaborates more on what those spiritual things are. For example, Paul writes specifically about gifts:

But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to people.” (Eph 4:7-8 WEB)

THE gift of Christ is the gift we all receive when we accept him as Lord when we are baptized in the same Spirit; holy spirit, eternal life, new birth, Christ in us.  But beyond that there are other things that are taught in Scripture as gifts:

He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love. (Eph 4:11-16 WEB)

Here’s more scripture about these gifts given to the body as well as some other roles and functions discussed:

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. God has set some in the assembly: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, and various kinds of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all miracle workers? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with various languages? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. (1Co 12:27-31a WEB)

The apostle Paul used the analogy of a body to describe how this wonderful church of ours works with its apostles, prophets, helps, miracle workers, and the like. This section talks about how each believer is a member with specific roles and functions. The last point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 12:12-18 above is that God has set the members! God sets us where we are! We need to accept how he has set it. We’re not to mess with how God has set up the roles and functions of each member.  In this simple analogy, it’s easy to see how a foot needs to be a foot and an ear needs to be an ear. So, by the same token whatever role and functions that God has set up it’s not up to us to change it because of what we think.  The role of help is to be a help and not a miracle worker, apostle, or evangelist.  The role of government is to provide oversight and administration, but that government role is not the role of a prophet, or healer.  The prophet’s job is done by the prophet and miracle worker is done by the miracle worker.

And we should not feel left out if we are not an apostle, or prophet, or healer, but our role is a vital part of the body of Christ.

Paul writes about workings, operations, services, gifts, and manifestations of the spirit in the body. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are listed as gifts. You can see that because it says, “He gave” in Ephesians 4:11. When something is given it is a gift. However, these gifts are not to that person, they are to the body of Christ. Some people call these gift ministries, they are gifts to the body to minister to them. You can see that because of the purposes listed for the gifts, the perfecting of the saints, the work of serving, and the building up of the body of Christ. These gift ministries are given to keep we believers from being tossed about by every wind of doctrine.  They are gifts to the body.

It must be noted that while the gift ministry is given to the body, it is work for the believer who is given the ministry.  It is a blessing to the body, and the minister himself is blessed with the rest of the body as he/she ministers, but it is a gift to the church.

Notice that in the particular verses above it specifically says apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers when it comes to who God has set up help the individual believers grow up to adulthood. It doesn’t say it is the healers, miracle workers, bishops, or governments and the other gifts talked about in other places in the epistles. Those are important functions in the church too but they accomplish other things. Those five gift ministries do the main work of the perfecting of the saints, and other things as mentioned in the verses above.  It’s not that people without those gift ministries don’t teach some, prophesy here and there, maybe take care of people, and so forth, they do, but in order for saints to be perfected, built up, and led to be full-grown believers God sets some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers who are the real driving forces in their roles.

These scriptures are talking about the uniqueness of roles.  Just like hands, feet, ears, eyes do different things in our bodies different members of the church do different things, they are unique in their function.  The foot can’t say it is the eye!  Just like the eye, ear, hands, and feet are unique with their own distinct function and role so the apostle, prophet, teacher, leader, administrator, aide have their unique function and role.  And they are not interchangeable.  The role of the prophet is different than the role of the director which is different than the miracle worker.  You can’t substitute one for the other.

But and this is a big but.  There are people with multiple gifts. In fact, it is not uncommon in scripture or in life.    David was anointed king and he was a prophet.  Some are pastors and teachers. Paul was an apostle, a teacher, and he prophesied. So, while the shepherd role is different than the teacher, one person could be gifted with both roles if God chooses, and more than that, we can desire that;

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. God has set some in the assembly: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, and various kinds of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all miracle workers? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with various languages? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. (1Co 12:27-31a WEB)

The above verse ends with “earnestly desire the best gifts.” We are charged to desire the gifts.  Each of us is a part of the body and we have been set into a certain place by God.  In the above verses Paul talks about a number of ministries; apostles, prophets, and teachers, miracle workers, gifts of healing (healers), helps (assistants, aides, ushers, staff), governments (leaders, administrators, overseers).  Again, Paul is not listing all of the ministries available here, just some of them. And he ends with the point that we should earnestly desire the best gifts!  That means we have some input into this. God does the setting in place of these roles, but we can desire for certain gifts, not necessarily just for us, but for us to have contact with where we are in our group of believers.

So, apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors, miracle workers, healers, helps, administrators, overseers, are the eyes, ears, mouth, legs, liver, lungs, hands, and other parts of the body. We see that in the above verses because of the first sentence where it says you are the body of Christ and members individually and then it talks about these different functions.

Let’s talk a little bit about what these functions are.

Apostles are sent by the Spirit to do something, to administer something as God’s representative. Apostle is apostolos in the Greek, G652 in Strongs, and means delegate, a sent one, a commissioned one.  Did you know that the word missionary comes from the Latin word missionem (to send) which corresponds to how apostle comes from the Greek word apostello ( to send)?   Missionary and apostle are synonymous words. The original apostles were sent by the Lord to start the church age in Jerusalem and outward from there. Paul’s apostleship was the administration of the mystery, that the gentiles were joint heirs of the same promises as Israel.  Paul was sent to the Gentiles.

if it is so that you have heard of the administration of that grace of God which was given me toward you; how that by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I wrote before in few words, by which, when you read, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; (Eph 3:2-4 WEB)

Prophets speak for God; they are God’s spokespeople. They not only speak God’s word they confirm God’s word. And they judge whether what people say is of the Lord or not.

And let the prophets give their words, but not more than two or three, and let the others be judges of what they say. (1Co 14:29 BBE)

Now, really all believers are supposed to do that some but prophets are really empowered to do it big time.

If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord.  (1Co 14:37 WEB)

Prophets also build up believers with words of exhortation and comfort.

Evangelists are empowered by the spirit to reach unbelievers with the message of God’s word. They are preachers, usually traveling.  All believers are lights, and hopefully, that light reaches unsaved people within their sphere, but evangelists have a Spirit-empowered calling where you see people being reached and saved on a regular basis. In the Bible Phillip is the only named evangelist. And it says he “he preached the Good News to all the cities.” (Acts 8:40b WEB)

Pastors, also called shepherds, shepherd the flock. They care for people spiritually; they look over them. Teachers are empowered by the spirit to teach the rightly divided word of God and explain things by the spirit so that it makes sense to people and reaches them.

Miracle workers, healers, helps are pretty self-explanatory.  Governments include people who administer: overseers (bishops), deacons, and elders.

Now maybe in your experience, you haven’t seen a lot of these roles. That sounds all great and good for these believers in Corinth, but does this really apply to believers in New York, or Kansas, or Botswana?  I mean this was a letter to those believers in Corinth that were missing the boat on so many issues at the time of Paul, right? Well, let’s just take a quick look at the beginning of the letter:

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the assembly of God which is at Corinth; those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours: (1Co 1:1-2 WEB)

Yes, this is a letter to Corinth. But Paul doesn’t just say that he is addressing the Corinthians with this letter. He writes “with all who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place.”  In fact, as Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians he charges us believers to follow the Apostles traditions as contained in the words and letters of the apostles:

So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word, or by letter. (2Th 2:15 WEB)

So, yes, this teaching of the body of Christ and how it is to work applies to all believers in every place. And, there is no one-generation time limit stated anywhere in these letters. In fact, we know that Paul was writing to believers on what would happen after his death when he gave warnings like in Acts 20.

Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and God which he purchased with his own blood. For I know that after my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore watch, remembering that for a period of three years I didn’t cease to admonish everyone night and day with tears. Now, brothers, I entrust you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build up, and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Act 20:28-32 WEB)

Paul is warning that after he departs there will be wolves from outside the church but also teachers from the flock (“from among your own selves”) that will teach perverse (twisted) things.  That means that his teaching isn’t just for his time, but carries on after his departure.  The end date for the administration of the church that was given to Paul is the return of Christ, not Paul’s and the other apostles’ deaths.

So, this teaching about how the church works as a body with all the different roles and functions applies to all believers in the church age including now.

So, this is what the epistles teach about how the body of Christ is to operate.  It is different from a lot of peoples’ experience in their Church.  But, our experience is often not as much revelation about God as much as it is an indicator of what is happening in the world.  A lot of people can’t visualize churches with apostles and/or prophets, miracle workers, healers, and the like.  Some can’t recognize the spirit in the church, not only in the ministers but in the people around them.  But, as Peter proclaimed on Pentecost God has wanted to pour out his spirit for a long time as prophesied in Joel.

But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams. (Act 2:16-17 WEB)

God wants people to be filled with the spirit and to manifest the holy spirit. God has wanted that since the beginning. Getting people to be filled with his spirit into manifestation a desire of God and God’s leaders. Look at this section:

But two men remained in the camp. The name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the Spirit rested on them; and they were of those who were written, but had not gone out to the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran, and told Moses, and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his chosen men, answered, “My lord Moses, forbid them!” Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all Yahweh’s people were prophets, that Yahweh would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:26-29 WEB)

Look at that, the great Joshua was shocked when a couple of Israelites prophesied in the camp. He actually said to Moses, “forbid them”.

How much of the time in the Old Testament do you think prophets were well known to be around? The answer is only a minority of the time, and part of the reason can be inferred from the verses above. People may be shocked when they hear someone prophesy. People may be uncomfortable that someone prophesies. Not only that but there were different times in the Old Testament when people were taught that prophecy had ceased like after Malachi and after the age of the apostles some people started teaching that prophecy and other workings of the spirit had ceased.

But God has always been in business. God has always wanted to manifest himself to people. God has always desired to pour out his spirit. But also God will only manifest himself to people who look for him.  God doesn’t respond to unbelief.  God responds to belief.

It is available for people to manifest spirit now as years ago at the time of the apostles. In response to 1 Corinthians chapter twelve, no, not all are apostles, not all are prophets, not all are teachers, not all are miracle workers. But all believers can manifest spirit:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all. (1Co 12:7 WEB)

That verse says “each one is given”. That means all believers are given the manifestation of the spirit. Not only that it says these manifestations are given to profit all, the whole church. The next verses talk about what the manifestations are:

For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another faith, by the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, by the same Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of languages; and to another the interpretation of languages. But the one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing to each one separately as he desires. (1Co 12:8-11 WEB)

There really is so much in here. First of all, it lists nine manifestations; word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith or believing, gifts of healings, workings of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, different kinds of languages (speaking in tongues), interpretation of tongues.

To manifest means to display. Spirit is not something that you can see of itself in the natural world. The way that spirit is seen is in displays, manifestations. The word of wisdom is being informed what to do about something. Word of knowledge is being informed by the spirit of some knowledge that isn’t available by natural means. Believing faith is the spiritual power to accomplish things spiritually. Gifts of healings are the spiritual ability to cause healing through means that aren’t natural, they’re supernatural. Miracles are when things happen supernaturally like walking on water, or drying up a fig tree. Discerning of spirits is the supernatural ability to ascertain the presence of spirit, either holy or unholy. Speaking in tongues is the ability to speak languages of men and of angels without training as a means of perfect communication with the father. And the interpretation of tongues is the supernatural ability to interpret what has been spoken in an unknown tongue.

If God is displayed to men in any way, it is by way of one or more of these manifestations by themselves or in combination. The manifestations themselves are a subject that needs a thorough investigation to understand.

If you are a believer, you may have already experienced some of these manifestations without being able to identify their names. I know people who have known God has told them something, and he did, and that was either a manifestation of word of knowledge and/or word of wisdom. Or in a circumstance perhaps, people have looked to God and have been miraculously delivered from something or given something. Their faith manifested the working of a miracle, they just didn’t know to explain it that way in scriptural terms.

So, wrapping this up, the Apostles taught that the church is one body. All believers are members together in this one body having been baptized in the spirit in their new birth and continued drinking in the spirit in the spiritual life. God has set people in this body. The analogy explains believers and their roles as eyes and ears and feet and so forth. But it also explains that God gives gifts, specific functions, and roles to believers as he sees fit. He has designed the body this way and that is how it works best. He designed the body to be built up by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. He empowers people as healers, miracle workers, leaders, aides, and a host of other functions. He empowers people with abilities of mercy, generosity, and other aids to the body. Each role or office is important and useful within the body. On top of all that, each believer is empowered with the manifestation of the spirit and while different believers may be more capable in different manifestations than others, all are profitable. We are warned to not think that if we don’t like our function that we are not of the body. But we are also encouraged to seek the best gifts to help the body.

The church operating as a body with all these gifts, services, workings, and manifestations are how original Christianity worked and is part of the apostles’ tradition that we are charged to follow.

God has always wanted to pour out his spirit upon all flesh. With Jesus’ death, he paid the price so that men can once again have spirit, and God has designed the church to be a body united spiritually that so that all the members minister to each other.  If you want to experience this and haven’t yet, these words in the Scriptures say that you can. If your church doesn’t look like this one-body model then look for one that is more like the biblical model.

The Word says that God is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.  Seek and you shall find.

03.25 The Great General Councils Begin for the Purpose of Doctoral Development and Other Issues

This is just an overview of the beginning of the movement in the church to have general councils without addressing how they compare to original Christianity.

325 AD marks the year of the beginning of this movement in the Church, the great General Councils of the church.  It marks Nicea I as the first general council since Jerusalem around 50 AD.

Interestingly, the eight general councils from Nicea I to Constantinople 3 are considered as a unit in the development of the church. The reason for this is because they are considered to be a series of meetings from which the essential Christian doctrine was developed. They are also considered to be a unit because, despite the decrees issued at each one, the issues being discussed were never fully resolved as new questions and issues arose with each decree. The task of these councils was to “hammer out in words the central mysteries of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, of the Trinity’s essence, and Mary’s relationship to Jesus as God and human being.”[1]

These councils are the story of how the above doctrines were decided, became so precisely defined,  and became so dominant.

The problem was that the precise nature of our Lord Jesus Christ was not agreed upon, and this lack of unity meant that there was not one church with one body of doctrine that the Empire could call Christianity.  The councils began with the mission to resolve that problem.  It was decided to develop the doctrine to decide on clear answers.

These first eight councils span about 355 years to resolve these issues above.  No matter how clear the decrees were from each Council obstacles arose after each one. In fact, some of the decrees were completely reversed, and even re-reversed. For example, after Arius was condemned as a heretic for not agreeing that Jesus was co-equal with the Father, there were groups that praised him as a hero, and his opponent, Athanasius, was exiled a number of times from his bishopric as these reversals happened.[2]

It is important to note that opposed to the first council at Jerusalem there were no prophets and apostles attending the General Councils as those offices were considered replaced by bishops in Catholic doctrine.  The emperor often convened the council while the Roman empire was in power.  Bishops presented theological arguments.  Theological concepts down to precise vocabulary were battled over until a precisely worded decree might be issued.   And if it was issued, it would also be declared that it was anathema to speak or even think against it.  Yet, the disputes continued, and decrees were even sometimes reversed.  That is the legacy of the first General Councils, especially in the first millennium.

It is important to note that this process was started by none other than Constantine the Emperor himself as he called the Empire’s bishops together at Nicea I where he led with a strong hand.  Whereas later canon law now dictates that only a Pope can convene a council, the Pope at that time, Sylvester 1, didn’t even attend the council although he did send representatives.  This set a precedent that continued at many of the councils in the first millennium. The head of the government, not the bishops, called and ran much of the councils. [3]

It must also be noted that Constantine by 325 A.D. was decidedly Christian, but it had been a slow process. As Emperor his concern was the unifying of the Empire and that included religious unification. Previously, it had been the policy where all gods (plural) were to be acceptable in the Empire. (Christianity was illegal because it didn’t allow for other gods.) There’s not a lot written about Constantine’s Christianity before 325 A.D. other than he appears to be have been making stormy progress towards Christianity. He’s described as “passionate, turbulent, and superstitious”, and he had professed allegiance to the sun God up until about 323 A.D, hardly making him an experienced Christian theological scholar.[4]

This new dynamic of Christian acceptance, however, was a radical departure from the first centuries of Roman rule where the Emperor and his government persecuted Christians.  And the result was that Christians were able to live their lives without persecution.  And that was celebrated.

Of particular note at Nicea I, is the use of a non-biblical Latin word, homosousias, in Athanasius’s statement defining the nature of our Lord. Homosousias means “of the same substance”. This word, not found in the Bible, was used to establish that Jesus is coequal with his Father and co-eternal with him.  Also, part of the logic given with that was that if only God could save human beings and Jesus isn’t God, then Jesus didn’t save human beings.  The finest theological minds in the empire presented their arguments, and a decision was made.  Anyone disagreeing at that point was declared a heretic.  The majority held that Athanasius was right. The very powerful emperor was impressed with Athanasius’ argument also.  Arius and the minority of bishops disagreeing with Athanasius were declared heretical.

Despite what is written in some historical accounts, Nicea I church fathers “had only said that they believed in the Holy Spirit, without applying any of the language used to describe the Father’s relationship with the Son to the Spirit.” So, no, the doctrine of the Trinity was not developed at Nicea. (It wouldn’t be until Constantinople I where they defined the Spirit as “proceeding forth from the Father, co-worshiped and co-glorified with the Father and Son.”[5])

Theological language, vocabulary, and logic were at the center of the issue.  Also, western bishops spoke mainly Latin while Eastern bishops spoke mainly Greek and there isn’t always a one-to-one correspondence in translation to boot.

Again, Nicea I didn’t really resolve the issue of who Christ was exactly. The Arian camp still had followers and started promoting the words “homoios” which means “like the father” and “homoi-ousios” also indicating Jesus was like the Father to combat the Athanasian term that was so well received.   Then, after Constantine, the empire was divided among his three sons. The sons allowed the exiled bishops to return. At one point, an Arian bishop, Gregory of Cappadocia, was installed in Alexandria in place of the now exiled Athanasius. This was quite the political quagmire because the empire was now divided under different emperors and the different factions were divided over the Arian controversy.[6]  From this, we see that this issue was so important and had to be decided, as far as the Empire was concerned, because the dispute was part of what was destabilizing the Empire.

As a result, the next council, Constantinople I, picked right up again on the controversy.  One major effort of that council was to reestablish the Nicene creed as the official creed of the church.  According to Belitto, the concept of the holy spirit was advanced closer to the concept of “Homo-ousios”, of one substance with the father, but was not identified at that point as on the level of the Father and the Son.[7]

Walker in his work describes the issue as intellectual with the ultimate Nicene victory as an “intellectual victory.”[8]

The next council was at Ephesus. After Constantinople I, the Bishop of Constantinople, Nestorius tried to reconcile the resulting questions of how the human and divine natures worked. After all, now Jesus is both God and man. And how does that work with his mother, Mary? Nestorius said that Mary was the mother of the human Jesus, but not the mother of God. Cyril of Alexandria disputed that view saying that made Mary only the mother of half a person. The Council at Ephesus condemned Nestorius calling him “a new Judas”.

Cyril had made his proclamation, however, without any of the Eastern bishops or the Pope’s delegates attending.  The Eastern bishops turned around and condemned Cyril.  Then the Pope’s delegates came and nullified both councils with their proclamations.

Negotiations continued over the next two years. The result of the negotiations was a proclamation condemning Nestorius again. In the proclamation, Mary was for the first time recognized as the “theotokos”, the mother of God as Jesus’ divine nature and human nature still only represented one person.

Statement by statement these doctrines were developed.  For example, the proclamation also declared that it was Jesus’ human nature that suffered, but that his divine nature could not suffer.   And the Ephesus Council developed the concept of the “hypostatic union” by which Jesus is human and divine natures were fused into one person.[9]

Look at this carefully worded result:

“… We do not say that the nature of the word was changed and became flesh, nor that he was turned into a whole man made of body and soul. Rather do we claim that the Word in an unspeakable, inconceivable manner united to himself hypostatically flesh enlivened by a rational soul, and so became man and was called son of man, not by God’s will alone or good pleasure, nor by the assumption of a person alone. Rather did two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son. It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by this union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvelously and mysteriously combining to form a unity.”[10]

The Council of Chalcedon in 451AD further refined the delicately worded concepts of who Christ is in his humanity and divinity.

“… We all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the Virgin God bearer, as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, acknowledged into natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the two natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person in a single subsistent being; he is not parted were divided into two persons, but is one in the same only begotten son, God, word, or Jesus Christ…”[11]

And as other councils the Chalcedon Council participants thought that their work was done, and issued a statement like other councils that it was forbidden to even think other than what the council declared:

“Since we have formulated these things with all possible accuracy and attention, the sacred and universal synod decreed that no one is permitted to produce, or even to write down or compose, any other creed or to think or to teach otherwise.”[12]

The next council really shows a lot of how integrated politics, government, and church doctrine were in these days of the church councils. The Council of Constantinople II was called by Emperor Justinian. Amazingly, Justinian’s wife, Empress Theodora, had favored Monophysitism, and even helped get the Vigilius elected pope in hopes of reversing Chalcedon!  Monophysitism is one of the doctrines that had been labeled a heresy in these discussions in previous councils. It basically states that Jesus just really just had a divine nature, but there was still a strong contingent for it.   Again, the emperor, not the pope, convened the council. Again, the pope did not attend, and Justinian reconfirmed the previous doctrine of the hypostatic union of two natures in one person.  Also, numerous condemnations were issued about both people and doctrines.  But the pope refused to comply!  This initiated a standoff between the Emperor and the Pope.  As usual, the emperor prevailed and the pope backed down.

The issues evolved but the councils continued in a similar fashion. There were a lot of politics as especially in the first millennium the emperor often ran the Council which consisted of a lot of hammering out concepts not precisely defined in the scripture down to precisely defining the meaning of words. With those decrees came more decrees that if you didn’t agree with them, you became a heretic. This shows the workings of the Churches’ development of doctrine through the Councils for many centuries. There are 21 General Councils overall and this brief overview shows the nature of them, especially of the first millennium.  General Councils have continued in the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican II in 1965.

More will be covered on this movement in future articles,

[1] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, Christopher M Bellitto, Paulist Press, New York, 2002, P. 15

[2] Ibid, p. 19

[3] Ibid, p.18

[4] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, P. 484

[5] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, p.21

[6] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959. P.113-114

[7] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, p.21

[8] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, P.117

[9] THE GENERAL COUNCILS, p.23

[10] ibid., P. 24

[11] Ibid, p.26

[12] Ibid

T 18.1 The Prohibition Tradition in Some Modern Churches

Today’s topic is an emotionally charged one.  Many of us know or have known people who have been affected by the destructive power of the overuse of alcohol. God forbid that you know someone who has killed someone while driving drunk, or lost their house, job, and/or marriage because of the inability to overcome the lure of drinking to the point that some people do. Or just the poor decisions or poor health that can happen due to forming a dependence on alcohol.

Or perhaps you have been ingrained with the doctrine that any use of alcohol is sin, to the point where you have not only committed yourself to not using it, but also to be one preaching against all alcohol use.

I’m going to ask you to just consider these words. We are interested in learning and adhering to the word and will of God. What is God’s viewpoint, and direction on this important matter?

Remember we are comparing modern traditions with the apostles’ traditions in original Christianity which we are charged to do in Scripture (2Th 2:15). The Apostles’ traditions are both the beliefs and practices handed down by the apostles.  And, in fact, 2Thessalonians 3:6 says to avoid the fellowship of those who don’t follow the apostles’ traditions. Jesus taught that the traditions of men, including religious ones, make void the word of God. (Matt 15:3-6)

We are going to look at the ban on alcohol which is part of some churches’ traditions today and see whether it is apostles’ tradition or man’s tradition.

The doctrine of prohibition, the banning of alcohol, in the churches is relatively new. In fact, in the United States, the Temperance movement was established in the early nineteenth century when it picked up enough support from evangelical preachers who started preaching that any alcohol drinking was sinful[1]. This is despite the fact that there is a long history in the Scriptures that show the acceptance of alcoholic beverages from ancient days through the book of Acts.

The Law definitely supports the use of alcoholic spirits.

You shall trade the money for whatever your soul desires, for cattle, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul asks of you; and you shall eat there before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. (Deu 14:26 WEB)

This verse endorses that it is acceptable to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages, in this case as part of the tithe.

The word for wine above is yayin in Hebrew, H3196 in Strongs, and has the root of effervesce as in fermented.  Strong drink is shekar in Hebrew, H7941 and means intoxicant.  There is another Hebrew word for wine, tiyrosh, which means new wine, which was not the mature wine that yayin is. In this article we will be talking about yayin and shekar .

Strong drink always refers to alcoholic beverages, and yayin wine is an intoxicating beverage.  With this verse in the law establishing fermented wine as acceptable as tithe along with what the words for wine and strong drink mean we see that there is no question that alcoholic beverages are what is being discussed here.  Next, look at this in the New Testament.

And be not drunk with wine, in which is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;  (Eph 5:18 Webster)

This is an instruction by the Apostle Paul which certainly qualifies as part of the apostles’ tradition.  It sets a standard for drinking alcohol.   The word drunk is methusko, G3182, and means intoxicated or impaired, and this is reinforced with the word excess, asotia, G810, which means profligacy, excess, or riot.  Drinking a glass of wine is moderate, drinking a whole bottle of wine is excessive or riotous.  This verse is not a ban on all drinking, rather it is a warning to not drink excessively to the point of not being clear headed enough to follow the spirit.  The phrase “in which is excess” clearly draws a line between acceptable moderate drinking and unacceptable drunkenness, and makes this the central issue in the verse.

Paul advised Timothy to drink wine moderately.

Be no longer a drinker of water only, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities. (1Ti 5:23 WEB)

This verse not only lists wine as an acceptable thing to drink, but as a recommended practice in certain circumstances.  The next set of verses is about Jesus’s first miracle as described in the Gospel of John.

The third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the marriage. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it.” Now there were six water pots of stone set there after the Jews’ way of purifying, containing two or three metretes apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” They filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast.” So they took it. When the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and didn’t know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast called the bridegroom, and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now!” This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Joh 2:1-11 WEB)

Wine was part of celebrations worldwide thousands of years before Christ.  We mentioned Deuteronomy 14:26 above, but the truth is that wine as part of celebrations is a theme in the Old testament. Wine is part of the celebration of the conquering of death. Wine is part of the communion memorial.  Notice the next verse says choice wines. That is not grape juice, ladies and gentlemen. That is choice, fermented, wine.

This next verse is a proclamation of a feast by Yahweh, and it includes choice wines.  Surely you are not saying Yahweh is sinning here by serving yayin, intoxicating wine?

In this mountain, Yahweh of Armies will make all peoples a feast of choice meat, a feast of choice wines, of choice meat full of marrow, of well refined choice wines. (Isa 25:6 WEB)

After the book of Acts, there is a long history of acceptance of alcoholic beverages including Christians, ministers, and churches all not only consuming alcoholic beverages but making them.

In the second century, Clement of Alexandria affirmed the use of alcohol in the church then with these words in his book Paedagogus:

“And he bound, it is said, the colt to the vine, having bound this simple and childlike people to the word, whom He figuratively represents as a vine. For the vine produces wine, as the Word produces blood, and both drink for health to men — wine for the body, blood for the spirit.[2]

Brett McCracken documents the use of alcohol by Christians throughout the ages including at ministry functions like ordinations[3].

In fact, at a relatively recent Southern Baptist Convention, the topic of allowing alcohol was brought up again with some people on the side of no longer banning alcohol consumption. And things that were brought up included the fact that it was a Baptist minister named Elijah Craig that invented bourbon whiskey[4].

Drinking of alcoholic beverages was not forbidden for 18 centuries after Christ.  Look at this quote acknowledging that from an anti-alcohol book:

“ In the 17th century all Old England and New England drank. The Puritans were no exception. Puritans’ soldiers drank heavily. Farmers, doctors, laborers, lawyers, magistrates, ministers, mothers, selectmen, governors, judges, babies, the sad, the gay, the well, the sick – all drank.”

This quote is from a 1943 book put out by the Southern Baptist convention against drinking.[5]

What the above timeline establishes is that the doctrine of drinking alcohol is sinful is a modern doctrine and not one that traces back to the apostles.  In the 19th century, a movement started to counter the damaging effects of the excessive consumption of alcohol. That movement was called the temperance movement. And eventually, laws were enacted to ban alcohol from society. Those laws were called prohibition.  This movement really got traction when it was adopted by some churches.

It’s not that the bible doesn’t warn against the dangers of overconsumption.

The Lord has sent among them a spirit of error: and by them Egypt is turned out of the right way in all her doings, as a man overcome by wine is uncertain in his steps. And in Egypt there will be no work for any man, head or tail, high or low, to do.  (Isa 19:14-15 BBE)

This verse above clearly describes the state of being overcome with wine as being uncertain in your steps.  Or how about this one?

They made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father. He didn’t know when she lay down, nor when she arose.  (Gen 19:33 WEB)

Lot’s daughters got their father so drunk he didn’t know he was having intercourse with them?  Now, who says wine in the bible isn’t that alcoholic?  This next verse equates drunkenness with ruination.

Do not get drunk with wine, which will only ruin you; instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18 GNB)

There are many more verses that pronounce the dangers of drunkenness.  Here’s one:

Those who stay long at the wine; those who go to seek out mixed wine. Don’t look at the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. In the end, it bites like a snake, and poisons like a viper. (Pro 23:30-32 WEB)

“Those who stay long at the wine” refers to overindulging and the effect is likened to being bit and poisoned.  Next, here’s one that includes what effect drunkenness has on the ministers and prophets.

They also reel with wine, and stagger with strong drink. The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink. They are swallowed up by wine. They stagger with strong drink. They err in vision. They stumble in judgment.  (Isa 28:7 WEB)

Drunkenness blocks the spiritual connection with Yahweh.  Drunk prophets err in vision. Drunk ministers stumble in judgment.

But it is twisting scripture to turn a scriptural ban on drunkenness into a ban on drinking in moderate amounts.  For example, the Alcohol THE DESTROYER book cites this verse as a denunciation by Habakkuk on all drinking[6]:

“Woe to him who gives his neighbor drink, pouring your inflaming wine until they are drunk, so that you may gaze at their naked bodies! You are filled with shame, and not glory. You will also drink, and be exposed! The cup of Yahweh’s right hand will come around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. (Hab 2:15-16 WEB)

Context, context, context!  Yes, there are people that get other people to drink to the point where they will agree to have sex with them, and that is clearly a maneuver of the adversary. It is wrong and no one disputes that. Alcohol overindulgence is a major problem and we can never forget that.

But every Presbyterian or Methodist sipping a glass of wine at home or at a restaurant is not pouring wine down their neighbor’s throat to see them naked!  Habbakuk 2:15-16 are verses against overindulgence, not against moderate use of alcohol.  But it is twisted in the prohibition literature to make it look like it is saying something it is not.  And so are a lot of verses.

Yes, there are many verses on the dangers of overconsumption. Shouldn’t all those warnings be the overriding factor?

In civil law here in the United States, decisions are based upon the preponderance of the evidence weighing more heavily on one side or the other.  Both sides present their cases and the judge or jury decides who will win.  Sometimes I think that some people think that the word of God is like that, especially in cases like this.  If someone can present more verses that point to the dangers of something, in this case, drinking alcohol, than verses that can be found allowing for alcohol consumption then the alcohol banning folk should win their case, according to that logic.   But the word of God is not like that.  If there are verses that allow something under certain circumstances, then even if there are more verses against overconsumption of alcohol, they will never be sufficient to overrule the sanctioned use of alcohol in the word of God

So again, as stated above, the moderate use of alcohol is something sanctioned by the Father.  The moderate use of alcohol is allowed with many warnings against overindulgence given.

Remember the two sources of wisdom; the wisdom from above, and the wisdom of the world, ultimately from the adversary. If God the Father gives us something to enjoy then denying people that enjoyment goes against the purposes of God even if there is a problem with overconsumption. The correct response to the overconsumption of alcohol is to stop over-consuming, not to ban it.

That is not to say that some individuals don’t need to stop themselves from drinking, at least in the short term, and possibly long-term.  So I’m not saying that people in AA shouldn’t be in AA or going to counseling.  Some people need programs to stop the destruction that alcohol can cause when people lose control. But, making laws that ban alcohol, in general, is a man-made doctrine in the tradition of men.  And the people twisting scripture to say that the biblical standard is to ban alcohol make void the Word of God.

Remember this too. It may be okay for you to drink, but if you are with someone who has a problem with alcohol, then you don’t want to be a source of temptation for that person.  As Paul wrote, all things are lawful for us, but not all things are expedient. We don’t want our liberty to be a stumbling block for someone who is weak. (Romans 14:21)

Here are some anti-alcohol teaching statements in the anti-alcohol tradition taught that make void the word of God:

“The Bible gives principles of Christian living, not rules.… If Christ were in our midst today, there can be no doubt in the light of truth that he would utterly condemn the liquor traffic and oppose the drinking of alcoholic beverages on the part of his followers.”[7]

This is nowhere taught or practiced by the Apostles.  Jesus not would not condemn the drinking of alcohol.  He is going to be at the Yahweh for armies party with wine.  He ate and drank while he was here!

“One who opens the door to physical indulgences such as drink closes his ears to the voice of his finer sensibilities.”

The context of this statement is not the overindulgence of drink, it is regarding any drinking of alcohol whatsoever, contrary to what the bible teaches.  While having a lot of wine impairs judgement, having a little wine does not close someone’s ears to their sensibilities, or else Jesus would not have drank (Luke 5:27-32).

“Beverage alcohol is the foe of spiritual living and the destroyer of everything dear to the heart of my Lord.”[8]

This statement is part of a Baptist pledge. This statement goes way beyond preaching against the dangers of overindulgence while allowing for the temperate use of alcohol that the Bible teaches. I’ll agree that alcoholism is a foe, and can work to destroy people, but statements like this twist the Scriptures into what looks like an attempt to manipulate people away from any use of alcohol at all.  Jesus told us that the truth sets us free, but unfortunately, this isn’t it.  The scriptural standard is not to avoid alcohol or you are a lost sinner. That standard makes the Lutheran and Episcopalian having a glass of wine or beer an unbeliever or at the very least a lost Christian. Having a glass of wine does not destroy everything dear to the heart of the Lord.

Here are more scriptures that show moderate alcohol use as part of God’s wisdom.  Wine was acceptable as part of the drink offering instituted by the Lord.

and for the drink offering you shall offer the third part of a hin of wine, of a pleasant aroma to Yahweh.  (Num 15:7 WEB)

The word for wine there is the word yayin in Hebrew, meaning fermented drink. We know that yayin was intoxicating because the first time yayin was used the person got drunk from drinking it.

He drank of the wine and got drunk. (Gen 9:21a WEB)

We’re not talking about grape juice here.  He got drunk from it!  Again, the wine talked about in these verses is intoxicating!  Intoxicating wine is in this next verse:

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, and one ephah of meal, and a container of wine, and brought him to Yahweh’s house in Shiloh. The child was young. (1Sa 1:24 WEB)

These verses show where intoxicating wine was part of the offering that Yahweh told his people to offer, and thus wine was included in offerings to the Lord.  If God calls something acceptable and pleasant who are men to say otherwise?

Or is the Lord compared to a sinner in this verse?

Then the Lord awakened as one out of sleep, like a mighty man who shouts by reason of wine. (Psa 78:65 WEB)

No, this is a favorable comparison where the Lord was awakened with the force like someone shouting with wine.  Or look at these verses that include wine as one of the blessings of the Father who created us.  Psalm 104 is a litany on the blessings of the Lord and wine is listed in the long list of favors Yahweh has granted:

He sends springs into the valleys. They run among the mountains. They give drink to every animal of the field. The wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the sky nest by them. They sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his rooms. The earth is filled with the fruit of your works. He causes the grass to grow for the livestock, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may produce food out of the earth: wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face to shine, and bread that strengthens man’s heart. Yahweh’s trees are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon, which he has planted; (Psa 104:10-16 WEB)

“Wine that makes glad the heart of man” is listed with animals drinking freely from springs in valleys and on mountains, the grass growing for livestock to feed upon, oil to make a man’s face shine, and bread to strengthen a man’s heart as great blessings from the Lord!  And there are many more blessings listed in this psalm for which the psalmist praises the Lord.

“Wine that makes glad the heart of man” is a blessing from the Lord, so says the psalmist, and calling all alcohol use sinful makes that verse wrong!  Again, wine there is yayin in Hebrew, intoxicating drink!  Wine, intoxicating drink, was given to make glad the heart of man?  Saying otherwise is nullifying the word of God.

Or are you going to throw out this wisdom?

Give strong drink to him who is ready to perish; and wine to the bitter in soul: (Pro 31:6 WEB)

This verse says a little wine to ease bitterness or ease someone who is suffering or dying is a good thing.  Saying otherwise nullifies the word of God!

Or is this actually a good thing that Yahweh does in this verse when it is prophesied that wine will stop being produced for these people?  Remember, this is supposed to be something bad happening because these people were not following the Lord.

Gladness is taken away, and joy out of the fruitful field; and in the vineyards there will be no singing, neither joyful noise. Nobody will tread out wine in the presses. I have made the shouting stop. (Isa 16:10 WEB)

The same thing is seen here.

The earth also is polluted under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell therein are found guilty. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left. The new wine mourns. The vine languishes. All the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of tambourines ceases. The sound of those who rejoice ends. The joy of the harp ceases. They will not drink wine with a song. Strong drink will be bitter to those who drink it. (Isa 24:5-9 WEB)

These sections are talking about being cursed, the opposite of being blessed by the Lord. So, these people are cursed (v. 6).  Part of the curse is that singing and celebrating has stopped.  “They will not drink wine with a song” is presented as something that shows the blessing of God is stopped.  But if intoxicating wine use is sinful then how are they cursed?  The answer is that they are cursed and part of the curse is that they no longer drink wine with a song!  Drinking wine with a song, having a heart made glad with wine, having bitterness eased with wine is part of the word of God and preaching against any alcohol use makes that word of God void!

Also, while there are many secular articles on the destructive nature of alcohol abuse, there are some on the beneficial nature of moderate drinking, including links to improved cardiovascular health, improved diabetes management, improved digestion and general wellbeing[9]. The article cited gives some details on the many factors of alcohol consumption.

It’s key to note that scripture says the traditions of men make void the word of God. It doesn’t matter how bad the problem, or how noble the intentions are.  It is also key that statements of faith affirming the primacy of scripture do not guarantee that the teaching the church is following is the rightly divided, actual word of God.  This is one of many examples where scripture is twisted to the point where the actual word of God is nullified.

The ban on all alcohol by certain traditions is no different than the Jewish leaders in Jesus’s time creating bans and laws that work against the word of God. An example is the Sabbath being given as a day of rest. In the law, there were details given to further define work like not starting any fires.  And exceptions were listed like pulling oxen out of ditches they might have fallen into.  But the religious leaders overreacted and tried to make any action into an act of work. So, we all know how the Jews accused Jesus of not honoring the Sabbath when he healed people on the Sabbath.  Likewise, the anti-alcohol crowd is over reacting and going way beyond scripture with their reasoning in making any alcohol use a sin.

The ban on all alcohol is an overreaction. It is not godly. The teaching around it makes the word of God void.  That makes it a false doctrine according to the standard of original Christianity, the apostles’ tradition, and it needs to be proclaimed as such.

In this mountain, Yahweh of Armies will make all peoples a feast of choice meat, a feast of choice wines, of choice meat full of marrow, of well refined choice wines. (Isa 25:6 WEB)

Further Reading:

THE BIBLE AND THE QUESTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, Kenneth L Gentry Jr available at https://intoxicatedonlifedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/ctrgentryformatted.pdf  This looks like an early version of some of the material in the book in the next line.

GOD Gave Wine, What the Bible says about Alcohol, Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Victorious Hope Publishing, Fountain Inn, South Carolina, third printing, 2015

[1] https://law.jrank.org/pages/10714/Temperance-Movement.html#:~:text=The%20TEMPERANCE%20MOVEMENT%20in%20the,drinking%20alcohol%20as%20a%20sin.

[2] The Paedagogus (Book I) at https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02091.htm

[3] CHRISTIANS AND ALCOHOL: A TIMELINE at https://www.brettmccracken.com/blog/blog/2013/07/17/christians-and-alcohol-a-timeline

[4] Baptist history on alcohol: not totally teetotaling – Baptist News Global

[5] Alcohol – THE DESTROYER, C Aubrey Hearn, Convention Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1943, P. 3

[6] Alcohol – THE DESTROYER, C Aubrey Hearn, Convention Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1943, P. 16

[7] Alcohol – THE DESTROYER, C Aubrey Hearn, Convention Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1943, P. 17

[8] ibid., P. 123

[9]  Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

 


Biblical references are from the ASV version unless otherwise noted.
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