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…”

03.25.1 The Great Councils Continued, Finishing the Development of Trinitarian Doctrine and Related Issues; Over 500 Years of Debate on the Nature of Christ and the Trinity

This article does not include a comparison to original Christianity in the matters discussed.  It presents what happened in these matters along with occasionally reporting what the writers of these histories deemed important for our understanding.  Remember the point of this website is to see how different doctrines developed over time, and how they compare to original Christianity in order to understand how we got so many divisions and what we must do to restore the church. This article continues to look at how the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as the Mother of God became part of Christianity.  Later articles will discuss how these concepts align with the tradition of the apostles in original Christianity.  The goal here is for the reader to be able to review the historical material and start evaluating for themselves whether God ordained each of the decisions and decrees.  One of the questions of this website is where did the seeds for all this division come from?  What patterns of thinking allow for all the division we have in the church?

Remember, that by the time of Nicea I a major shift had occurred where Christianity was now being discussed much more philosophically and intellectually than in New Testament times. (See Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?) The previous article on this topic talks about how the previous councils had debated these issues to this point. In the seventh century, the issues of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity were still not totally resolved.

So, accordingly, in the seventh century, a group called the Monothyletists held that Jesus’ will was a single will, a merger of Jesus’ human nature with his divine nature.  However, this was at odds with this more dominant ideology (called Dyothelitism) that Jesus had two wills, both a human will and a divine will that was needed to make sense of the Trinity.  That prevailing ideology eventually won the day and it was declared that Jesus had two wills, a human will, and a divine will.  Constantinople III declared just that. Part of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity is that Jesus had both a human will and a divine will. The sixth Great Council and the final one on the development of Trinitarian doctrine (with some exceptions) was Constantinople III in 680 AD.

The issue is named Monothelitism, a fancy word meaning “one will”.  The question was how many wills did Jesus Christ have? You or I may only have one will but as far as Jesus Christ is concerned there was a great debate.

The Bible doesn’t say much about Jesus’ will except for this verse.:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (Joh 6:38 WEB)

That is the only reference to Jesus’ will. It talks about one will. So, there is no biblical teaching that says Jesus had two wills.

Ligonier.org says that this Dyothelytism doctrine was simply derived this way.  Jesus had two natures, ergo he must have two wills.[1] Another site writes:

Brilliant theologians of that time understood the great importance to theology that Jesus possesses two wills, one divine and one human, since he is truly God and truly human. All branches of Christianity have embraced this doctrine as important and orthodox theology.[2]

No biblical exegesis there, just a statement that brilliant theologians understood it so it must be so. See the acknowledgment that this doctrine was created purely because it was needed to make the Trinity work.  And there is that claim that this is universally accepted so it must be true. (It may be universally accepted among Trinitarians. Unitarians and Bitarians may differ.)

Basically, what it boils down to is this concerning the Trinity:  If Jesus was God then he had to have the will of God.  Here’s the conundrum: if Jesus only has one will and if Jesus is God and if God cannot be tempted and Jesus was tempted, then there is a contradiction as Jesus had to have the will of God.  So Jesus also had to also have a human will that could be tempted. The website explains, “the two-wills model (Dyothelitism) is more accurate to the biblical and theological evidence for the incarnation.”  So, it comes down to the two wills model is the one that fits with the Trinity even if there is no scriptural support.

As there is no scriptural record of Jesus having two wills and no discussion of his will being any different than other person’s will in scripture this is another extrabiblical element of the Trinity.  It is an example of inductive logic being used to explain scripture in light of the a priori assumption of a Triune God with Jesus being God the Son, and thus explaining how his will must work to fit with what scripture says about him.

Does it fit with good hermeneutics?  It’s another exception. It certainly is different than the way “will” is used in all the other places.  “Will” in the verse is the Greek word thelema (Strong’s G2307) which means choice, decision, will and is derived from G2309, meaning determination. By this doctrine, Jesus having two wills is the only case in the bible of a person having two wills.

As an aside it must be noted that the word “will” is used in English translations many times in the sense of something happening in the future, i. e., will sue, will forgive, will profess but the word is produced in the English because it indicates future action (tense).  Those verses do not have the corresponding Greek word.

But, in talking about Jesus’ will, it is only talked about one time and it is in the singular. So, it is unique to the Trinity to have two wills in one person in Scripture

Not that everyone had been in unison on this or any of the issues. Throughout the centuries Popes and bishops were condemned for taking the wrong side. Part of the findings of Constantinople III was the condemnation of a prior pope, Honorius I, for believing Jesus had just one will, the current issue, just as the council at Ephesus condemned Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, and Nicea 1 condemned Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea and many other bishops including Lucian of Antioch and Paul of Samosata over issues that were ruled against them.[3]

According to Belitto in The General Councils Monothelitism was the last great issue that needed to be developed in order for the church to have an adequate understanding of the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary’s standing as the Mother of God. According to him, it took six Great councils, numerous local synods, and councils, and at least 355 years of councils to develop these doctrines to the true apostolic faith.

So, in review, we’re going to look at what is known as the Chalcedon Definition which encapsulates definitions decreed in the previous general councils concerning these doctrines that are relegated to the highest importance in the church.

“Following, then the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in his humanity, in every way you like us, with the only exception of sin, begotten of the Father before all time in his divinity, and also begotten in the latter days, in his humanity, of Mary the Virgin bearer of God.

This is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division, or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary, the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person and hypostasis. They are not divided into two persons, but belong to the one Only-begotten Son, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

All this, as the prophets of old said of him, and he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.

This definition is an amalgamation of decrees ironed out in the councils at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.

Of course, those are the general councils, and it would be remiss to not mention that between the general councils were numerous synods and smaller councils that were also working on these very issues over these hundreds of years. In the case of Constantinople III Pope Agatho first called for local synods to address the issue.  Two known local synods were Milan and England. The findings of those synods were discussed in a Roman synod. Then the Pope consulted with Emperor Constantine IV and General Council Constantinople III was convened.[4]

That is a lot of people talking in a lot of meetings over a lot of years to iron out that short statement.

For insight on how some historians view these developments I’m going to quote Justo L Gonzalez. Gonzalez in his book, The Story of Christianity, acknowledges that the goal of these decrees was not purely biblical, rather, in setting the limits for what these doctrines teach they discuss things outside the realm of biblical thinking. First, he writes:

 “It will be readily seen that this Definition does not seek to “define” the union in the sense of explaining how it took place, but rather in the sense of setting the limits beyond which error lies. Thus, it rejected the notion that the union destroyed “the difference of the two natures” and also the view that the Savior is “divided into two persons” – thus rejecting the most extreme Alexandrian and Antiochene positions.”

Gonzalez acknowledges the extrabiblical nature of the decrees.  Extrabiblical refers to things outside the Bible. ApologeticsIndex.org defines extrabiblical as “Information or content outside the Bible. Thus, any form of knowledge or experience which gives us information concerning God, His Work or His Will, which is not directly quoted in scripture.”[5] Gonzalez is clear that this manner of speech, the way things were spelled out by the Councils, was far different from the scriptures.

Gonzalez here, as do others,  acknowledges that these decrees go outside the pure framework of Scripture. The Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as God’s mother were generated with extra-biblical patterns of thought, mainly philosophy, and were the result of many years of intellectual, theological debate.

“But, given the manner in which the issue was posed, it is difficult to see what else the bishops gathered at Chalcedon could have done in order to safeguard the reality of the incarnation.”[6]

This statement nevertheless defends the methods used to arrive at these decrees as one of necessity. The implication is that these doctrines are too important to be limited by the Bible.  These doctrines, the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Theotokos, are too important to be restricted to biblical thinking only.   In the common vernacular Gonzalez is saying that the end justified the means.

And, at least among the religious elite, these decrees became new scripture.  In fact, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]

Next, for more context, we are going to look at the development of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity prior to the councils because these issues didn’t just pop up around 325 AD.

Williston Walker in A History of the Christian Church describes the process of resolving the issues of the deity of Christ and the Trinity as one of a long intellectual development and debate among various people and groups starting with Hermas around 140 AD and then Tertullian around 195 AD.  Tertullian first talked about three persons in one Godhead distributing the unity into a Trinity.[7] But, prior to Tertullian, adoptionist Christology (Jesus as an adopted son) was solely dominant as late as 140 Ad with Hermas.[8]  At that time a Trinity meant three Gods.

About the same time the Montanists embracing of the gospel of John and the doctrine of the Logos as an out pouring of Spirit saw an opposite reaction from the group called Monarchians (rejecting the Logos as God maintaining the One God single personhood of the Father.).

That sprung up two group viewpoints; dynamic Monarchianism and modalistic Monarchianism.  Dynamic Monarchianism was more popular in the East.  Paul of Samosata was a famous representative of this.  He described the Logos as the Son of God, but also an impersonal attribute of the Father.  No Trinity there, in his view.  Eventually, Paul of the Samosata was ex-communicated for his views.

An overall more numerous group than the dynamic Monarchians was the Modalistic Monarchian group.  Their perspective was that with all the pagan gods competing in the religious marketplace it was of primary importance to emphasize the unity of God. Noetus, an example of the Modalistic Monarchians, taught that the Son was actually the Father himself, and it was, in fact, the Father who was born as Jesus, suffered and died on the cross.[9]

A very famous member of this group, Sabellius, taught that the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit were just three names of the same God. Sabellius was pretty much flatly rejected in Rome but found a following in the East.  This belief came to be known as Sabellianism.

Of course, the losing side in these debates was labeled heresy, and their proponents were called heretics, and as a result, they suffered in various forms including removal from their positions.

Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. was one of the first to teach what is called the Logos Christology. In the Logos Christology Jesus Christ always existed, but before his actual birth, he existed in the mind of God. (Jesus was not co-eternal at that time.) Hippolytus, around the beginning of the third century A.D. was a great advocate of the Logos Christology and a great opponent of the Monarchians, both kinds, in this intellectual battle. Justin Martyr is assumed to have died a martyr, and his successor, Kallistos, tried to find a compromise to Justin’s ideas and continue his work. His compromise was to call Father, Son, and Logos all just names of one indivisible God. According to him, the Father is invisible, the Son is visible, while the Father is the Spirit in the Son.[10] A side effect of this stance is that while previously the Logos was considered starting with Jesus’s birth, now the Logos was considered eternal. Here we have the switch from a beginning for the Logos to being co-eternal with no beginning.

Kallistos’ Christology was “a compromise which recognized a preexistent Logos in Christ, even if it identified that Logos with the Father; it insisted on the identity of that which indwelt Jesus with God; and it claimed the human Jesus, raised to divinity by the Father, and made one with him, thus really showing a distinction between the Father and the Son, while denying in words that one exists.” This compromise was taken by Tertulllian, further refined, and called the Trinity in his treatise called Against Praxeas.

What we see with all of this is one viewpoint after another trying to exactly understand  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considering the concepts of John chapter 1 with other verses that talk about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This debate allowed for extra-biblical content, and the use of philosophy to come to conclusions.  And as we are seeing, there were many competing viewpoints in a heated debate over the centuries.

While Catholic theologians depict the 355 years between Nicea I and Constantinople III as the period of development of the doctrines of the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Theotokos, what we’re seeing is that the debate actually started almost 2 centuries before Nicea I. The change from Jesus being considered a man, the only begotten son of God with a beginning, to Jesus being considered God the Son, co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit with two natures and two wills took about five and a half centuries of debate and decrees. And it was quite a debate.

Along the way it was confounding, it was confusing, and it left a lot of Christians, including bishops and popes, wondering which side to take. For example, let’s look at the period around Hippolytus, circa 200 AD.  Hippolytus was considered the most learned Christian writer in Rome of his day. He was a “commentator, chronicler, calculator of Easter dates, apologists, and opponent of heretics”[11]. Notice the intellectual capacities that are being praised there with no mention of the Spirit. This was an intellectual debate among the finest thinkers in the church. Hippolytus did not agree with either of the Monarchian schools of thought and was at the forefront of a hotly waged battle over these ideas. Bishop Zephyrinus, Pope at the beginning of the third century, according to Walker, “hardly knew what to do, although he leaned toward the Monarchian side”.  So, the Pope around 200 AD hardly knew what to believe.  The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, a learned man, was unable to make a decision on the matter, it was so confusing.

Further developments kept coming for Kallistos’ compromise of Christological concepts. Novation around 240 A.D. wrote the treatise Trinity in Latin but it was little more than Tertullian’s concept although he did present it as the “only normal and legitimate interpretation of the apostles’ Creed.[12] Novation also used the terminology “communion of substance” describing the relationship between the Father. and the Son. So, centuries after Christ’s death we see the introduction of the idea “of the same substance” which played a key role at Nicea.

Gradually over this long period of time, a cohesive opinion among the elite thinkers and church leaders came into being. It’s important to recognize that it was cohesive but not universally accepted, or even in the majority. The majority of Christians at this time were Unitarian, not Trinitarian.[13]   Thus, Walker documents this intellectual debate going on for over a century and a half before Nicea. But, by the time Nicea comes around, there is this cohesive theological compromise with a lot of the details of the Nicene Creed. Jesus is of one substance with the Father.  As the Logos Jesus is coeternal with the Father.  The groundwork had been done for a  doctrine to be named to end the debate despite intense, fiery, intellectual debate going on for nearly two centuries before Nicea I.

Nevertheless, despite what appears to be a dominant pro-Trinity ideology, in reality, Trinitarians were far outnumbered by Unitarians at the start of the third century.  The Unitarians (God as one person) were numbered among mainly two groups, the Adoptionists, and the Modalists.  And people on both sides of the disagreement looked to different philosophies for support.  The Adoptionists used Aristotelian philosophy for support, the Modalists looked to Stoic philosophy while the Trinitarians used Plato’s philosophy. Still, the Unitarians had a large majority.[13]  This is documentation that Greek philosophy was instrumental in the formulation of these doctrines.

Next, we will look at the role of Emperor Constantine in this matter.  You can’t talk about the Council of Nicaea without talking about the man who convened the Council, Constantine the Great, and both his religious and political machinations. The beginning of the fourth century A.D. marks a groundbreaking time in the history of Christianity. In the latter half of the third century the number of Christians had continued to grow and efforts to eradicate the faith through persecutions, while popping up, had proven futile in the Empire.

However. in the year 303 AD the terrible persecution by Emperor Diocletian happened. Terror reigned for Christians. There was imprisonment, torture, and killing. The tombs of martyrs were desecrated. Books were burned. Churches were destroyed. And it wasn’t over shortly. After Diocletian left office in 305, Galerius and his nephew Maximinus continued this reign of terror until 311.

Then Galerius, before his agonizing death, issued an edict of eliminating the requirement for Christians to worship Roman gods. What all this did was remind the Christians that they were just a small group whose legal standing was iffy depending on the emperor.

But that all changed with the appearance of Constantine the Great. A great commander he was able to unify the Empire by winning the Civil War that ensued when Constantius died in 306. Before defeating Maxentius Constantine had a dream to paint the Christian symbol, chi-rho, in one version of the story, and in another version of the story Constantine’s troops saw a great cross in the sky before the battle. From that point on Christians had an advocate who was at the top of the Roman Empire, the actual Emperor, and everything changed.[14]

To some Constantine was an apostle whose efforts to build Christianity Empire-wide were evangelical. He moved Empire funds from pagan religions to Christianity to fund massive programs. He built churches, he provided for the poor, the sick, widows, and orphans. He worked to bring the governmental policies of his empire more in alignment with Christian teachings. He was an advocate of the most powerful kind determined to bring Christianity into prosperity in the Empire.

For example, Eusebius of Caesarea, a contemporary of Constantine, accredited Constantine with God working directly in his life on behalf of Christians. He wrote that Constantine and his subordinate Licinius were led by God to declare war against the evil tyrants and led them to a glorious victory.[15]  Eusebius credited Constantine’s power to win as being God-given. He wrote how Constantine credited God as the author of all his success. Eusebius writes glowing praise of Constantine as an instrument of God to bring peace to Christians in the Empire in the chapter entitled “Constantine And Peace” in his Church History. Eusebius gives Constantine the title “friend of God” and calls him “the emperor beloved of God”.[16]

Others point out that Constantine was not the saint that many proclaimed him as. He could be brutal in enforcing decrees. Some sources say he called for the murder of his wife Fausta and son Crispus in 326.[17]

That was the thinking in calling Nicea I anyway, but as we have said, it took more of that kind of debate for about three and a half centuries to get close to calling it done.  And, even then, challenges to the Trinitarian doctrine reared their head from time to time. Unitarian and Bitarian proponents seem to have always been around despite the church using unscriptural extreme measures including the death penalty to attempt to force compliance. Unitarians and Bitarians exist to this day, even if in the minority.

Gonzales in The Story Of Christianity writes that the conversion of Constantine was critical to resolving all the confusion and myriad debates over issues because it was now possible for the government to intervene and resolve the disputes once and for all. “The state soon began to use its power to force theological agreement upon Christians.”[18]

But, Constantine and the Roman Empire needed a unified Christianity, not one embroiled in a heated debate about the nature of the Savior.  Thus, Constantine called the Nicea Council to decide it once and for all.  At least, that was the hope.

And lastly, it must be mentioned that while these decrees and all general council decrees, for that matter, are acknowledged as having extra-biblical thought material, they are credited by Catholic and Orthodox theologians as part of the true apostolic faith by the doctrine of apostolic succession. (See Apostolic Succession – Biblical or Not?) Bishops, according to apostolic succession can call a synod where their true faith will prevail in declaring the true doctrine, and also the heretic will be declared.  Anyone not espousing the true doctrine they determine will be anathema (cursed).[19]

It cannot be underestimated how important this doctrine of apostolic succession is.  How authoritative are these Council decrees as compared to Scripture? Yes, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]  In Catholic theology, just as the authenticity of the New Testament is given by the authorship of those documents by the apostles or their agents, the same authenticity of the council decrees is guaranteed by the doctrine of apostolic succession.  It’s as if the apostles wrote the decrees themselves in the eyes of the Catholic Church and its theologians, and many others.

The first six general councils, Nicea I through Constantinople III developed the doctrine that resolved the disputes over the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and the status of Mary as Mother of God in the eyes of Catholic and Orthodox theologians.  As stated above it is acknowledged that extra-biblical reasoning and centuries of debate among philosophically oriented intellectuals were used to resolve these issues. But, because of its belief in apostolic succession, the Catholic church confidently declared these issues resolved in the true apostolic faith. And again, the decrees of the councils, especially the first four, and even though they include extra-biblical material and reasoning were declared as authoritative as the Gospels.

[1] Does Jesus Have One or Two Wills?, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/does-jesus-have-one-or-two-wills/

[2] https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/a-model-of-jesus-christs-two-wills-in-view-of-theology-proper-and-anthropology/

[3] A Chronology of the Arian Controversy (legalhistorysources.com)

[4] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 29

[5] Extra-Biblical extrabiblical (apologeticsindex.org)

[6] The Story of Christianity, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 2010, p. 301-302

[7] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 66

[8] Walker, p.67

[9] Walker, P. 69

[10] Walker, P. 70

[11] Walker, P. 70

[12] Walker, P. 71

[13] The Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol.23 : Not Available : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive p.963

[14] The Story Of Christianity, David Bentley Hart, P. 50-53

[15] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel,

[16] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel, P. 331 – 333

[17] https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0017383500029156#:~:text=Constantine%20did%20kill%20his%20wife,father%20he%20punished%20his%20son.

[18] The Story Of Christianity Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, New York, 2010, P. 181

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

[20] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 27

last edited 7/27/21

Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?

This article discusses the controversy over philosophy in Christianity. Remember the point of this website is to see how different doctrines developed over time, and how they compare to original Christianity in order to understand how we got so many divisions and what we must do to restore the church. This article will just look at how philosophy, with controversy, became part of Christianity.  Later articles will discuss how these concepts align with the tradition of the apostles in original Christianity.

First, I want to look at what some systematic theologians have commented about philosophy or how they used it in their works.

Grudem defines philosophical theology as “studying theological topics largely without the use of the Bible, but using the tools and methods of philosophical reasoning and what can be known about God from observing the universe”[1] Grudem then puts philosophy in the category of extra-biblical reasoning. Remember extrabiblical reasoning is the practice of using thinking and or terms outside of the bible to develop Christian doctrine. Grudem acknowledges that there will be some consideration of philosophy at points in his work.

One point that theologians make also is that God reveals his truth in his creation.  Some of the arguments they make are presented from examples and other sources outside scripture.

Theissen contrasts theology and philosophy by saying that theology has a “solid objective basis”, but philosophy “rests merely upon the assumptions and speculations of the philosopher.” Yet they both are seeking the same thing, a way of explaining everything, a comprehensive worldview. He goes further to say “philosophy has definite value for the theologian.” He adds that philosophy can support the Christian position, argue for the existence of God and other things in the spiritual plane. But, most of all, philosophy does not have a Genesis story, and a salvation story so, according to Theissen, the theologian is drawn to God’s revelation in Scripture. Theissen says that philosophy will never bring someone to Christ.[2]

Paul Tillich was a Christian philosopher and Lutheran theologian and considered one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. As far as Scripture is concerned Tillich wrote that “Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received. Not many theological systems have been able to balance these two demands perfectly.  Most of them either sacrifice elements of the truth or not able to speak to the situation.… They confuse eternal truth with the temporal expression of this truth. This is evident in European theological orthodoxy, which in America is known as fundamentalism. When fundamentalism is combined with an anti-theological bias, as it is, for instance, in its biblistic – evangelical form, the theological truth of yesterday is defended as an unchangeable message against the theological truth of today and tomorrow.” [3]

Notice that there are no scriptures in Tillich’s comments. I have Tillich’s three-volume set named Systematic Theology. The first thing I noticed when glancing through it is there are, relatively speaking, very few Scripture references. What I do see is about 900 pages of theological philosophy.

As an example, Tillich writes “Revelation is the manifestation of the mystery of being for the cognitive function of human reason. It mediates knowledge – a knowledge, however, which can be received only in a revelatory situation, through ecstasy and miracle. This correlation indicates a special character of the “knowledge of Revelation.”[4] These are the first three sentences of the section in Volume 1 entitled The Knowledge of Revelation. This section on revelation is three pages long and there is not a single biblical reference.

Tillich is obviously an extremely intelligent, and even popular theologian – philosopher. But he is an example, in my opinion, of philosophy run amok in Christian theology.  Everything I read of his is examining not Scripture but concepts from under the authoritative analysis of philosophical methods. What I see in his writing is that Scripture is not the authority, philosophy is.

From this, we see there are varying degrees of acceptance among these theologians from the stand that philosophy can really lead you away from scripture but has its uses to the full embracing of all things philosophical.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the section on Christianity and Philosophy starts with this:

“In the history of Christian theology, philosophy has sometimes been seen as a natural complement to theological reflection, whereas at other times practitioners of the two disciplines have regarded each other as mortal enemies.”

Next, we will look at what some Christian historians recorded about the infusion of philosophy into Christianity.

The truth is that there has been a long-running controversy over the role of philosophy in Christianity. We’re talking all the way back to the second century. Before that, everything points to a strong rejection of philosophy in the first century of Christianity. But that didn’t last.  Frend in The Rise of Christianity categorizes a changeover at the end of the sub-apostolic period as one from detesting philosophy to one embracing it as a weapon. He writes that in the days of the original apostles, Jews and Christians associated philosophies with pagan morality and refers to this verse.

Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8 WEB)

In Colossians (2:8) Paul associated philosophy with “empty deceit, according to human tradition,” to be contrasted with the way of Christ.

But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2Co 11:3 WEB)

In second Corinthians (11:3) we see Paul entreating the Corinthians not to let themselves be seduced “from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Frend notes that Paul writes nothing positive about the Stoics and Epicureans whom Paul met in Athens.  Frend continues that this attitude toward philosophy continues throughout the New Testament as does the church Fathers that came immediately after like I Clement and Polycarp.  Frend notes “that Christians could have anything in common with pagans and their ideas were abhorrent to Polykarp.[5]” Frend also acknowledges that there were succeeding early church fathers like Iraeneus that believed heretics derived many of their heresies from philosophy.

Williston Walker in The History Of The Christian Church doesn’t discuss this shift in attitude over philosophy but calls the period from 70 A.D. to 110 A.D. a period of Christianity that is “non-– Pauline.” He says that not only is very little known about this time but is a period where Christian beliefs and practices were modified.[6]  This suggests that Christianity was being Hellenized but come short of saying it precisely. But the next historian we will look at does say just that.

Justo L Gonzales in The Story Of Christianity notes that there was a movement within Judaism at this time (sub-apostolic period) “to show the compatibility between the ancient faith in the best of Hellenistic culture.” He goes on to say that the Hebrew prophets preceded the Greek philosophers, and thus the Greek philosophers got their wisdom from the Hebrew prophets[7]. Remember that Christianity at this time, immediately after the apostles, was still considered a part of Judaism.  Gonzalez goes on to say that in this time frame Christians were finding two philosophical traditions attractive: Platonism and Stoicism.[8]

Philosophy does not seem to be embraced quickly in the early days of Christianity. Acknowledgments that the philosophy might possess truths and insights valuable for the deeper understanding of Scripture were always begrudging. Even at the end of the patristic period, John of Damascus (c. 750) wrote, “let us use whatever we can from the Greeks, for we received many things from the Greeks that will enable us to fight against the Greeks,”[9]

Thus, the inclusion of philosophy in Christian communication is given as a matter of necessity, namely, to be able to battle intellectually with multiple groups in society who were denigrating Christianity. (Just remember that just because something happened in Christian history does not make it right. “The end justifies the means” is not a verse from Scripture.)

Frend writes that from the outset the Christians were at a disadvantage. He writes that although Christians were articulate the Gnostics and other heretical groups were more capable intellectually and more in tune with the dialogue of the times.  Friend writes that Christianity at this time was “hardening into formal and legalistic tradition” which didn’t help its image. Orthodox Christianity appeared to outsiders as introspective, “frogs squatting around on marsh discussing who was the most sinful among them.” It was an intellectual battle and the Christians were on the losing side[10].

Notice the emphasis on the intellectual in the above paragraphs.  The battle was over who had the more persuasive words and the rulebook was philosophy. Compare that to:

My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (1Co 2:4 WEB)

This verse is another scripture that compares the advantages of human wisdom with the power of the spirit brought by Christ. In the comparison of human wisdom with its persuasive words versus the spirit, the spirit wins in Scripture. In philosophy, persuasive words win.  The shift we are discussing is one from ignorant and unlearned men demonstrating the spirit in power (Acts 4:13) to elite learned people for the most part unable to demonstrate power waging intellectual battles using the tools of philosophy.

Part of the reason for this, according to Frend, is that “God active in history on behalf of his people had little in common with the God of Stoicism or Platonism who existed but did not come into contact with matter, let alone intervene in nature.”[11]  People, maybe including the believers of that time, didn’t understand that our God was a God who enabled us with power for abundant living, and so instead chose to battle on the intellectual front rather than the spiritual.

That is not to say that defending the gospel with reasoning was not part of the original Christians’ charge given by the apostles.  The charge in scripture is to examine, reason, and defend what the gospel says. See the words examining, reason, and defense emboldened in the verses below:

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Act 17:11 WEB)

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be prepared with a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (1Pe 3:15 EMTV)

It is even right for me to think this way on behalf of all of you, because I have you in my heart, because, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Good News, you all are partakers with me of grace. (Php 1:7 WEB)

Paul also wrote the warning against the wisdom of this world in the first chapter of Corinthians.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, (1Co 1:19-22 WEB)

It is written in Scripture to examine, to reason, and to defend the gospel at the same time we are to avoid the wisdom of the Greeks and the world.  The wisdom of the Greeks is philosophy. Paul charges us to examine, to reason, and to defend without using the wisdom of the world, philosophy.

Frend also notes that at this time the church was becoming increasingly Orthodox especially in Rome. For Irenaeus (circa 185) Rome became the example of a church emphasizing the importance of apostolic succession[12].  Remember apostolic succession means that the power and authority vested in the original apostles are transferred from Bishop to Bishop through ordination. But that also signifies that gift ministries like apostles and prophets manifesting the spirit are no longer in operation. There is clearly a shift from the emphasis of manifesting the power of the Holy Spirit to the intellectual and philosophical.

So thus emerged the age of Christian apologetics. This is the witness of the age. Christian apologists wrote letters to pagan magistrates and leaders but they were really open letters targeted to influence provincial opinion. The amount of writing done suggests that there was a place in society for this expression of Christian philosophy.[13]

According to Frend the apologetic movement looked to both Jewish models and the methods (but not the ideas) of philosophers.”[14]

Not all church fathers embraced this movement.

In the second century, the church father Tertullian wrote The Demurrer Against The Heretics[15].  In it, he says (in a form of older English) that

“these are the Doctrines of Men and Devils, derived from the Wisdom of this World, by Men who have curiously itching Ears; to which Wisdom our Lord having given the distinguishing Term and Denomination of Folly, “hath chosen the foolish Things of the World to confound the Wise.” For a rash Explication both of the Divine Nature and Dispensations, and the Manner of God’s Proceeding in the Work of Creation is the subject Matter of all wordly Philosophy. And from this corrupt Fountain did Heresies originally flow…from which the Apostle restraining us, hath especially bid us to beware of Philosophy, in his Epistle to the Colossans, saying, “Beware lest any Man spoil you thro’ Philosophy and vain Deceit, after the Tradition of Men, and not after Christ.” The Apostle had been at Athens, and from his learned Conversation there, had become acquainted with that human Wisdom, Which carries with it an Affectation and Pretence, as well as a Corruption of the Truth; and which is divided into a Multiplicity of Sects that strenuously oppose and contradict each other. But what Relation is there between Athens and Jerusalem? What Communion hath the Academy with the Church? or what part have Hereticks with Christians?”

There is nothing supportive of Christian philosophy in these comments by Tertullian who was writing at the beginning of the third century which is after the age of apologists started.

But as time went on more and more church fathers supported philosophy.  By the third century, Christians put forth that their God was the supreme being of the philosophers which enabled them to be accepted among the intellectual crowd. The danger of course was that instead of talking about Christian truth in scriptural terms Christian truth was now discussed philosophically.[16]

Continuing this new tradition, the great Doctor of the Church, Augustine, argued that philosophy was a complement to theology when the philosophical insights used were rooted in an intellectual commitment to the truth of the Christian faith.

The prevailing attitude of people in support of the use of philosophy in Christian theology is that it is a necessary discipline to enhance biblical interpretation and explanation.[17]

Philosophy only became increasingly dominant as the centuries wore on. Here’s some insight that shows you how dominant philosophy was in the Middle Ages. And note that that philosophy was not always Christian:

Michael Psellus (1017-1078) was primarity responsible for the medieval revival of serious philosophical studies in the Byzantine East. He especially liked Platonism, and this led to the rise of the (mostly, but not always) Christian Platonism that became the dominant tradition of Byzantine civilization by the later Middle Ages.   The Platonist revival of the Western Renaissance followed from this.[18]

Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, on the eve of the Council of Florence, was sent to Constantinople where he encountered Byzantine Platonism and scholarship. He reported that that caused a great awakening about things such as the nature of the infinite, upon God, the person of Christ, even celestial movements.[19] Notice this another reference to Byzantine Platonism which is a dominant philosophy from the world. This reflects how entrenched in worldly thinking the church was by the Middle Ages.

There are more on a list of famous Christian philosophers including Thomas Aquinas and Soren Kierkegaard.

In more recent times Christian theologians have embraced philosophy for the sake of philosophy.  Look at this quote

“Quite apart from its relationship to Christianity, we believe that philosophical debate has merit. Its questions are significant and of fundamental and enduring value. It is true that philosophical thought can significantly contribute to theological understanding. However, the heirs of philosophy must be recognized and refuted, to confirm the reasonableness of Christianity.”[20]

In modern times there are books written promoting the advantages of incorporating philosophy into Christianity. First, it is presented that philosophizing is a common activity by people:

“At various times everyone philosophizes… This philosophizing takes place whenever one reflects upon either the fundamental presuppositions of thought and action, or the ends to which the conduct of human life should be directed.”[21]

According to philosophical theologians, the value of philosophy is that it “can help liberate one from the grip of prejudice, provincialism, and poor reasoning. In philosophical reflection, we can gain distance from her own beliefs and those of others, and view them with some skepticism.”

The authors of Introduction to Philosophy proceed to the point of extolling both the need and virtue of philosophy:

“A Christian has a specific interest in and responsibility to study philosophy… Since all truth is God’s truth, and since philosophy is a quest for truth, then philosophy will contribute to our understanding of God and his world. Furthermore, history shows that philosophical arguments and concepts have played a large and important role in the development of Christian theology… While not all theologians agree on the value or appropriateness of these arguments, all admit that some knowledge of philosophical roots is necessary to the understanding of Christian theology.”[22]

The above statements acknowledge the development of Christian doctrine by philosophical means as opposed to just sticking to what is revealed in scripture.

A more in depth look at the methods of philosophy is necessary to understand the implication of the statements above. Previously on this website we have looked at some of the origins of philosophy and its thinking processes.

In philosophy logical arguments break down into two basic kinds, deductive and inductive.[23]  Rules for the validity of deductive arguments are in the form of deductive syllogisms, consisting of a major premise, minor premise, and a conclusion, and these were first systematically set down by Aristotle.

Aristotle is credited with defining the rules for deductive reasoning. “Simply put, deductive reasoning is arguing from the general to the particular. If all horses are four-legged animals (the general), and the black beauty is a horse (the particular), then it follows that black beauty is also a four-legged animal.” This series of propositions is called a syllogism, the standard form of a deductive argument. Inductive reasoning is the reverse whereby one argues from the particular to the general. For example, all observable elements of a wall are stone. Therefore, this is a stone wall.[24]

Inductive reasoning is the other form of reasoning with its own set of rules. Inductive reasoning is used to construct Christian doctrine by looking at a comprehensive view, examining the parts of the whole, and making conclusions as to whether or not something is true.

Part of the process here includes using “a priori” claims. A priori comes from the Latin meaning before. A priori claims are things that you can base your argument on because they are self-evident.  You don’t have to prove these claims because everyone knows that they are true, or at least that is the claim of the philosopher.  In math, all angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees.  When you are arguing math you don’t have to prove that.  Or that 1+1=2. In your argument, you can assume them to be true. When you use a priori claims you are starting with an assumption that something is true.  That is part of this process.

There are also “a postieri” (from the Latin meaning after) claims.  These are conclusions reached after experimenting to find the truth.  They are a vital part of the scientific method.

An example of inductive reasoning is used when saying water baptism is the standard for all time.

I have read books that said that water is assumed (a priori claim) when the word baptism is used in the Bible. The inductive argument that follows goes like this. There was a practice of baptizing in water in the Old Testament. John baptized with water, and he also baptized Jesus in water. In the New Testament, Philip baptized with water, and even Peter asked “who can forbid water?”  Now add in the assumption (a priori claim) that the definition of baptism implies water (which it does not, but we need to go along to see how the reasoning works) and what you have is that every time it mentions baptism it means baptism in water. The only exceptions are the day of Pentecost and in other places where the descent of the spirit is explicitly detailed. Plus, in looking at the documents in the early days of the church after the apostles we see that water baptism is practiced. Thus, looking at all these details, we come to the conclusion, falsely I believe, that water baptism is the God-given standard for all time. We have taken all the pieces, accepted the assumption that baptism means with water, and found a way to inductively prove that water baptism is the standard. Even the mandates of “John baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” are handled with the explanation that Holy Ghost baptisms were just a few exceptions and water baptism is the norm.

In contrast to that, you could just read what is written. The word baptize is translated wash in Mark 7:4,8. The prophecy could be translated “John washed with water but you shall be washed with the Holy Ghost”. This is a classic case of everything that is done in the Old Testament are examples and foreshadowing of the things that are done in Christ’s church (Heb 10:1, ICor 10:11).  What does the prophecy say about water washing and spirit washing? For example, cars in the 20th century use gasoline but cars in the 22nd century will use electricity. No one misunderstands that that means that electricity is going to replace gasoline as the fuel. Or Roman soldiers used swords but today soldiers use guns. Again, is there any misunderstanding that sentence means that guns have replaced swords as the weapon for soldiers? No of course not.  The prophecy clearly says spirit washing replaced water washing.

Now, there were water baptisms mentioned in the book of Acts, but when we see those circumstances we see that apostles were sent to make sure that Spirit baptism occurred. All of these factors teach us that the assumption that baptism automatically means water is false, and part of the mission of the apostles in the first-century church was to bring in spirit baptism as a replacement to water-baptism as it so plainly says in “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit”. Yes, it looks like the practice was lost not long after the apostles, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the mandate then, and more importantly, it’s still the mandate today. (See T 1.8 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 8, The Spirit Baptism Mandate, John Baptized With Water, But You Will Be Baptized with the Holy Spirit for more)

Likewise, the Cessation doctrine starts with the assumption (a priori claim) that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit ended with the apostles.

The classic example of inductive reasoning in Christianity is the Trinity and so we will look at it here. First, there is no deductive proof of the Trinity so in order for the proof to work the Trinity must be assumed to be true.

For example, there is no proof, philosophical or otherwise, for even the existence of God. In making their arguments for or against God philosophically, both Christians and non-Christians start with their assumption that either God exists in the case of the Christian, or the God doesn’t exist in the case of the atheist.

No proof of God means that there is no proof of a solitary God or a triune God, so likewise the Trinitarian starts with the axiom (a priori claim) that God is triune. Then the logic flows in inductive reasoning “from the parts to the whole.”

So, the logic flows like this:  if God is a triune God, then what would we expect to find?   We expect to find that there is only one God in the Bible.  We expect to find that God exists in three persons named the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We expect to find that Jesus preexisted before his birth from all eternity and was never created or brought into existence. We expect to find that the attributes of God are attributed to Jesus. We expect to find that Jesus was called God and worshiped as God by the first Christians.  There are more requirements in this list of expectations.  But theologians seeking to prove the Trinity have used this inductive method of logic to first assume a triune God and put the pieces together to prove what has come to be is called essential Christian doctrine in Orthodox Christianity.

The Trinity is so important, in fact, that it has been declared “whosoever will be saved, we all before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic [that is, the church’s Orthodox] faith; which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt, he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity (Athanasian Creed)”.  One author goes on to say that salvation by grace alone, Christ’s atonement, and the resurrection may be all of first importance but they don’t make the gospel Christian! The Trinity does.[25]

However, despite the fact that the above is written in an introductory book to Christians, the fact is that the Athanasian creed above is rarely mentioned in churches, and the doctrine contained therein not promoted.[26]  In Theology Is As Clear As Mud To Americans in 2020 we see that while most Americans (72%) will at least partly agree with the statement that there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, only 36% disagreed with the statement that Jesus is not God and 55% at least partly agreed that Jesus is the greatest being created by God.  Both of these latter statements are not Trinitarian statements. That indicates that the doctrine is either not understood or just not agreed with, no matter how much it is preached from the pulpit or written about in books or articles. Nevertheless, this is the dominant doctrine in Christianity since the 4th century.

The things in the paragraph above point to the added complexity that this inductively developed doctrine brings to the table, and the problem that it creates for people.  As mentioned in other places both the use of inductive combined with deductive reasoning and the whole development of the Deity of Christ, the Trinity as well as Mary as the mother of God among other developed doctrines were intellectual battles among very intelligent learned bishops where the final victories were celebrated as intellectual victories.

Let’s look at more verses used in the proof of the Trinity:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. (Eph 4:4-6 WEB)

The above verses talk about one Spirit, one Lord (Jesus Christ), one God and father of all, the three persons named as the Trinity. However, this is not proof of the Trinity because all of the requirements of the Trinity are not fulfilled in these verses. For example, it does not say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance. It does not say here that they are all co-eternal.  In applying philosophical methods to this verse and others like it, there is not enough to deductively prove the Trinity. But given the assumption of a triune God, this verse is consistent with that assumption of the Trinity and thus is used in an inductive proof of the Trinity.

The Trinitarian view is that the Trinity has internal consistency within a comprehensive view of scripture and accounts for all the facts of stated about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without contradiction.  Of course, you must start with the assumption of a Trinity which philosophy allows you to do.

Likewise for this verse:

I and the Father are one.”  (Joh 10:30 WEB)

This verse does not prove that Jesus is God as the Father is God. But used in an inductive argument it is consistent with the Trinity once you make the assumption of a triune God that includes the Father and the Son.  But if “oneness” with the Father makes one God, then what happens in this verse:

that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. (Joh 17:21 WEB)

Here we have the same kind of “oneness” that we see in John 10:30 above expressed in John 17:21 to include all of us believers. If John 10:30 makes Jesus God the same as God the Father, then John 17:21 makes you and I and every other believer on the same level of godhood as the Son of God and God the Father, according to that logic.

Thus, according to what is involved here you can’t prove the Trinity or the Incarnation without philosophy, specifically including inductive logic methods using a priori claims, and this is why many modern theologians promote philosophy as absolutely essential to understanding Christianity.

These are not fluke examples. There just are no verses that prove the Trinity by themselves. Look at this:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him;  (Eph 1:17 WEB)

The above verse discusses the Father, the Son, and the spirit but in no way teaches that they are all God, or co-eternal, or other important elements of the Trinity.  How about this famous one:

Without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and received up in glory. (1Ti 3:16 WEB)

How can “God was revealed in the flesh” not prove the Trinity? It must, right? The truth is that scholars agree that most texts do not say God there. Instead of Theos in the Greek, the Greek word used mostly in the texts is hos which simply means which or who. The verse talks about the mystery of godliness which was manifest in the flesh.  Every being with Holy Spirit, which includes all true Christians, manifest godliness whenever they walk in the spirit. Every time someone speaks in tongues or hears from God or heals someone, they are manifesting godliness. No, this verse does not prove the Trinity.

Or how about the verses used to prove he is co-eternal?  Look at Colossians 1:

who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.  (Col 1:15-17 WEB)

What about “by him all things were created”? Doesn’t that mean he is God? The Greek word translated “by” is en,  which means in, not automatically making him the causal agent. Things created in someone are not the same as created by someone.  Or how about “all things were created by him” later in the verse?  That preposition is dia, which means “through”, or even “because of”.  Again, created through someone is not the same as created by someone.

The word image is ikone in Greek, meaning likeness or representation. That is saying that Christ is a representation of God as opposed to God himself. Coupled with that he is the “firstborn of all creation” and the above elements, the logic here is that Jesus Christ was created first (first born) and all other things were created on account of him. Without the assumption of the Trinity, biblical hermeneutics would lead one here to that firstborn here should be interpreted like all the other places that firstborn is used, the first child of the parent, with the implication that he didn’t exist and now he does.

“He is before all things.”  If I said to you “before anything else I want you to pray” it means that praying is the most important thing, it is first and foremost.  Likewise, “He is before all things” means Jesus Christ is foremost or most important.

Thus, if you don’t assume the Trinity this verse doesn’t prove the Trinity.  However, like the above verses, if you assume the Trinity then this verse can be used to help inductively “prove” the Trinity as long as you argue that “firstborn of all creation” does not mean that Jesus Christ had a beginning. You just have to assume here that firstborn doesn’t mean created like all those other places in Scripture despite the fact that all other usages of “firstborn, including the first usage refer to a created being.  “Begotten, not made” is the argument we have all heard.  Firstborn of all creation in the proof of the Trinity does not mean that Christ has a beginning or was created, rather it means he was more important than all creation. It has to be that way because that is the only way that phrase fits into the comprehensive view of a triune God.

Hopefully, now you are beginning to see why scholars have said that there are no verses that prove the Trinity directly nor is the Trinity directly taught in Scripture. For every verse that supposedly proves the Trinity, without the assumption that the Trinity exists there is a valid counterargument to disprove the Trinity. That is why the doctrine of the Trinity was developed using extra-biblical means, the inductive logic methods and a priori claims used in philosophy as well as words like homosousias (of one substance) not found in scripture. The New Bible Dictionary says:

“As already indicated, Scripture does not give us a fully formulated doctrine of the Trinity, but it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine.”[31]

The doctrines of salvation, atonement, and many others are fully formulated in Scripture.  The Trinity is not.  It can’t be read as is or deducted from scripture.  It has to be constructed using these a priori, inductive tools of philosophy.

However, the Trinitarian position is that every one of the above verses I discussed is consistent with an inductive proof of the Trinity once you include the “given”, the assumption that the Trinity exists before you start the proof.  But this opens the door that it is okay to go to scripture with assumptions or preconceived ideas and find ways that scriptures can be interpreted to prove your assumption.  So water baptism as the norm in the church age is inductively provable.  The cessation of spiritual manifestations is inductively provable, and so forth.

How is the Trinity explained and taught today? It’s just preached while admitting that it is confusing. One website writes, “The most difficult thing about the Christian concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it. The Trinity is a concept that is impossible for any human being to fully understand, let alone explain.”[27]

Still, as regards including philosophical things in the study of Christianity, Christian philosophical theologians argue that you cannot be aware of false philosophy unless you are first aware of it. They say the Christian church has been led into false teaching because they are not adequately trained to detect false teaching. The good counterfeit will be as close to the truth as possible. That’s why false non-Christian philosophies dressed up like Christian philosophies are the most dangerous.

One famous pro-philosophy Christian writer is CS Lewis who said “to be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray her uneducated brethren who have, under God no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”[28] Here CS Lewis clearly delineates between good philosophy and bad philosophy and he promotes the necessity of the use of philosophy in studying God.

Some writers contend that in order to think properly, that is, correctly and comprehensively about the world or the Word, one must use philosophy. Philosophy is required in the systematization of Christianity, and also required for proper communication. In the end, the authors contend that it is philosophy which enables the Christian to make sense out of his faith.[29]

The fact still remains that there is no scriptural endorsement of philosophy, only warnings about its dangers, and in contrast to that, there are numerous books that say without philosophy you cannot understand essential Christian doctrine, especially the Trinity.

And all of this is despite the fact that studies have shown that the majority of Christians, at least in this country, either do not understand or believe the doctrine of the trinity with its philosophically based proof.[30]

I can’t remember being at services where a preacher closed it with a call to the Trinity.  They close their services with an altar call and preach verses like:

that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10 WEB)

The philosophically based method of inductive reasoning developing Christianity theology is used to say verses like Romans 10 : 9-10 are insufficient by themselves for salvation because the doctrine of the Trinity is the more important doctrine.  That is controversial, to say the least.

The same method allows for making claims like the word baptism means with water, and the gifts of the spirit have ceased, by making a priori claims or assumptions, and then finding verses that substantiate that claim.

Philosophy has now been controversially used in the church for nineteen centuries.

 

[1] Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,1994, p. 21

[2] Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry C Theissen, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, revised 1979, P. Three

[3] Systematic Theology, Volume 1, Paul Tillich, the University of Chicago press, Chicago 1950 1P. Three

[4] Ibid, p. 129

[5] The Rise of Christianity, W. H. C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, p. 230

[6] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, P. 31

[7] The Story Of Christianity, Justo L Gonzales, Harper one, New York, 2010, P. 19

[8] ibid., P. 22

[9] The Rise of Christianity, P. 230-231

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Rise of Christianity, P. 230

[12] The Rise of Christianity, P. 232

[13] The Rise of Christianity, P. 234

[14] The Rise of Christianity, P. 231

[15] Joseph Betty, Tertullian’s Prescription against Hereticks. Oxford (1722) pp. 1-87, Chapter VII

[16] The Story of Christianity, P. 182

[17] (DOC) How is philosophy related to theology Philosophical and Moral Theology | Regenerated mbc – Academia.edu

[18] The Story of Christianity, David Bentley Hart, Quercus, 2007, p. 145-146

[19] The Story of Christianity, Hart, P. 178 – 179

[20] Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective, Norman L Geisler and Paul D Feinberg, Baker books, Grand Rapids, 1980, P. 5 – 6

[21] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 12

[22] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 20 – 22

[23] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 28

[24] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 41 – 42

[25] Delighting In The Trinity, Michael Reeves, University press academic, Downers Grove, 2012, P. 14

[26] What is Athanasian Creed?

[27] What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? | GotQuestions.org

[28] Good Philosophy Must Exist | Bible.org

[29] Introduction To Philosophy, p.78

[30] Theology Is As Clear As Mud To Americans in 2020

[31] New Bible Dictionary, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, 1962, P. 1299

last edited 7/17/21

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.


Biblical references are from the ASV version unless otherwise noted.
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