Paul writes in first Corinthians about the preeminence of the gift ministries in operation:
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28 ASV)
We can see that this was the actual practice by some of the records in the book of Acts:
And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. They therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and the apostles and the elders, and they rehearsed all things that God had done with them. (Acts 15:1-4 ASV)
Here we see a problem has risen in the church. The problem is that some have said that believers must be circumcised, but others have rejected that notion. What we are looking at here is the fact that this issue was brought to the attention of Paul and Barnabas, who were apostles. It was not brought to and resolved by bishops. Paul and Barnabas, in turn, took the issue to Jerusalem, where it was presented to, again, men with gift ministries, as well as the “elders”. It is clear from these verses that the ultimate authority in deciding what was true doctrine was in the hands of the apostles.
However, in other places, it may not look as clear. Look at these verses:
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. (Acts 21:17-19 ASV)
The context is that Paul had been advised by prophets on numerous occasions not to go to Jerusalem. And when he gets to Jerusalem it says that he went to James, and the elders. This makes it look like he went to the Bishops, as opposed to going to the apostles and prophets.
However, on closer examination, we read that James, while he was recognized as the “Bishop” of the Jerusalem church, he was also an apostle. This is seen by verses from Paul’s writing to the Galatians:
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19 ASV)
So here we see that James (identified as “the Lord’s brother” because there was more than one James) was also recognized as an apostle.
So it is consistent that the authority of the church in original Christianity clearly presided in the apostles and other persons with gift ministries.
This practice changed relatively quickly after the writing of the book of Acts.
In 01.1.3 Clement Used Apostolic Succession as the argument against replacing Presbyters in 1 Clement, we see the just decades after the end of the book of Acts there are already movements to establish the distinction of clergy versus laity with the bishops holding the ultimate authority in the church. Here we see the foundation for the formation of Cessation doctrine, the doctrine that states that the “gifts” including the gift ministries of apostles, prophets and so forth ended with the original apostles. See The Argument that Tongues and other Gifts and Manifestations have Ceased for more on Cessation doctrine.
Nevertheless, we must always acknowledge that in original Christianity the ultimate authority of the church on earth laid in the hands of the apostles, prophets and others with gift ministries.
© copyright 2011-2022 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved Revised 10/4/22