Keith Hunt - Church History #18 - Page Eighteen   Restitution of All Things

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History of the Church #18

Organization in the First century Church



From Schaff's multi-volume work of the late 19th century.

The Christian Ministry, and its Relation to the Christian

Christianity exists not merely as a power or principle in this
world, but also in an institutional and organized form which is
intended to preserve and protect (not to obstruct) it. Christ
established a visible church with apostles, as authorized
teachers and rulers, and with two sacred rites, baptism and the
holy communion, to be observed to the end of the world.
At the same time he laid down no minute arrangements, but only
the simple and necessary elements of an organization, wisely
leaving the details to be shaped by the growing and changing
wants of the church in different ages and countries. In this
respect Christianity, as a dispensation of the Spirit, differs
widely from the Mosaic theocracy, as a dispensation of the

The ministerial office was instituted by the Lord before his
ascension, and solemnly inaugurated on the first Christian
Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, to be the regular
organ of the kingly power of Christ on earth in founding, main-
taining, and extending the church. It appears in the New Testa.
ment under different names, descriptive of its various functions
- the "ministry of the word," "of the Spirit," "of righteous-
ness," "of reconciliation." It includes the preaching of the
gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and church
discipline or the power of the keys, the power to open and shut
the gates of the kingdom of heaven, in other words, to declare to
the penitent the forgiveness of sins, and to the unworthy
excommunication in the name and by the authority of Christ.

(The church as a whole congregation only has the right to
excommunicate - see my in-depth study "Disfellowshipping" on this
website - Keith Hunt)

The ministers of the gospel are, in an eminent sense, servants of
God, and, as such, servants of the churches in the noble spirit
of self-denying love according to the example of Christ, for the
eternal salvation of the souls intrusted to their charge. They
are called - not exclusively, but emphatically - the light of the
world, the salt of the earth, fellow-workers with God, stewards
of the mysteries of God, ambassadors for Christ. And this
unspeakable dignity brings with it corresponding responsibility.
Even a Paul, contemplating the glory of an office, which is a
savor of life unto life to believers, and of death unto death to
the impenitent, exclaims: "Who is sufficient for these things?"
and ascribes all his sufficiency and success to the unmerited
grace of God.

The internal call to the sacred office and the moral
qualification for it must come from the Holy Spirit, and be
recognized and ratified by the church through her proper organs.
The apostles were called, indeed, immediately by Christ to the
work of founding the church; but so soon as a community of
believers arose, the congregation took an active part also in all
religious affairs. The persons thus inwardly and outwardly
designated by the voice of Christ and his church, were solemnly
set apart and inducted into their ministerial functions by the
symbolical act of ordination; that is, by prayer and the laying
on of the hands of the apostles or their representatives,
conferring or authoritatively confirming and sealing the
appropriate spiritual gifts.

Yet, high as the sacred office is in its divine origin and
import, it was separated by no impassable chasm from the body of
believers. The Jewish and later Catholic antithesis of clergy and
laity has no place in the apostolic age. The ministers, on the
one part, are as sinful and as dependent on redeeming grace as
the members of the congregation; and those members, on the other,
share equally with the ministers in the blessings of the gospel,
enjoy equal freedom of access to the throne of grace, and are
called to the same direct communion with Christ, the head of the
whole body. The very mission of the church is, to reconcile all
men with God, and make them true followers of Christ. And though
this glorious end can be attained only through a long process of
history, yet regeneration itself contains the germ and the pledge
of the final perfection. The New Testament, looking at the
principle of the new life and the high calling of the Christian,
styles all believers "brethren," "saints," a "spiritual temple,"
a "peculiar people," a "holy and royal priesthood." It is
remarkable, that Peter in particular should present the idea of
the priesthood as the destiny of all, and apply the term "clerus"
not to the ministerial order as distinct from the laity, but to
the community; thus regarding every Christian congregation as a
spiritual tribe of Levi, a peculiar people, holy to the Lord.
The temporal organization of the empirical church is to be a
means (and not a hindrance, as it often is) for the actualization
of the ideal republic of God when all Christians shall be
prophets, priests, and kings, and fill all time and all space
with his praise.

Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists.

The inistry originally coincided with the apostolate; as the
church was at first identical with the congregation of Jerusalem.
No other officers are mentioned in the Gospels and the first five
chapters of the Acts. But when the believers began to number
thousands, the apostles could not possibly perform all the
functions of teaching, conducting worship, and administering
discipline; they were obliged to create new offices for the
ordinary wants of the congregations, while they devoted
themselves to the general supervision and the further extension
of the gospel. Thus arose gradually, out of the needs of the
Christian church, though partly at the suggestion of the existing
organization of the Jewish synagogue, the various general and
congregational offices in the church. As these all have their
common root in the apostolate, so they partake also, in different
degrees, of its divine origin, authority, privileges, and

We notice first, those offices which were not limited to any one
congregation, but extended over the whole church, or at least
over a great part of it. These are apostles, prophets, and
evangelists. Paul mentions them together in this order. But the
prophecy was a gift and function rather than an office, and the
evangelists were temporary officers charged with a particular
mission under the direction of the apostles. All three are
usually regarded as extraordinary officers and confined to the
apostolic age; but from time to time God raises extraordinary
missionaries (as Patrick, Columba, Boniface, Ansgar), divines (as
Augustin, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Melancthon, Calvin),
and revival preachers (as Bernard, Knox, Baxter, Wesley,
Whitefield), who may well be called apostles, prophets, and
evangelists of their age and nation.

(Schaff is off on this idea. God has always had apostles,
prophets, and evangelists, as well as preachers and teachers, in
the body of Christ. Such functions have never died out in any age
in the last 2,000 years, and will always be there till Jesus
shall return once again - Keith Hunt)
1. APOSTLES. These were originally twelve in number, answering to
the twelve tribes of Israel. In place of the traitor, Judas,
Matthias was chosen by lot, between the ascension and Pentecost.
After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Paul was added as the
thirteenth by the direct call of the exalted Saviour. He was the
independent apostle of the Gentiles, and afterward gathered
several subordinate helpers around him. Besides these there were
apostolic men, like Barnabas, and James the brother of the Lord,
whose standing and influence were almost equal to that of the
proper apostles. The Twelve (excepting Matthias, who, however,
was an eye-witness of the resurrection) and Paul were called
directly by Christ, without human intervention, to be his
representatives on earth, the inspired organs of the Holy Spirit,
the founders and pillars of the whole church. Their office was
universal, and their writings are to this day the unerring rule
of faith and practice for all Christendom. But they never
exercised their divine authority in arbitrary and despotic style.
They always paid tender regard to the rights, freedom, and
dignity of the souls under their care. In every believer, even in
a poor slave like Onesimus, they recognized a member of the same
body with themselves, a partaker of their redemption, a beloved
brother in Christ. Their government of the church was a labor of
meekness and love, of self-denial and unreserved devotion to the
eternal welfare of the people. Peter, the prince of the apostles,
(no he was not the "prince of the apostles" - Schaff uses human
carnal thoughts on that matter - Keith Hunt) humbly calls himself
a "fellow-presbyter," and raises his prophetic warning against
the hierarchical spirit which so easily takes hold of church
dignitaries and alienates them from the people.

2. PROPHETS. These were inspired and inspiring teachers and
preachers of the mysteries of God. They appear to have had
special influence on the choice of officers, designating the
persons who were pointed out to them by the Spirit of God in
their prayer and fasting, as peculiarly fitted for missionary
labor or any other service in the church. Of the prophets the
book of Acts names Agabus, Barnabas, Symeon, Lucius, Manaen, and
Saul of Tarsus, Judas and Silas. The gift of prophecy in the
wider sense dwelt in all the apostles, pre-eminently in John, the
seer of the new covenant and author of the Revelation. It was a
function rather than an office.

(Actually the truth is ALL offices were FUNCTIONS in the church,
and could vary at times for any man called to a function. All
this is fully and in-depth covered in my studies on "Church
Government" on this website - Keith Hunt)

3. EVANGELISTS, itinerant preachers, delegates, and
fellowlaborers of the apostles - such men as Mark, Luke, Timothy,
Titus, Silas, Epaphras, Trophimus, and Apollos. They may be
compared to modern missionaries. They were apostolic
commissioners for a special work. "It is the conception of a
later age which represents Timothy as bishop of Ephesus, and
Titus as bishop of Crete. St. Paul's own language implies that
the position which they held was temporary. In both cases their
term of office is drawing to a close when the apostle writes."
(Schaff is quoting here from another writer - Keith Hunt)

Presbyters or Bishops. The Angels of the Seven Churches. James of

We proceed to the officers of local congregations who were
charged with carrying forward in particular places the work begun
by the apostles and their delegates. These were of two kinds,
Presbyters or Bishops, and Deacons or Helpers. They multiplied in
proportion as Christianity extended, while the number of the
apostles diminished by death, and could, in the nature of the
case, not be filled up by witnesses of the life and resurrection
of Christ. The extraordinary officers were necessary for the
founding and being of the church, the ordinary officers for its
preservation and well-being.

(Apostle is a word that simply means "one sent" and so there have
always been apostles down the past 2,000 years - ones sent out to
reach and teach many in many areas of the world - Keith Hunt)

The terms PRESBYTER (or Elder) and BISHOP (or Overseer,
Superintendent) denote in the New Testament one and the same
office, with this difference only, that the first is borrowed
from the Synagogue, the second from the Greek communities; and
that the one signifies the dignity, the other the duty.

1. The identity of these officers is very evident from the
following facts:


They appear always as a plurality or as a college in one and the
same congregation, even in smaller cities, as Philippi. The same
officers of the church of Ephesus are alternately called
presbyters' and bishops.

Paul sends greetings to the "bishops" and "deacons" of Philippi,
but omits the presbyters because they were included in the first
term; as also the plural indicates.

In the Pastoral Epistles, where Paul intends to give the
qualifications for all church officers, he again mentions only
two, bishops and deacons, but uses the term presbyter afterwards
for bishop.

Peter urges the "presbyters" to "tend the flock of God," and to
"fulfil the office of bishops" with disinterested devotion and
without "lording it over the charge allotted to them."

The interchange of terms continued in use to the close of the
first century, as is evident from the Epistle of Clement of Rome
(about 95), and the "Didache," and still lingered towards the
close of the second.

With the beginning of the second century, from Ignatius onward,
the two terms are distinguished and designate two offices; the
bishop being regarded first as the head of a congregation
surrounded by a council of presbyters, and afterwards as the head
of a diocese and successor of the apostles. The episcopate grew
out of the presidency of the presbytery, or, as Bishop Lightfoot
well expresses it: "The episcopate was formed, not out of the
apostolic order by localization, but out of the presbyteral by
elevation; and the title, which originally was common to all,
came at length to be appropriated to the chief among them."

(And this was wrong! But as the Roman Catholic religion was
manifestingly forming, such "authority" positions were also
forming - which was a departure from the truth of God - Keith

 Nevertheless, a recollection of the original identity was
preserved by the best biblical scholars among the fathers, such
as Jerome (who taught that the episcopate rose from the
presbyterate as a safeguard against schism), Chrysostom, and
The reason why the title bishop (and not presbyter) was given
afterwards to the superior officer, may be explained from the
fact that it signified, according to monumental inscriptions
recently discovered, financial officers of the temples, and that
the bishops had the charge of all the funds of the churches,
which were largely charitable institutions for the support of
widows and orphans, strangers and travellers, aged and infirm
people in an age of extreme riches and extreme poverty.

(A false idea and a false position. It is the "deacons" who
should have control over the physical matters and money of the
church. All of this and much more is found in my studies on
Church Government on this website - Keith Hunt)

2. The arigin of the presbytero-episcopal office is not recorded
in the New Testament, but when it is first mentioned in the
congregation at Jerusalem, A.D. 44, it appears already as a
settled institution. As every Jewish synagogue was ruled by
elders, it was very natural that every Jewish Christian
congregation should at once adopt this form of government; this
may be the reason why the writer of the Acts finds it unnecessary
to give an account of the origin; while he reports the origin of
the deaconate which arose from a special emergency and had no
precise analogy in the organization of the synagogue. The Gentile
churches followed the example, choosing the already familiar term
bishop. The first thing which Paul and Barnabas did after
preaching the gospel in Asia Minor was to organize churches by
the appointment of elders.

3. The office of the presbyter-bishops was to teach and to rule
the particular congregation committed to their charge. They were
the regular "pastors and teachers." To them belonged the
direction of public worship, the administration of discipline,
the care of souls, and the management of church property. 

(Nope - it was and should be the deacons that manage the church
property and money. And there should be "elderS" with an "s" if
at all possible in any local congregation, so no one man has
total authority - as they say "power can corrupt, and total power
corrupts totally" - sadly it has happened in the Church of God in
the 20th century - Keith Hunt)

They were usually chosen from the first converts, and appointed
by the apostles or their delegates, with the approval of the
congregation, or by the congregation itself, which supported them
by voluntary contributions. They were solemnly introduced into
their office by the apostles or by their fellow presbyters
through prayers and the laying on of hands.

The presbyters always formed a college or corporation, a
presbytery; as at Jerusalem, at Ephesus, at Philippi, and at the
ordination of Timothy. They no doubt maintained a relation of
fraternal equality. The New Testament gives us no information
about the division of labor among them, or the nature and term of
a presidency. It is quite probable that the members of the
presbyteral college distributed the various duties of their
office among themselves according to their respective talents,
tastes, experience, and convenience. Possibly, too, the
president, whether temporary or permanent, was styled
distinctively the bishop; and from this the subsequent separation
of the episcopate from the presbyterate may easily have arisen.  

(And so falsely did it rise as in the Roman Catholic church -
Keith Hunt)

But so long as the general government of the church was in the
hands of the apostles and their delegates, the bishops were
limited in their jurisdiction either to one congregation or to a
small circle of congregations.

(Nope, each local church was independant and was not ruled by
some body of "apostles" as Paul makes very clear in his writings,
where he said he did not have to answer to any other apostle.
There was NO pecking order in the first century Church of God,
and there should be no pecking order in the Church of God today -
all covered in depth in my Church Government studies - Keith

The distinction of "teaching presbyters" or ministers proper, and
"ruling presbyters" or lay-elders, is a convenient arrangement of
Reformed churches, but can hardly claim apostolic sanction, since
the one passage on which it rests only speaks of two functions in
the same office. Whatever may have been the distribution and
rotation of duties, Paul expressly mentions ability to teach
among the regular requisites for the episcopal or presbyteral

The ANGELS of the Seven Churches in Asia Minor must be regarded
as identical with the presbyter-bishops or local pastors. They
represent the presiding presbyters, or the corps of regular
officers, as the responsible messengers of God to the
congregation. At the death of Paul and Peter, under Nero, the
congregations were ruled by a college of elders, and if the
Apocalypse, as the majority of critical commentators now hold,
was written before the year 70, there was too little time for a
radical change of the organization from a republican to a
monarchical form. Even if we regard the "angels" as single
persons, they were evidently confined to a single church, and
subject to St.John; hence, not successors of the apostles, as the
latter diocesan bishops claim to be. The most that can be said is
that the angels were congregational, as distinct from diocesan
bishops, and mark one step from the primitive presbyters to the
Ignatian bishops, who were likewise congregational officers, but
in a monarchical sense as the heads of the presbytery, bearing a
patriarchal relation to the congregation and being eminently
responsible for its spiritual condition.

(Schaff is so far off here it like he is from planet Pluto, which
modern scientists have voted is not a planet or a lesser planet.
Be that as you may want to argue, the argument by Schaff is out
in left field here. The angels to the seven churches are just
that ANGELS! The language is not vage, it says angels and means
angels, not some man or men. God had set over the 7 churches an
angel for each church. See my expounding of the book of Revelation 
for the angels of the seven churches - Keith Hunt)

The nearest approach to the idea of the ancient catholic
episcopate may be found in the unique position of James, the
Brother of the Lord. Unlike the apostles, he confined his labors
to the mother church of Jerusalem. In the Jewish Christian
traditions of the second century he appears both as bishop and
pope of the church universal. But in fact he was only "primus
inter pares." In his last visit to Jerusalem, Paul was received
by the body of the presbyters, and to them he gave an account of
his missionary labors. Moreover, this authority of James, who was
not an apostle, was exceptional and due chiefly to his close
relationship with the Lord, and his personal sanctity, which won
the respect even of the unconverted Jews.

(There is NOTHING in the Scriptures that makes James some sort of
"special authority" either in Jerusalem or anywhere else. What
some wrote about him in the second century is man's ideas only,
and has no bearing on the truth of the matter. At any church
conferance you need a "chairman" and that is what James was at
the Jerusalem conferance of Acts 15. All explained in depth in my
studies on Church Government - Keith Hunt)

The institution of episcopacy proper cannot be traced to the
apostolic age, so far as documentary evidence goes, but is very
apparent and well-nigh universal about the middle of the second
century. Its origin and growth will claim our attention in the
next period.

Deacons and Deaconesses.

DEACONS, or helpers, appear first in the church of Jerusalem,
seven in number. The author of the Acts (ch.6) gives us an
account of the origin of this office, which is mentioned before
that of the presbyters. It had a precedent in the officers of the
synagogue who had charge of the collection and distribution of
alms. It was the first relief of the heavy burden that rested on
the shoulders of the apostles, who wished to devote themselves
exclusively to prayer and the ministry of the word. It was
occasioned by a complaint of the Hellenistic Christians against
the Hebrew or Palestinian brethren, that their widows were
neglected in the daily distribution of food (and perhaps money). 
In the exercise of a truly fraternal spirit the congregation
elected seven Hellenists instead of Hebrews, if we are to judge
from their Greek names, although they were not uncommon among the
Jews in that age. After the popular election they were ordained
by the apostles.

The example of the mother church was followed in all other
congregations, though without particular regard to the number.
The church of Rome, however, perpetuated even the number seven
for several generations. In Philippi the deacons took their rank
after the presbyters, and are addressed with them in Pau's

The office of these deacons, according to the narrative in Acts,
was to minister at the table in the daily love-feasts and to
attend to the wants of the poor and the sick. The primitive
churches were charitable societies, taking care of the widows
and orphans, dispensing hospitality to strangers, and relieving
the needs of the poor. The presbyters were the custodians, the
deacons the collectors and distributors, of the charitable funds.

To this work a kind of pastoral care of souls very naturally
attached itself, since poverty and sickness afford the best
occasions and the most urgent demand for edifying instruction and
consolation. Hence, living faith and exemplary conduct were
necessary qualifications for the office of deacon. Two of the
Jerusalem deacons, Stephen and Philip, labored also as preachers
and evangelists, but in the exercise of a personal gift rather
than of official duty.

In post-apostolic times, when the bishop was raised above the
presbyter and the presbyter became priest, the deacon was
regarded as Levite, and his primary function of care of the poor
was lost in the function of assisting the priest in the
subordinate parts of public worship and the administration of the
sacraments. The diaconate became the first of the three orders of
the ministry and a stepping-stone to the priesthood. At the same
time the deacon, by his intimacy with the bishop as his agent and
messenger, acquired an advantage over the priest.

(Schaff is talking about the forming of the Roman Catholic church
starting in the second century - Keith Hunt)

DEACONESSES, or female helpers, had a similar charge of the poor
and sick in the female portion of the church. This office was the
more needful on account of the rigid separation of the sexes at
that day, especially among the Greeks and Orientals. It opened to
pious women and virgins, and chiefly to widows, a most suitable
field for the regular official exercise of their peculiar gifts
of self-denying charity and devotion to the welfare of the
church. Through it they could carry the light and comfort of the
gospel into the most private and delicate relations of domestic
life, without at all overstepping their natural sphere. Paul
mentions Phoebe as a deaconess of the church of Cenchreae, the
port of Corinth, and it is more than probable that Prisca
(Priscilla), Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persia, whom he
commends for their labor in the Lord, served in the same capacity
at Rome.
The deaconesses were usually chosen from elderly widows. In the
Eastern churches the office continued to the end of the twelfth

(There is NO distinction mentioned in the NT between male deacons
and female deacons - they were on equal footing. It was the Roman
Catholic church that brought in wrong church government, which
began with them in the second century AD - Keith Hunt)

Church Discipline.

Holiness, like unity and catholicity or universality, is an
essential mark of the Church of Christ, who is himself the one,
holy Saviour of all men; but it has never yet been perfectly
actualized in her membership on earth, and is subject to gradual
growth with many obstructions and lapses. The church militant, as
a body, like every individual Christian, has to pass through a
long process of sanctification, which cannot be complete till the
second coming of the Lord.
Even the apostles, far as they tower above ordinary Christians,
and infallible as they are in giving all the instruction
necessary to salvation, never during their earthly life claimed
sinless perfection of character, but felt themselves oppressed
with manifold infirmities, and in constant need of forgiveness
and purification.

Still less can we expect perfect moral purity in their churches.
In fact, all the Epistles of the New Testament contain
exhortations to progress in virtue and piety, warnings against
unfaithfulness and apostasy, and reproofs respecting corrupt
practices among the believers. The old leaven of Judaism and
heathenism could not be purged away at once, and to many of the
blackest sins the converts were for the first time fully exposed
after their regeneration by water and the Spirit. In the churches
of Galatia many fell back from grace and from the freedom of the
gospel to the legal bondage of Judaism and the "rudiments of the
world." In the church of Corinth, Paul had to rebuke the carnal
spirit of sect, the morbid desire for wisdom, participation in
the idolatrous feasts of the heathen, the tendency to
uncleanness, and a scandalous profanation of the holy Supper or
the love-feasts connected with it. Most of the churches of Asia
Minor, according to the Epistles of Paul and the Apocalypse, were
so infected with theoretical errors or practical abuses, as to
call for the earnest warnings and reproofs of the Holy Spirit
through the apostles.

These facts show how needful discipline is, both for the church
herself and for the offenders. For the church it is a process of
self-purification, and the assertion of the holiness and moral
dignity which essentially belong to her. To the offender it is at
once a merited punishment and a means of repentance and reform.
For the ultimate end of the agency of Christ and his church is
the salvation of souls; and Paul styles the severest form of
church discipline the delivering of the backslider "to Satan for
the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the
day of the Lord Jesus."

The means of discipline are of various degrees of severity;
first, private admonition, then public correction, and, finally,
when these prove fruitless, excommunication, or temporary
exclusion from all the means of grace and from Christian
intercourse. Upon sincere repentance, the fallen one is restored
to the communion of the church. The act of discipline is that of
the whole congregation in the name of Christ; and Paul himself,
though personally absent, excommunicated the fornicator at
Corinth with the concurrence of the congregation, and as being in
spirit united with it. In one of the only two passages where our
Lord uses the term "ecclesia," he speaks of it as a court which,
like the Jewish synagogue, has authority to decide disputes and
to exercise discipline. In the synagogue, the college of
presbyters formed the local court for judicial as well as
administrative purposes, but acted in the name of the whole

(What the synagogue did has no bearing on truth. In the NT church
it is the whole congregation that must decide on someone being
disfellowshipped - not any individual or group of elders, but the
whole congregation must give the vote to disfellowship someone -
all covered in-depth in my study on "Disfellowshipping" - Keith

The two severest cases of discipline in the apostolic church were
the fearful punishment of Ananias and Sapphira by Peter for
falsehood and hypocrisy in the church of Jerusalem in the days of
her first love, and the excommunication of a member of the
Corinthian congregation by Paul for adultery and incest. The
latter case affords also an instance of restoration.`

The Jerusalem Council

The most complete outward representation of the apostolic church
as a teaching and legislative body was the council convened at
Jerusalem in the year 50, to decide as to the authority of the
law of Moses, and adjust the difference between Jewish and
Gentile Christianity.
We notice it here simply in its connection with the organization
of the church.
It consisted not of the apostles alone, but of apostles, elders,
and brethren. We know that Peter, Paul, John, Barnabas, and Titus
were present, perhaps all the other apostles. James - not one of
the Twelve - presided as the local bishop, and proposes the
compromise which was adopted. The transactions were public,
before the congregation; the brethren took part in the
deliberations; there was a sharp discussion, but the spirit of
love prevailed over the pride of opinion; the apostles passed and
framed the decree not without, but with the elders and "with the
whole church;" and sent the circular letter not in their own name
only, but also in the name of "the brother elders" or "elder
brethren" to "the brethren" of the congregations disturbed by the
question of circumcision.

All of which plainly proves the right of Christian people to take
part in some way in the government of the church, as they do in
the acts of worship. The spirit and practice of the apostles
favored a certain kind of popular self-government, and the
harmonious, fraternal co-operation of the different elements of
the church. It countenanced no abstract distinction of clergy and
laity. All believers are called to the prophetic, priestly, and
kingly offices in Christ. The bearers of authority and discipline
should therefore never forget that their great work is to train
the governed to freedom and independence, and by the various
spiritual offices to build them up unto the unity of faith and
knowledge, and to the perfect manhood of Christ.

The Greek and Roman churches gradually departed from the
apostolic polity and excluded not only the laity, but also the
lower clergy from all participation in the legislative councils.

The conference of Jerusalem, though not a binding precedent, is a
significant example, giving the apostolic sanction to the
synodical form of government, in which all classes of the
Christian community are represented in the management of public
affairs and in settling controversies respecting faith and
discipline. The decree which it passed and the pastoral letter
which it sent, are the first in the long line of decrees and
canons and encyclicals which issued from ecclesiastical
authorities. But it is significant that this first decree, though
adopted undoubtedly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and
wisely adapted to the times and circumstances of the mixed
churches of Jewish and Gentile converts, was after all merely "a
temporary expedient for a temporary emergency," and cannot be
quoted as a precedent for infallible decrees of permanent force. 
The spirit of fraternal concession and harmony which dictated the
Jerusalem compromise, is more important than the letter of the
decree itself. The kingdom of Christ is not a dispensation of
law, but of spirit and of life.

(Not sure what was in Schaff's mind when he said "not a
dispensation of law, but of spirit and of life." The truth is that
law is a part of God, and so the church must have law and order,
as Paul was inspired to say, God is not the author of confusion.
Law and Grace go together - it is not law or grace, but it is law
and grace - law, spirit, life, repentance, humility, service, the
aim of holiness in living, is all part of the Christian Gospel -
Keith Hunt)

The Church and the Kingdom of Christ.

Thus the apostolic church appears as a free, independent, and
complete organism, a system of supernatural, divine life in a
human body. It contains in itself all the offices and energies
required for its purposes. It produces the supply of its outward
wants from its own free spirit. It is a self-supporting and
selfgoverning institution, within the state, but not of the
state. Of a union with the state, either in the way of
hierarchical supremacy or of Erastian subordination, the first
three centuries afford no trace. The apostles honor the civil
authority as a divine institution for the protection of life and
property, for the reward of the good and the punishment of the
evil-doer; and they enjoin, even under the reign of a Claudius
and a Nero, strict obedience to it in all civil concerns; as,
indeed, their heavenly Master himself submitted in temporal
matters to Herod and to Pilate, and rendered unto Caesar the
things that were Caesar's. But in their spiritual calling they
allowed nothing to be prescribed or forbidden to them by the
authorities of the state. Their principle was, to "obey God
rather than men." For this principle, for their allegiance to the
King of kings, they were always ready to suffer imprisonment,
insult, persecution, and death, but never to resort to carnal
weapons, or stir up rebellion and revolution. "The weapons of our
warfare," says Paul, "are not carnal, but mighty through God."
Martyrdom is a far nobler heroism than resistance with fire and
sword, and leads with greater certainty at last to a thorough and
permanent victory.

(I believe Schaff is here saying the truth that Christians cannot
just sit by or obey or honor such governments as that under
Hitler or other mad-men leaders that have brought on much
horrific horror upon mankind. Martyrdom by voicing outcry against
such horror by leaders like Hitler is one that a Christian must
be willing to face. An outcry and fleeing from such mad-dog
leaders is also the way that many of God's people practiced in
past history - they did not take up arms and fight and kill in a
nation's war machine - they gave an outcry, protected innocent
people, and then either fled the country or were willing to stand
up and take martyrdom - Keith Hunt)

The apostolic church, as to its membership, was not free from
impurities, the after-workings of Judaism and heathenism and the
natural man. But in virtue of an inherent authority it exercised
rigid discipline, and thus steadily asserted its dignity and
holiness. It was not perfect; but it earnestly strove after the
perfection of manhood in Christ, and longed and hoped for the
reappearance of the Lord in glory, to the exaltation of his
people. It was as yet not actually universal, but a little flock
compared with the hostile hosts of the heathen and Jewish world;
yet it carried in itself the principle of true catholicity, the
power and pledga of its victory over all other religions, and its
final prevalence among all nations of the earth and in all
classes of society.

Paul defines the church as the body of Jesus Christ. He thus
represents it as an organic living system of various members,
powers, and functions, and at the same time as the abode of
Christ and the organ of his redeeming and sanctifying influence
upon the world. Christ is, in one view, the ruling head, in
another the all-pervading soul, of this body. Christ without the
church were as a head without a body, a fountain without a
stream, a king without subjects, a captain without soldiers,
a bridegroom without a bride. The church without Christ were a
body without soul or spirit - a lifeless corpse. The church lives
only as Christ lives and moves and works in her. At every moment
of her existence she is dependent on him, as the body on the
soul, or the branches on the vine. But on his part he perpetually
bestows upon her his heavenly gifts and supernatural powers,
continually reveals himself in her, and uses her as his organ for
the spread of his kingdom and the christianizing of the world,
till all principalities and powers shall yield free obedience to
him, and adore him as the eternal Prophet, Priest, and King of
the regenerate race. This work must be a gradual process of
history. The idea of a body, and of all organic life, includes
that of development, of expansion and consolidation. And hence
the same Paul speaks also of the growth and edification of the
body of Christ, "till we all attain unto the unity of the faith,
and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man,
unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." 

This sublime idea of the church, as developed in the First
Epistle to the Corinthians, and especially in the Epistle to the
Ephesians, when Paul was a prisoner chained to a heathen soldier,
soars high above the actual condition of the little flocks of
peasants, freedmen, slaves, and lowly, uncultured people that
composed the apostolic congregations. It has no parallel in the
social ideals of ancient philosophers and statesmen. It can only
be traced to divine inspiration.

We must not confound this lofty conception of the church as the
body of Christ with any particular ecclesiastical organization,
which at best is only a part of the whole, and an imperfect
approach to the ideal. Nor must we identify it with the still
higher idea of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.  

A vast amount of presumption, bigotry, and intolerance has grown
out of such confusion. It is remarkable that Christ speaks only
once of the church in the organic or universal sense. But he very
often speaks of the kingdom, and nearly all his parables
illustrate this grand ide. In many passages we could not possibly
substitute the one for the other without manifest impropriety.
The church is external, visible, manifold, temporal, the kingdom
of heaven is internal, spiritual, one, and everlasting. The
kingdom is older and more comprehensive; it embraces all the true
children of God on earth and in heaven, before Christ and after
Christ, inside and outside of the churches and sects. The
historical church with its various ramifications is a pedagogic
institution or training-school for the kingdom of heaven, and
will pass away as to its outward form when its mission is
fulfilled. The kingdom has come in Christ, is continually coming,
and will finally come in its full grown strength and beauty when
the King will visibly appear in his glory.

The coming of this kingdom in and through the visible churches,
with varying conflicts and victories, is the proper object of
church history. It is a slow, but sure and steady progress, with
many obstructions, delays, circuitous turns and windings, but
constant manifestations of the presence of him who sits at the
helm of the ship and directs it through rain, storm, and sunshine
to the harbor of the other and better world.

Schaff finishes with good sound words about the Church of God.
It is the physical and outwardness of the spiritual Kingdom of
God at present; it is to work towards holiness and righteousness,
but it is not yet perfect; sins and weakness are still part of
its makeup. Yet even with that rules are given for discipline in
love, so the forward march to holiness can best continue. The
church is as Jesus said the "very little flock" (as the Greek
means) and the salt of the earth - a sprinkling of true saints of
God here and there - sometimes one or two, sometimes a
congregation here and there in the world. The true Church of God
is not large, it is not the popular churches of Christendom.
Babylon Mystery religion of Rome and her daughter churches who
came out of her in Protest, are NOT the churches of the body of
Christ. Some of the names Schaff gave as supposed apostles and
evangelists down through the centuries were NOT God's apostles or
evangelists - they were wolves in sheeps clothing as shocking as
that may sound to many reading this. They were the false prophets
Jesus said would come in the last days, and especailly just
before His return to earth.

Jesus does have His true body of believers. Jesus does have His
true apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers. They are
out there. YOU need to find the truth of God and in so doing you
will find the ones who are faithfully proclaiming that truth to
the world.

For an in-depth study on "Church Government" you can find it on
this website.

Keith Hunt

To be continued

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