The Evolution of Church Leadership
The New Testament concept of what
constituted church leadership (non-hierarchical, plural, co-equal, and
indigenous) did not last much past the apostolic era. As early as A.D.
95, just years before John the Revelator was believed to have died,
Clement of Rome wrote in his Epistle to the Corinthians,
"The high priest
has been given his own special services, the priests have been assigned
their own place, and the Levites have their special ministrations
enjoined on them. The layman is bound by the ordinances of the laity."
Here we have Clement of Rome
coming up with the grand idea of applying the Old Testament Levitical
Priesthood to the Christian churches. Here, as early as A.D. 95, we
have the introduction of the concept that church leadership ought to
be that of priesthood, with the inevitable resultant distinction being
made between "priest" and "people." The clergy/laity
divide, which has dogged Christianity for two millennia, didn't originate
with either Jesus or his apostles, and is therefore nothing whatsoever
to do with the teaching of the New Testament. It rather originated with
a guy called Clement who took church leadership, as set up by the apostles,
and turned it into a priesthood quite separate from the laity.
Fifteen years later, in A.D.
110, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote the following to the Ephesians,
presbytery is tuned to the Bishop as strings to a lyre....Let us be
careful not to resist the Bishop, that through our submission to the
Bishop we may belong to God....We should regard the Bishop as the
To the Magnesians:
"I advise you to
always act in godly concord with the Bishop, presiding as the counterpart
of God, and the presbyters as the counterpart of the council of the
Apostles....As the Lord did nothing without the Father, either by
Himself or by means of the Apostles, so you must do nothing without
the Bishop and the presbyters."
To the Trallians:
Bishop as the counterpart of the Father, and the presbyters as the
council of God and the college of the Apostles: without those no church
To the Smyrneans:
"Let no-one do
anything that pertains to the church apart from the Bishop...it is
not permitted to baptize or hold a love-feast independently of the
Bishop. But whatever he approves, that is also well pleasing to God."
Notice where we have come?
The presbytery (this is where the English word priest
comes from) is now a reverend presbytery. It is growing both
in importance and spiritual authority. (And of course this is how the
designation of Reverend as a title for a church leader originated.)
Moreover, non-hierarchical co-equality is gone too, and this "ordained
ministry" is now headed up by a Bishop. Note too the astounding
authority ascribed to the Bishop. He is to be looked upon, "as
the Lord Himself." (At least they were still having love-feasts,
even though you had to get permission from the Bishop first.)
In A.D. 200 Tertullian wrote:
"The supreme priest
(that is the Bishop) has the right of conferring baptism: after him
the presbyters and deacons, but only with the Bishop's authority.
Otherwise the laity also have the right...how much more is the discipline
of reverence and humility incumbent upon laymen (since it also befits
their superiors)...It would be idle for us to suppose that what is
forbidden to PRIESTS is allowed to the laity. The distinction between
the order of clergy and the people has been established by the authority
of the Church."
Another ninety years have
now passed and we have a full-blown priesthood, under the authority
of a Bishop, with said priests considered the superiors of the
mere laity, and with the Bishop regarded as supreme. In
his statement that the clergy/laity divide, "has been established
by the authority of the Church," we can see how Tertullian
and the other church leaders of the day are claiming divine authority
to sanction their own system. Church leaders are now, in effect, beyond
question or challenge.
Fifty years later you might
be amazed to discover that this priesthood has developed even
further and is now considered to be an actual sacrificing one. It is
thought to be actually mediating between God and those who are not priests.
Writing of the Lord's Supper, Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, in A.D. 250
"If Christ Jesus
our Lord and God is Himself the High Priest of God the Father, and
first offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father, and commanded
this to be done in remembrance of Himself, then assuredly the priest
acts truly in Christ's place when he reproduces what Christ did, and
he then offers a true and complete sacrifice to God the Father, if
he begins to offer as he sees Christ Himself has offered."
What eventually became the
full-blown Catholic Mass is here in germinal form as early as A.D. 250.
And of course the supremacy of the Bishop over the priesthood soon led
to even more layers of priestly hierarchy developing; culminating, of
course, in the very Bishop of Bishops himself. Ladies and gentlemen,
may we please hear it for the Pope!
And so we see how, little
by little the Early Church Fathers took Christian churches from being
a proliferation of little localized extended families, and made them
instead into a worldwide hierarchical religious corporation. It is evident
too how this first error, which I refer to as their foundational
one, made it inevitable that more errors would soon follow. This wrong
teaching about the very nature of the leadership and government of the
church gave Christian leaders, in the form of Priests and Bishops, such
authority that whatever else they ended up teaching was accepted virtually
automatically as being from the Lord. It was indeed a seed-bed
in which grew various other plants of error and deception.
It would take another 1,250
years, on the arrival of Martin Luther in the early 1500s, before this
divide between clergy and laity was challenged. (Martin Luther introduced
the concept of "the priesthood of believers," in which both
clergy and laity alike are priests; and so essentially we "are
all brothers.") Even then, Christianity, in the form of Protestantism,
has never fully rejected this false divide between clergy and laity.
We must be clear that it
is not only churches that practice leadership by priesthood which
are in error. The essence of the wrong teaching introduced by the Church
Fathers was that of hierarchy and institutionalism, priesthood
just happened to be the particular form it took. So whether you have
Catholics and Anglicans at one end of the spectrum with their hierarchical
priesthoods, or Baptists and Pentecostals at the other with their churches
led by the Pastor or Minister, who is not only imported
and in charge, but also titled and referred to as the Rev. so and so,
the error is precisely the same. The nature of church life, with all
the anti-Biblical rigmarole of led services and religious buildings,
and all the trappings of institutionalism, is still fundamentally changed
and made into something the opposite of what it should be. Indeed, many
so-called house churches with pyramid structures with their elders
and senior elders under the authority of some hierarchically
positioned apostle are merely yet another variation on the same
old tired erroneous theme. So, whether it's Priest, Pastor
or Senior Elder, or any of the myriad other variations around,
it's still not what the New Testament teaches.
So just where have we come?
Well, we have gone from the Christian Church being a family to it becoming
a franchise. We have gone from organism to organization; from charismatic
community to ecclesiastical, Multi-national Corporation; from God-led
to man-led; from divine inspiration to mere human machination. In short,
the Lord has been moved out of His home, and an alternative and un-Biblical
way of doing things moved in instead and took His place.
It was inevitable too that,
in time, Spirit-led open and interactive worship and sharing in which
all could take part would replaced by religious services led from the
front by the priests, by the professionals and the experts. Inevitable
too was the Lord's Supper as a full meal, eaten together as God's extended
family, being replaced by a "bread and wine service," tagged
on to the newly created more general "church services." And
of course finally believers' homes gave way to religious edifices donated
by the Roman Emperor for the express purpose of holding said "religious
services." The change was complete. The transformation was accomplished
and the metamorphosis eventually finalized. Within mere decades of the
death of the apostles the churches, as established and taught by them,
were no more; destroyed and replaced by a monstrous alternative which
went systematically against virtually everything those churches had
(The above is a condensing,
reworking, and adding to the article, "The Early Church Fathers
- The Heart of the Problem!" For the full text go here)