Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 4, 1970
NUMBER 5, PAGE 5a,6a

How It Got Started

[No. 3]

Wm. E. Wallace

The letter of I Clement reflects the beginnings of an unwarranted power in the office of the elder. The writings of Ignatius set forth the overlordship of one bishop, and Irenaeus sets forth the special relation of Roman bishops to the headship of Christ. These three second century authors reflect the development of one-man episcopal authority over congregations, local and regional. The third century would see enlargement and expansion of this organizational apostasy in the direction of consolidating the many episcopates or bishoprics under the authority of several metropolitan super-bishops.


The second century drift into a restructuring of the "church" was a response and reaction to the problems of the century. The "church" organized to resist heresy, provide unity, expedite mission, and to protect "orthodoxy." An apostate church resulted, a church which became the victim of all the evils it sought to withstand.

The bishops had acquired authority not allowed by God. In resisting heresies they imposed error of their own. In seeking to maintain unity, they created an authoritarian structure based on something other than the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." The purity and simplicity of the apostolic church became obscure in the face of the massive restructuring processes of apostate Christendom.

While the detailed steps of the process by which churches were restructured into an episcopal organization, are not available to the historian, it is certain that at the end of the second century a firmly established inter-congregational organization existed. It was so structured as to allow easy communication throughout the Mediterranean world, ensuring a uniformity among those subject to the various bishoprics.

It is significant that there were dissenters to the "establishment." While most "dissenters" were heretics of a sort, some must have manifested an identity with the New Testament church with sound pleas for apostolic authority in all matters. In fact, according to one translation, Ignatius writes of "anti-ism" in his time! Said he, "I have found some people saying: 'If I do not find it (their point of belief) in the records, in the Gospel, I will not believe it!' " (Letter to Philadelphians Chapter VIII).


There was much in the second century comparable to our time. There were public debates, as between Justin and Trypho at Ephesus about 137 A. D., and between Jason and Papiscus in Alexandria. There were campaigns of calumny, and Christians were accused of cannibalism, incest, black magic. The intellectual Lucian's view of Christians was, as evaluated by the historian Frend, is that they were credulous, fanatical, and bound together by the fact they had rejected the Greek gods, simpletons perhaps, but none the less dangerous. Another intellectual, Celsus, is reported to show the church as it appeared to an outsider, still Jewish in outlook, divided among a number of warring sects, teaching the destruction of the world in a great blaze, an illegal society which proselytized, and which preached disloyalty to its converts.

The letters of Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Polycarp, and unknown authors enable us to see something of the people of the second century — their struggles, aims, beliefs, and divisions. Such literature as the "Letter of Barnabas," "Shepherd of Hermas," and the "Didache" offer studies in the general drift of second century church folk. There were productions we now call "pious frauds" — publications bearing the names of apostles.

The "canon" of scripture becomes somewhat established in the second century among churches. There was the controversy over the date of "Easter," the empire wide persecution of Christians under emperor Marcus Aurelius. The Bar-Kochba rebellion, in which Jerusalem was recaptured and occupied by Jews, was a most significant series of events, though the rebellion was short-lived. This is a historical fact conveniently overlooked by those who speculate about Luke 21:24 with regard to June 1967.

Beginning Of "Main Stream" Apostasy

The study of second century history, what we have of it, reveals much in the way of diverse currents and splintering movements. But so far as our present purposes are concerned, the most significant development of the second century is, as stated by an historian: ". . . the explicit distinction between the presbyterial college, and its head the bishop, was made more or less rapidly in different places; toward the middle of the second century it was an accomplished fact almost everywhere." And so developed the apostasy.

In the second century the broad stream ("main stream") of apostate church history began in the corrupting of the pure flow from the first century. But somewhere, trickling along in some obscure and remote detachment, the pure waters of New Testament Christianity were to be found by those seeking refuge from the second century mess.