Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 14, 1970

How It Got Started

[No. 1]

Wm. E. Wallace

To view the complex modern religious situation superimposed over New Testament pages is to focus a study in extreme religious perversion. The contemporary religious scene is as different from the pure forms of New Testament Christianity as the waters of the Mississippi River at its Gulf coast mouth are different from the origins in Minnesota. The waters of the mighty Mississippi are changed and corrupted by the confluence of streams and rivers and contaminated with the influx of city and industrial pollution.

Pointed Religion

So it is in Christendom. The flow of church history through nineteen long centuries has emptied into our time a polluted, unhealthy form of religion. The rebellion in modern society against the present forms of religion, among other things, reflects the decadent situation in Christendom.

The ecclesiastical powers, the religio-political combines, and the powerful centralizations of Christendom have served as the chief sources of perversion of the New Testament faith. The perversions of which we write are the doctrinal deviations, the moral deficiencies and the functional irregularities. Christendom is a maze of theological error, unholiness, unscriptural activity and sterile mission.

How did things get into such a mess? How did it get started? The New Testament gives ample warning that this would happen, and there is Biblical evidence that trends in this direction were shaping up in the first century.

The purpose of this presentation is to trace the early developments in second century church history, pointing to organizational trends which set the stage for the complex diversities of ancient, medieval and modern Christendom.

I Clement

We begin with I Clement, an epistle written at the close of the first century. At this time highly significant situations were present due to the stilling of live apostolic voices by death, the ever-growing threat of persecution, the inroads of heresy, and numerous divisive elements. The epistle, I Clement, while offering only a single instance on which to make a point, serves to reflect an example of a precedent.

The church in Corinth was plagued with difficulties, involving efforts to depose elders. Clement, prominent in the church of Rome, writes to the brethren in Corinth in the name of the church at Rome. In this intervention the stage is set for outside interference in the local affairs of a congregation, by uninspired men, and by influential churches like the one in Rome. The letter contains strong appeals to unity and to respect for elder-rule based on scripture. But it also sets forth a line of argumentation reflecting the presence of trends toward organizational departures.

In building a case for a defense of the elders in Corinth, Clement points out how the apostles had first appointed elders (bishops). He then argues that provisions for succession were made, in case of the death of those original appointees. In his presentation there is a "between the lines" or veiled suggestion that succession of office from originally appointed elders (bishops) offered some special sanctity and authority to the second generation elders at Corinth.

This idea of succession of office became prevalent in early church history and finally reached an apex in the idea of apostolic succession.

Whether the Corinthian dissenters were justified or not in their attempts to depose elders, the idea of succession of office was not rightfully a determining factor.

The perpetuation of the office and work of elders is not founded on legal or official succession, but on qualifications set forth in New Testament scripture.

Clement's appeal for unity based in part on the idea of elders, may not be a major departure, but it is a beginning, and it reflects a concept concerning succession of office which eventually surrounded the eldership with an air of authority beyond that which is granted to presbyters in the New Testament. This is the beginning of a trend toward an organizational hierarchy.

(To be continued)