Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 20, 1956
NUMBER 20, PAGE 11-13b

The New Testament Church (VI.)

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

The Past-Apostolic Age

Inspiration revealed the apostasy would begin in the church organization. (Acts 20:29,30.) "The falling away" "the mystery of iniquity was at work when Paul wrote II Thessalonians." Thess. 2. Shortly after the last apostle died the process of centralization and ritualism appeared in fuller form. These early appearances of ecclesiastical and hierarchical tendencies grew into the universal or Roman church.

A major and basic difference between the apostolic and post-apostolic church is polity. "By church polity we mean those principles and practices that determine the direction of church activity. The term denotes the seat of authority in church government, the forms of organization, the controls in determining membership, the modes of activity and the objectiveness to be sought. That is, church polity signifies the principles that operate in the activity of the church as the agency of the kingdom of Christ." (Dana: Manual of Ecclesiology, pg. 96.)

Different polities arise from underlying conceptions as a basis for promoting the progress of the church-carrying on the work: (1) Tradition. The attempt is made to prove the scriptural basis through authoritative tradition by apostolic succession. This is primarily the Roman Catholic position. The church is universal and has absolute authority. (2) Expediency. This view recognizes no established norm for the church, that there will be constant changes arranged by the intellect of man. They claim such is left to the normal capacities of man and formulated to suit the situation or the age. This view permits recurring polities. Most sectarian churches take this position. it was Alexander Campbell's argument for the Missionary Society. It is the only argument of the institutionally minded brethren of today who attempt to justify Orphan Homes and Sponsoring Churches. it is a sectarian argument denying the completeness of God's revelation; it is not a scriptural doctrine. (3) Scripture. There is a complete and definite norm for all ages in the New Testament.

Church government is explained by the word "ecclesia" — it is local, not universal. "When the time did come, in which matters of human law were given the status of matters of divine law — a change was largely made possible by the "high' speculation about the ecclesia — then the step was taken from original Christianity to early Catholicism." (Schmidt: Church, pg. 69.)

The apostasy was a falling apart of ideas and the apostles' doctrine. There were enormous changes by the end of the second century. "By ecclesiasticism we mean the theory of church polity which regards the church as an aggregation of local bodies of Christians within given limits and subject to some kind of central authority or expression of an organic relation existing between Christians who are more or less widely distributed." (Dana, pg. 97.) The large organization of the Roman Empire and political organizations influenced ecclesia polity. Thus the world-wide organization and the one universal church developed. (Dana, pg. 97.)

Polycarp of Smyrna, lived close to Ephesus and claimed acquaintance with John, the apostle. He was martyred in Rome and enroute wrote an epistle to the Philippians. In it ecclesia occurs twice in a local sense.

Yet he yielded to the ecclesiastical development about him, and accepted the universal view of the church and the distinction between bishop and elder. (Dana, pg. 105.)

The general epistle of the church at Smyrna was written shortly after his death, so represents the conditions of the church under him. Ecclesia occurs seven times, three in the local sense, four in the universal. Polycarp is the sole bishop and the church is but a local representation of the universal church. Salutation is "to all the communities of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place." (Dana, pg. 105.) Polycarp's last view showed ecclesiasticism rapidly taking hold.

Ignatius of Antioch was martyred in 107 A.D.; wrote seven epistles in which ecclesia occurs 39 times, 30 local, five generic, three universal or a total of 77 percent local. Yet he exhibits the very development of Roman Catholicism. Calls Polycarp the bishop of the church at Smyrna. He sets forth three classes of officers: bishops, elders, and deacons yet elevates them to religious dominance thus beginning the clergy. (Dana, pg. IN.)

Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians at the end of the first century. "Church" occurs four times in the epistle in the local usage. No church polity is indicated yet many implications of the dominance of Rome. (Dana, pg. 99.)

Didache was written in the last part of the second century. "Church" occurs four times, once local, three times universal. (Dana, pg. 105.)

The above are clearly Greek writings. Later Greek writers are Irenaeus and Origen. In Irenaeus' writings one is on wholly different ground from the New Testament The universal church assumes full form with him. "Against Heresies" the word "church" occurs 133 times, five quotes from the New Testament, two in summaries of views of heretics, one of Old and New Dispensations leaving 125. Of these one is generic, 21 local, 103 universal which is the exact reversal of New Testament usage. Eighty-three percent in Irenaeus. The ancient Catholic Church assumed full form with him. Furthermore, the church with him is more than the totality of believers; it is an original apostolic institution which a subsequent church had organized and outlined its activities. He stressed apostolic succession of bishops, the unity and universality of the church. (Dana, pp. 107-8.)

Origen lived fifty years later. Presents much the same ideas as Irenaeus. Seventy-two occurrences of ecclesia in writings, 41 universal, 31 local. Spoke of the "creed of the church," "the teaching of the church."

Latin writers. Cyprian of Carthage (248-9) uses universal church exclusively and makes episcopacy the center of church organization. Jerome (345-420) also emphasizes the catholicity and unity of the church. Augustine raised the superstructure of the foundation Cyprian laid. Spoke of totality of one church, the unity of the Catholic Church. (City of God, 17:4). Local church rarely used. The Medieval Church is the fruits of their work. (Dana, pg. 117.)

Summary: Digression came as a neglect and abandonment of the local church of the New Testament and the formulation of a universal church.

Protestant Reformation. "The Reformation had practically no effect on the essential conception of the church. The great Reformers took over without question the theory of ecclesiastical constitution which Cyprian and Augustine had handed down to the Middle Ages." (Dana, pg. 135.) Their foe ecclesiastical tyranny had been erected out of the theory of a catholic, a universal church. They fought the sacredotalism of the clergy but advocated ecclesiasticism and held to organic unity. They believed in the universal priesthood yet contended for universal organization, thus nourishing the very roots and foundation of Catholicism.

"The two chief foundation stones upon which the papal throne was built were the belief in a universal church dispensing salvation and the church endowed with temporal power as well as spiritual power." (Dana, pg. 136.) In principle both these views were accepted by the Reformers.

At the closing of the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran) is the statement, "Our meaning is not to have the rule taken away from the bishops." (Dana, pg. 136.) Luther was dominated by ecclesiasticism. He first thought to purge Roman Catholicism but even after he was forced to break with them, he still believed in her purity. In writings he speaks of the universal church — an organic and visible reality. The church is invisible but in function it is visible. By invisible he must have meant is nature. He was not against papal supremacy and would have been reconciled to the existing Roman government in Germany and regarded the church as having superintendency over the souls of men. One universal church organized into various territorial divisions was sanctioned by Luther. The union of church and state has characterized the Lutheran Church. Luther neither formulated nor defined a church government. The forms were thought out by others and submitted to him but they were dominated by Luther.

Calvin attempted to return to the apostolic church but failed. He too, believed in a universal church. Does not use local church in writings. He was an ecclesiastic believing in union of church and state.

Henry VIII broke with the Roman Church because he wanted to remarry and became head of the Anglican Church. Doctrine and practices of the Roman Church maintained. Later adopted Reformation creeds but remained very ecclesiastic.

Resultant types: (1) Episcopal. The center of organization is in the bishop based on apostolic succession promulgated by Cyprian. Under the archbishop are archdeacons who look after local affairs. (2) Connectional. Represents the combined voices of all congregations. It is an aggregation of local congregations subscribing to a special creed and bearing organic relation. (a) Methodist Episcopal. General Conference composed of bishops. A bishop in each district places a superintendent over the field work. Local church has no voice. (b) Lutheran. Governing body is consistory composed of clergy and laymen. Enforced by civil government, in America by synods. (c) Presbyterian. Presbytery is (representatives of local churches). Mediate in cooperation through these. (d) Congregational. Is between congregational and connectional. Each congregation regulates own affairs but church at large acts in advisory capacity. Have organic relation. (Dana, pg. 146-7.)

The sects have connectional arrangements. Only the Restoration Movement brought back the apostolic church. The only lapses back into sectarianism is the Missionary Society movement and the sponsoring churches of today. The center of organization is the local church which is sovereign and an independent body bearing no organic relation to any other church or governing body of representatives from local churches. This has all the essential features of the apostolic church and faithfully reproduces it. It is adequate for organization and work.

Conclusions: (1) Centralization is apostasy. The falling away from the apostolic church was centered in the change in the form and organization of the church. The apostolic church had complete independence in the administration of its work, this was changed into a connectional form wherein was organic relation among congregations. The first step in the apostasy, one church (usually a large one) took charge of much of the internal affairs and work of surrounding churches. All roads from this point led to Rome. The Protestant Reformers and sects in America all believe in and have connectional arrangements. It was basically on this point that the Christian Church was formed and founded. The sponsoring church and the Herald of Truth are built on the same principle. It began in the apostasy, culminated in the Catholic Church, carried on by the Reformers and borrowed by Alexander Campbell and the sponsoring church brethren of today. All this is unscriptural and anti-scriptural. The attempt to formulate a universal church is seen in the Lecture programs at which time elders, preachers and teachers are invited to attend. They are told how to act as elders, what to preach, what to teach and what programs to support. The congregations become the handmaid to the college.

The word ecclesia means and signifies a local body of Christians who are free and independent. It is therefore a matter of Bible doctrine, of divine revelation not a matter of judgment, opinion or expediency. The word ecclesia has a specific meaning as does baptism which means immersion, not sprinkling or pouring. For this reason the organization and work of the church in form and mode is not left to the judgment of men.

(2) The church of the New Testament is not an institution. Colleges, parochial schools, orphan and old folks heroes are institutions. All these were formulated by the Roman Church and incorporated by them as part of the integral work of that church. The apostolic church has a religious purpose and design. It is composed of baptized believers having a purpose to edify its members, worship God and preach the gospel to the lost. It is not designed to entertain its membership, teach secular subjects, feed the world. When institutions are yoked to the church and included in its fold digression happens for all such is a perversion of the divine pattern and borrowed from the Catholics and sectarians. The church must be kept free from all worldly institutions. Since the church is a self governing body it must necessarily follow that a congregation oversee and care for its own who are in need. On main feature in the apostasy of the second century following is the falling apart of apostolic doctrine and the breaking down of lines of demarcation between the church and the world. The apostate church, the universal church incorporated within its confines secular institutions and activities. When such happens it is no longer possible to keep the secular from encroaching upon the divine and even usurping authority over the divine. The world which is the domain of Satan fills the church.

(3) The commission to the New Testament church is to preach the gospel. (Eph. 3:10.) The apostate church ceased to do this and used other means to win people especially pointing to those who lived ascetic lives. Today in the brotherhood there is a tendency to canonize some who have passed on even men who all through their lives promoted doctrinal error. Some brethren today promote youth camps, furnish worldly entertainment and soup kitchens to win people instead of preaching the gospel to them.

(4) The programs of the institutionally minded brethren have all the characteristics of the early apostasy: 1) The universal church program and organization instead of the local; 2) incorporation of institutions; 3) departure from Scripture doctrine and practice; 4) attempt to justify practices on the grounds of human judgment, opinion and expediency; 5) use of means other than the gospel to win and hold members; 6) union of secular with religion; 7) programs, teaching, sermons designed to please the worldly minded and for numerical strength rather than spiritual strength; 8) emphasis on large congregations so as to make a name in the world by size; 9) appointment of men to offices who are successful in business and in promotional schemes rather than those who are scripturally qualified; 10) toleration of and even encouragement of modernism and liberalism in what is described as "worthy institutions."

The institutional brethren have made great headway in digression; in fact they are further removed from the Scriptures than those who advocated the Missionary Society.

Part One Concluded