OceanSide church of Christ
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WHO WANTS A 2ND CENTURY CHURCH?
Victor M. Eskew
It was prophesied by the prophets Isaiah and Micah that the house of the Lord would be established in the mountain tops of Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3). Daniel foretold that this kingdom would be established in the days of the Roman kings (Dan. 2:44). The prophesies of these great men of God came to pass as declared. We read of their fulfillment in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles of Christ while they were in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-4). The gospel of Christ was preached for the first time (Acts 2:14-36). The hearts of many of the Jews were pricked (Acts 2:37). The terms of salvation and entrance into the kingdom were revealed by Peter (Acts 2:38-40). Those that gladly received his words were baptized (Acts 2:41). Those individuals were added to the church (Acts 2:47). The kingdom of Christ, the house of God, the church of Christ was now established.
The book of Acts reveals unto us the remarkable growth of this kingdom. It spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and, even to the utter most parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The gospel marched from Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, to Roman, the capital of the Roman Empire. The church that Jesus promised to build (Matt. 16:18) was now scattered throughout the Roman Empire, yea, throughout the world. The apostles of Christ fulfilled their mission and spread the good news of salvation in Christ throughout the world (Mark 16:15-16; Col. 1:23).
Jesus had promised His twelve that they would be guided into “all truth” (John 16:13). These men taught the divine message that governed and guided the new churches that were established by the apostles. Their message was not only spoken, but it was also written down for the benefit of generations to come. That revelation came to a close by the end of the first century. The faith was once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). The churches had the message of truth in its possession (I Tim. 3:15). The New Testament of Christ was completed and all members of the church could be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (II Tim. 3:16-17).
By the end of the first century, a model church had been left for all men. It could be seen in the pages of the New Testament. If the New Testament were followed, that church could be perpetuated century after century after century. Man, however, soon refused to hold the pattern of sounds words in the New Testament (II Tim. 1:13). Man began to change the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. Paul’s fears (II Cor. 11:3) and Paul’s prediction (Acts 20:30) began to come to pass. The church that developed in the second century was not like the church of the first century.
One major change developed in the organizational structure of the church. In the first century, each local congregation was overseen by a plurality of men known as elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil 1:1; I Pet. 5:1-3). These men were known by three Greek words: poimen (pastors/shepherds), presbuteros (elders/presbyters) and episkopos (bishops/overseers). All of these men were equals in their leadership positions. One was not exalted above another. This changed in the second century. Within many churches, one man assumed authority over the other bishops. Eventually, he was referred to as “the bishop.” Not surprisingly, the eldership was gradually done away. One man, the bishop, also called the priest (an even later development), was responsible for overseeing the local church.
In order to safeguard their position and establish their authority, another doctrine was developed that was not found in the first century church. The doctrine came to be known as apostolic succession. It was said that in order for a bishop to be legitimate, he had to prove that his position could be traced back to one of the original apostles. Basically, it was affirmed that the apostles appointed certain successors who, in turn, appointed successors to be over the church.
It is true that the bishops were appointed in the first century church (Acts 20:28; Tit. 1:5). It is also true that one of the functions of these overseers was to protect the doctrine of Christ (Tit. 1:9-11). It is important to understand that it was the doctrine that the apostles wanted to continue (II Tim. 2:2; Rom. 16:17-18; II John 9). The apostles were not concerned with the persons who held the office as long as they were qualified for the position (I Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). It is interesting that not one elder’s name is recorded within the pages of the New Testament, except for Peter (I Pet. 5:1). If succession was so important, surely the first century church would have recorded the names of the successors of the apostles. Not one name is set forth as being a successor to one apostle. Again, the apostles were concerned about the doctrine being passed from generation to generation. They never envisioned a list of bishops being kept to show their apostolic succession. This was a fabrication of man that belonged to the second century.
In the second century, some of the doctrines of the church also began to change. One of these involved the Lord’s Supper. Prior to his death, Jesus instituted a memorial feast that commemorated His death upon the cross of Calvary. Jesus took two simple elements, unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine, and authorized them to be eaten in memory of his body and blood respectively (Matt. 26:26-29).
In the second century, some began to teach that the bread and fruit of the vine literally became the body and blood of Christ. This doctrine came to be known as Transubstantiation. Numerous bishops in the second century took this position. It was not this way when Jesus instituted it. Jesus took the cup, the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:27), blessed it and called it His blood (Matt. 26:28), then again referred to it as the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:29). Jesus knew that the fruit of the vine was not His literal blood. Such a teaching was a corrupt doctrine of man created in the second century.
The church of the second century did not look like the church of the first century in many places. Paul had told the elders of Ephesus: “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). His inspired words came to pass. These perverse things led to a perverted church. Thus, we ask the question that poses the title of this article: “Who Wants A 2nd Century Church?” It is a church that was led by fallible man. It is a church that began to speak perverse things. It is a church that no longer modeled the apostolic church of the first century. Who wants that church? This writer does not. This writer prefers the church of the first century, the one established by Christ and governed by men who spoke and wrote down words inspired by the Holy Spirit.