The downhill slide.
When the “perfect” (the complete) came, the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit ended and inspired writing ended. Josephus records that Christians fled Jerusalem after its’ initial siege, but before its’ final siege, see Matt 24:15-21. The destruction of the city was completed in A.D. 70. It is believed that most of the Christians from Jerusalem went to Pella. The Roman army swept through Asia Minor on its way to put down the Jewish revolt and besiege Jerusalem. It is unknown how many Christians were killed on their journey. During and after the war, the Romans didn’t much bother to differentiate between the Jews and Christians.
The history of the church in the second century is sketchy and sometimes even unreliable. It is difficult to tell just how soon the “early church fathers” slipped into apostasy. But it was prophesied in Acts 20:29-30. I won’t go into a lot of historical detail in this article, but will mention a few events, in order to shed light on what was happening through the centuries.
Perhaps as early as 100 A.D., certain men began to be recognized as “bishops” apart from, or in authority over, local “elders.”
- Ignatius of Antioch (50-115 A.D.) was one such man, considered to be “Bishop of Antioch.”
- Another was Polycarp (69-155 A.D.), considered to be “Bishop of Smyrna.”
It would be difficult to tell just how much authority they exerted over “elders,” but the precedent of church hierarchy was set pretty early. The precedent, that one man should rule over other “leaders” of the church.
They all were living under Roman rule and had observed how efficient the organizational structure of the Roman government had been in maintaining order and authority. Therefore, it would then be “logical” that other men would seek power and authority over the various “Bishops.”
- By 190 A.D., one man claimed to be the “universal bishop” in Rome.
- By 250 A.D. this concept was almost universally accepted.
- In 325 A.D. Rome moved closer to total acceptance of “the church” when the Roman ruler Constantine held a “synod of the empire.”
As “the church” grew in influence and power, more emphasis came to be placed on organizational structure and authority than on the simple preaching of the gospel and the living of a godly life. Much effort was given to maintaining and defending church officers authority over other men (and women).
As with the Roman form of government, so also in the “church,” politics entered in. This seeking of authority, and control over men’s lives, led to the increasing corruption of “the church.”
- Simony, the purchase of church offices, became common.
- Indulgencies, the selling of the privilege of sin, (forgiveness… in advance of sin!) was introduced.
- Burdensome taxes were imposed to support the massive cost of organizational structure and church property.
- At some point, in many countries, “the church” became the landlord.
- On November 18, 1302 a “Bull” was signed called; “Unam Sanctam,” which declared that every human being was subject to the Roman Pontiff, which is necessary for salvation!
- Papal infallibility, became a dogma of the Catholic Church that allowed the Pope to define, without error, all doctrine. While it had been in medieval tradition earlier, it was finally defined in the First Vatican Council of 1869–1870.
Through history, The Catholic Church claimed authority over all mankind. Unyielding allegiance was required of all members. Those that resisted that authority, were punished with confiscation of their property and land, and with torture or death.
Finally, some men began to oppose the tyrannical rule of “the church.” Such men as, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Ulrich Swingli, John Calvin, and others became part of the “Protestant Reformation.” They opposed the authority of “the church.” Some attempted to “reform” “the church” while others sought to break away from it. However, even those that broke away, often attempted to transfer religious authority from the “Catholic Church” to their own organizational structures.
A major example of transferring religious authority, is found in the Church of England.
- King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church over the rules of divorce and remarriage, and formed the Church of England.
- In 1534 the “Act of Supremacy” appointed the King Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church of England.
- The “Act of Obedience” also in 1534, made any attribution of power to the Pope, treason. The king tolerated no dissension within his kingdom and none against the “church” of which he was the head!
Not long after, the King James translation of the Bible was published in 1611. It became England’s “authorized version” of the Bible, translated from the original Hebrew and Greek languages into English at the request of King James I of England. At the time, other English Bibles existed, but King James did not like the most popular translation, the Geneva Bible, declaring that the marginal notes disrespected the authority of kings.
The third rule of translation given the King James translators, prior to beginning their work, required the use of the word “church” and forbade the use of “congregation.” Obviously, this was an attempt to strengthen the authority of the newly formed Church of England, as opposed to any reading that would encourage individual congregational authority. Another example where authority was a consideration, is found in this verse.
1 Timothy 3:1 (KJV)
1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
The Greek word; ἐπισκοπή Strong’s Number: G1984 is from the base word; ἐπισκέπτομαι Strong’s Number: G1980, and is correctly translated as “visit” in James 1:27. The KJV translators selected “the office of a bishop” as more fitting for their purposes than a translation that would more correctly convey visiting, or caring for, those who had need. Another example of desire to establish the authority of the Church of England is found in this verse:
Hebrews 13:24 (KJV)
24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
This is another overly strong English translation of a Greek word (and its’ root word) than what is required. But a full study is beyond the scope of this short article.
Christianity has had hundreds of years of history showing that the various sects and churches acted to establish authority and submission. There is a well established pattern of churches establishing a hierarchy, setting doctrine, and requiring absolute submission to their dictates. It is no wonder that the these attitudes and practices continue today.