Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
The Church... Then and Now

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The Church... Then and Now
Part VI - Protecting a Man Made Organization Called the ‘Church’.

Reinventing The Church System. Man Apparently Got Carried Away by A Sense of His Own Importance... With a Little Help From A Roman Emperor.

Carol Brooks




Reinventing The Church System
Man Got Carried Away by A Sense of His Own Importance
With a Little Help From A Roman Emperor

Protecting The Reinvented Church System
The Latin Vulgate and The Tyndale Translation
Birth of The Church of England and The See-Saw Battle of Power Between The Roman Catholics and The Protestants
James VI, The Archbishop of Canterbury, and The KJV
The Reformation


Part I - Reinventing The Church System

Man Got Carried Away by A Sense of His Own Importance
What is truly amazing is how soon changes in the church came about.

In fact, at about the same time John was penning Revelation on Patmos, forces in the church were already reverting back to the Old Testament priesthood. Then, as the first century gave way to the second, and the second meandered it's way into the third, the church became an increasingly inflexible institution governed by an elite hierarchy.

Slowly but inexorably moving away from dependency on the Holy Spirit, various leaders sought to establish their authority by claiming that they were the successors to the apostles therefore what they taught was correct. In time, it was taken for granted that they were the only ones who could correctly interpret the Bible, and hear what the Spirit was saying.

They got away with it simply because we tend to have a herd mentality (The Lord didn't call us sheep without reason). Which means all too many of us will follow church leaders who seem to have authority, rarely asking whether that authority was God-given, or self assumed. Apparently it is indeed possible to fool most of the people all of the time.

Clement of Rome was a leading member of the church in Rome in the late 1st century and possibly the third or fourth pope. His letter to the church at Corinth (1 Clement) dating to around the turn of the first century is one of the oldest surviving Christian documents apart from the New Testament. It was written to settle a situation in the Corinthian church in which certain older presbyters had been deposed by younger ones.

In chapter 44 Clement asserted the authority of the presbyters as rulers of the church, on the grounds that they had been appointed by the Apostles.

    Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them.[01]

Ignatius of Antioch who died in Rome between 98 and 117 took it several steps further. In one of the seven letters considered to be authentic, he wrote (All Emphasis Added)

    Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as where Christ is, there does all the heavenly host stand by, waiting upon Him as the Chief Captain of the Lord's might, and the Governor of every intelligent nature. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast. But that which seems good to him, is also well-pleasing to God, that everything ye do may be secure and valid. [02]

    your honourable presbytery, which is worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop, even as its strings to a lyre (chapter 4:1) .... Let us therefore be careful not to resist the bishop, that by our submission we may give ourselves to God (chapter 5:3) .... And in proportion as a man seeth that his bishop is silent, let him fear him the more. For every one whom the Master of the household sendeth to be steward over His own house, we ought so to receive as Him that sent him. Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself (chapter 6:1). [03]

    As therefore the Lord does nothing without the Father, for says He, "I can of mine own self do nothing," so do ye, neither presbyter, nor deacon, nor layman, do anything without the bishop. Nor let anything appear commendable to you which is destitute of his approval. For every such thing is sinful, and opposed [to the will of] God. [04]

Tertullian(c. 160 – c. 225 AD), who eventually joined the Montanists, was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. By this time the presbyters and deacons had become subject to the bishops although in the New Testament the presbyters and bishops were the same thing - the elders of the church. See Previous Chapter. He wrote (All Emphasis Added)

    For concluding our brief subject, it remains to put you in mind also of the due observance of giving and receiving baptism. Of giving it, the chief priest (who is the bishop) has the right: in the next place, the presbyters and deacons, yet not without the bishop's authority, on account of the honour of the Church, which being preserved, peace is preserved. Beside these, even laymen have the right; for what is equally received can be equally given. Unless bishops, or priests, or deacons, be on the spot, other disciples are called i.e. to the work. The word of the Lord ought not to be hidden by any: in like manner, too, baptism, which is equally God's property,  can be administered by all. But how much more is the rule of reverence and modesty incumbent on laymen — seeing that these powers belong to their superiors — lest they assume to themselves the specific function of the bishop! Emulation of the episcopal office is the mother of schisms. [05]

With a Little Help From A Roman Emperor
Constantine and The Powers Accorded The Clergy
The emperor Constantine (306 to 337 AD.) gave the "bishops" of the church power that was never part of the New Testament blueprint. In fact, he converted the church of Jesus Christ into a powerful entity which can be a very heady position to be in. According to the historian Alexander Vasiliev, considered the foremost authority on Byzantine history and culture...

Under Constantine "very important privileges were given the episcopal courts". Not only were the churches exempt from taxation, but anyone could entrust his property to the church, which "thereby acquired the right of inheritance". However, more significantly,

    "Christian communities were recognized as legal juridical entities". "Any man had the right to carry a civil suit to the episcopal court even after proceedings in that suit had already been started in the civil court". Towards the end of Constantine's reign "the authority of the episcopal courts was even further enlarged. Among other things... the decision of a bishop had to be accepted as final and sanctioned by civil judges. [06]

As pointed out by Allan Turner (All Emphasis Added)

    After his "conversion" in A.D. 312, the Roman emperor, Constantine, appointed bishops as civil magistrates throughout the Roman empire. He also organized the various churches into dioceses along the pattern of Roman regional districts. Furthermore, he consistently used the terms "clerical" and "cleric" to designate a privileged class. [07]

It is uncertain as to whether the emperor Constantine who propagated the idea that the kuriakos or church,was a sacred building, or whether this was a by-product of the increasingly exalted position given the clergy. What we do know is that

    In the early church the disciples banded together in homes and other places as communities "called out" from the world; but Constantinianism erased this distinction and defined "church" as all citizens in a given territory. This had the practical effect of watering down true discipleship and creating a worthless nominal Christianity....

    ...By 250 A.D. church order was set in concrete with one bishop ruling over various territories. The momentum of this church bureaucracy was accelerated when Constantine and his successors sanctioned the church and contributed moneys and resources to this increasingly powerful institution. [08]

The end result is that the church turned into an organization defined by the building and the hierarchy -  almost the exact opposite of what God originally put in place.

Part II - Protecting The Reinvented Church System

Sadly, the pattern established by the early Catholic church was continued and embellished over the next few centuries with the clergy taking to themselves more and more power, eventually establishing themselves in literal palaces (St. Peter's Basilica was constructed between 1506 and 1626).

Having built up this vast and powerful organization, they also had to protect it, and one of the ways they chose to do this was by appearing to give this man-made structure Biblical sanction. And what better way to do this than by ensuring that Greek word ekklesia was translated, not as the far more accurate "assembly" or "congregation", but into the English "church"- a word that conjures up images of an organization run by the "clergy". This made the NT appear to support the ecclesiastical structure of the traditional church (an ordained clergy, government by a bishop etc.). See Chapter I

Tragically, the Church of England, following in the footsteps of the church they had just broken away from, did everything in their power to ensure that their traditional structure was unscathed - a structure that was almost completely Catholic in form. This went hand in hand with the political maneuvering of the various successors of Henry the 8th of England, and the battles for dominance and control that took place between the Catholics and Protestants, before and during the reformation.

A comprehensive treatment of the subject would probably occupy a couple of volumes, but the following should suffice to show the serious and lasting repercussions this protracted struggle had.

The Latin Vulgate and The Tyndale Translation
The Latin Vulgate, which became the standard version of the Bible used by Catholics for over a thousand years, was a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible, commissioned by Pope Damasus I, and translated by a scholar named Jerome. However, apart from the priests and scholars, the vast majority of people could neither read nor understand Latin that had become the language of the church. They certainly did not have access to a Bible. Therefore the fact that Jerome, retained the word ekklesia in the New Testament probably meant nothing to most people.

However, two subsequent events conspired to put a readable Bible into the hands of the common man.

1) Around 1439, Gutenberg became the first European to use movable type printing, which led to the proliferation of printing presses in Europe.

2) In the 16th century William Tyndale, who wanted "a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures" than the clergy, became the first person to directly translate all of the New Testament (and half the old) from the original Hebrew and Greek texts into English. The new printing methods allowed his work to be widely distributed.

    This Bible that was now available in the vernacular or everyday language spoken by the people, held views which were considered heretical, and could therefore, become a very large threat to the Roman Catholic church. For example Tyndale "wrote eloquently in favor of the view that salvation is a gift of God, freely bestowed, and not a response to any good act on the part of the receiver. His views are expressed in numerous pamphlets, and in the introductions to and commentaries on various books of the Bible that accompanied his translations". [09]

What is however, of importance to this article is the fact that Tyndale correctly used the word congregation instead of church to translate ekklesia thus emphasizing that the church was not an organization run by the "clergy" but made up and defined by believers. Additionally, Tyndale translated the Greek word presbuteros into "elder", instead of "priest", which stripped away the Scriptural basis for a priesthood that was distinct from ordinary believers. [10]

Is it any wonder then that Tyndale was burned at the stake?

Birth of The Church of England
King Henry VIII of England was apparently at one time a very staunch Catholic. In a book called The Defence of the Seven Sacraments he even defended the Roman church against Martin Luther's accusations of heresy. Although it is believed that the book was probably written with considerable help from the Lord Chancellor - Thomas More, Henry was awarded the title "Defender of the Faith" by Pope Leo X. However, that didn't last long.

The Church of England was born because Henry VIII wanted his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, annulled. She had borne him only a daughter and Henry wished to remarry to ensure he had a male heir. Finally, in the face of the Pope's continuing refusal to annul his marriage to Catherine Henry prevailed upon Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury and the highest church official in England) to declare the marriage to Catherine null and void. This Cramer did on 23 May 1533, upon which the King legally married Anne Boleyn and, a short time later, thumbing his nose at Rome declared himself supreme head of the Church of England. [11] 

The See-Saw Battle of Power Between The Roman Catholics and The Protestants
The balance of power shifted from one church to the other as the successors to Henry VIII who had varying beliefs ascended the throne of England. This was especially true in the case of the two queens who followed Edward VI, and James I for whom the King James Bible is named.

    Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour was only nine years old when he became King of England and Ireland. His was a short reign (January 1547- July 1553) as he was only about fifteen when he died. He was succeeded by his elder half sister, Mary I.

    Mary I, was Queen of England and Ireland from July 1553 until her death in November 1558. She was the only surviving child born of the ill-fated marriage of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Mary  was a staunch Catholic nicknamed Bloody Mary, because of her brutal persecution of Protestants. 

    Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was queen regent of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death in March 1603. Although raised Protestant, the very well educated Elizabeth was remarkably tolerant towards Catholicism, her primary concern being the peace and stability of the realm. Toward that end she established 39 articles of faith, under the direction of Matthew Parker - the then Archbishop of Canterbury. The articles formed the basic summary of beliefs of the Church of England - "not intended to provide a dogmatic definition of faith", but "phrased very loosely to allow for a variety of interpretations". [12]

 The web site of The Diocese of Rochester says (All Emphasis Added)

    The religious settlement that eventually emerged in the reign of Elizabeth I gave the Church of England the distinctive identity that it has retained to this day. It resulted in a Church that consciously retained a large amount of continuity with the Church of the Patristic and Medieval periods in terms of its use of the catholic creeds, its pattern of ministry, its buildings and aspects of its liturgy, but which also embodied Protestant insights in its theology and in the overall shape of its liturgical practice. The way that this is often expressed is by saying that the Church of England is both 'catholic and reformed. [13]

When Queen Elizabeth I died she left no heir and the British throne went to James VI of Scotland. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots the great grand-daughter of Henry VII. When James ascended to the British throne he became James 1 of England and, almost immediately, had to decide whether to permit Roman Catholicism to resurge in the kingdom or continue with the reforms that had started under his predecessor.

Prior to King James ascending to the throne in 1603 the Scriptures used in England were the Latin Vulgate (Jerome's late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible) and the Douay–Rheims Bible - a translation of the Latin Vulgate into English made by members of a Catholic seminary in Douai, France.  The New Testament portion was published in Reims, France, in 1582.

As mentioned earlier, Jerome retained the word ekklesia in the New Testament, rendering it as the Latin ecclesia. However, the Douay–Rheims translators changed the Vulgate's ecclesia into the English "church". One has to suspect, but obviously cannot prove, that this was done in order to uphold what had become church tradition.

Then at the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, ing James authorized a new translation of approved books of the Bible. David Daniell, Professor Emeritus of English at University College London says that although no official record has survived, a list published in Bishop Gilbert Burnet's History Of The Reformation of 1715, clarified the division of work among the "six companies" that undertook the translation... "two each in Oxford, Cambridge and Westminister". [14]

However, fifteen general rules were advanced before the translators began their work. The third rule is of special interest here. It said,

    "The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to to be translated Congregation" [15].

Also note that, although he died before the translation was complete, Richard Bancroft - Archbishop of Canterbury from 1604 to 1610 - was the "chief overseer" of the production of the King James Bible. The word "church" rather than the Biblically correct "assembly" or "congregation" would reflect the traditional structure of the Church of England including it's beliefs about ordained clergy.

In short, the preservation of the structure and traditions of the church took precedence over Biblical truth.

The Reformation
According to Theopedia, the three great principles of the reformation were Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), closely followed by the priesthood of all believers. They emphasized that all believers are a "holy priesthood" and, as believers, we all have direct access to God through Christ, therefore there is no necessity for an earthly mediator. [16]

Unfortunately, this priesthood of all believers had few practical implications in the structure of the church. The responsibility for leading the church was never put into the hands of the lay person and the great divide continued. The seminary system, usually attended by only those who intended to pursue a career in "the ministry", further emphasized the division. Many Protestant denominations have ordained clergy - ordination being the ceremony of consecration to the ministry.

In other words, the pastor replaced the priest.... and it was business as usual.


 End Notes

[01] Early Christian Writings.. Letter of Clement to the Corinthians. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-roberts.html

[02] Ignatius of Antioch. Letter to the Smyrnaeans. Chapter VIII.-Let Nothing Be Done Without the Bishop. Early Christian Writings http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-smyrnaeans-longer.html

[03] Ignatius of Antioch. Letter to the Ephesians. Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation.

[04] Ignatius of Antioch. Letter to the Magnesians. Chapter VII.-Do Nothing Without the Bishop and Presbyters. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-longer.html

[05] Chapter XVII.—Of the Power of Conferring Baptism. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.vi.iii.xvii.html

[06] Alexander Aleksandrovich Vasiliev. History of the Byzantine Empire: 324-1453. University of Wisconsin Press; 2, Second English Edition edition (April 15, 1958) Pg. 53

[07] Allan Turner The Church Without Laity (Part 1). http://allanturner.com/magazine/archives/rm1105/ClergyLaity01.html

[08] Jon Zens. Four Tragic Shifts in the Visible Church, 180 - 400 A.D. [http://www.searchingtogether.org/articles/4tragic.htm]

[09] Biographical sketch written by James E. Kiefer. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/260.html

[10] Carter Lindberg. The European Reformations. Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (July 14, 2009). Pg 299.

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/cofe/cofe_1.shtml

[12] The 39 Articles of Religion. http://www.victorianweb.org/religion/39articles.html

[13] Church of England https://www.rochester.anglican.org/learning/church-of-england/

[14] David Daniell. The Bible in English: Its History and Influence Pg. 439. Yale University Press (September 1, 2003) Pg. 436

[15] Dr. Laurence M. Vance A Brief History of the King James Bible. http://www.av1611.org/kjv/kjvhist.html

[16] http://www.theopedia.com/Protestant_Reformation


 Chapter 5 - Church Leaders Then and Now