by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)


  • Introduction
  • Changes in Organization
  • The Development of the Clergy
  • Corruption of the Worship
  • Student Instructions

  • The Great Return is necessary to-day because the Church of Christ fell away into Apostacy.

    "... it will not be (the second coming of Christ), except the falling away come first, and the MAN OF SIN be revealed, the Son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that be sitteth in the
    temple of God, setting himself forth as God." -- II Thess. 2:3-5


    We have discovered how God made ready for the coming of His Son, how Christ made preparation for the advent of His church, and how the message of resurrected Christ spread around the world like wildfire as the church grew strong; but, then the unmistakable signs of decay from within began to appear and a "falling away" was in progress. Some would depart from the faith, drawing away disciples after them, not sparing the flock. The Man of Sin would come.

    It is, therefore, of great importance that the student of church history follow the rise and progress of the corrupt church which was pointed toward by the apostles. In order to fully understand and appreciate the true church, we must know as much as possible about the apostate church. If the apostate church had been the natural outgrowth of the teachings and example of Christ, those who strive for and believe in the good of mankind would tend to reject it. However, let this apostacy not be charged to the teachings of Christ. We may not understand fully why such a development occurred but we accept His religion because history shows that the true followers of Christ have led in all that is good and right for man. Furthermore, we understand that even in the days of deepest apostacy, there have always been true and faithful disciples of the word of God.

    In this study, we will be concerned with what brought it about. First, we shall observe the changes in organization. Next, we will note the distinction that arose between clergy and laity. Finally, we will study how the simple New Testament pattern of worship was corrupted. 

    Changes in Organization

    Corruption of the Office of Elders

    The first departure came just as Paul prophesied (Acts 20:29), among the elders of the church.

    Remember: You learned that there are only two classes of church officers -- elders and deacons. All the authority for governing the church was vested in the elderships. Recall also that elders are called bishops, presbyters, overseers, pastors and shepherds. There is always a plurality of elders and all are equal in authority. Deacons were brethren specially designated to serve in the church. Episcopal, presbyterial, and Catholic forms of church government are unknown to the Bible, having originated elsewhere.

    * During the second century, the practice of selecting one of the elders to preside over the meeting as a permanent president was begun. This elder was called "Bishop" to distinguish him from the others. (Cox, p. 26).
    * The authority of these "Bishops" gradually increased until he was assigned to rule some congregations which grouped together in a certain district. This district or territory became known as a diocese.
    * When the diocese became too large and had to be divided, this created the need for another class of officers -- a country Bishop. They had middle rank between bishops and presbyters. (Mosheim, 1:175).
    * When several of these diocese within a province or state were grouped together, another office was introduced -- that of Archbishop.
    * Later, another class of officers developed who were to rule over all the districts or diocese in a nation -- a Cardinal.
    * With the development having grown this much, what was to keep it from going further? They were just one step away from the office of Universal Bishop -- the Pope -- in 606 A.D. (600 years after Christ) it became an accomplished fact.

    Rise of Church Councils and Synods

    * During the second century, congregational autonomy continued.
    * But, as problems arose the "Bishops" and the elders began coming together to hold councils.
    * "These councils, of which no vestige appears before the middle of the second century, changed nearly the whole form of the church" (Mosheim 1:116-7).
    * The privileges of ordinary Christians was greatly decreased and the power of the Bishops was greatly increased.
    * Those who presided over the councils were called Metropolitans -- a position of great power.
    * The rulers of large city districts were called patriarchs-meaning "chief fathers".
    * "Councils and synods were an important means of maintaining and promoting ecclesiastical unity and deciding questions of faith and discipline" (Schaff, 11:176).
    * "At first the councils were held in the various provinces, independent of each other, but in 325 A.D., the first General Ecumenical Council was held in Nicea.
    * "As more of these general councils were held, the church began to appear as a vast republic, with sectional leaders all over the world. The concept of Universal Pope developed out of these councils.

    Development of Creeds

    The creation of human creeds which deny the all-sufficiency of the Word of God, brought on further departures.

    * They came as the result of the formation of councils, which assumed the right to legislate beliefs. (Schaff, II:176).
    * Early creeds

    Apostles Creed -- made up in middle of second century, but not by the apostles.
    Creed of Athanasius -- made up in the fourth century -- still used by the Church of England.
    Nicene Creed -- adopted as a formal statement of faith by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. -- over 300 bishops present.

    * These early creeds were the foundation of modern church manuals, confessions of faith, catechisms, creeds and disciplines.
    * Creeds are the opinions and speculations of men which Jesus expressly condemned. "Teaching for doctrine the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). (See also Titus 1:13-14).
    * There is only one creed for the Christian -- Matt. 16:16.

    Consider: If a creed contains more than the Bible -- it contains too much.
    If a creed contains less than the Bible -- it contains too little.
    If a creed contains the same as the Bible -- it is unnecessary.

    The Development of the Clergy

    The departure created a special caste of preachers, separating them from "laymen"

    * Before the apostacy, all Christians were equal -- each being a priest unto God (Rev. 1:5, 6; 5:10).
    * The distinction between clergy and laity arose gradually with the growth of episcopal power.
    * "As the Roman hierarchy developed, the clergy came to be not merely a distinct order, but also to be recognized as the only priesthood and the essential means of communication between man and God" (McClintock and Strong).
    * These were the first to advocate the system:
    * Ignatius (110 A.D.) said that the clergy was a necessary medium for the people to reach God (Schaff II:125).
    * Clement of Rome (31-110 A.D.) wrote an epistle to the Corinthians in which he used the term "laymen" for the people. This is the germ of the whole sacerdotal system (Schaff II:126).
    * Tertullian (160-240 A.D.) asserted the sacerdotal claim (Schaff II:126).
    * Cyprian (died 238 A.D.) was the father of the sacerdotal conception of the Christian ministry. He drew a parallel between the Aaronic priesthood and preachers of the gospel (Schaff, II:126).
    * "The first appearances of a distinction between priestly and secular dress is in a mosaic in the Church of St. Vitalis in Ravenna, 6th century, and another mosaic of the same period in the Church of St. Sophia at Constantinople" (Fisher, p. 121).

    Corruption of the Worship

    Over a period of years the simple New Testament pattern became so drastically altered as to be unrecognizable.

    * First century worship -- what was it like? See Lesson 8.
    * Second century worship -- what was it like? Justin Martyr (c. 100-163 A.D.) gives us a description of weekly worship services: "On the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles (i.e. gospels) or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then when the reader has ceased; the president (minister) verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then, we all rise together and pray, and when our prayer is ended bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks has been given. Then they are carried by the deacons to the houses of the absent. The wealthy and the willing then give contributions according to their freewill; and this collection is deposited with the president who therewith supplies orphans, widows, prisoners, strangers, and all who are in want" (Halley, p.370).
    * Worship in the third century and following -- what was it like? Ritualism came into the worship. Such foreign items as images, pictures, relies, etc. were introduced (Fisher, p. 63, 117). In the fourth century, saint worship began. Veneration for departed saints, and martyrs became more extravagant (Fisher, p. 117) Many other practices apart from New Testament teaching started up.

    Conclusion: Why did these changes come? They came for three main reasons:

    * A love for preeminence which caused men to struggle for position and power.
    * Neglect of Bible study. People turned the labor of learning God's will over to their leaders instead of studying for themselves.
    * Men came to disregard the authority of the Bible and made the opinions of men equal to it. Thus, the Bible became a forgotten book and men were ignorant of its teachings.

    As men left the authority of the word of God, rejecting the simple pattern of the New Testament, they created something -- already described in previous lessons -- which has been a millstone about the neck of the of Christ for many centuries. As each human law replace divine revelation, the church became more and more a human institution. Once the gates of innovation were opened, all manner of corruption rode into the church on the tide of human interest (Maynard, p. 38).

    autonomy - independent.
    clergy - those who serve as leaders and ministers in church affairs.creed- written agreement to which men adhere and by which acceptability for membership is determined.
    ecclesiastica l- church.
    ecumenical - world-wide.
    hierarchy - organization of leaders, chain of command.
    laity - ordinary Christians.
    mosaic - picture in tile.
    ritualism - system of rituals, or rites.
    sacredotal - having to do with priests, or the priesthood.
    veneration - worship, or adoration.

    Cox, John D., Church History, Dehoff Publications, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 1951
    Fisher, George P., History of the Christian Church, Scribner's and Sons, New York, 1902
    Maynard, Zeke, The Church of Christ, E.C. Marynard. Devonshire, Bermuda, 1960.
    McClintock, John and Strong, James, Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Cyclopedia, New York, 1891.
    Mosheim, John L., An Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern from the Birth of Christ to the Beginning of the Present Century, 6 Vols. Archibald McClain (ed.), Philadelphia, 1797.
    Renwick, A.M., The Story of the Church, I.V.F., London, 1960.
    Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Cas. Scribner's Sons, New York, 1910.

    Student Instructions
    1. Study the lesson text carefully till you understand its meaning. Then answer the Questions to this lesson.
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    Please answer the following questions by typing your answers into the spaces provided or, where a choice of answers is given, click against the button for the correct answer.

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    I. Put TRUE or FALSE before each of the following statements. (Example: True -- The church councils hoped to bring about ecclesiasticaI unity.)

    1. The teachings of Christ are responsible for the "failing away" of the church.

    2. According to the Bible, one of the elders in an eldership was usually superior to the others.

    3. With regard to authority in the church, Diotrophes had a domineering attitude.

    4. There were many bishops like Diotrophes after the first century.

    5. According to the Bible, the setting up of positions in the church, such as cardinals, archbishops, etc. is alright.

    6. According to the New Testament, there is no organization of any kind over or between the congregations of the church of Christ on the earth.

    7. The existence of the Catholic hierarchy is defended in the Bible.

    8. According to the Bible it is alright for Christians to call men father (in a religious sense), or reverend.

    9. The New Testament teaches that several churches are to be governed by one bishop.

    10. The New Testament teaches that one church should be governed by one bishop.

    11. After the "falling away", a distinction began to be made between a bishop and on elder in the church.

    12. God does not approve of a distinction being made between elders and bishops.

    13. It was God's will that each congregation of the church handle its own affairs, without interference and direction from other churches and individuals,

    14. There is no connection between the creeds, church manuals, disciplines, or confessions of faith.

    15. In God's New Testament plan, all Christians are priests.

    16. Christ approved of those who wore special clothing and garments.

    17. In the first century, the New Testament pattern of worship was followed.

    II. Complete the following statements by underlining the proper word or phrase. (Example: One of the following was a major development as the church fell away: development of creeds.)

    18. Praise may to given to God by: (which one is not right)

    19. Which one of the following names does not mean the some thing as bishop?

    20. The "departure" within the eldership was a serious matter for the church because:
    it affected the leadership
    elders were believed to be infallible
    the church was disgraced

    21. In many ways the Catholic system is very much like the (Buddhist; Jewish; Presbyterian; Muslim) religious system.

    22. According to the Bible, the proper form of church government is:

    III. Fill in the blank with the proper word, or phrase. (Example: The practice of one church being governed by one bishop originated in: Roman Catholicism.)

    23. (Who) was responsible for the falling away of the church?

    24. A is the name given to a district in which one bishop rules over all the churches.

    25. An oversees several diocese.

    26. A was given charge of all the district in a nation.

    27. The creed for those who follow God's way is .

    28. The first world-wide council of churches was held at (place) In (year).

    IV. List four ways in which the worship after the third century was different from the New Testament pattern.

    29. First way:
    30. Second way:
    31. Third way:
    32. Fourth way:

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    Your answers will be graded and returned to you through your e-mail address. Thank you for your interest in God's Book. May He bless you in the study of His Word.

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