30-150AD: Church organization the same as you can read about in the Bible Blueprint!Learn from the Bible Blueprint, how the church was organized by the apostles!
Find a local congregation of the New Testament church that is organized exactly as the Bible says!
- The simple bible blueprint of church organization where a group of equal elders (presbyters) govern only within their own local church meeting the full qualifications of 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1.
- 30-150AD: No trace of the Roman Catholic papal or the Orthodox patriarchal systems.
Graphical representations of 30 - 150 AD:Graphical Mouse Rollover of gradual change of organization over time
(Click on each graphic for high resolution)
Directory of Churches of the first century in 70AD:(Click on map for high resolution)
Regions of churches mentioned in the Bible: 70AD
Notice that the neither Rome or Italy are mentioned as a region of churches. This proves that the bishop of Rome really was not a central authority during the first century. While mentioning four other regions of churches, God never even gave Rome honorable mention. Of course, just because these 4 regions are mentioned, does not mean they are centers of power. Rather, they are natural collections of churches within already defined provinces. We do the same today, by referring to the churches in provinces and states as a group, even though we understand there is no corresponding hierarchy of power. It would clearly be a mistake to assume the church in 70 AD was divided up into four territories like that of the 4th century Patriarchs!
(Click on map for high resolution)
30-150 AD: The period of the Eldership/Presbytery with autonomous local churches: Congregational oligarchyLearn from the Bible Blueprint, how the church was organized by the apostles!
A. Our comments and observations:
This is the stage where what history records is identical to what we see in the Bible.
Each local church had a plurality of men who shared the single office which was called by two terms: Overseer (Bishops) and Elder (presbyters). The Bible refers to this office collectively as the "Eldership/Presbytery" in 1 Tim 4:14.
Of most importance, before 150 AD, is the fact that Bishops (Overseers) and Presbyters (Elders) were the same office and used interchangeably. Each church had more than one Elder/Bishop, all of whom were equal in power. There was no organization larger than the local church that bound local churches together. In this way, each local church was organized as a "congregational oligarchy". Not only was each Bishop in each local church equal in power, so too, each local congregation had equal power world wide.
In practical terms, each local church had control only over itself, and over no other church. There were no organizational ties between local churches and one set of elders in a local church never had any control over any other local churches. Each local congregation was self-governing under Jesus Christ as its head.
The concept of a diocese (groups of local churches ruled by one bishop) and even more so "mother churches" (patriarchs), simply did not exist in the Bible.
Historically, it wasn't until about 150 AD that we first see a single bishop ruling over the local church. But even in 150 AD, he had no control over other local churches. It wasn't until about 250 AD, when the first diocese began to develop, that these solo bishops began to exercise power outside the domains of their local congregations.
B. Even Roman Catholic Scholars admit their governments did not exist in the Bible, but are later developments:
"In the New Testament, the terms bishop and presbyter are used interchangeably. This is evident from the following passage from Titus 1:5-7." (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 156)
This proves false, the Catholic and Orthodox claim of being the apostolic church.
C. What Scholars say about the period of 33 A.D. - 150 AD:
We proceed to the officers of local congregations who were charged with carrying forward in particular places the work begun by the apostles and their delegates. These were of two kinds, Presbyters or Bishops, and Deacons or Helpers. They multiplied in proportion as Christianity extended, while the number of the apostles diminished by death, and could, in the nature of the case, not be filled up by witnesses of the life and resurrection of Christ. The extraordinary officers were necessary for the founding and being of the church, the ordinary officers for its preservation and well-being. The terms Presbyter (or Elder) and Bishop (or Overseer, Superintendent) denote in the New Testament one and the same office, with this difference only, that the first is borrowed from the Synagogue, the second from the Greek communities; and that the one signifies the dignity, the other the duty. 1. The identity of these officers is very evident from the following facts: a. They appear always as a plurality or as a college in one and the same congregation, even in smaller cities) as Philippi. b. The same officers of the church of Ephesus are alternately called presbyters and bishops. c. Paul sends greetings to the "bishops" and "deacons" of Philippi, but omits the presbyters because they were included in the first term; as also the plural indicates. d. In the Pastoral Epistles, where Paul intends to give the qualifications for all church officers, he again mentions only two, bishops and deacons, but uses the term presbyter afterwards for bishop. Peter urges the "presbyters" to "tend the flock of God," and to "fulfil the office of bishops" with disinterested devotion and without "lording it over the charge allotted to them." e. The interchange of terms continued in use to the close of the first century, as is evident from the Epistle of Clement of Rome (about 95), and the Didache, and still lingered towards the close of the second [century]. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, book 1, chapter 10)
"Plurality of Elder-Bishops: The later books of the New Testament and the earliest post-apostolic writings indicate that at the end of the first century the general pattern of church organization was for local churches to be presided over by a plurality of elders, also called bishops, who were assisted by deacons." (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, p 15)
"The presbyters, or elders, were the highest local authority in a church. With them rested the chief responsibility, both for the government of the Christian society and for the provision of suitable instruction. The common mention of them in the plural shows that a number were elected to the office in each church. They formed a presiding council analogous to the board of elders in the Jewish synagogue. It was from the synagogue that the name presbyter, or elder, was borrowed. The episcopal title, on the other hand, the name overseer, or bishop, was of Gentile origin, having been used among the Greeks to indicate an office involving a species of oversight. Originally both names related entirely to the same office. The New Testament recognizes no distinction between them. The words presbyter and bishop are used interchangeably." (Henry C. Sheldon, History of the Christian Church, Vol 1, p 123)
"Clement of Rome, whose writings cannot well be placed earlier than the closing years of the first century, indicates no consciousness of any distinction between bishops and presbyters in the Corinthian church. He speaks of sedition, not against the authority of a bishop, but against the presbyters, and exhorts to submission to the presbyters.' The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles in like manner implies but two orders in the ministry. One of its directions is this, "Appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord."" (Henry C. Sheldon, History of the Christian Church, Vol 1, p 143)
"These churches, whenever formed, became separate and independent bodies, competent to appoint their own officers and to administer their own government without reference to subordination to any central authority or foreign power. No fact connected with the history of these primitive churches is more fully established or more generally conceded, so that the discussion of it need not be renewed at this place" (Lyman Coleman, Ancient Christianity Exemplified, 1853, p.95)
All the churches, in those primitive times, were independent bodies; or none of them subject to the jurisdiction of any other. ... Nor does there appear in this first century any vestige of that consociation of churches of the same provinces, which gave rise to ecclesiastical councils" (Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Vol 1, p 72)
"The rulers of the church were either called presbyters or bishops, which two titles are in the New Testament, undoubtedly applied to the same order of men. (Acts 20:17-28; Phil.1:1)" (Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Vol 1, p 99)
"During a great part of this century [first century] all churches continued to be as at first, independent of each other, or were connected by no consociation or confederation. Each church was a kind of small independent republic, governing itself by its own laws, enacted or at least sanctioned by the people. But in the process of time it became customary for all the Christian churches within the same province to unite and form a sort of larger society or commonwealth; and in the manner of confederated republics, to hold their conventions at stated times, and there deliberate for the common advantage of the whole confederation" (Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Vol 1, p 116)
D. What the apostolic fathers say about the period of 30 AD - 150 AD:Learn from the Bible Blueprint, how the church was organized by the apostles!
- 90 AD "Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers." (Didache, The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations, Chapter XV. -Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof.)
- 100 AD "For ye did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you." (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter I.-The Salutation. Praise of the Corinthians Before the Breaking Forth of Schism Among Them.)
- 100 AD "only let the flock of Christ live on terms of peace with the presbyters set over it."(The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter LIV.-He Who is Full of Love Will Incur Every Loss, that Peace May Be Restored to the Church.)
- 100 AD "to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith." (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XLII.-The Order of Ministers in the Church)
- 100 AD (Notice the interchangeable use of bishop and elders as we see in the Bible): "For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate [bishops] those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters [elders] who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XLIV.-The Ordinances of the Apostles, that There Might Be No Contention Respecting the Priestly Office.)
- 100 AD (Notice the interchangeable use of bishop and elders as we see in the Bible) "whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders ... any one who had attended on the elders came" (Fragments of Papias, I) "As the elders who saw" (Fragments of Papias, IV) "As the presbyters say" (Fragments of Papias, V)
- 110 AD "Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied." (The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, introductory statement)
- 110 AD "Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ." (The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Chapter V.-The Duties of Deacons, Youths, and Virgins.)
- 120 AD "If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,-what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord" (Fragments of Papias, I)
- 130 AD "But thou shalt read (the book) to this city along with the elders that preside over the Church." (The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2, 19)
- 130 AD "exercised their office of bishop and teacher and deacon in purity" (The Shepherd of Hermas vision 3, 27)
- 130 AD "bishops, hospitable persons, who gladly received into their houses at all times the servants of God without hypocrisy. [These bishops] at all times without ceasing sheltered the needy and the widows in their ministration and conducted themselves in purity at all times" (The Shepherd of Hermas, Parable/Similitude IX, 164)
- 492 AD See Jerome below. Notice that Jerome documents in 492 AD, that overseers and elders are the same office, and that local churches had more than one. In spite of the practice of the day in 492 AD, Jerome looks back, in same way we can today, and comments on what the Bible says! This is powerful, because Jerome admits in 500 AD, during the age of the 5 patriarchs, that local churches were governed by a plurality of elders. He also admits that the Bible teaches the office of elder and bishop are the same office.
E. Contrary to bold and historically unsubstantiated claims of the Roman Catholic church, the names of the first Bishop's of Rome is unclear. And why not! During this time in history, the church of Rome was governed by a plurality of elders who were also called bishops! The modern idea of a pope, even the idea of a single bishop ruling a local church, did not exist!
"The oldest links in the chain of Roman bishops are veiled in impenetrable darkness. ... at that early day, the government of the congregation composed of Jewish and Gentile Christian elements was not so centralized as it afterwards became. Furthermore, the earliest fathers, with a true sense of the distinction between the apostolic and episcopal offices, do not reckon Peter among the bishops of Rome at all." (History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, v2, ch 4)
"The actual order of the first three so-called bishops of Rome is a greatly disputed matter. The oldest tradition is that given by Irenaeus (Adv. Hoer. III. 3. 3) and followed here by Eusebius, according to which the order was Linus, Anencletus, Clement. Hippolytus gives a different order, in which he is followed by many Fathers; and in addition to these two chief arrangements all possible combinations of the three names, and all sorts of theories to account for the difficulties and to reconcile the discrepancies in the earlier lists, have been proposed. In the second chapter of the so-called Epistle of Clement to James (a part of the Pseudo-Clementine Literature prefixed to the Homilies) it is said that Clement was ordained by Peter, and Salmon thinks that this caused Hippolytus to change the order, putting Clement first. Gieseler (Eccles. Hist., Eng. Trans., I. p. 107, note 10) explains the disagreements in the various traditions by supposing that the three were presbyters together at Rome, and that later, in the endeavor to make out a complete list of bishops, they were each successively elevated by tradition to the episcopal chair. It is at least certain that Rome at that early date had no monarchical bishop, and therefore the question as to the order of these first three so-called bishops is not a question as to a fact, but simply as to which is the oldest of various unfounded traditions. The Roman Church gives the following order: Linus, Clement, Cletus, Anacletus, following Hippolytus in making Cletus and Anacletus out of the single Anencletus of the original tradition. The apocryphal martyrdoms of Peter and Paul are falsely ascribed to Linus (see Tischendorf, Acta Apost. Apocr. p. xix. sq.). Eusebius (chap. 13, below) says that Linus was bishop for twelve years. In his Chron. (Armen.) he says fourteen years, while Jerome says eleven. These dates are about as reliable as the episcopal succession itself. We have no trustworthy information as to the personal character and history of Linus. Upon the subjects discussed in this note see especially Salmon's articles, Clemens Romanus, and Linus, in the Dict. of Christ. Biog." (Philip Schaff, Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. I, footnote 14)
"Lipsius [Justus Lipsius, 1600 AD], after a laborious critical comparison of the different catalogues of popes, arrives at the conclusion that Linus, Anacletus, and Clement were Roman presbyters (or presbyter-bishops in the N. T. sense of the term), at the close of the first century, Evaristus and Alexander presbyters at the beginning of the second, Xystus I. (Latinized: Sixtus), presbyter for ten years till about 128, Telesphorus for eleven years, till about 139, and next successors diocesan bishops." (History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, v2, ch 4)
Learn from the Bible Blueprint, how the church was organized by the apostles!
Find a local congregation of the New Testament church that is organized exactly as the Bible says
by Steve Rudd
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