The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church (part 1)

The Early Church knew that there was but one Chief Shepherd, and He wasn't in Rome.
The Early Church knew that there was but one Chief Shepherd, and He wasn’t in Rome.

When Peter knew that he was about to fold up his earthly tent and go home, he did not commend the sheep of “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1) to his ‘successor’ in Rome. He commended them to their local congregations where they would be fed (1 Peter 5:1-3), and to the Bishop of Souls (1 Peter 2:25), for they were “kept by the power of God,” not by the power of Rome, “through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5). It was the “chief Shepherd,” Jesus Christ, to Whom the local shepherds would be accountable on the Last Day (1 Peter 5:4). The sheep were to submit to the local shepherds (1 Peter 5:5), knowing that the local shepherds would one day answer to the Chief, “for He careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Whatever trials might arise, they were not to be dismayed, for they were not alone — “the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Peter 5:9). The sheep were to press on in faith, entrusting “the keeping of their souls” to God, “as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19), for their incorruptible inheritance was “reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4), and it was in their local congregations that God would preserve them.

But the sheep were to apply these instructions soberly and vigilantly, “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about” (1 Peter 5:8). The local congregation was to be the place of the caring and feeding of the flock, but neither the local congregation nor the local bishop was to be the object of their faith, for the local congregation could be infiltrated not only by evildoers but by evil teachers:

“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies.” (2 Peter 2:1).

But if the shepherds themselves could teach error, and false prophets could enter in among the sheep, what was the recourse of the sheep? To Whom could they turn? They were not left defenseless. The had the Spirit of God (1 Peter 4:14), and they had His Word (2 Peter 3:2).

When Peter was ready to go home, it was to the Word that he entrusted the flock, knowing that their Chief Shepherd could not fail to protect them. His last task before departing was “to stir you up by putting you in remembrance” of the “sure word of prophecy” from the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:13-21), which is to say, the words of the prophets and the words of the apostles:

“This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:” (2 Peter 3:1-2)

Peter had committed the sheep to the care of the Chief Shepherd, Who Himself had committed their instruction to the Spirit Who would “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). The local shepherds were to instruct the sheep, for Jesus had given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for this purpose (Ephesians 4:11). But the sheep were to be on guard against error, and the only way they could do that was to measure the teachings of the shepherds by the Word of God.

We are not surprised to find that Paul said much the same thing when he met with the Ephesian elders in Miletus before departing for Rome.

“And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:25-32)

Knowing that he was leaving and could be no further aid to them, Paul commended the sheep and the shepherds “to God, and to the Word of His grace,” just as Peter had the sheep of Asia Minor. The Scriptures tell us that Paul’s instruction to them bore fruit: Jesus later commended the Ephesian church because “thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Revelation 2:2).

Paul had not told them that he and Peter would be setting up a universal bishopric in Rome whence cometh their help. He had not told them that Mary, the “mother of the church,” would be watching over them from heaven. He had not told them that the administration of a global denomination required a strong central episcopate from which would emanate the radiant beams of infallible instructions from God’s mouthpiece on earth. Peter and Paul had not directed the elders of Asia Minor to render their abject submission and obeisance to the city of Rome which was about to transfer its empire to the Church. They commended them to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and to the Word. There would be “grievous wolves” entering among the sheep, there would be “false prophets” among the people, and “false teachers” among the shepherds, but “the Lord knoweth” how to administer His Church, and He would preserve them:

“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” (2 Peter 2:9)

The Shepherding of the universal church would be conducted from on high. Our Shepherd had ascended into heaven (1 Peter 3:22), had sent the Holy Spirit down from heaven (John 14:26), and in heaven our salvation is preserved (1 Peter 1:4). The kingdom Jesus had established was of heaven, heavenly. It was not of earth, earthly, for a heavenly kingdom is administered from heaven.

To no one’s surprise, the early church understood this to be the case—to no one’s but Roman Catholicism’s, that is. The early church was comprised of congregations scattered throughout the known world, knit together in love, bound by the apostolicity of their common faith, and protected from predators by the Shepherd from on high through His Spirit and by His Word. There were occasional disagreements, just as there were in the apostolic era. There were occasional schisms, just as there were in the apostolic era. There was occasional immorality, just like there was in the apostolic era. The early church was not, and never had been, comprised of the morally perfect.

The difference in the post-apostolic era was that instead of turning to the apostles for help, the churches turned to each other and to the Word of God. When one congregation was struggling, it would turn to others for help, often appealing to those congregations most closely linked to the ministries of the apostles themselves, and Rome was not alone in this distinction.

Roman Catholic apologists love to highlight the fact that Clement of Rome (d. 99 A.D.) wrote a letter to the Corinthian Church in the first century, as if Clement’s communication to Corinth was an exercise of papal primacy. For example, Pedro Rodriguez writes at EWTN,

“From the time when St. Clement of Rome intervened in the affairs of the church of Corinth to reestablish peace in that troubled community down to our own days with its contemporary methods for governing the universal Church, the Roman Pontiffs have been the instruments willed by Christ for maintaining unity among the bishops and for keeping the multitude of the faithful, that is to say, the Church, in a unity of faith and communion.” (Pedro Rodriguez, The Nature of Papal Primacy)

But Clement’s admonition to the church of Corinth was simply the common practice of the post-apostolic church. They would write to each other to encourage one another, and particularly to exhort fellow believers to attend to the teachings of the apostles. When Clement was writing to Corinth, both churches—of Rome and of Corinth—had recently experienced such division (Clement, To the Corinthians, chapter 7), and Clement recommended that they go back to the writings of the apostles for a solution:

“Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles.” (Clement, to the Corinthians, chapter 5).

“Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the gospel first began to be preached?” (Clement, To the Corinthians, chapter 47)

That this was common practice is evidenced by Polycarp’s exhortation to the Church at Philippi (2nd century):

“Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us].” (Polycarp, to the Philippians, chapter 6)

“Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning.” (Polycarp, to the Philippians, chapter 7)

“I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as you have seen [set] before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles.” (Polycarp, to the Philippians, chapters 9)

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (d. 107 A.D.), too, who wrote letters to the surrounding churches: to the Church at Ephesus, at Magnesia, at Tralles, at Rome, at Philadelphia and at Smyrna. His letters are full of admonition and exhortations, particularly that his readers attend to the teachings of the apostles and the prophets:

“…that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Ephesians, chapter 11)

“Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever you do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end;” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Magnesians, chapter 13)

“Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles.” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Trallians, chapter 7)

“I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles;” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Romans, chapter 4)

“I flee to the Gospel as to the flesh of Jesus, and to the apostles as to the presbytery of the Church. And let us also love the prophets, because they too have proclaimed the Gospel, and placed their hope in Him, and waited for Him; … The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest is better; to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been trusted with the secrets of God. He is the door of the Father, by which enter in Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the Church.” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Philadelphians, chapters 5 & 9)

“… give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us … See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God.” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Smyrnæans, chapters 7 & 8)

Roman Catholics read these epistles and can see only submission to the bishop and the presbytery as if the church, the bishop and the presbytery were the cause of our unity, rather than the effect of a unity of which Christ, His Spirit and the Word are the cause. Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp were exhorting the sheep to stay in union with those shepherds who adhered to the teachings of the apostles, and to be on guard against those who did not, just as the Church of Ephesus had done. The unity of the church was “through the power of Jesus Christ” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Ephesians, chapter 11), and the basis for the unity was the prophets and “the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles.” The reason the sheep were to “[s]tudy, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles,” was so that “there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual” (Ignatius of Antioch, to the Magnesians, chapter 13). It was not the church, but the teachings of the apostles, that caused spiritual unity, and the spiritual unity of faith yielded that “fleshly” unity of which the assembly of believers was the public expression. The two were not to be mistaken for each other. Ephesus, after all, had maintained its unity by rejecting false apostles, not by submitting to them.

Clement’s criticism of the church at Corinth, for example, was not that they had lost their unity by separating from the presbyters, but that they had lost their unity by separating from presbyters who adhered to the teaching of the apostles:

“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that 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.” (Clement of Rome, to the Corinthians, chapter 42)

The apostles “appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe” (Clement of Rome, to the Corinthians, chapter 42), and those who abide by the doctrines of the apostles “cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry” (Clement of Rome, to the Corinthians, chapter 44). Whence this division?, asks Clement. It is because they had lost the unity that comes from the Father, the Son, the Spirit through careful attendance to the Word of God. Where there is adherence to the teachings of the apostles, there is unity with the bishop who adheres to the teachings of the apostles. Where the word of God is forsaken by either party, the unity is lost as well. There was a time, Clement reminded them, that the church at Corinth had unity, and it was not a unity that they obtained by adhering to their bishops, but a unity that was granted to them from heaven by adhering to God’s Word:

“Moreover, you were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive. Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, you were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes. Thus a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and you had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all. … Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, you did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts.” (Clement of Rome, to the Corinthians, chapter 2)

Here we may see the difference between reading the Early Church Fathers through the lens of Rome, and reading them through the lens of Scripture. Papists read “follow the bishop” and “yielded obedience,” and presume that obedience to the bishop is the cause of the unity of the church, and therefore look for a visible supreme bishop on earth. When they find one, they think they have found the Church. Christians read “follow the bishop,” and “yielded obedience” and see that the patristic appeals for unity with the bishop are conditioned upon a presumption of apostolicity. The apostles instructed us that our Chief Shepherd is in heaven, and that He administers His flock from heaven by His Spirit and by His Word. Christians therefore understand that the Supreme Bishop is invisible to us, and join themselves to a local congregation that adheres to the teachings of the apostles, trusting the protection of their souls to the Bishop of Souls. And just as Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp exhorted, Christians attend soberly to the Word of God, lest they be led astray by bishops who presume to speak for God, but do not adhere to the teachings of the apostles.

Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, of course, were not the first to say that we should find a local congregation that adheres to the Word of God, and submit to the elders there. Nor were they the first to insist that we should also attend carefully to the Word of God, lest a deceiver enter in and lead the flock astray. Peter taught this long before Clement or Ignatius or Polycarp did:

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-5)

These instructions from Peter are to the churches in Asia Minor. Peter does not admonish his audience to submit to elders who are in union with a chief shepherd in Rome, but to those who are in union with the Chief Shepherd in heaven. The reason we do not seek the cause of our unity in an earthly bishop is because earthly bishops can and do introduce error:

“…there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1)

“…after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:25-32)

There is no better way for false teachers to introduce “damnable heresies,” and for grievous wolves to introduce “perverse things,” than for them first to insist that unity with the bishop is the cause of apostolic purity, rather than insisting that apostolic purity be the condition of unity with the bishop.

Yet this is precisely what we see in Rome’s apologists. Any who desire apostolicity are told by her apologists that they first must join themselves to a visible chief shepherd on earth. But the Scriptures do not teach this. Bishops who want Christians to submit to them must rather demonstrate their apostolicity—something that Rome and her popes simply cannot do. Consider, for example, the observation of Roman Catholic apologist, Rev. John Morris, upon the realization that he could find no evidence of Marian devotion in the early Church. The practice, he said, must have been invisible in the early Church and therefore its apostolicity simply had to be presumed:

“[I]f there are early traces of identity of belief, they may be invisible, except to the eye of a Catholic, but perfectly clear to him. For an immense number of minute expressions, observations, and practices prove to him, that the genius of his faith is what it always was. … What is intended is, not to assert that the present devotion to Mary existed in the early ages; that may be so or not: but that the principle on which it is based naturally led to it, and may be assumed to have been intended by God to lead to it.” (Jesus, the Son of Mary, by the Rev. John Brande Morris, M.A., 1851, pp. 25-33.)

That dogmatic leap from an apostolic Church which knew nothing of Marian devotion, to the Roman Catholic church which is rife with Marian devotion but cannot prove its apostolicity, is the heart and soul of Roman Catholicism. Where the apostolicity of a doctrine cannot be seen, it is to be assumed based on the apostolic pretenses of a visible pope. Here Rev. Morris has accepted an invisible apostolicity in Roman Catholicism based on the visibility of a chief shepherd. As we noted in “A Significant Turning Point”, our Roman Catholic historians accept the same invisible apostolicity when they submit to Pope Pius IX’s Immaculate Conception dogma, even though the apostolicity of the dogma is completely lacking:

“The extant evidence, there… does not justify us … in picturing them [the Early Church Fathers] as carriers of an historical tradition, or in attributing to them a formal belief in an Immaculate Conception.” (Evangelical Catholic Apologetics, The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God)

In fact, as we showed in the same post, the Early Church Fathers spoke volumes about the sinfulness and vaingloriousness of Mary, and her need to be corrected by her Son for her sins and her moral failings. The early church fathers made these claims based on the writings of the apostles. But this did not prevent Pope Pius IX from proclaiming that the Immaculate Conception of Mary has “always existed in the Church as a doctrine that has been received from our ancestors, and that has been stamped with the character of revealed doctrine” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854). The apostolicity of the Immaculate Conception had to be presumed in order for Rome’s bishop to maintain his facade of apostolicity. Rome’s galactic lapse in apostolicity on Mary is brushed aside in haste by the Catholic Encyclopedia which has no other option than to designate the Early Church’s position on Mary as a gigantic aggregation of stray individual opinions that can be ignored:

“But these stray private opinions merely serve to show that theology is a progressive science.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Immaculate Conception).

Accept a visible chief shepherd of the Church, and what you will get for your trouble is an invisible apostolicity for which no evidence can be produced. As we demonstrated in The Rise of Roman Catholicism, and our series Their Praise was their Sacrifice, we are expected by Rome to accept the same invisible apostolicity on the perpetual virginity of Mary, Mary as “Mother of the Church,” the assumption of Mary, invocation of the saints, veneration of relics, veneration of images, votive candles, Roman primacy, papal primacy, eucharistic adoration, the sacrifice of the mass, and Peter as the first bishop of Rome. No evidence from the apostolic era can be produced for these, and a great deal of countervailing evidence exists in the early church, yet we are expected to receive them on the authority of a visible chief shepherd who can trace them back no further than the late 4th century.

But the early church would accept no such exchange. Our Chief Shepherd is in heaven and is invisible, but the apostolicity of the church must be visible indeed, and it is in the adherence to the teachings of the apostles that the apostolicity of church may be measured and known. It is this visible apostolicity that was the central focus of the early church in their letters.

We will pick up on this theme next week when we see how the early church rejoiced in the purity and unanimity of an apostolic church that had no earthly city as its capital, and no earthly shepherd to guide them.

17 thoughts on “The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church (part 1)”

  1. Tim said:

    “The sheep were to submit to the local shepherds (1 Peter 5:5), knowing that the local shepherds would one day answer to the Chief, “for He careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).”

    This is a dangerous principle claimed by independents. Rather, the sheep are to submit to the law and the testimony of the truth. Submitting to Pastors who teach error, heresy, sin against God, are to be avoided, and no submission is required.

    This distinction was faithfully taught by the Scottish and Irish Covenanters as compared to the Independents. It was argued by both Rutherford and Gillespie in explaining those who subscribe to the doctrine of toleration (anti-biblical teaching) vs. accommodation of weakness (biblical teaching).

    Presbyterianism makes it clear in the following act.

    We have searched after the mind of Christ, and have traced the footsteps of the prophets and apostles, in the Old and New Testament: and no where can we find in the scriptures of truth, either precept or precedent allowed of God for toleration of any error, much less did it ever come into his mind, or did he speak to any of his servants concerning a toleration of all error.

    As that infinitely glorious divine Essence is one in himself most holy, most righteous, most true, so hath he given unto the children of men, one eternal, unchangeable law, according to the rule whereof they are to square their profession, and order their conversation:…

    All those who have their senses in any measure exercised in the word of God will acknowledge that it is repugnant thereto, that any who are clothed with power œconomic, ecclesiastic or politic, should connive at any error in any of these that are subject to their jurisdiction, or allow it liberty by a law. Abraham did command his children and his household to keep the way of the Lord, and to do justice and judgment, Gen. 18.19. Jacob took order for purging of his household and all that were with him, from all the idols and strange gods that were amongst them, Gen. 35.2. David will have none of those who tell lies, but such as walk in a perfect way, to be in his house, Psalm 101. And the apostle Paul will have all pastors and deacons to rule their houses well, and to keep them in subjection, 1 Tim. 3. Neither is there less required of those who bear charge in the house of God.

    It was a special part of the office of Aaron and his sons to separate betwixt the precious and the vile: Jehoiada set porters at the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in any thing should enter therein, 2 Chron. 23.19.

    The apostle Paul would not give place unto those by subjection who came in privily to spy out the kirk’s liberty for the space of an hour, Gal. 2.5. and he will have an heretic after the first and second admonition to be rejected, Titus 3.10. And are not some of the churches of Asia commended for their diligence, and others of them reproved for their negligence herein, Rev. 2.2,6,14,15,20. (Commissioners of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, A Solemn Testimony Against Toleration, and the present proceedings of the Sectaries and their Abettors, in England, in reference to Religion and Government, With the Answer, of Parliament, to the said Testimony, 1649, emphasis added)

    Avoid the modern Presbyterian churches at all cost.

    1. Thank you, Walt. You wrote,

      This is a dangerous principle claimed by independents. Rather, the sheep are to submit to the law and the testimony of the truth.

      I want to make sure I understand your point. Hebrews 13:17 says,

      Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

      It is my understanding that Peter and the author of Hebrews were both saying the same thing here. Namely, that we must submit to our elders in the church, but must also be on guard less we find ourselves submitting to men who themselves do not submit to the teachings of the apostles.

      Is that your understanding?

      Thanks,

      Tim

  2. Tim wrote:

    “Is that your understanding?”

    It is pretty clear. I agree with the following as taught by reformed Presbyterians. I reject modern PCA church teaching on submission to Elders who teach error for sake of pretended toleration and pretended unity.

    “First, whatsoever reverence or dignity is by the Spirit of God in the Scriptures given to particular men in office, all of it is given, not properly to men themselves, but to the office of the ministry which those men occupy. Those particular men who are called of Christ to serve in an official capacity are “clothed” with the ministry. In essence, the official requirements of the ministry, and the associated spiritual power to fulfil their attendant duties are “committed” unto them (Exod.3:4 and 14:31; Duet.17:9,10; Mal.2:4,6; Ezek.3:17; Jer.23:28 and 1:6; Matt.28:19; Acts 15:10).

    Accordingly, these men, as official ministers called and sent of Christ, have been given a limited ministerial power to make subordinate rules and decrees. These rules and decrees do not bind except where and when they wholly conform to that first infallible and unerring rule prescribed by Christ Himself (Luke 22:25-27; 1Pe5:2,3; 2Tim.3:15,16,17; 1Thess.5:12; Eph.6:1).

    In essence, the authority of all ministerial rules and decrees are founded solely upon and wholly deprived from the Word of God. Not only is the authority associated with ministerial declarations of doctrinal abstractions, such as Confessions of Faith, solely dependent upon the authority of the written Word of God, but also the administration and exercise of the same-the practical out-working of these doctrinal positions in time and history-must also conform to this alone infallible rule, or else such rules, decrees, or practical examples of mere men have no binding authority (Isa.8:19,20; Mal.2:6,7; Matt.28:19).

    In so far as any ministerial declaration or practical application does actually err and decline from that which is taught in God’s Word, these officers do act without power and authority from Jesus Christ. Because they are commissioned by Christ, and clothed with the ministry, ministers may do nothing against the Truth, but only for the Truth (2Cor.13:8), with power that He has given unto edification and not unto destruction (2Cor.13:10).

    It is, therefore, both the duty and privilege of every church member to use his own judgment and discretion in order to examine every thing that a church judicatory decrees or declares. If after a diligent and impartial examination, any ministerial decree or practice is found to be “certainly” contrary to God’s Word, then these members are not to bring their conscience in bondage to the mere dictates of men (Isa.9:15,16; Jer.8:8,9; Mal.2:8,9; Isa.40:6-8; Rom.3:4; 1Cor.13:9-12).” (source withheld)

  3. TIM–
    You said: “No evidence from the apostolic era can be produced for these, and a great deal of countervailing evidence exists in the early church, yet we are expected to receive them on the authority of a visible chief shepherd who can trace them back no further than the late 4th century.”

    I find that comment interesting since your knowledge of the writings of the Early Church Fathers is so extensive. Here is something I came across by Irenæus while searching down the texts you provided from Clement:

    “2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.
    3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric.”–Irenæus (Against Heresies, III,3)–mid to late second century.

    A strong case was made for the primacy of Rome as a “strong central episcopate” that would be needed to combat heresy. Irenaeus made the case in the second century. We talked about this, remember?

    1. Bob, yes we talked about this. You may also recall that when Jim appealed to this very section of Irenæus’ Against Heresies for support of a “strong central episcopate,” I responded,

      “But you should know that your citation of Irenæus to prove the existence of the Papacy prior to 350 A.D. actually does the opposite of what you think it does.”

      In fact, when we read this in its context over the next couple weeks we will see that Irenæus was not saying that all churches need to agree with Rome, but that Rome needs to be corrected and kept in line by all the other churches established by the apostles on account of her propensity to wander from the truth. We will be returning to this very section of Irenæus in this series. The translation of the sentence in question, “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority,” is actually contested. The above translation is by a Protestant who was reading Irenæus as you have. But a Roman Catholic translator has provided a better translation, more suited to the context, and it doesn’t say what you think it does.

      Thanks,

      Tim

  4. TIM–
    You said: “The translation of the sentence in question, “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority,” is actually contested. The above translation is by a Protestant who was reading Irenæus as you have. But a Roman Catholic translator has provided a better translation, more suited to the context, and it doesn’t say what you think it does.”

    Of course, Tim Kauffman would say that. Why would I think any differently? 🙂
    preeminent authority
    principalitas
    JM Latin English Dictionary
    N F //superiority| pre-eminence| excellence; first place

    I have read the explanation of this in Wordsworth’s book on Hippolytus. It is credible with a little salt. The fact remains that the original Greek is missing. When someone says “the Greek probably said….”, then it is just as subjective as the Roman Church would read it.

    Still, the fact remains that all the Churches of “the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere” did eventually submit to the Roman See. And they did it from the late 4th century all the way to the 11th–all Churches in communion with the Holy See and all five patriarchates Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were considered “The Catholic Church”. Heresies were anathema and heretics were excommunicated until they recanted their teaching.
    Can you name an apostolic see that was not in communion with Rome during this time?

    1. Thanks, Bob. The footnote by the translator reads,

      “The Latin text of this difficult but important clause is, ‘Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam.’ Both the text and meaning have here given rise to much discussion. It is impossible to say with certainty of what words in the Greek original ‘potiorem principalitatem’ may be the translation. We are far from sure that the rendering given above is correct, but we have been unable to think of anything better.”

      Thus, some further examination is order, and the context of Irenæus’ work is a good place to start. The context does not lend itself to a rendering that says every Church must agree with Rome, but the context does lend itself to a reading that says Rome must agree with all the other Churches. We will examine this further in a couple weeks, but it serves little beneficial purpose to attempt to establish Irenæus’ meaning either by providing the definitions of an English translation of a questionable Latin one, or by providing the history of the late 4th century as a backdrop to an early 2nd century writing.

      I agree with you that Roman Catholic churches eventually submitted to the Roman See, as the world sought a visible chief shepherd. The fact that after the first three centuries without one, the church began to seek a visible chief shepherd, does not overturn the fact that for the first three centuries they did not seek a visible chief shepherd.

      In any case, when Irenæus is read in context (as we shall see), it is quite clear that he is correcting Rome, not imploring other churches to submit to her.

      Thanks,

      Tim

  5. TIM–
    You said: “I agree with you that Roman Catholic churches eventually submitted to the Roman See, as the world sought a visible chief shepherd.
    And I said: “Still, the fact remains that all the Churches… did eventually submit to the Roman See. And they did it from the late 4th century all the way to the 11th–all Churches in communion with the Holy See and all five patriarchates Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were considered “The Catholic Church”.

    You distinguished “Roman Catholic”. I didn’t.

    You also said: “The fact that after the first three centuries without one, the church began to seek a visible chief shepherd, does not overturn the fact that for the first three centuries they did not seek a visible chief shepherd.”

    In that first three centuries, the Christology became so diverse that heresies started to divide the churches. There became a need for centralizing the doctrine to combat heresy. The Council of Nicaea was called to unify doctrine. The need for a chief shepherd did not stop with Rome, either. The patriarch of Constantinople was established because the Eastern churches needed a “center of government” in place of Rome, which eventually created a permanent schism. The Refomation did the same thing. The Second Reformation did it again. And the Restoration Movement split the churches even more. The only reason any of these splits took place at all was because one party blamed the other party of teaching heresy.

    That is why I ask the question: Can you name an apostolic see that was not in communion with Rome during this time(4th to 11th century)? Who were they and what did they believe?

    1. Bob, you have equated “centralized doctrine” with “centralized administration.” The early church was unaware of the existence of, or the need for, a centralized administration (except from Heaven). The fact that someone eventually saw a need for centralized administration, and a lot of folks threw in their lot with him, is the stuff of Revelation—the very thing we were warned to avoid. You seem to be saying that because it happened, it must have been right. But reality is quite different. We were warned to avoid it, and we must. That strong central episcopate that was foreign to the early church is Roman Catholicism, the Antichrist, the Little Horn of Daniel 7, the Wicked one of 2 Thessalonians 2, the Beast of Revelation 13. Nicæa hardly established or recognized a strong central episcopate. They were clearly unaware of one. For the first three centuries the churches throughout the known world marveled at their own apostolicity and consistency, and trusted in the Lord and His Word to keep them on track. The council of Nicæa was not convened to hear a word from Rome. It was convened to address various errors, just as the first council in Acts 15. Heresies were dividing the churches in the day so the apostles, too, yet nobody suggested that a strong central episcopate be formed to combat the heresies. As I noted last week, both Paul and Peter identified the fact that heresies would enter in after their deaths, but neither of them suggested the formation of a strong central episcopate to combat the heresies. When Jesus commended the Ephesian church for trying and rejecting false apostles (Revelation 2:2), it is something the Ephesians accomplished on their own, without a strong central episcopate.

      Yes, a strong central episcopate was formed toward the end of the 4th century, just as was prophesied, and the vast majority threw in their lot with him, just as was prophesied. But not all, just as was prophesied.

      When we examine the history of the Vaudois, we will find a persistent and intractable rejection of Roman primacy and Roman error.

      By the way, do you consider Constantinople to be an Apostolic See? If so, why?

      Thanks,

      Tim

  6. TIM–
    You said: “Yes, a strong central episcopate was formed toward the end of the 4th century, just as was prophesied, and the vast majority threw in their lot with him, just as was prophesied. But not all, just as was prophesied. When we examine the history of the Vaudois, we will find a persistent and intractable rejection of Roman primacy and Roman error.
    By the way, do you consider Constantinople to be an Apostolic See? If so, why?”

    When I looked at the history of the Vaudois, it looked very promising. I thought “Finally! Here is a church that has preserved the apostolic tradition in its purest form. Then I tried to find documentation. Dead end. No writings from them, only writings about them from two different viewpoints, and most of those have found to be suspect and controversial.
    And no, I do not believe Constantinople is apostolic. But it is “thown in” with the rest of the patriarchates of the Church at that time. Constantinople is considered the “Rome” of the eastern Greek church.

    When I said “centralized doctrine” I may have used a wrong term. What I mean is unified doctrine. I believe it is better to have all Christians learning the same doctrine. Today it is not the case.

    Tim, you blame the Roman Church as being corrupt and led by Satan, but it seems the rest of Christianity is no better. We all believe the Holy Spirit is infallible. Why is it, when great Christian teachers claim to be led by the Holy Spirit, they do not claim to be infallible when they teach?

    1. Thanks, Bob,

      The end, regarding the Vaudois, may not be as dead as you imagine. There is a great deal of evidence for their persistence, and much of it has to do with a rejection of the Roman Catholic doctrines introduced late in the 4th century, and then of those introduced in the 11th. That persistence is worth exploring, and it appears to be centered in the Alps. I’ve seen a lot of the data, too. Some of it is speculative, and some of it is exaggerated, and some of it is fabricated. The same things can be said of the Roman Catholic Church, and the alleged antiquity of her doctrines.

      What I find most compelling about the data on the Vaudois is the positive testimony from adverse witnesses—people who had no motive to portray the Vaudois in a positive light. We’ll explore this further on a series devoted particularly to the Vaudois.

      You observed,

      “Tim, you blame the Roman Church as being corrupt and led by Satan, but it seems the rest of Christianity is no better.”

      My assessment of Rome is not based upon a comparison between Rome and the rest of professing Christianity. It is based upon an assessment from God’s Word, in which we were duly warned of the rise of an antagonist that would dominate the known world and lead many astray. I hold to a continuity principle which, in brief, is the principle that the prophesies of Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9 and 11 are each continuous. No chronological gaps between legs and feet, no chronological gaps between feet and toes, no chronological gaps between 69th week and 70th, no chronological gaps between head and horn. If history unfolded serially as depicted in the visions (say, from babylon to Greece), there is no reason we should not have found a serial progression that continued from Greece onward. I’ll continue expounding upon that serial progression in future posts, especially regarding the 70 weeks of Daniel 9, as well as the last 5 verses of Daniel 11. Once the continuity of the progression is taken into account, Rome emerges as the “Wicked One” of 2 Thessalonians, the Beast of Revelation 13, the Little Horn of Daniel 7, etc…, not based on a comparison with other denominations but based upon the testimony of Scripture. What I mean is that Rome’s identity is not determined by comparing her to other nations and religions, but by examining the Scriptural testimony of her (at that time) future errors. In light of this, Revelation 12 teaches us that the Serpent would let loose a flood of doctrines in an attempt to destroy the church, but that God would provide a place of safety for her—safety from the false doctrines. Yet for the same period of time, the Little Horn is allowed to “wear out” the saints. What the Scriptures foretell is a 1,260 “day” period when the saints would be persecuted by the Beast, but protected from the doctrines of the Serpent. If we can identify the doctrines let loose by the Serpent (some of which I identify in the Rise of Roman Catholicism), then the fulfillment of that 1,260 “day” period ought to be defined by a people who are persecuted by Rome, but steadfastly reject those errant doctrines. I believe this can be proven of the Vaudois, and their rejection of the demonic doctrines can be traced to the late 4th century. More on this later. I just wanted to suggest that the Woman who is protected for those 1,260 “day” period will not look like Rome at all, and so we should not be looking for a religion that has all the trappings of Rome with its earthly dominion, hierarchy, infallible proclamations, etc… It will be very, very different. But it will have a legitimate claim on apostolicity, and what we find is that adverse witnesses actually testify of that very thing.

      “We all believe the Holy Spirit is infallible. Why is it, when great Christian teachers claim to be led by the Holy Spirit, they do not claim to be infallible when they teach?”

      We might well ask why the apostles themselves, who were imbued with power from on high, did not always agree with each other, and on occasion stumbled into error (Galatians 2:11). Perhaps we were never to look for the seat of infallibility to reside in men, but in something else. That something else, in my opinion, is the written Word of God. The Apostles were not incapable of error, but their writings were. That, of course, must be taken on faith.

      Thanks,

      Tim

  7. Bob, you wrote:

    “When I looked at the history of the Vaudois, it looked very promising. I thought “Finally! Here is a church that has preserved the apostolic tradition in its purest form. Then I tried to find documentation. Dead end. No writings from them, only writings about them from two different viewpoints, and most of those have found to be suspect and controversial.
    And no, I do not believe Constantinople is apostolic. But it is “thown in” with the rest of the patriarchates of the Church at that time. Constantinople is considered the “Rome” of the eastern Greek church.”

    I certainly would not ignore Tim’s research as it is very helpful to understand the immaturity and lack of biblical knowledge by the early church fathers. It is good history that leads and points to the tremendous errors later observed in the dark and middle ages.

    If you truly desire to follow the true doctrine that was outlined by the infant church of the Apostles, and what grew out of them before the great falling away to the ultimate wave of false doctrine, government and worship in the visible church, I suggest you study the following history.

    —————–

    Endeavouring thus to weigh matters in the balances of the sanctuary, the Old Dissenters have uniformly, and decidedly, been of opinion, that it is their indispensable duty, to contend for the whole of the Faith once delivered to the saints. They mean the approving part of their Testimony to embrace, in general, all the noble exertions which have been made for the support and defence of the truth as it is in Jesus; from the first dawn of the Gospel on our benighted isles, to that memorable period, when Scotland’s Reformation arrived at the zenith of its glory. They indeed put a speciality on the attainments between 1638 and 1649; for this obvious reason, that while they look back to all the preceding, they comprehend, at the same time, many new and precious advances in both Church and State reformation.

    Even the infant struggles of the Culdees, or worshippers of the true God, for the first two or three hundred years after the planting of the Christian religion in Scotland, are not to be overlooked, but remembered with gratitude. Soon after the days of the Apostles, while the persecution raged against the Christians in the Roman empire, many fled to our isle for shelter; and, bringing their religion along with them, maintained the pure worship of God, in the midst of heathen superstition. While they opposed on the one hand, the idolatry of the Druidical priests; they were no less zealous on the other, against the Pelagian heresy, which much prevailed at that time. By means of these faithful witnesses, the ordinances of Christ were long preserved in their original simplicity; while their holy, humble, and circumspect lives were no small recommendation to their Saviour’s religion.

    In process of time, there arose, in the Church, men who loved to have the pre-eminence; and, from about the middle of the 5th, to the beginning of the 16th century, there was a gradual and alarming progress in that worse than Egyptian darkness, which at length wholly overspread the land. A kind of Episcopacy was first introduced by Paladius, the Missionary of Rome; and to that succeeded, step by step, all the dreadful abominations of Popery. Yet, even during that long and dismal period, the Lord left not himself without his witnesses. There were still some who contended for the faith once delivered to the saints, were valiant for the truth upon the earth, and loved not their lives unto the death. And the more rare such conduct then was; the more honour should be attached unto it. As the blood of such Martyrs afterwards proved the seed of the Church; it is highly proper, that their names, and their earnest contendings, should be kept in everlasting remembrance.

    Shortly after the commencement of the 16th century, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Messrs. Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, and other fellow-sufferers, in the kingdom and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, valiantly to oppose those antichristian abominations, which had long stood in the holy place. These brave champions in the Reformation cause, made a noble stand in defence of the truth; they resisted error and corruption, even unto blood, striving against sin; they had the honourable testimony of God and a good conscience, in the midst of their sufferings; while their memories, and honest pleadings, will be savoury among the faithful friends of Christ, to the latest posterity.

    Between the years 1557, and 1590, comprehending the principal part of what has usually been termed our first Reformation, many precious efforts were made, for the purging of the Lord’s sanctuary, and also for the rectifying of abuses in the state. A considerable number of public bonds or covenants, for the maintenance of the true religion, were seriously entered into. Among these, the deed known by the name of the National Covenant of Scotland, holds a distinguished place. The famous Scotch Confession of Faith was composed, and was also adopted, and solemnly ratified by both Church and State. The first and second books of Discipline were, prepared, and brought into practice, as precious helps for supporting the comely order of Christ’s house. Many laudable acts were passed, in opposition to the mass, the abuse of the Sacraments, the Pope’s usurped authority, and other branches of the Romish superstition. Solemn protestations and remonstrances were repeatedly entered, against the encroachments, which the civil powers were often making on the prerogatives of Christ, and the intrinsic privileges of the Church. Much diligence was shewn, even for the reformation of the State; while many precious laws were enacted, for guarding the throne against iniquity, and requiring both prince and people to profess and practise the same true religion, and what is very remarkable, for that time, the line of distinction, between the civil and the ecclesiastic authority, was drawn with a very considerable degree of precision. Such noble exertions, for suppressing the abominations of mystical Babylon, and in defence of the truth, have always met with our hearty approbation.

    As to the interval, between 1590 and 1637, when diocesan Prelacy gained very much ground in Scotland; there were then also many faithful witnesses, who wrestled very earnestly in behalf of the Protestant and Presbyterian religion; and whose honourable exertions in witnessing for Christ, were long and gratefully remembered. But we now proceed to declare our special and hearty approbation of the precious Reformation attainments, between 1638 and 1649; as these evidently put the cope-stone upon the building, with the shoutings of “grace, grace, unto it.”

    http://www.covenanter.org/RefPres/shortaccount.htm#section4

  8. For the information of any lurkers out there, here is some background on the founder of the Covenanters. I wondered where Walt gets his “false bretheren” stuff. Now I know.

    DAVID STEELE–Born in Upper Creevaugh, County Donegal, Ireland, November 2, 1803. He received his early education in the private and night schools of the vicinity, and labored upon the farm until his sixteenth year. In 1820, he entered the Academy of Londonderry, and pursued the regular course of studies for three years. He came to America in 1824, settling in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, where he worked as clerk for his uncle, and prosecuted his classical studies. In 1825, he was engaged as teacher in the Academy of Ebensburgh, Pennsylvania, and the next year entered the Western University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1827. He studied theology under the direction of Rev. Dr. John Black at Pittsburgh, and was licensed by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, April 8, 1830. He was ordained by the Ohio Presbytery, and installed pastor of the congregation of Brush Creek, Adams County, Ohio, June 6, 1831. In 1840, he and Robert Lusk, together with several ruling elders, declined the ecclesiastical courts of the Reformed Presbyterian Church due to ecclesiastical tyranny. They erected the Reformed Presbytery, June 24, 1840. He remained in Adams County, Ohio, preaching to adherents of the Reformed Presbytery until 1859, when he removed to Hill Prairie, Illinois. In October, 1866, he removed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he pastored a small congregation of original Covenanters and established a theological school. In 1885, he removed to Galesburg, Illinois, and in the fall of 1886, returned to Philadelphia, where he died of old age and from the effects of a slight stroke of paralysis, June 29, 1887. In later years, Steele was striken with blindness, but continued to “remain in the saddle,” preferring diligence in ministry to retirement. He was a learned and powerful preacher of the gospel, “his enemies themselves being judges,” and attracted many members of the RP Church to hear him when they had occasion. He was an adept in the ancient languages and a powerful thinker. He held that the Reformed Presbyterian Church had departed from the attainments of the Reformation, especially in the matter of “voluntary associations.” He devoted much of his writing to demonstrating this defection, chastising the Reformed Presbyterian Church for her treacherous defection from Covenanted Reformation. He spent most of his life visiting those who adhered to the “good old way,” ministering to them. He was a tremendous controversialist, and manifested great inflexibility of character, for which he was despised by “false brethren.” Toward the end of his life (1884), he stated, “The principles…for more than 40 years defended against many opponents—especially”false brethren”—I still believe to be founded upon the Scriptures and long experience, with developments among opponents, has tended to confirm my earlier convictions.” ,strong>He died in the belief that the principles which he held and propagated would one day triumph in the earth.

    Well, at least he’s not Papist!

  9. Bob,

    You wrote:

    “For the information of any lurkers out there, here is some background on the founder of the Covenanters. I wondered where Walt gets his “false bretheren” stuff. Now I know.”

    You might want to read the document I referenced above. The Covenanters originate with those in Scotland with the national covenant, but migrated to Ireland when they joined in the Solemn League and Covenant.

    Steele is indeed the most hated and maligned of the Covenanters originating out of Scotland or Ireland. The article I posted explains how those who stand firm till their death were the most hated in upholding those Covenants.

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