of the earliest departures from God's plan for the church was in the
organization of congregations. Let's look at a brief overview of God's
plan: 1-there were no councils, conferences, synods, etc., composed of
representatives from many congregations. Each church stood alone; 2-God
planned for each church to have elders. "For this cause left I
thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are
wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee"
(Titus 1:5). Biblical passages show the terms "elders,"
"bishops," "overseers," "pastors,"
"presbyters" to be synonymous. God clearly spells out the
qualifications of this group in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.
"During a great portion of this century (the second), all churches
continued to be, as at first, independent of each other, connected by no
confederations" (Ecclesiastical History, Vol. I, pages 116,117). When
you study the qualifications of elders, you will see each had to be a
married man, with believing children. Peter tells us he was an elder (1
Peter 5:1), and the New Testament makes clear he was married (Matthew
8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38; 1 Corinthians 9:5). Although the name or names of
his children are not recorded for us, we know he had children; otherwise,
he would not have qualified to be an elder. The apostle Paul is never
referred to as "elder," in the sense of one of the local
congregation's group of appointed elders. And, we know Paul was not a
seemingly harmless practice of appointing one elder as the presiding
officer for the elders' meetings, as they discussed the work of the local
congregation, developed over time into this "chief elder" being
elevated in honor above his fellow elders.. The next, again seemingly
harmless, step away from God's plan was the meeting together of the
"chief elders" from several congregations. The one coming from
the church in the largest, or most prestigious, city, held a higher place
than did the others. Out of this departure grew conventions of delegates,
all "chief elders," from many churches; from these conventions
came rules for all churches represented at the meeting. The Greeks called
these meetings "synods," and the Latin name was
"councils." The rules were called "canons." The first
"creed," or body of man-made rules, appears in 325 A.D. The
Nicene Creed formulated and imposed the rules agreed to by the "chief
elders," by now called "bishops." Closely connected with
the departure of elevating one elder above another came the concept of
"clergy-laity," with the elevated elder/bishop taking on a
higher "spiritual" position, and "ordinary" members
relegated to an inferior place.
today's column has been devoted to early history of some departures from
God's plan for the church. Watch for other columns like this, for here is
the lesson which must be learned in our time: There is no
"small" change that can be practiced or tolerated, when it comes
to God's Word. Do you know why your particular religious group
practices and teaches some of the things it does? Do some research into
the history of departures and changes. Perhaps you'll find where they
began. Perhaps, as each of us determines to do only what God says, Jesus'
prayer that we all be one, (John 17:20,21) will be answered!