Often in my life since I started this journey in Christ, seeking the Church, I have encountered others with no real understanding of Church History. I knew nothing of Church History and it took me over twenty years before I realized that fact. I used to think that the only history of the Church I needed was contained in the book of Acts. That’s a nice neat thing to claim but it is false. While the Acts of the Apostles contains much of what occurred in the early Church, it isn’t everything that happened. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts opened it with, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3 NKJV
So we see that Luke recognized that what he wrote before was a beginning and that after Jesus was taken up “He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the Apostles” so Jesus continued to lead and guide the Apostles through the Holy Spirit. This is one point to note for us since we often hear that “If it’s not written in Acts then it didn’t happen” but we see that Jesus still gave guidance to the Apostles through the Holy Spirit.
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness there were about 2 million people plus all their stuff and much of Egypt’s treasures. Moses was the only leader they had. He was judging disputes of all levels and it was taking up his time. His father-in-law Jethro was the means that God used to give him input. This is what we see, “…And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.” So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.” Exodus 18:13-26 NKJV
Jethro, gave his advice then he also allowed for Moses to clear these ideas with God before putting them into practice. This is no small thing since Moses was God’s Prophet and so when Moses did as Jethro had suggested we can assume that God approved.
Now let’s look at the Church because Israel is simply a picture of the Church. After the resurrection, the Church WAS and IS the fulfillment of Israel. So when we look at the Church we must realize the Church is Israel. When Luke began the Acts of the Apostles he made it clear that Jesus was still commanding the Apostles when he said, “after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles” so we know the Apostles were still being directed, commanded and taught by Jesus so when they chose a direction, we know Jesus was involved in the choice.
Did the early Church have a hierarchy? Was there some form of Church Government or Administration? If it isn’t in scripture, how can we know?
Saint Paul spoke in his Epistle to the Romans of spiritual gifts. One of those gifts was listed in the King James translation as “Ruling” in the New King James the word was rendered “Leading” and most of the English translations render it “Lead” as a gift.
In 1Corinthians 12 Saint Paul also listed some spiritual gifts in a list of priority. In that list he identified “administrations” as a gift. In many of the English translations this is a common rendering. Administration, administrative, or guidance all are used.
Let me tie this up with something that keeps coming to mind. When Israel was in Egypt they were slaves and made bricks. They weren’t great artisans with skills taught them by Egyptians, they were slaves making bricks. When they got out of Egypt, God commanded that Moses make a tabernacle in accordance with God’s directions, God showed Moses what it would look like. I am sure the question in Moses’ mind was “How’s this going to happen?” “How do we make these things?” Well, God already has the answer, “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship. “And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tabernacle of meeting, the ark of the Testimony and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furniture of the tabernacle— the table and its utensils, the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base— the garments of ministry, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests, and the anointing oil and sweet incense for the holy place. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do.”” Exodus 31:1-11 NKJV
So God gave gifts to men to accomplish his will by being artisans and to have wisdom to make everything for the Tabernacle. In the Church, God gave gifts to men to accomplish his will also. We saw spiritual gifts of leading, administrations or ruling mixed in with other gifts and even in a hierarchical ranking. That gift would never be given if God had not intended it to be used.
One other thing ties this up for me, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” I Corinthians 14:40 NKJV because as he had said just a few verses prior, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” I Corinthians 14:33 NKJV
If God is not the author of confusion, and wants everything done decently and in order, and he has gifted some men with gifts of ruling, leading, leadership or administrations, then the Church, when it grew to a size where it became practical and necessary, must create an administration to lead the Church. When the number of the names (as it says in Acts 1) was about 120, the Apostles could easily guide them. When there were 3000 added in one day, perhaps they could still handle it. But when the Church grew and the Apostles planted groups in each geographical location, and the groups began growing, the Apostles ordained Bishops, Elders (presbyters) and Deacons for their ministries and along the way we see that the Church organized to be able to administer this growing body of believers.
As a reminder Ignatius of Antioch made it clear why we are to do nothing without the inclusion of the clergy. From the letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians:
“CHAPTER VII.–DO NOTHING WITHOUT THE BISHOP AND PRESBYTERS.
As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.”
This unity in the Body of Christ with the leadership is important because our example is our Lord. When Our Lord Jesus did anything he didn’t act alone. “Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” John 5:19 NKJV
The unity of the body to the leadership is something that makes the Church unique. The bishops came from among the people, they weren’t imposed from outside, they were known as Godly men that adhered to sound doctrine. Just like the qualification that Moses sought in his leaders, they weren’t covetous or able to be bribed, so to the Church looked to men of good report both inside and outside the Church.
So what shall we conclude? Should we conclude that the Church created a leadership hierarchy because the body needed structure? Should we conclude that somehow the Church that Jesus built on the foundation of the Apostolic Confession that He was the Christ and that the Holy Spirit was guiding could not be maintained by God? Should we conclude that the installation of a hierarchy was apostasy?
I think it is clear both from scripture and history that the hierarchy of the Church, founded on the Apostolic Confession, maintained by the Holy Spirit, stands to this day as a testament that the Gates of Hades cannot prevail against the Church.