How did the Church get Organized?

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:

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. 

Authority: Presumed or Inherited Through Ordination 

Authority: Presumed or Inherited Through Ordination
Jesus was challenged for his authority and turned it on his challengers. “… By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:28-33 KJV
Jesus taught as one having authority, He was, in fact, God and confirmed that fact through signs and wonders. Throughout his ministry we see that He healed and cast out demons, restored people afflicted in many ways. These signs were what he used to convince John the Baptist that He was genuine. “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” Matthew 11:2-6 KJV

Jesus used the fact of these wonders, these miracles, that He was genuine. This was how he told John’s Disciples to convey the truth to John who was in prisoned and John’s response was clear: “John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:27-36 KJV
When Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the Gospel he also ordained (set in place) them. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” John 15:16 KJV
When Judas fell away, and after the resurrection the Apostles sought to replace him. Peter speaking said: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick (Episkopen) let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:20-26 KJV
By ordination, Jesus, gave His authority to the twelve. They were entrusted to found the Church on the confession “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and He promised to build His Church on that foundation. He also promised that the Gates of Hades (powers of evil) would not prevail against the Church.
So let me look into that authority. The Church, in antiquity, accepted the Apostles as the original Bishops of the Church. While the hierarchy evolved a little later, toward the end of the first century into the second century, they were seen as the first Bishops, overseers, pastors and guides of the Church. It was their doctrine that was followed, they taught the Church and instructed the Church in how to live according to righteousness as found in the Holy Scriptures which for them was the scriptures that Jesus taught from.
John the Theologian, in his memoir, today known as the Gospel according to John, theorized that if everything that Jesus said and did was written that he supposed that the world could not contain the books that would be written. John the Baptist, above reference, said that God had given everything to the Son.
In Acts we are told that the believers “continued in the Apostles’ Doctrine…” And interestingly, we aren’t given “in scripture” what that was. History gives us some clear understanding but if we ignore history, we will miss it completely. The Apostles did write some things down but let’s also consider how they passed things on to those they ordained to follow them.
Saint Paul left Timothy in Asia Minor to “…the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also…” 2 Timothy 2:2 KJV And also he left Titus on Crete “…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 KJV
If we can infer from Saint Paul’s actions as an Apostle that all the Apostles followed that same pattern, then each overseer or bishop ordained by them, as well as elders (or presbyters) and deacons were taught the Apostles’ doctrine. History tells us this is the case. We have history recording the actions of the early Church Fathers. When a dispute arose between Saint Paul and Saint Peter over evangelism of the Gentiles and the Jews abroad, the two went to Jerusalem, to the company of the Apostles, for a council. This was the pattern that advised the Church when in the early fourth century there was a dispute because some were teaching that Jesus was a created being. This was judged as heresy and all of the Bishops participated in the council. The Church recognized the Bishops (mainly the Patriarchs) but to a larger consideration all bishops were “sitting in the seat of the Apostles” and the grace given them through ordination was given so that they could oversee and guide the Church.
Jesus told the twelve, concerning the Holy Spirit, that: “…I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father…” John 16:12-16 KJV
He was not speaking to only one of them, the word he used for “you” who will be guided was collective and plural by context and so we see that the group will be guided by the Holy Spirit. So without the entire “Body of Christ” our guidance can be misguided. We are individually guided by our conscience and by our understanding of the Holy Spirit but to be certain our understanding is not clouded, we need each other and the wealth of knowledge left us in the historical records. The writings of the Fathers of the Church, the Apostles and those they taught, and the holy men that followed are available to guide us.
How can I know that the bishops that followed the Apostles had authority? How can I know that the bishops of today have such authority? I look at the historical record and I can search the patriarchs of the Church and connect today’s patriarchs with the Apostles by an unbroken line of succession. Were there attempts to hijack the Church by changing patriarchs? Yes, but the Holy Spirit was powerful and faithful to preserve the lineage even when an emperor tried to hijack God’s Church. So historically we have that connection.
So what about someone who comes along later? I’ve known many teachers, preachers, those who claim authority to interpret the Scriptures that have no connection to the ancient Church. How do I view them? How do I judge their words? How can their teaching and preaching be judged?
Saint Paul told the Church in Corinth that when prophets (preachers) had something to say: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.” 1 Corinthians 14:29 KJV so we see that even in the early Church the guidance from the Apostles was to let speakers preach but be judged by those who were known to be gifted. So the preacher of today, absent the guidance of proven overseers has no real authority. Can they sometimes pick out truth? Certainly they can since they’re reading the same scriptures but as they say, even a stopped clock is correct twice per day.
Where does a person gain authority to teach scripture? Can someone just decide they can instruct others without consulting the historical records? In today’s world many have. The most interesting thing is the claim of authority. A man or woman will say, “God has shown me this in scripture” and if it is not immediately challenged, soon it is a doctrine that builds a new “church” and often it becomes a movement.
I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have seen this countless times over the years. My aunt went to school with a man that became a very widely followed preacher. I have known many such men personally. Their names are well known to much of the Christian world. Odd that I never saw that the greater group of the Protestant world has developed a doctrine that someone can enter their church, study for some time, and go out from their group and start another “work” or “mission” and if they decide that God has revealed something to them, they are just as valid as where they came from. Many “churches” have been started thusly and while they might be as valid as where their founders started, are they really able to claim authority? Well, I must also ask is their authority, or the authority of the church they began with the same authority that the ancient Church possesses?
If someone comes from the ancient Church, and judges the doctrine taught by some teachers, they often find the doctrine in the new churches in disagreement with the doctrine taught by the Apostles. How should I view such? Saint Paul gives us guidance in this: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:8-9 KJV So we do have some guidance. Saint Paul also wrote: “…But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 KJV So the Apostle was concerned that his spiritual children might be lead astray by another preacher giving them a different gospel or a different Jesus.
The presumptive authority to preach leaves me often wondering, “where did you get that one?” Concerning teaching that disagrees with the ancient Church. Ultimately then I must have a way to judge and the Church gives me that.
I have written that I found the Church after much searching. I found that history gives me that link from the beginning to the current day. So can I judge this?
To judge someone who claims authority to teach, I must look to see if they teach the same things taught by the Apostles.
Let me provide an example. Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic friar and priest in Germany, came to some doctrines that he found inconsistent with his understanding of scripture. What many fail to realize is that if he were not a priest in the Roman Catholic Church then he would not be listened to by anyone because he had no authority. At that time, the end of the 16th century, the Roman Catholics were over 500 years after their own schismatic departure from the ancient Church. The Ancient Church not only still existed, she still kept the ancient historical doctrine. So Luther, was departing from doctrine already schismatic and therefore heretical.
Luther found some doctrines to be wrong according to how HE decided God revealed scripture to him. When someone declares that, they use the statement “God revealed this to me” as a way to insulate themselves from criticism. If Luther were to be truly a teachable servant of Christ, he would have sought out the ancient Church for clarity. He did not do that. He decided that he, himself alone, had some secret guidance from God and he was trying to reform the Roman Church. When the Roman leadership expelled him, his followers ultimately, started their own “church” and others began to follow that course of action.
I will look into Luther’s doctrines at another time as it will be a lengthy review. The two main points he settled on we’re that the only source for doctrine was scripture, sounds good to a point, but when he is examined we see that HE got to decide what was scripture. He ignored the guidance of the Fathers because in his mind they were the Roman Catholic Church. He was, seemingly, unaware that the Roman Church had departed from the Ancient Brotherhood of the Church Fathers.
Luther also, in reaction to heresy of the Romans that sold “indulgence to sin” for money, that only through Faith Alone could one be forgiven. It’s not that justification does not come by Faith, however, he inserted his own thought that the scripture said “justification by faith ALONE” into that statement. If we ignore all of the knowledge of the Fathers, these mistakes happen and soon we find ourselves far from the Jesus preached by the Apostles, far from the Gospel preached by them.
I will continue my study as should you but never underestimate the knowledge derived by theologians from the company of the early Church fathers. There is a wealth of knowledge, often ignored, that has been passed down to us from the early Fathers. The patriarchs of today, sitting in the seat of the Apostles, are here to consult all previous patriarchal writings so that we continue in the Apostles’ Doctrine.