Thoughts on Church organization
I’ve never agreed with the organizational nature of the Church, though I’ve gone along with it, because that’s almost the only way to get “fellowship”, or at least that’s what’s officially recognized as “fellowship”, purportedly in accordance with Hebrews 10:25. Even home Bible studies during the week are framed around the institution most of the members are members of, and “attend” on the high day of Sunday.
So here, I’ve made an outline of some of my thoughts on what Church was originally supposed to be and its development into what it is today.
met in synagogues where possible
met in homes
Apostles: leaders of Gospel work
Evangelists: worked under apostles; focused on local areas
Bishops (episkopos): oversaw church in an area
Pastors (poimen): really another term for bishops. They “shepherded” or oversaw the “flock” (Jesus was called both shepherd and Bishop, for example)
Teachers (didaskos): taught in fellowships
Elders (presbyteros): general categories of leaders; can also be literal “older” person who is wise and can teach others. These are probably what served as the role that became known as “pastor” or the so-called “undershepherd” that “led” local congregations (think; a local congregation did not need “shepherding”; it was not a separate “flock” in itself; the entire church was the “flock”, and only large groups would need overseeing).
Prophets: a special gift
Then, of course, there were:
“ministers” (diakonos: one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master; a servant, attendant; hypēretēs “servant”; leitourgos a public minister, a servant of the state)
These were both in the church as well as secular offices. Yet all three mean “servant”, where in the modern Church, it is basically the pastor. The true “servants” are spun off into another position called “deacon“, which is of course based on one of the Greek words.
The pastor is often called a “servant”, but in practice, is the “leader” (and authority, which poimen carries), with one popular revivalistic leader from long ago going as far as to proclaim “the pastor is king and the pulpit is his throne“!
Met any day of the week, in “love feasts”. Kept special bread and wine communion on the Passover (Nisan 14)
“LOST CENTURY” of decades surrounding the fall of Jerusalem, into the second century
Church now gradually begins formalizing:
Love feasts replaced by weekly “worship” specified on Sunday (especially as New Testament was becoming more widespread, and Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor.16:1 interpreted as supporting this, along with some ambiguous terms in Rev.1:10, the Didache and one of Ignatius’ letters. Soon, Pseudo-Barnabas and Justin would clearly promote Sunday).
Prophets apparently cease. Most interpreters attribute this to the availability of the written ‘canon’, though while the writings were starting to circulate, there still was no solid fixed canon yet. Prophecy ended when “what was perfect” actually came when the Old Covenant system was finally destroyed.
Bishops granted a lot of power, as the protectors of the Church, as per instruction of “apostolic fathers” (Ignatius, etc), and thus begin rising to prominence as the spokesmen of their branch of the Church.
By 150, Bishop of Rome was already gaining special significance. Four other bishoprics centered in large cities, also rise and eventually become dominant (Byzantium, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria).
(So note how this is indelibly tied to the politics of the surrounding world!)
Begin formalizing doctrine and practice. Baptism and Communion become expressed in language that would easily be interpreted as “sacraments” that carry greater spiritual significance than simply “remembrance” of death and rebirth.
Passover replaced by annual Sunday celebration that eventually became “Easter”.
Conflict with Asia Minor churches that still held Nisan 14th (“Quartodeciman”).
(Jerusalem likely not included in Jewish Christian practices as one would think, because of the fact that it had been so obliterated in the War. Original Christians fled, and it was likely repopulated by gentile converts who followed Rome and the rest of the gentile Church in venerating weekly and annual Sundays).
Over time, even these holdouts gave in as the Church continued to structure its organization, doctrine and practice, and it was only small groups that dissented (whether aberrant, or holding onto the simpler earlier “truth”).
When Constantine recognized the Church, this solidified its power, and it even began using this power to persecute groups that differed.
Here’s the beginning of some much older notes (before I even had a computer; most of this stuff was typed on an old Brothers word processor, which used the standard 3 inch diskettes, but were formatted differently, so I had to send them away to have them converted to PC compatible files):
Apostles [Bishops], Pastors & Teachers a permanent control hierarchy? A money making career occupation?
What were these offices for?
Eph.4:12 “To prepare God’s people for works of service so that the Body of Christ may be built up”
Was a “laity” to be permanently in the domain of leaders or “shepherds”? Or for how long?
v.13 “UNTIL we all (Paul and people he was teaching) reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”
So people were never supposed to remain under the Apostles, pastors and teachers forever. The purposes of those offices was to train newcomers in the basics of the faith, and then those people would themselves be apart of the ministry of spreading the Gospel, building up other members of the body of Christ, etc. The Apostles, pastors, teachers, etc. would move on to bring new people into the faith and teach and train them, not rule over a “parish” of the same “lay” members.
And remember, the Church was just starting out then. The leaders of Paul’s era had a special mission, because the Church and its Gospel message were only first being established then. It was a brand new thing, and all the new converts to this new faith now had to be brought into “unity in the faith”, and in the “knowledge of the Son of God” –the risen Savior that was undoubtedly new to many. And remember, there was no written New Testament scriptures at this time. The Acts and epistles were written when they were being written. When Paul was writing this letter to the Ephesians, it obviously was not being circulated all across the Church at that time. It would take decades for it to be copied enough to be widely circulated.
So the teachings of this new Gospel message were vulnerable at that time. Because it was all spread by word of mouth before it was written. So things could very easily be twisted– even if unintentional, and especially intentional, where there would be no authoritative source by which a group leader could be measured. So in this early vulnerable period, you needed a tighter authority structure of specially taught and ordained (by the apostles) leaders, to “shepherd” the flocks and insure that the message was preserved, taught and passed on faithfully, while it could have time to be written down. and circulated. You would only need them then, basically to continue training new converts and standing them on their own feet. But when it was written and circulated, and a core of central teachings established, you would not need “shepherds” and “overseers” as much. But by that time (in the second century), the Church was already being influenced by false teachings and false leaders desiring control, so the leadership positions eventually became a permanent hierarchy of control.