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Scripture Reading:  Acts 20:27-32


History of the Church (#4)

The Path of Apostasy

[Organizational Corruption]

1.  Apostasy rooted in failure to respect divine authority, 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4 (Col. 3:17). (See Part 3)

2.  Apostasy occurs gradually; Occurred in areas of doctrine, organization & work of the local church.

  a.  The rise of the world’s first denomination:  Roman Catholic Church.

  b.  Trace some departures from the NT organization of the local church.



  A.  The Scriptural Organization of the Local Church.

    1.  Elders (presbytery); Bishops (overseers); Shepherds (pastors), Acts 14:23—1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 3:1—Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:2—Eph. 4:11.

      a.  Elders oversee individual congregations, Acts 14:23; 1 Pet. 5:2.

      b.  Elders equivalent in their role in local church, Acts 20:17, 28 (15:6, 22-23; 1 Tim. 4:14).

    2.  Deacons (servants), Phil. 1:1.

    3.  All the saints, Phil. 1:1 (brethren, Acts 15:23).

  B.  Gradual Apostasy in Organization (quotations).

    1.  Distinction made between a “bishop” & the “elders.”

      a.  One elder gradually elevated over fellow elders (Acts 20:30).

      b.  Began to be known as the “bishop” & the rest “elders.”

      c.  “Presiding bishop”/”President” of each church (110-150 AD).

      d.  Beginning of the “PASTOR SYSTEM” of oversight.

      e.  A distinct “order” developed with special authority & recognition:

        1)  Some began to claim “apostolic succession” (Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, end of 2nd cent.).

        2)  Clergy-laity distinctions began (cf. Matt. 23:8-10); Ordination / Succession / Titles....THE EPISCOPACY WAS BORN.

        3)  Priesthood of believers rejected (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 5:9-10).

      f.  No such distinctions in the Bible, Titus 1:5, 7.

    2.  “Bishops” extended their sphere of authority beyond the local church to other churches.

      a.  City Bishops extended their rule over Country Bishops.

      b.  Loss of independence & autonomy of local churches occurred.

      c.  Larger city bishops known as Metropolitan Bishops.”

      d.  Power of Metropolitans grew until one graduated into a Diocesan Bishop (oversight of a diocese).

      e.  Bible: Local oversight only (Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2).

    3.  Church confederations & councils were formed to address common concerns.

      a.  Single government formed in given area (Diocese).

      b.  Decision-making prerogatives assumed over the churches.

      c.  Councils eventually became worldwide in scope.

      d.  cf. Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-27; Gal. 2:1-10: Meeting to confirm what was being taught & to demonstrate the agreement that already existed between the apostles. Make it clear that the Judaizing teachers had not been sent with the authority of the apostles (15:24). Jerusalem meeting did not make new rules, it verified what was already being taught by apostolic authority & what was not.

    4.  Growth of worldwide oversight:  Five Patriarchs.

      a.  Close of 5th century, five centers of rule in “Christendom:”

        1)  Five bishops (“Patriarchs” – Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople & Rome).

        2)  Catholic (universal) government of the church continuing to develop.

      b.  Christ is the only head the church; Local organization of Christians, Col. 1:18; Acts 14:23; 1 Pet. 5:2.

    5.  Development of the Papacy.

      a.  Who would rule over all the bishops?

      b.  Controversy between the Patriarchs (quotes).

      c.  Finally, bishop of Rome was declared the Universal Bishop of the Church (the Pope, Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff); eventually, the Great Schism (1054 AD).

      d.  Christ, as head, has preeminence in all things, Col. 1:18.

    6.  The Church & the State.

      a.  Roman Empire [63 B.C. to 476 A.D. (some say 395 A.D.)] – Persecutor of the church of Christ (Revelation).

      b.  Edit of Toleration (313 AD):  Emperor Constantine espoused Christianity, ending a turbulent period of official (state) persecution.

      c.  Christianity become increasingly popular for political & economic reasons, & many came into the church – but not converted to Christ!

      d.  Church & State became united; The Church took on more & more characteristics of the Roman Empire as the Western Empire declined, the RCC because a unifying (& exploitative) force, Jno. 18:36.

    7.  Other departures associated with organization.

      a.  Monasticism began to flourish around 320 A.D.

        1)  Attempts to achieve perfection in the Christian life through self-denial.

        2)  Hermit-like existence of seclusion, austerity & deprivation by individuals – Anthony (mid-3rd century) regarded as founder of “Christian Monasticism” (“dwelling alone”).

          a)  Anthony based his life of solitude & denial on (perversions of) Matt. 19:21 & 6:34.

-Proper understanding & application would have avoided this extreme (Acts 5:4; Matt. 6:33; 1 Tim. 6:10, 17-19).

          b)  Led to communities of monks (Pachomius claimed a vision ca. 318 AD) – Monastic life.

              -Proper understanding of Jno. 17:15-17 would have prevented this corrupt innovation.

      b.  Schools of Theology (late 2nd century).

        1)  Centers of investigation into the doctrines of the Church; Crystallized thinking on controversial subjects & undoubtedly contributed to swaying the Church through educating the “theologians.”

        2)  Contributed to division acc. to teachers & clergy/laity distinction (1 Cor. 1:11-12; 3:5-7).

        3)  Human philosophies rapidly gained ground through these schools, Col. 2:8.

          a)  School of Alexandria (180 A.D.):  Clement & Origen among its teachers.

          b)  School of Carthage (Tertullian & Cyprian were its doctors); School of Asia Minor (Irenaeus).



1.  The path of apostasy is traveled whenever the “old paths” of the inspired Scriptures are not faithfully followed, Jer. 6:16-17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

2.  Once men corrupted the organization of local church there was no stopping place, 2 Tim. 3:13.

3.   We must abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jno. 9); Walking in truth…according to His commandments (2 Jno. 4, 6).


Part 1  Part 2  Part 3




[Organizational Apostasy]


“The Bishop”

“In the college of equal and co-ordinate presbyters, some one would naturally act as moderator or presiding officer; age, talent, influence, or ordination by the apostles, might give one an accidental superiority over his fellows, and appropriate to him the standing office of president of the presbytery.  To this office the title of bishop was assigned; and with the office and the title began to be associated the authority of a distinct order.” (Lyman Coleman, in The Church, the Falling Away and the Restoration, J.W. Shepherd, 54).


“Bishops” Extend their Authority

“In the fore part of the second century the picture began to change.  While no single form of structure as yet prevailed, we now hear indisputably of what soon came to be the accepted pattern, a bishop governing a particular church and of at least one bishop, that of the church in Antioch (Ignatius, jrp), acting as though it were his acknowledged right to address himself with authority to other churches.” (A History of Christianity, Latourette, I:116).


Metropolitan Bishops

“Gone were the days when in at least some churches presbyter and bishop were interchangeable terms and when there might be several bishops in a church, or, perhaps, a church without a bishop.  Now bishops were becoming a characteristic feature of the Catholic Church, with a single bishop in a given city or area.  If a city had more than one bishop, others beyond the one would be assistants.


“The bishop was more than an administrator.  He also was in charge of the worship and supervised the entire life of the church within his territorial jurisdiction.” (A History of Christianity, Latourette, I:132).


Authority of Metropolitans

“In the course of the years the bishops in the larger cities began to exercise authority over the bishops in their vicinity.  In 341 the Council of Antioch ordered that in each province the bishop in the chief city, or metropolis, should have precedence over the other bishops in the province, and that the other bishops should ‘do nothing extraordinary without him.’” (A History of Christianity, Latourette, I:185)


Church Councils

“But in the process of time it became customary for all the Christian churches within the same province to unite and form a sort of larger society or commonwealth; hold their conventions at stated times....for the common advantage of the whole confederation.... Such conventions of delegates from several churches assembled for deliberation were called by the Greeks synods and by the Latins councils; and the laws agreed upon in them were called canons, that is, rules.” (Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, I:116-117, quoted by Shepherd, op. cit., p. 56).




“The bishops in the chief cities of the Empire had positions of outstanding prestige, a prestige, which, with modifications, has persisted into our own day.  Especially prominent were those of Jerusalem, because of its historic associations with the beginning of Christianity, Antioch, the chief city of Syria and where the disciples were first called Christians, Alexandria, Constantinople, and, particularly, Rome.  The bishops of these sees were eventually known as Patriarchs.”  (Latourette, op. cit.).



The Papacy


588:  John the Faster (Bishop of Constantinople) declared himself universal bishop

“In the year 588, John, Bishop of Constantinople, surnamed the Faster, on account of his extraordinary abstinence and austerity, assembled, by his own authority a council at Constantinople, to inquire into an accusation brought against Peter, Patriarch of Antioch; and upon this occasion assumed the title of ecumenical, or universal bishop” (Ecclesiastical History, Mosheim, I:145).


 - Gregory the Great (540-604 AD): Bishop of Rome & Father of medieval Catholicism said this was   “apostasy” & “anti-Christ”


    - Renunciation of “the wicked title” demanded by Gregory of the new Patriarch, Cyriacus

“...Gregory I was provoked and irritated beyond measure by the assumption of his Eastern rival, and strained every nerve to procure a revocation of that title.  He characterized it as a foolish, proud, profane, wicked, pestiferous, blasphemous, and diabolical usurpation, and compared him who used it to Lucifer…After the death of John the Faster in 596, Gregory instructed his ambassador at Constantinople to demand from the New Patriarch, Cyriacus, as a condition of inter-communion, the renunciation of the wicked title, and in a letter to Maurice, he went so far as to declare, that ‘Whosoever calls himself universal priest, or desires to be called so, was the forerunner of Anti-Christ’” (History of the Christian Church, Shaff, III:220).


606 - Boniface III, Patriarch of Rome, acquired for himself title of UNIVERSAL BISHOP

“The disputes about pre-eminence, that had so long subsisted between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople, proceeded, in this century (7th) to such violent lengths, as laid the foundation of that deplorable schism, which afterwards separated the Greek and Latin churches....Boniface III engaged (the emperor) Phocas, that abominable take from the bishop of Constantinople the title of ecumenical or universal bishop, and to confer it upon the Roman pontiff... thus was the papal supremacy first introduced” (Mosheim, op. cit., I:160).


Church and State

“The policy of Constantine was one of toleration.  He did not make Christianity the sole religion of the state.  That was to follow under later Emperors.  He continued to support both paganism & Christianity.


“He had his children instructed in the Christian faith...he built and enlarged churches...he forbade any attempt to force Christians to participate in non-Christian religious ceremonies.  He took an active part in the affairs of the Church, thus establishing a precedent which was to be followed by his successors.” (Latourette, op. cit., I:92-93).




“It was partially as a reaction against this laxity and partly because of the dissatisfaction which the teachings of Jesus and the apostles aroused with anything short of perfection that monasticism arose.


“Although it has been prominent in the churches in which the majority of Chris­tians have been enrolled, monasticism was unknown in the first two centuries of Christianity.”  (Ibid., I:221, 223).


Theology Schools

“...there was beginning to flower in Alexandria a school of Christian thought which was to contribute even the intellectual formulation of the Christian faith.


“In Alexandria the main focus and stimulus to Christian intellectual life was in a catechetical school, made famous through two of its heads, Clement and Origen.  This catechetical school was already in existence late in the second century.  As its name indicates, its primary purpose was the instruction of candidates for Church membership in the principles of the Christian faith.”  (Ibid., I:146-147).