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Where Are The First Century Churches?
Published On : April 8, 1998
Last Updated : May 9, 2011
Importance Of The First Century Prophets, Evangelists Pastors And Teachers, Correct Definition Of The Word "Perfect" In The New Testament, Various Gifts Of The Spirit, Dual Positions In The First Century Church, John Writes The Book Of Revelation, Peter's Vision In The City Of Joppa, Apostle Paul's Visions And Revelations, Summary Of First Century Church Leadership Structure, Jesus Christ Is Our Only High Priest, Intercessor And Mediator, Vicar Of Christ And Roman Catholic Quest For Power, The Pope And The Mitre, Jesus Christ Is The Bishop Of Our Souls, The Roman Catholics' Apostolic Succession Fallacy, The Apostle Peter's Activities, Location And Martyrdom, What If The First Century Church Had Selected A Pope?, Who Would They Have Chosen?, False Legitimacy Of Roman Catholic Church, Local Scope Of The First Century Church, Humble Servants And Not Oppressive Masters Of God's Church, My Closing Remarks
Returning to our main topic of discussion, in addition to the husband, the Church Elder, the Church Deacon, the Bishop, and the Apostle, you may recall from part seven that the Apostle Paul mentioned a variety of other important positions which were established within the ecclesiastical structure of the First Century Church. These included the Prophets, which Paul regarded as second in importance to the Apostles themselves. Why did Paul regard the Prophets with such high esteem? Quite simply, because as occurred in the Old Testament period, the Prophets were responsible for obtaining the Word of the Lord. Without direct guidance from the Lord via His Prophets, the First Century Church would essentially have been rudderless. So perhaps the Prophets received the Word of the Lord by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, while the Apostles themselves were responsible for determining through prayer, how it was to be implemented within the Church.
Following the Prophets, Paul mentions evangelists, pastors and teachers in the third position. Perhaps the reason why Paul basically places them at the same level of importance, is because in reality, they are all teaching positions. In describing their responsibilities, Paul lists three things:
1. for the perfecting of the saints
2. for the work of the ministry
3. for the edifying of the body of Christ
As I have mentioned before, please note that Paul's usage of the word "perfecting" -- from the Greek "katartismos" -- has absolutely nothing to do with some kind of a sinless state. Rather, it refers to being complete. In other words, Paul is referring to acquiring a fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ and God's Will for one's life; and this is precisely what these three positions -- evangelists, pastors and teachers -- are responsible for doing. In fact, if you closely study Paul's writings, you will discover that he uses the word "knowledge" several dozen times. For example, consider the following two verses, one written by Paul, and the other by the Apostle Peter:
"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;"
Colossians 1:9, KJV
"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen."
2 Peter 3:18, KJV
In the Book of Acts, we also find a verse which demonstrates that as it is used in the King James Version of the Bible, the word "perfect" generally means more complete, or fuller. To reiterate, it has nothing to do with trying to arrive at some kind of sinless state of perfection, as certain religionists would have us to believe. This proper meaning of the word "perfect" becomes even more evident as we read the following verse:
"And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter."
Acts 24:22, KJV
Following these three positions in the First Century Church -- that is, evangelists, pastors and teachers -- Paul adds those people who possess the various Gifts of the Spirit, such as the Gifts of miracles, healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues, etc. You can learn more about these Gifts in the twelfth chapter of Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians. You may also want to read my article entitled "Are The Gifts Of The Spirit For Today?".
While it is only my personal speculation, it seems to me that the positions of Prophet and Teacher, may possibly have been filled primarily by some of the leaders we discussed in parts six and seven of this series; that is, the Apostles, Elders and Deacons. In other words, I suspect that some of them may have occupied dual positions within the First Century Church. After all, such people would probably be the most spiritually in-tune, and thus more apt to properly prophesy and teach the doctrines of the Church than anyone else. As we saw earlier, Paul did in fact view himself as being an Apostle, preacher and teacher. Furthermore, there are a few examples in the New Testament which demonstrate that at the very least, Peter, John and Paul received visions and revelations from the Lord.
John, of course, received the Book of Revelation while on the isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. While in the city of Joppa, Peter had a vision of a sheet full of animals descending from the sky in Acts chapter ten, as we see here:
"On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven."
Acts 10:9-16, KJV
Aside from his life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul mentions in his Epistle to the Galatians, that the Gospel which he preached was "by the revelation of Jesus Christ", and that he did not receive it from any man. Furthermore, in the twelfth chapter of his second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul also briefly mentions that on at least one particular occasion, he took a journey out of his body. Consider the following verses:
"But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Galatians 1:11-12, KJV
"I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, [whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;] such an one caught up to the third heaven."
2 Corinthians 12:2, KJV
It seems clear then that all of these men, and perhaps some of the other Apostles as well, were more than qualified to hold these important positions as Prophets and Teachers in the First Century Church. In the following verse, Paul also indicates that Bishops must likewise be apt to teach:
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;"
1 Timothy 3:2, KJV
Thus, if we consider all of the information which we have examined in this series, perhaps the spiritual hierarchy of the First Century Church can be summarized with the following list. Let me mention here that this is only speculation on my part, as there simply is not enough information available in the New Testament, to make it absolutely clear. In fact, it is possible that some of these terms may have described what were actually interchangeable positions within the Church. In the case of the term "Elder", I have already proven that this is so:
1. Husband over the immediate family of a Home Church.
2. Elders over a Communal Church and/or City Church.
3. Deacon who assisted and accompanied the Bishop.
4. Bishop over the collective Churches within his city.
5. Apostle appointed directly by the Lord.
6. Jesus Christ, the Bishop of Bishops, over everyone.
One thing of which I am relatively certain, is that it was never the Lord's intention for His First Century followers to select an individual who would serve as an overseer of an entire country, and much less of the entire world Christian Body, as we see in certain modern-day religions. While early Judaism was headed by the High Priest, as I clearly explain in the series "Is Jesus The Only Begotten Son Of God?", with His Death on the Cross, Jesus became our only High Priest and Intercessor before God the Father, and we absolutely do not require any other High Priest, Intercessor or Mediator, than Him. Please consider the following verses:
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;"
1 Timothy 2:5, KJV
"But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises."
Hebrews 8:6, KJV
"And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance."
Hebrews 9:15, KJV
"And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
Hebrews 12:24, KJV
It should be obvious to you then, that we do not require a so-called "Vicar of Christ", or any other elevated, spiritual authority, beyond those which are described for us within the pages of the New Testament. That alone is the First Century Church blueprint which we are to follow. As I mention in a number of my articles, the practice of selecting a Pope was purely an invention of the Roman Catholic Church, in order to consolidate its power several hundred years after the time of Christ and the first Apostles. What may surprise and shock some of you to know, is the fact that the mitre which is worn on the head of the Roman Catholic Pope, is designed after the mitre which was worn by the Jewish High Priest two thousand years ago. You can confirm this for yourself, by reading the books of the Pentateuch in the Old Testament.
According to the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, the very next person in command above the Apostles and the Bishops, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who Peter refers to as the "Bishop of your souls". To reiterate, there is no mention of an Archbishop, or of Cardinals, or of a Pope, or of a Most Reverend so-and-so, or of anyone else in between in the Scriptures. As far as I can tell, all of these other positions are of human fabrication. Consider the following verse:
"For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
1 Peter 2:25, KJV
Thus again it becomes clear that the Roman Catholic doctrine which claims that Peter was the first Pope is utterly false. Aside from the events that are described in the four Gospels and in the Book of Acts, the only other things which we know about Peter according to the King James Version of the Bible, are that he spent some time in a place called Babylon, where he either founded and/or headed a Church, and that, based on Jesus' own prophecy, he may have eventually been crucified by the Romans at some undetermined location. Please consider the following verses:
"By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son."
1 Peter 5:12-13, KJV
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me."
John 21:18-19, KJV
Even if the First Century Church had chosen to elect a Pope -- which was totally impossible due to heavy persecution -- I suspect that it probably would have selected Paul, and not Peter. A careful examination of the Scriptures reveals that Paul outshone Peter in some areas. This is not to criticize Peter by any means. Once the Lord had dealt with his pride, Peter became a great Apostle of the Lord and a pillar of the Church at Jerusalem. However, the successful evangelization of Southern Europe and Western Asia, which eventually became the seat of the Roman Catholic Pope, is an achievement which clearly should be credited to Paul and his companions.
Paul had the faith to launch out, while Peter and the other Apostles were still bound to Jerusalem, where they fell into compromise with the Law-bound Jewish concision. The Gentiles knew Paul. He lived, preached, and travelled amongst them. He won many of them to the Lord. I think he would have been their choice for the first Pope. It was only later, perhaps after seeing the actual fruit of Paul's labors, that Peter mustered up the faith to leave Jerusalem and go to Babylon. If you are interested in learning about my personal theory regarding where this Babylon may have been located, please consider reading the article entitled "A Biblical Mystery Solved: Peter's Babylon Revealed?".
However, I stand by my position that the First Century Church never really elected a Pope. As many non-Catholics recognize, the Roman Catholic Church has used the deception of so-called "apostolic succession", in order to support their false claim of being God's "one true church" and "one true faith". While the Roman Catholics boast of their long list of Popes, the fact of the matter is that until about three hundred years after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, there was no Pope. As I explain in other articles, the authority of the Pope came about as a result of a serious compromise between Rome and the third-generation Christians during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great.
The Scriptures make it rather clear that both Peter and Paul were more interested in the evangelization of the world, than in a pompous position and title which was later invented by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, I firmly believe that it is due in part to the so-called "improvements" that were made by these power-hungry, self-appointed religious leaders, that modern Christianity is so divided and in such a mess today.
Everything which I have discovered in the Scriptures points to the fact that the organizational structure of the First Century Church was limited to each town or city, or at the very most, to a local area, such as in the case of the island of Crete. There is no indication of an overbearing hierarchy as we see in the world today. The Churches within the same city were bonded together by their travelling Bishop and the Deacon who may have accompanied him. Likewise, the Churches in different cities were bonded together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, by a courier system, by the Spirit of Love, and by an occasional visit from an Apostle. This is all born out in the Book of Acts, as well as in the Epistles.
The understanding that we acquire from an actual reading of the New Testament, is that each Church was designed to be a local, self-sustaining entity, which was dependent upon the Lord as much as possible, and not upon human figures. If we read the Epistles carefully, we will discover that while the Apostles offered a lot of advice, they never ordered anyone to do anything. Even in the severest cases -- such as with the sexual problems which occurred at Corinth, or when false brethren began to sneak into the Churches -- all the Apostles did was offer their advice by basically saying "This is what we think you should do." As the Apostle Peter wrote in his first Epistle, the leaders of the First Century Church were not meant to be lords -- or oppressive masters -- over God's heritage. They were supposed to be humble servants, as we see by the following verses:
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:"
1 Peter 5:1-6, KJV
Clearly then, there was no one man, or even a group of men, or a husband and wife team, overlooking a countrywide, and much less a worldwide, work, as we see today in such people as the Pope, the so-called twelve apostles of the Mormons, the former David and Maria and now Peter and Maria "prophet" team of the Family, the "True Parents" of the Unification Church -- or Moonies -- the Most Reverend of the Anglican Communion, the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, or whatever other self-appointed leaders, prophets and holy men exist at this current time. As I point out in a number of my articles, it was when ancient Israel desired a human leader, instead of the Lord as their only king, that she went astray.
Allow me to reiterate that I am not suggesting that no human leadership is necessary whatsoever, as this would obviously be contrary to all of the information which I have shared in this series. What I am saying, is that the leadership of the First Century Church was limited to each local Church for the most part, with some oversight from the Apostles in the city of Jerusalem. There was no overbearing leadership hierarchy. After Paul and his companions established the new Churches in Western Asia and the Mediterranean region, on occasion they would visit the Churches in order to determine how they were getting along, and to encourage them in the faith; and that was it.
With these remarks, I will bring this series to a close. By now you should have a clear understanding regarding the true nature and structure of the First Century Church, as it is described for us in the Book of Acts and in the Epistles. It is my belief that this constitutes the blueprint which we are to follow today, because it is the plan which was established by Jesus Christ Himself. Likewise, you have also been given a clear understanding regarding what it means to be a full-time Disciple of Jesus Christ. With this information, you now have the knowledge to go out and do great things for the Lord. I trust that this series has been informative, instructive, and a blessing in your life.