Skip to comments.Essays for Lent: The Church
Posted on 02/25/2012 8:44:34 PM PST by Salvation
by Sebastian R. Fama
There are those who contend that the Church is not a visible institution but merely the body of believers. However, Jesus compares His Church only to visible things, such as a flock, a body, a house, a city set on a hill, and a kingdom. 1 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the Church is "the pillar and foundation of truth." The words pillar and foundation indicate assurance and stability, not division and confusion, as one finds among the thousands of denominations that have sprung up since the Reformation.
It is important to note that it is not the Church that determines truth; rather God communicates His truth through the Church. All believers are a part of the Church which, though one body, has many parts, and the many parts have different functions (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). The function of the Church's hierarchy is clearly shown in Scripture. Consider the following:
Peter and the council of Jerusalem, over which he presided, taught by the power of the Holy Spirit: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities " (Acts 15:28).
All of the Churches were to abide by the decision: "As they (Paul and Timothy) traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decision reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem" (Acts 16:4).
Bishops were in authority over congregations: "For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5). The office of bishop is spoken of eight times in the New Testament. The Greek words used are episcopos (ἐπίσκοπος), which means a superintendent or overseer, someone who visits, and episskope (ἐπισκοπή), which just refers to the office.
Presbyters were reminded of their responsibilities: "From Miletus he had the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus summoned. 'Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock, of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that He acquired with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them'" (Acts 20:17, 28-30). How do you suppose those deceivers will appear? "Even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). That is why John says, "We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit" (1 John 4:6). This is a reflection of Jesus' own words, "Whoever listens to you listens to Me. Whoever rejects you rejects me" (Luke 10:16), and "If he refuses even to listen to the Church, then treat him as you would a gentile or a tax collector" (Matthew 18:17).
Consequently, believers were to submit to Church authority, "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings...obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:7-9, 17). The word "leader" is translated from the Greek word hegeomai (ἡγέομαι) and means to lead with official authority. Similarly, in 1 Peter 5:5 we read, "Likewise, you younger members, be subject to the presbyters."
The teaching of the early Church parallels the scriptures. In the year 110, Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his letter to Polycarp, "You must be made holy in all things by being united in perfect obedience, in submission to the bishop and the priests." That Rome was the source of authority is confirmed by Irenaeus (140-202 AD): "We point to the tradition of that very great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was established at Rome for with this Church, because of its superior authority, every church must agree" (Against Heresies 3, 3:2).
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