Tom O. Bunting
(The thoughts of this article come from "D 'Aubigne's History of the Reformation." The sentences I have underlined, I hope, will draw your attention to happenings in the church today.)
The world was tottering on its foundations when Christianity appeared "in the fulness of time." Then was the Word made flesh. God appeared among men, and as a man, that he might save that which was lost. In Jesus of Nazareth dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
The Son of Man lived thirty-three years on the earth, healing the sick, instructing sinners, not having where to lay his head; and amid this humiliation giving tokens of grandeur, holiness, might, godlike nature, that the world had never known until then. He suffered, died, and rose again; he ascended into heaven. His disciples, beginning at Jerusalem, traversed the world, everywhere announcing their Master as "the author of eternal salvation." From the midst of a people who rejected all other people, there went forth mercy that addressed its invitations to all, and opened its arms to all (Gal. 3:26-28). Greeks and Romans, men who up to that time had blindly followed their priests to the feet of dumb idols, believed the word — a new people, an holy nation!
The church, at its origin, was a people composed of brethren, guided by brethren versed in the Holy Scriptures. All, as a body, were taught by God, and each was authorized to do and draw for himself from the divine source of light. (Jno. 6:45; 2 Cor. 4:4; Ps. 119: 105).
But even the writings of the apostles inform us that, from these brethren there should arise a power that would subvert this simple primitive order (2 Thess. 2; Acts 20: 28-30).
Through the preaching of the gospel in Rome, then the capital of the empire and the world, a church was formed. For long it shone like a pure light placed on a hill: its faith was everywhere spoken of; but at length it deviated from its primitive condition. It was by small beginnings Rome went on to usurp the dominion.
The first bishops, of Rome, lost no time in devoting themselves to the conversion of the small towns and cities which surrounded the metropolis. The necessity felt by the bishops of the churches around Rome, of having recourse, to an intelligent advisor, and the gratitude they owed the metropolitan church, led them to cultivate the strictest intimacy with it. The result was what has ever been founded in like circumstances; that intimacy so natural in itself, soon degenerated into dependence. The bishops of Rome arrogated as a right, the superiority spontaneously conceded to them by the neighboring churches. The greater part of apostasy is made up of such encroachments. It is more difficult to resist the intoxication which urges men, after being already raised above their brethren, to covet still further elevation.
First, the supremacy of the Roman bishop was confined to the inspection of churches lying within the territory subject to civil jurisdiction of Rome. But a more vast destiny still was presented to the ambitious. About this time the consideration a certain bishop received was proportioned to the rank of the city in which he resided. Now, Rome was the largest, the wealthiest, and most powerful in the world, so it seemed only natural that its pastor should be entitled to the rank as king of the bishops. Why not regard the Roman Church as the mother of Christianity? It was easy for man's ambitious heart to adopt such reasoning, and such was the case with ambitious Rome.
The petitions and intercessions Rome carefully registered and looked on with complacent smile, as these nations came and threw themselves into her arms. She neglected no opportunity of augmenting and extending her power, and to her eyes, commendations, flatteries, exaggerated compliments, requests for advice from other churches, all became titles and documentary proof of her authority.
Even so early as the third century, the doctrine of the Church, and the necessity of her having an external unity, had begun to gain ground. (That is the church trying to function as a universal church rather than independent congregations). The Church internal, which is the body of Christ, is necessarily and perpetually one. The church visible doubtlessly partakes in that unity of the first; but, considered in itself, multiplicity is a characteristic which even scripture attributes to it. While they speak to us of one church of God, they mention, when treating of the church external — "churches of Galatia," etc. These different churches might, without doubt, strive after a certain degree of external unity; but if this bond were a-wanting, they did not, therefore, lose any of the essential qualities of the church of Christ. That grand thing that bound together in one the members of the primitive church, was that living faith, by which they all held of Christ, as their common Head. But various circumstances concurred in originating and giving extension to the idea, that there was a necessity for external unity (development of the universal church idea). Men accustomed to the political forms of an earthly country, transferred some of their views into the spiritual and eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ. The one universal truth received from the apostles was opposed to error as it flowed from the schools of theosophy or from the sect. This was well, as long as the invisible and spiritual was identified with the church visible and external. But a great divorce began. The outward show of an uniform and external organization, gradually superseded the internal and spiritual unity. Men forsook the faith and prostrated themselves before those who once held it. With the decay of faith something else was sought to bind the members of the church together, and they came to be bound by bishop, archbishops, popes, canons. Salvation then was no longer streaming from the Word but now said to be transmitted by humanly invented forms. The church became the mediator, instead of Christ. Once the error of there being a necessity for the existence of a visible church unity was established, another was seen to follow — that of there being a necessity for having external representation of this unity. Do we not have again today this effort for an external representation in such things as a radio program sponsored by "churches of Christ," and "church of Christ colleges," and "church of Christ homes," etc? But then, that seems to be the way of apostasy!
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