A key ingredient to my view of the One Apostolic Church is to consider the views of the early church fathers.
There is a clear trend in these quotations regarding Christians and their relationship to the bishop. At first, it is assumed that the bishops are orthodox and righteous; Christians are to obey their bishops as they obey Christ and the apostles. After a while when heretical and unrighteous bishops become commonplace these writers condemn them and proclaim that bishops should be spiritually qualified. However, there is no mention of what the poor hapless Christians are to do when their bishops (or other church leaders) are unworthy.
It seems that the more structured the church became, the less concerned the leaders were with the Christians at large. Certainly in the middle ages the Catholic Church provided various devotional practices for the Christians, the priests celebrated the mass publicly, and care was provided for the poor.
Didache, written perhaps as early as the 80's A.D.
(15:1) Elect, therefore, for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are meek and not covetous, and true and approved, for they perform for you the service of prophets and teachers.
We see a similar emphasis on prophets and teachers in the New Testament:
(Acts 13:1) Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
The emphasis is on prophets and teachers, not on bishops, presbyters, deacons, and priests. Paul was a prophet and a teacher at the time.
(1 Corinthians 12:28) And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
The order of roles: (1) apostles, (2) prophets, (3) teachers. There is no mention of bishops, presbyters, deacons, and priests.
(Ephesians 4:11) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.
No mention of bishops, presbyters, deacons, and priests.
(2 Peter 2:1) But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
Notice that Peter doesn't mention false bishops. Perhaps this is because bishops were considered to be prophets and/or teachers.
Clement of Rome. He wrote his letter to the Corinthians in about 96 A.D.
And thus preaching through countries and cities, they [the apostles] appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith."
Those leaders appointed by the apostles were first proven to be spiritually worthy. There is little consideration of what Christians at large are to do when their leaders are heretics, or exploiters, or immoral. It was an idealistic era.
The quoted passage of scripture is from Isaiah 60:17. It is a poor translation but was used by many of the church fathers in supporting their model of church governance. It was a common practice in the early church to allegorizethe Old Testament in supporting Christian teaching.
(Isaiah 60:17) For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thy officers [governors, overseers] peace, and thine exactors [rulers, magistrates, taskmasters] righteousness.
Notice that it is peace and righteousness which is to rule over them, not governors of peace nor righteous rulers, and certainly not bishops and deacons.
Ignatius, 108 A.D.
Ignatius always spoke of the bishop in the singular. This makes perfect sense since he wrote letters to the churches in various cities and there was only one bishop in each city.
Ignatius assumed the threefold structure of bishop, presbyters, and deacons with the bishop as the head. Presumably the presbyters each led a house church. The presbyters also came together as a council with the bishop.
Certainly this organizational structure of the church is a valid one. But notice that there was no one in charge of the bishops except God. Over time this led to division, disunity, heresy, and factions. The patriarch model developed but even the patriarchs disagreed and fought. The development of the papacy in the west didn't help because the eastern church never accepted the papacy as the supreme bishop. And when the popes became corrupt; . . . well, all this proves that church unity is not based on institutional unity.
Clearly the only system of organization that works is one based on the orthodoxy and pastoral heart of the leaders. A political structure may be beneficial but it does not protect the church from heresy and abuse.
Chapter VIII.--Let nothing be done without the bishop. See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.
In those days there were many small church gatherings in each city (often in people's homes). There were many home churches within one city rather than one large meeting because there were few large buildings available and there was no adequate transportation for people to travel to a single church. Each house church leader (elder, presbyter) was to report to the bishop who was responsible for the orthodoxy of the church in his city.
Ignatius doesn't address what happens when a bishop is corrupt, heretical, and immoral or what becomes of the church when bishops form permanent schisms with each other (as occurred between east and west).
Chapter VII.--Do nothing without the bishop and presbyters. As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters.
Christians at large are to remain united with their bishops and presbyters.
It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who hath glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience "ye may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing," and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, ye may in all respects be sanctified.
Christians at large are to remain united with their bishops and presbyters.
Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.
This is a very idealistic view. Ignatius doesn't address what happens when an orthodox presbyter is not in union with his bishop because that bishop is heretical, or corrupt, or immoral, or an exploiter of the people.
Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.
Such idealism. If the bishop is orthodox and a good pastor and leader, this kind of obedience is proper.
We should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.
This assumes that the bishop is holy as Jesus was holy. How can we look on a corrupt person as we would look on Jesus?
Ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind.
This assumes that these people are worthy of obedience. Throughout church history there have been many who weren't. Ignatius doesn't address the topic of how Christians are to cope with that.
Chapter IV.--Some wickedly act independently of the bishop. It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not stedfastly gathered together according to the commandment.
Those rebels that Ignatius is referring to are heretics. But there were many examples in church history when it was the bishop who was the heretic.
Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.
The Christians were to be subject one to another as well as subject to the church leaders. Certainly the kind of subjection that Christians have to one another is different than that they are to have for their bishop.
Chapter II.--Be subject to the bishop, etc. For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire.
Ignatius mentions that the deacons should be holy.
In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.
The structure of the early church. The bishops are the teaching authority and the administrative authority; they appoint presbyters and deacons. The presbyters lead the individual house churches and form a committee. The deacons are appointed by the bishop.
This structure supposedly mimics the scheme set up by Christ but this is not really the case. Jesus did not appoint deacons nor did he establish presbyters as a council. In very earliest days of the church this structure did not exist at all; there were apostles and other church leaders who were eventually acknowledged as true leaders of the church via ordination. But there were also prophets and teachers as church leaders.
Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons [heretics]. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles.
Christians are to obey the commands and teachings of the apostles.
In this passage Ignatius ignores what happens when the bishop is the heretic.
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which is at Philadelphia, in Asia, which has obtained mercy, and is established in the harmony of God, and rejoiceth unceasingly in the passion of our Lord, and is filled with all mercy through his resurrection; which I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy, especially if [men] are in unity with the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit.
Christians are to be in union with the three categories of church leaders: bishops, presbyters, and deacons.
Chapter I.--Praise of the bishop. Which bishop, I know, obtained the ministry which pertains to the common [weal], not of himself, neither by men, nor through vainglory, but by the love of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ; at whose meekness I am struck with admiration, and who by his silence is able to accomplish more than those who vainly talk. For he is in harmony with the commandments [of God], even as the harp is with its strings. Wherefore my soul declares his mind towards God a happy one, knowing it to be virtuous and perfect, and that his stability as well as freedom from all anger is after the example of the infinite meekness of the living God.
Ignatius speaks of a righteous bishops and seems to assume that all bishops are of this category. He doesn't address the topic of what Christians are to do when their bishop is not righteous.
Chapter II.--Maintain union with the bishop. Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there do ye as sheep follow. For there are many wolves . . .
Ignatius assumes that the bishops are not the wolves. All too often in church history it was the bishops who were exploiting the people.
For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop.
But if the bishop is not of God and of Jesus Christ, what are the poor hapless Christians to do?
Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons.
It seems that the church leaders were righteous in the churches Ignatius wrote to.
For where there is division and wrath, God doth not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop.
This assumes that the bishop is righteous and holy and that it is certain Christians who are the troublemakers in need of repentance. But what is the church to do when the bishops are corrupt?
Chapter IX.--Honour the bishop. Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil.
It seems to me that serving a bishop who serves the devil would be to also serve the devil.
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: [wishes] abundance of happiness.
God (as Father and Son) is a bishop for the bishops. Presumably we are to obey God as bishop before our own bishop especially when our local bishop is wicked and corrupt.
If he begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckon himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.
The bishops were to marry the people. This assumes that each bishop's territory was rather small. Today, Catholic bishops would not be able to perform marriages nor would they be able to learn about the couple to approve or disapprove of their marriage.
Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons.
Ignatius was an idealist.
Clement of Alexandria, died in 217 A.D.
Clement's view of bishops would disqualify many bishops of church history: he expects them to be righteous.
Those, then, also now, who have exercised themselves in the Lord's commandments, and lived perfectly and gnostically according to the Gospel, may be enrolled in the chosen body of the apostles. Such an one is in reality a presbyter of the Church, and a true minister (deacon) of the will of God, if he do and teach what is the Lord's; not as being ordained by men, nor regarded righteous because a presbyter, but enrolled in the presbyterate because righteous.
Clement assumes that bishops must be orthodox. He equates bishops with the apostles; an orthodox bishop has the same authority as did the apostles.
The bishops are referred to as presbyters and deacons. This implies that the roles of presbyter and deacon are really the essential roles. Those who lead the local church are truly the leaders of the church.
It is the righteousness and orthodoxy of the leaders that qualifies them as leaders, not their ordination by men.
According to my opinion, the grades here in the Church, of bishops, presbyters, deacons, are imitations of the angelic glory, and of that economy which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who, following the footsteps of the apostles, have lived in perfection of righteousness according to the Gospel. For these taken up in the clouds, the apostle writes, will first minister [as deacons], then be classed in the presbyterate, by promotion in glory (for glory differs from glory) till they grow into "a perfect man."
Clement considers the three leadership roles of deacon, presbyter, and bishop to be merely three progressive stages in the spiritual growth and maturity of a leader. He emphasizes that church leaders must be righteous.
He [the apostle John] returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.
In the book of Acts we find the apostles choosing deacons. In Clement we find the apostle John ordaining bishops.
Hippolytus, died in 236 A.D.
And they allege that they could not easily declare (to another) what is thus spoken unless one were highly tested, or one were at the hour of death, (when) the bishop comes and whispers (it) into the (expiring one's) ear.
Hippolytus gives an example of bishops who were engaged in heretical practices.
The school of these heretics during the succession of such bishops, continued to acquire strength and augmentation.
Hippolytus is the first church father we encounter who addresses the topic of heretical bishops.
This one propounded the opinion, that, if a bishop was guilty of any sin, if even a sin unto death, he ought not to be deposed. About the time of this man, bishops, priests, and deacons, who had been twice married, and thrice married, began to be allowed to retain their place among the clergy. If also, however, any one who is in holy orders should become married, Callistus permitted such a one to continue in holy orders as if he had not sinned.
Notice that the word presbyter of the earlier church fathers has become the word priest.
Hippolytus attacks bishops who were guilty of the most serious of sins and abuses.
A bishop should be elected by all the people, and he should be unimpeachable, as it is written of him in the apostle. [possibly not written by Hippolytus]
Bishops are to be elected by the local congregations. Bishops are to be holy, righteous men.
Of the bishop's visitation of the sick; and that if an infirm man has prayed in the church, and has a house, he should go to him. [possibly not written by Hippolytus]
This verse assumes that a bishop has charge over a relatively small number of Christians. Today in the Catholic Church a bishop would be unable to practice visiting the sick because they are in charge of whole states; of millions of Catholics.
Irenaeus, died in 202 A.D.
Chapter III.--A refutation of the heretics, from the fact that, in the various Churches, a perpetual succession of bishops was kept up. 1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times. . . .
The purpose of the succession of bishops is to guarantee orthodoxy. Unfortunately there are two faulty assumptions with this in practice:
Irenaeus assumes that succession guarantees continuity of apostolic teaching but even in his day there were already new doctrines accepted by most bishops which were clearly not apostolic.
2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.
Irenaeus claims that the church at Rome maintained true, apostolic doctrine. He bases this on several factors:
However, doctrine was already being developed which was not taught by the apostles and the nature of Christianity was changing. Apostolic succession did not prevent this from occurring.
3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles. . . .
Clement of Rome (who was a bishop of the church at Rome; a pope) did not teach the same thing that Irenaeus here teaches about the succession of bishops; Clement merely insisted that you should not dismiss faithful and orthodox church leaders.
8. True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God].
Unfortunately, the system proposed by Irenaeus to determine true knowledge didn't work:
1. Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches.
I'm not convinced by the argument of Irenaeus that those bishops who are part of a verifiable succession from the apostles were not heretics. In the Arian heresy (the most severe heresy of the early church) it was bishops (as well as priests and deacons) ordained via apostolic succession who were the heretics.
Tertullian, died in 220 A.D.
But what if a bishop, if a deacon, if a widow, if a virgin, if a doctor, if even a martyr, have fallen from the rule (of faith), will heresies on that account appear to possess the truth? Do we prove the faith by the persons, or the persons by the faith?
Tertullian insists that the guide for what is true is not the succession of bishops but is, rather, the apostolic teaching.
Chapter XXXII.--None of the Heretics Claim Succession from the Apostles. New Churches Still Apostolic, Because Their Faith is that Which the Apostles Taught and Handed Down. The Heretics Challenged to Show Any Apostolic Credentials. But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,--a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. For after their blasphemy, what is there that is unlawful for them (to attempt)? But should they even effect the contrivance, they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner.
Tertullian makes two claims which he assumes are true:
The bishops as a group accepted teaching which was never taught by the apostles. The church changed its nature by the succession of bishops in a way never planned by the apostles. In combating heresy and providing structure for the early church the succession of bishops invented doctrine which was not apostolic in origin.
Chapter XLI.--The Conduct of Heretics: Its Frivolity, Worldliness, and Irregularity. . . . And so it comes to pass that to-day one man is their bishop, to-morrow another . . .
Even heretics had bishops. It seemed to be universally accepted that bishops should rule the church. Certainly the apostles taught that there needed to be authentic leadership in the church. One of my complaints with the house church movement is the claim that the church should not have leaders.
Chapter XVII.--Of the Power of Conferring Baptism. For concluding our brief subject, it remains to put you in mind also of the due observance of giving and receiving baptism. Of giving it, the chief priest (who is the bishop) has the right: in the next place, the presbyters and deacons, yet not without the bishop's authority, on account of the honour of the Church, which being preserved, peace is preserved. Beside these, even laymen have the right; for what is equally received can be equally given. Unless bishops, or priests, or deacons, be on the spot, other disciples are called i.e. to the work. The word of the Lord ought not to be hidden by any: in like manner, too, baptism, which is equally God's property, can be administered by all. But how much more is the rule of reverence and modesty incumbent on laymen--seeing that these powers belong to their superiors--lest they assume to themselves the specific function of the bishop! Emulation of the episcopal office is the mother of schisms.
The priesthood. The bishop is the chief priest.
Laymen can administer baptism but should only do so when a church leader is not available.
Tertullian became one of the schismatics later in his life. Apparently he changed his opinion about the matter.
Cyprian, died in 258 A.D.
To the Clergy, Concerning Certain Presbyters Who Had Rashly Granted Peace to the Lapsed Before the Persecution Had Been Appeased, and Without the Privity of the Bishops. . . . For what danger ought we not to fear from the Lord's displeasure, when some of the presbyters, remembering neither the Gospel nor their own place, and, moreover, considering neither the Lord's future judgment nor the bishop now placed over them, claim to themselves entire authority,--a thing which was never in any wise done under our predecessors,--with discredit and contempt of the bishop?
The presbyters are to obey their bishops. Certainly in a hierarchical system of governance this is proper. My complaint is that the church leaders are exercising a great deal of control over the lives of the Christians at large. Even if it were valid for the church to do this, ever since the great schism of 1054 A.D. it is impossible to know which group to obey — each claims to be the true church; there is no compelling reason to choose one over the other (except perhaps out of convenience).
In my opinion, these succession of bishops have distorted the nature of Christianity by emphasizing the role of the leaders at the expense of the well-being of the Christians at large.
I ordered altogether to be put off, and to be reserved till I should be present, that so, when the Lord has given to us peace, and several bishops shall have begun to assemble into one place, we may be able to arrange and reform everything. . . .
Their cause having been lately heard, the chief rulers commanded them in the meantime to remain as they are, until a bishop should be appointed.
I notice a trend in these writings of the early church fathers that the bishops more and more emphasize their role as rulers of the church. It reminds me of a large corporation which started out as a small entrepreneurial enterprise but over time became a large bureaucratic organization.
The case being set forth before the bishop. . . .
It appears that the Romans have unduly influenced the church, perhaps because many bishops were educated in the Roman system. The bishops think of themselves as rulers and judges enforcing laws rather then as shepherds of their flocks.
1. Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: "I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. Since this, then, is founded on the divine law, I marvel that some, with daring temerity, have chosen to write to me as if they wrote in the name of the Church; when the Church is established in the bishop and the clergy, and all who stand fast in the faith.
Jesus never taught about the order of the church; this was invented by the bishops. Certainly Peter was a strong leader in the early days but his leadership was no longer needed once the apostles (including Paul) understood their proper role.
Cyprian's description of the Church doesn't seem to me like an apostolic teaching. I think the great schism of 1054 A.D. proves that this system of a strong, hierarchical, institutional Church requires the papacy to provide unity. Cyprian supported this kind of Church and thus, he strongly supported the papacy. But in a system such as this how can Christians know which to choose, east or west? (Both claim apostolic succession and both claim to be the true apostolic church.)
5. For which reason you must diligently observe and keep the practice delivered from divine tradition and apostolic observance, which is also maintained among us, and almost throughout all the provinces; that for the proper celebration of ordinations all the neighbouring bishops of the same province should assemble with that people for which a prelate is ordained. And the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct.
The practices mentioned were not delivered by the apostles; they were invented later by the bishops. The apostles made no such demands that all the neighboring bishops attend an ordination of a new bishop. It is not a bad idea to do this. However, this kind of ordination does not guarantee that the bishops chosen in this manner are orthodox, holy, righteous, and qualified leaders of the Church. The emphasis should be on the qualifications of the bishops, not on the mechanics of their ordinations.
But neither can deceit advantage Martialis, in such a way as that he who also is involved in great crimes should hold his bishopric, since the apostle also warns, and says, "A bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God."
Is it only great crimes which disqualify a man from being a bishop? I should think that lesser crimes, even merely the lack of a pastor's heart, would be enough to disqualify him.
2. We add, however, and connect with what we have said, dearest brother, with common consent and authority, that if, again, any presbyters or deacons, who either have been before ordained in the Catholic Church, and have subsequently stood forth as traitors and rebels against the Church, or who have been promoted among the heretics by a profane ordination by the hands of false bishops and antichrists contrary to the appointment of Christ, and have attempted to offer, in opposition to the one and divine altar, false and sacrilegious sacrifices without, that these also be received when they return, on this condition, that they communicate as laymen, and hold it to be enough that they should be received to peace, after having stood forth as enemies of peace; and that they ought not, on returning, to retain those arms of ordination and honour with which they rebelled against us.
If ordained clergy lapse, they should be allowed back in the church as mere laymen, not as clergy. This sounds like a good rule. My complaint is that it is based on a strong division of clergy and laity. Jesus did not create such a strong division and neither did the apostles. Church leaders are leaders because of their full-time commitment to serving the Church, not because they are members of a superior caste.
10. But it happens, by a love of presumption and of obstinacy, that one would rather maintain his own evil and false position, than agree in the right and true which belongs to another. Looking forward to which, the blessed Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, and warns him that a bishop must not be "litigious, nor contentious, but gentle and teachable." Now he is teachable who is meek and gentle to the patience of learning. For it behoves a bishop not only to teach, but also to learn. . . .
Cyprian emphasizes the disposition of a bishop. However, as church history shows this became less and less emphasized as time went on. Also, having this disposition does not in any way guarantee that the things being taught are apostolic. The rigid hierarchical structure of the church was not taught by the apostles but in Cyprian's day bishops are expected to follow this system.
Therefore the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded to them by vicarious ordination.
It seems that Cyprian is teaching that bishops are equal to the apostles by virtue of their ordination. The act of being ordained has taken on a meaning never intended by the apostles.
Certainly Jesus gave the apostles the power to remit and retain sins. It is ironic that this passage is in the context of Cyprian's objection to a practice of Pope Stephen who was certainly a validly-ordained bishop. I use this quote from Cyprian that the idea of apostolic succession and of the hierarchical church is not true; these led to a Church which was less Spirit-filled and caused the enthusiasm of the average Christian to wane.
(John 20:22) And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
(John 20:23) Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
How can we trust these bishops who were validly-ordained via apostolic succession to impart the truth handed down from the apostles when they are in hostile disagreement with one another about the content of these truths? I think the Protestant Reformers were right in rejecting these teachings and in seeking another authority. Apparently apostolic succession is not a trustworthy guide in determining orthodoxy.
In reviewing the quotations regarding the bishop and the church I notice a progression: