There are so many views of Christianity and of Christian doctrine; how are we to know what is true?
I discuss several possibilities.
Protestantism is based on the idea that the Bible is all that is needed; that it is the final authority of our faith.
Read more: Sola Scriptura
The Catholic Church claims that bishops who are ordained via apostolic succession are the teachers and defenders of the faith, but this view has fatal flaws.
The Catholic Church was too stupid to avoid the Protestant Reformation, the schism with the eastern church, and the English reformation.
It seems there was a progression:
- The church in Jerusalem — Governed by the apostles. Presumably each apostle led a small house church in addition to teaching in the temple. This church was unique due to the presence of so many apostles.
- Apostolic church — Many small house churches in a city, each led by an elder (presbyter) and each optionally having deacons. Apostles, prophets, and evangelists would occasionally pass through town and be welcomed in each house church.
- Bishops — After the apostles had died it seems that to maintain church unity, one of the elders in each city had a role of authority over the others; this was the bishop. Unfortunately, the bishops couldn't agree with each other (leading to the next phase . . .)
- Patriarchs — Again, to maintain church unity, the bishops of the major Christian cities had a role of authority over the bishops. These head bishops were the Patriarchs and their cities were the Patriarchates. Unfortunately, the Patriarchs could not agree with each other and seemed to become power hungry which led to the next phase . . .
- Papacy — In the western Roman church the bishop of Rome claimed to be the head of the entire church; the head of all the Patriarchs. Unfortunately, the other Patriarchs and the bishops of the eastern churches disputed this claim which ultimately led to the great schism of east and west in 1054 A.D.
- Today it is impossible to have institutional church unity. This trend of ever-enlarging authority by bishops has proven to be a disaster and has led to church disunity rather than unity. Therefore, in my model of the Apostolic Reformation of the Church,I propose that this trend be rejected in favor of returning to the model of small house churches each independently led by a presbyter with supporting deacons. Each local church should, of course, maintain the faith as passed-down by the apostles. If these local churches wish to band together into larger collections such as denominations, this is okay. In our modern world of large buildings and speedy transportation it is okay to have larger church meetings in one location but I think in this case it is desirable that the larger churches have smaller home meetings (but one problem with this is that now people have to go to two meetings a week which can be a hardship).
It is a common Protestant teaching that the local church of each city in apostolic times was ruled by a council of elders (presbyters); I am beginning to doubt this claim. This view seems to be based on the idea that each city had only one church which all met together in one place, but this can't be true for the following reasons:
- No large buildings available.
- No transportation for all Christians in every part of the city to travel to one location.
- Reference to churches meeting in people's home in several New Testament passages.
- Evidence from early writings that there were many local church communities in one city. As an example, in Rome, runners would carry the consecrated host from the church service led by the bishop to the other local church gatherings and they would each mingle it with their own consecrated host.
- In the early church the bishop of each city had presbyters who led church services and who were expected to be obeyed by the Christians. What was the need for this unless each presbyter had charge over those in his house church?
As I demonstrate using quotations from the Bible and the early church fathers, the church in each city was not a single city-wide church but a collection of house churches in each city. Each local house church was led by an elder (presbyter) and some had deacons. Certainly the elders (presbyters) in each city were in communication and they kept in contact with other cities.
I suspect that many of the early church leaders were well-to-do; they could take time off to travel and they had large houses to host house churches.
It is commonly assumed that the leaders of the early church were employed full-time in their church work and paid for it. I am beginning to doubt this for several reasons:
- Paul emphasized that he worked to support himself. He allowed for other church leaders to receive compensation for their efforts but I suspect he preferred that they worked just as he did.
- What could these elders of house churches possibly have been doing that took up all their time?
- The people at large were likely fairly poor so they would have had a hard time supporting someone in full-time ministry; this would be even worse if there were more than one person to support such as an elder and several deacons.
The Purpose of the Church
The book of Acts is about the spread of the gospel and the development of the institution of the church. The purpose of the church is to teach the truths of the Christian faith and to provide a community of worship.
The Dilemma of Christians Today
What are Christians to believe; who are they to follow?
- The Catholic Church makes various claims including the claim that the Catholic Church is the true church with true doctrine. But some (many) of the clergy don't believe or follow these doctrines. How can anyone be a Catholic and accept Catholic teaching in such a spiritually confusing environment?
- Some (many) Catholics don't know the Bible and many don't believe it and they consume alcohol as a habitual lifestyle. How can I fellowship with such as these?
- What should I do when I attend a Catholic mass with a priest who doesn't practice Catholic teachings? (Liturgical abuses, bad doctrine, weirdness.)
- How can I choose Catholic vs. Orthodox? Each claims to be the true church.
- Should I attend a Protestant church? But many orthodox Protestants are anti-Catholic — so I should encourage Protestants to not be anti-Catholic. There should be Protestant churches that are not anti-Catholic (but what can I really do about this? — nothing).
- If I accept Protestantism, what am I to do with their false doctrines? Again, if I get involved with these churches, I will be rejected because my views are considered heretical by them; I will not be able to have fellowship with them.
Analogy to Modern Corporation
There are 2 kinds of corporations — early and modern
- Early — The first generations of the capitalistic industrial era. Rich people build a business and exploit people (treat them as machines) to produce goods and wealth. No concern for the plight of the workers (similar to slavery). The people languish, the owners don't care. This is similar to the large institutional church in which the laity languish and the bishops don't care.
My former bishop got angry with someone who commented on very real liturgical abuses in her parish — said he didn't want to have to worry about whether he accidentally said the wrong word as a slip of the tongue — a total disconnect between bishop and laity. The laity just want to practice their faith in the manner prescribed by their church but some bishops don't make it possible; shuffle around pervert priests, gay seminaries, liberal priests, etc.
- Modern — Entrepreneurial. The leader starts off small, takes great risks, gathers a small band of loyal helpers who devote their lives to the proposition. Similar to Jesus and disciples.
Then success and growth. The leader distances himself from the workers. Managers vs. workers (similar to clergy vs. laity). Managers exploit the workers in various ways (salaried workers work > 40 hrs. per week) but try to make the workers feel like they are all part of one big team; yet the managers are aloof from the common workers who could be laid off or fired at any time by a "bad" manager. Similar to the larger church with an aloof bishop such as Irenaeus or Cyprian. We read the story of the leaders and their interactions with other leaders and other companies. The leaders are the shakers and movers and are worthy of note (similar to the study of history in which we read about the rulers and generals). The common people are ignored, yet this is the opposite of the way Jesus did it — he emphasized the common people.
The development of the church resembles the second of these. It started off with an emphasis on the spiritual enthusiasm of the Christians at large and over time developed into a caste system (clergy / laity) in which the clergy became self-absorbed.
We should judge church development by the way Jesus did things, whether the plight of the common person is emphasized (they are healed, their stories are emphasized in the Bible — where in the later church history do we read stories of the common Christian? we don't; we only read of the leaders). Jesus was concerned with the prayer life and devotional life of the people — in the later church bishops only addressed whether or not people attended mass or were baptized properly; meanwhile, the people languished.
We should judge the church by the plight of the people, not by the leaders. Certainly, the church structure and leaders had a role in preserving orthodox teaching and fighting heresy. We should accept this benefit but reject the negative aspects.
First council of Jerusalem — the leaders got together and decided the fate of the Gentiles. The decision was equitable because it concerned the people. Later councils addressed topics such as patriarchates and rules about clergy. These issues are irrelevant to the average Christian.
The purpose of the Nicene creed was for the bishops to determine which bishops were orthodox. But meanwhile the plight of the people was ignored. It seems that Christians should reject the authority of their leaders when their leaders are unconcerned with their spiritual plight. While it is important to defend the faith from heresy, the mission of the church should be focused on the people at large.
Finally in 1054 A.D. the church leaders of east and west excommunicated each other. Just as God demonstrated that the Old Testament nation of Israel was finished (the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.), in like manner God demonstrated that the united church managed by bishops and ordained via apostolic succession was finished (but the trend began 900 years earlier). Luther and the other Reformers rejected real church abuses, but more still needs to be done.
Anglican — a King rejected the authority of Rome — rulers massacred Catholics. This movement didn't seem to get off to the right start. There was a later movement to base Anglicanism on early Christianity but it has allowed liberalism to creep in.
Protestant — A member of the clergy rebelled and created a state-run church. Others after him rejected the liturgy, etc.
Modern entrepreneurial "non-denominational" churches start off with the laity's interests in mind but sometimes become institutional.
The laity should rebel against all the abuses by church leaders and form small home churches. Leaders of these communities should join together. (But there is the danger of exploitation by power-crazed leaders and of non-orthodox teaching in these house churches.)
I feel like I should promote a revolutionary movement of some kind but the only thing I can think of is a home church movement.
We must be obedient. But to who or to what?
(Acts 5:29) Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
(2 Thessalonians 3:14) And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
(2 Thessalonians 1:8) In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It Must Be True |
How to know what is true |