The disciples and the first Christian leaders had no written code to guide them as we have in the New Testament. They depended on what they remembered what Jesus did and on the precedent the Holy Spirit set on Pentecost and with Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 2; 10). Hence, the “Will of God” for the first Christians was what Jesus did and what Jesus had taught and commanded. The Church was in the world and subject to new interpretation and understanding by the emerging of new leaders. Divisions, disagreements, and temptations were unavoidable. Jesus warned his disciples, not to assume roles of superiority over their fellow believers when decisions have to be made. They were to remember that forgiveness was the fastest way to reach agreements and avoid endless disputing.
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says,’I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:1-4).
The First Conflict was how to Admit the Gentiles
In the first conflict, between Jewish and Gentiles Christians, was over God’s Command to circumcise, in order to retain the Covenant with God. The Jewish leaders, including the disciples, presumed that the Gentiles also were subject to circumcision. The Holy Spirit, however, admitted Gentiles into the Church without circumcision or Jewish consent (Acts 10:44-48). The Jewish leaders, who had come to Jerusalem to admit the Gentiles, were very apprehensive about breaking the only Law they had kept, but James, brother of Jesus, mastered courage and secured unanimous consent to absolve the Gentile Christians from Jewish tradition (Acts 15:12-29).
The exemption of the Gentiles from the Jewish tradition did not set them free from Moses and the prophets. The Ten Commandments did not even exempt Christ! Then, what would excuse a Christian, who goes on breaking the Ten Commandments (Matthew 5:17-20)? If any one continues in that life-style, he/she remove themselves from the “Redemptive Arm of Grace” (Hebrews 10:26-31). The most crucial issue was, could baptism do what circumcision did, admit people into the kingdom and nation of God? Israel and the Kingdom of God were one and the same. It would take time to separate the two. Jesus had commanded that the new converts were to be inducted and fully committed to Jesus the Christ before teaching them to observe and to live a dedicated life in the “New Kingdom” that is not of this world (John 17:15-19; 18:36; Philippians 3:20). The demand for baptism became more rigid than circumcision because it also signified the filling and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the new converts. Living in the Spirit is being obedient to Jesus’ Words:
If a man (person) loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:23-24).
Love is not Defined by what Man Believes or Says, But by What He Does
Love becomes a problem when the independent functioning creature man, who is endowed with a free will, diminishes and enlarges his ability to love. From the beginning of time, man has had a problem with God’s simplicity. Adam was not content with one rule, Moses’ people were not satisfied with the ten rules of the Commandments. So, they made their own elaborate worship system, which bankrupted the nation that God had planted. Jesus made it even less complicated with two visible rules: “Immerse in water before the eyes of the world to show that you belong to me, and eat and drink together to show the world that you do love me.”
Jesus, Himself, was accused of eating with the publicans and with the sinners. And Jesus earned the description of a “winebibber” (Matthew 11:19; KJV). Is our generation any different from the one Jesus lived in? How did Jesus describe it?
To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He as a demon.’ The Son of man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children (Luke 7:31-33).
Peter, Jesus’ right hand man, was the first to resist going to Cornelius and baptize him and his household. And Peter did not eat with the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 10:9-23; Galatians 2:11-21). Paul had to separate from his Jewish brethren in order to keep expressing his love for Christ (Acts 18:7). And Jesus the Christ had to die at the hands of Romans to share in the “Cross” for the redemption of mankind. It was in Rome where Baptism and the Holy Communion was to be transformed into the “Sacraments of Regeneration and Redemption.” A tradition emerged that split and fragmented the unity of the Church of Christ. For instance, baptismal water became the “holy water.” Three drops kept a sinner out of hell! And every one, before death, had to be sprayed with holy water. Criminals were sprinkled to save their souls, so that their bodies could be dispatched to hell. Particularly those, who could afford indulgences and buy forgiveness, were assured of holy water, dispensed by a Roman Catholic priest. Thus, an act of commitment to Christ became an act of allegiance to Rome. Therefore, it was taken for granted, by the new domineering leaders, that the old wineskins could hold their new wine. Change and patching can be extremely harmful. They had not heeded the warning of Jesus’ parable:
No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it upon an old garment; if he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins ad it will be spoiled, and the skins will be destroyed. Bt new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, ‘The old is good’ (Luke 5:36-39).
The Application of this Parable Proved Itself very Aptly
At the first council meeting in Jerusalem, the Gentiles were not forced into the Jewish traditions and they grew their own tradition and expanded very rapidly under the Romans. After the apostolic time, the Greek and the Latin leaders, in their many council sessions, forced their wine into the apostolic faith; and therefore, the leaders lost the old wineskins and the old wine, which was better than their new wine. All the attempts to return to the Apostolic Jesus, has brought us merely crumbs, that fell off our Master’s table. One of the crumbs we live on and rejoice in is “grace.”
Baptism was not the only thing that was distorted — so was the leadership, the membership in the Church, and the Holy Communion. The leadership became a “priestly hierarchy” similar to the Levitical system of Moses and Aaron. The Apostolic Church was being managed by people who had the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not by their social standing in the Church or in the community. Of course, their standing reflected the “Presence of the Holy Spirit” in their lives. Paul, the Apostle, was a strong advocate of the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have
no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another (Galatians 5:22-25).
For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace give to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:3-8).
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of Gold ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though man, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit (I Corinthians 12:3-13).
In the post apostolic time, the gifts of the Spirit were replaced with gifted individuals who could, by persuasion and coercion, settle conflicts, and disagreements. During the time of the Apostles, a rich man walking into a Christian assembly would find his servant preach and teach the gospel, administer baptism, and even serve communion. During the time of the Church Fathers, only duly ordained clergy could preach, teach, and administer baptism, serve communion, absolve sins, and give the last rite to the dying. Churches increased in numbers and more elders (presbuterous), more bishops (episkopoi), and more deacons (diakonoi) were needed. Disputes and disagreements also multiplied. It became apparent to the congregations that some one had to have oversight even over the leaders. It was not very likely that one of the leaders would be favored by all. Hence, the idea to call an outsider from another church, who had an impartial view, to become what we call a pastor, could settle the differences. His defining role of the pastor was to be an overseer and/or a bishop. The first such individuals were Timothy and Titus, appointed by Paul, and they worked well in their selections of elders and deacons. As the church numbers swelled, so did the the need for clergy and a distinct demarcation between the people and the clergy was imminent. The clergy with the bishops became the Church that dispensed salvation. And the people were only considered “communicants” who could receive absolution by a priest for a price. The only way to heaven was through the clergy and through the Church. The people, even kings, were held captive by the bishops and by their army of priests. This precisely was the abuse that Jesus accused the leaders of His day did.
Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servants; whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves (Matthew 23:1-15).
The Bishops Assumed the Role of Christ and Endowed Themselves with Christ’s Power
The Church had not united as expected because converts followed the bishops who granted them salvation. There were too many bishop to come to an agreement on any issue, minor, or important. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, believed that Jesus had intended to put Peter in charge of the whole Church, and that a single leader, with authority from Christ, could hasten decisions, which were vital to the survival of the Church. Cyprian’s ideas were copied. Peter, himself, had no intention to give up his office and he too was martyred. The bishops could not agree on one head bishop over all the other bishops; however, they were willing to promote five men in five places and regions as Metropolitan Patriarchs in Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. Unfortunately, the five Patriarchs were set in their own ways; and therefore, they were not able to agree on anything. Emperor Constantine had become a Christian and he decided to break the deadlock by assuming the office of “Pontifex Maximus” the High Priest of the Church. He, became the first, who as a single person, could dictate what the Church had to do. Constantine moved his offices to Constantinople and left Rome in the hands of the Patriarch, who became the first pope
Constantine initiated the greatest transformation in history. He began to emancipate the Roman Empire from the old pagan religions, and he opened the door for Christianity to become the state religion, very much like the Jewish religion was in Israel. He abolished customs and ordinances that were offensive to Christians. The clergy were exempt from military service and taxation. He made Sunday a state holiday and kept it himself. He surrounded himself and filled his offices with Christians. He elevated Christianity more than any one else and he had his hands in the most essential decisions.
This elevation of Christianity made Constantine the first representative of a Christian theocracy, a policy which involved: (1) the assumption that all subjects are Christians just as the Old Testament theocracy assumed that all subjects of that government were Israelites; (2) an intimate connection between civil and institutions were the two arms of one and the same divine government on earth. This idea was more fully developed in the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, and has re-appeared in various forms even down to the present time.
Constantine continued as the supreme pontiff of the religious affairs of the State. He called himself the bishop of bishops, and Eusebius and other church officials willingly granted him this title (Lars P. Qualben A History of the Christian Church, page 117).