At any rate, we want to see changes in the church -- particularly changes we don't like -- resulting from the evil desire to distort the church. Now I will be the first to admit that Satan is a deceiver, and he often deceives good people and the results are catastrophic. But I submit you that those who instigate change, even hurtful change, don't always do so because of bad motives.
Let's think about this for a moment!
It is clear from the New Testament text that elders led the early church, particularly after it moved out into the wider Roman Empire. Paul told Timothy and Titus to "ordain elders in every city." Church historians almost universally acknowledge two classes of leadership in the early church:
- Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers.
- Bishops, Elders, and Deacons
Consider the second group, the leaders established in the local congregation. I believe Scripture tells us the Bishop and the Elder were synonymous and each congregation had more than one. By the end of the first century, there was a move to elevate one of the Elders to the position of Bishop. We see this in a few of the letters Ignatius of Antioch wrote while on his way to Rome to die a martyr's death. The elevation of one individual puzzles historians because Ignatius was from the Antioch church and undoubtedly knew Paul. Why would he counsel elevating one individual and use the term Bishop to designate him? Ignatius made the suggestion to meet a need. Persecution and the proliferation of false doctrine made strong and decisive leadership essential in a congregation. When persecution comes, a church can't afford to take the time to defer to a college of Elders to determine what to do. Leadership invested in one individual is far more efficient. I don't think Ignatius realized his suggestion would eventually result in the full-blown hierarchy of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches! The suggestion carried with it "unforeseen consequences" he could not identify from his vantage point in history.
Another example can be seen in the development of Creeds. The earliest church required a simple statement of belief, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God." Before long, the statement enlarged to profess belief not only in Jesus, but in God the Father and the Holy Spirit as well. Through the centuries successive Creeds expanded on the original simple statement of belief. Why? In each case, an expanded Creed was written to deal with rising false doctrine challenging the church. Credalism led to sectarianism and division down the road. What was intended as unifying became devisive. Division was an "unintended consequence" of creedalism, but the Creeds were written with the best of intentions.
I bring all of this to your attention to remind you that some of the changes I've bewailed in this blog do not always arise from the hearts of evil men determined to subvert the brotherhood. Some of those receiving the harshest criticism as "abandoning the faith" or "denying the validity of the Restoration Movement" seriously and conscientiously believe they are doing the right thing. They accept the Great Commission and honestly desire to win men and women to Jesus Christ. While I sometimes disagree with the results -- maybe because of my interest in history I can see the potential for "unintended consequences" -- and their thinking, I do not want to disparage their motives or intent. I can't see into the heart, but I personally know many of those I criticize and know them to be men who love God, love the brotherhood, and love me.
I constantly try to remind myself of what I have just written. I call upon all my brothers in Christ to constantly submit their teaching, methodology, and motivation to the Word of God. I have to ask myself if I want to glorify self or Jesus. Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves that and try to be a little more honest than we've been.