Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Was the 'one bishop per city' model of church leadership an unbiblical corruption by Catholicism? (A brief look at the monespiscopate)

One anti-Catholic argument I'm seeing come up more and more frequently is the claim that Scripture describes church governance (polity) as done by a plurality of elders/bishops who are co-ruling over a city/church, whereas the notion of authority concentrated into the hands of one elder/bishop ruling over a city/church is a later invention. The goal of this anti-Catholic argument is to suggest the office of Papacy grew out from this earlier one-bishop (monepiscopacy) corruption of true Biblical polity.

The Protestant/Liberal argument is basically this: in the New Testament, the term "bishop" ("elder") is always used in the plural, and that it wasn't until AD150 that the monepiscopate (i.e. one bishop per city) model arose in some places. At first, this claim seems to have some plausibility, but looking at it with the right glasses on will reveal the desperation of these Protestant/Liberal folks to do whatever they can to smear Jesus' one and only Catholic Church.

The first thing I noticed about this anti-Catholic argument is that it claims this major heresy arose as "late" as 75 years after the Apostles died, around AD150. It is unlikely that such a significant error would arise that early on, only to be universally embraced by even the great Church Fathers, and nobody to oppose it. Further, this small window of time doesn't leave much room for a fair look at the evidence, since the early Christian writings for this period are minimal. This kind of argument is essentially based on the Liberal/Protestant notion that Christianity as we know it was invented over the centuries by the workings of men, who corrupted Christ's simple teachings early on and invented basically every doctrine we now affirm. If it can be argued that Christianity is a series of inventions, like the monespiscopate, then this leaves Christianity with little credibility before the world. It's sad that Protestants would want to go there, but Liberalism is quite literally an outworking of this kind of Protestant thought. Just looking at the Council of Nicaea in AD325, which historically Protestants pretend to accept when Catholics aren't looking, in Canon 6 it explains there is a head bishop in Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome - the three biggest Christian metro areas. Are these Protestants seriously going to say Nicaea espoused both orthodoxy and heresy? Sadly, many Protestants would rather throw out Nicaea than grant any points to Catholicism. I call this the ABC mindset - Anything But Catholic - wherein an opponent of Catholicism would rather accept the most absurd conclusions (e.g. throwing out Nicaea) rather than admit Catholicism got something right.

The second thing I noticed is that just because Scripture uses the term elder/bishop in the plural does not preclude the notion of one of those bishops being of higher rank. Even today we have multiple bishops ruling over cities, but among them there is one arch-bishop, while the rest are auxiliary bishops. So a plurality in itself doesn't exclude a hierarchy among elders. In the Old Testament, of the Twelve Sons of Jacob, the Tribe of Judah was said to lead them all. Among the Twelve Apostles, it is clear that Peter, "protos" (Matt 10:2), was the head of them. And when Peter began to evangelize outside of Jerusalem, Scripture is clear that James was left in charge of the Jerusalem congregation (Acts 12:16-17). In fact, James leading the Jerusalem congregation in Acts 15 is one of the clearest Biblical proofs of a monepiscopacy.

And when we turn to St Paul's private correspondence to Timothy and Titus, it is clear that Paul saw himself above Timothy/Titus , and it is clear that Paul saw Timothy/Titus above the rest of the clergy: "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine" (1 Tim 1:3) and "Exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you" (Titus 2:15; 1:5). Is this the kind of talk that suggests Timothy/Titus were just one among many elders? We know that there were already many elders/bishops in Ephesus, and that Paul warned of evil bishops arising (Acts 20:29-30), so the idea Paul wanted Timothy specifically to remain there to keep people in line is pretty significant. In fact, Paul even tells Timothy, "Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses." (1 Tim 5:19) This verse plainly shows that Timothy was in charge of judging elders/bishops,which would be impossible if all elders/bishops were equal. In fact, we see that John had to rebuke Diotrephes who was leading a church, and not for being in charge, but for his evil leadership (3 John 1:9-10).

And to conclude the brief Biblical evidence I have given, consider what Jesus says to John in Revelation 1:20, "As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." In Revelation 2-3, Jesus tells John what to tell these "angels", with each "angel" ruling over a major city church (including Ephesus), in which Jesus gives warnings or blessings to these "angles" leading the churches. While at first it might look like these "angels" are the spirit creatures we are all used to thinking of, the fact is the Greek/Hebrew word for "angel" is a more general term for "messenger" (usually appointed by God). In fact, the term "angel" is another way of referring to God's priests: "For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger [Hebrew: angel] of the Lord of hosts." (Mal 2:7) And consider: does it make much sense for Jesus to be speaking to an unfallen angel from heaven (who isn't leading a church on earth), warning them to behave or else be punished? Not really. The evidence here clearly indicates that the "seven angels" of "seven churches" were the leaders/bishops of these city churches. This is thus another clear example of a monepiscopacy during the Apostolic times.

Lastly, I hope to briefly look at some early Church testimony on this matter, starting with St Ignatius in his famous Epistle to the Church of Smyrna: "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 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." Most Protestants will admit that St Ignatius was the first to explicitly affirm the presence of a monepiscopacy, but their "solution" to this is to either say Ignatius was delusional or to discredit the historicity of Ignatius by saying he didn't really write these in the year AD110, but rather these are forged letters from much later. This isn't a very convincing way to argue, as this isn't a good reason to reject Ignatius' testimony from this key timeframe of before AD150.

These Protestants also like to claim that Pope St Clement of Rome, writing to the Corinthians around AD90, said nothing of the monepiscopacy or even the three-fold office of Bishop-Priest-Deacon. Maybe Clement didn't use those exact terms, but there is strong evidence within that same letter (section 40) that Clement did indeed believe there were three main offices: "Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen." Clement is here showing that within the Church there are three offices and a laity. A high priest (bishop), the priests, and Levites (deacons). Indeed, St Jerome's comments are helpful here (Letter 146):
One of [John's] letters begins thus: The presbyter unto the elect lady and her children whom I love in the truth; (2 Jn 1) and another thus: The presbyter unto the well-beloved Gaius whom I love in the truth. (3 Jn 1) When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing it to himself. For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. . . . .
. . In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple.
This confirms, from a Doctor of the Church, what has basically be presented already. Jerome understands that sinful humanity has always attempted to power-grab, and the Apostles being wise to this, prevented such a thing. The democratic method of every leader being equal has never worked, anywhere, because it is unworkable, not of Christ, and anti-Trinitarian (since the Father is head).

In Conclusion: There is more than enough evidence within Scripture and Early Church testimony to embrace the monespiscopacy and to reject the Protestant/Liberal thesis aimed more at attacking Catholicism than getting down to the truth. There are more sophisticated forms of this argument and even better responses, if you're interested, but I hope this brief treatment is more than enough.


Eucharist Angel said...

Proverbs tells us that, "The first to put forth his case seems right, until someone else steps forward and cross examines him" (18:17).

So I will cross-examine. When you say, "Among the twelve apostles, it is clear that Peter, "protos" (Matt 10:2), was the head of them"; that may sound nice to the biblically illiterate, but students of the Bible know that Peter is also listed as "ONE" of the pillars in Jerusalem, and second after James in Galatians 2:9. Hence, if Peter was Pope, how could Paul say that among James, Peter & John, "what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality" (Gal 2:6)? These facts, and others like them which you omit, begin to crack the foundation of your thesis of the monepiscopacy, supposedly blossoming out of different ranks among the brethren, which you would like us to think is founded on the "monarchy" of the papacy begun in Matt 16. However, the question of the singularity or plurality of bishops in the early church is actually inconsequential when the over-arching claim of the papacy upon which your article rests, is examined and refuted. IOW, if the papacy was NOT being instituted in Matt 16, as you suppose, then all talk of a monepiscopacy is irrelevant. Which is exactly what I propose.

The so-called "infallible" Vatican 1 tells us that, "it has been known to ALL AGES [and] it has at ALL TIMES been necessary that every particular church should agree with the Roman Church....resting on the PLAIN testimonies of the Sacred Writings and adhering to the PLAIN and express decrees of our predecessors...for they knew very well that this see of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error........faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith...he possesses the divine assistance promised to blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed His church to enjoy..."

Now, God expects us to use our brain to come to logical conclusions. Unfortunately, Catholics by and large do not. The above statement from V-1 is simply ludicrous and unbiblical on every level. It is complete historical revisionism to assert that in "ALL ages and at ALL times", Christians were aware that the Roman church, from the first century onward, enjoyed a primacy of jurisdiction over the entire church militant. Nonsense. No encyclopedia on earth will vindicate that for a moment, and neither will the Bible. What is... "plain" that it is nothing less than satanic trickery to say that the Scriptures "PLAINLY" declare this (!!!). Neither is it "PLAIN" that Peter was endowed with any sort of infallibility, especially since infallibility was unheard of for 1,870 years until the Pope decided to self-appoint himself "INFALLIBLE" in 1870 (!!!).

Going back to your claim that Peter was the head of them all, the person with a sound and sober mind knows that Peter may have been prominent, but he was certainly not PRIME MINISTER. The Scriptures absolutely will not allow it. Let the reader decide with the following 22 reasons:

Eucharist Angel said...

1) Strange, isn't it, if Peter were Pope, that ***Paul*** wrote more books of the N.T. than anyone else. Catholics will never admit, but are obviously disappointed Peter only wrote 2. They are also cry themselves to sleep at night once realizing that...

2) Only Paul's teaching authority was so advanced and deep that Peter acknowledged that some of them were hard to understand (2 Pet 3:15) and not vice versa.

3) Paul singles himself out as the standard of orthodoxy (1 Cor 4:17).

4) Only Paul refers to himself as having a rod (a symbol of authority) 1 Cor 4:21. Needless to say, non-Catholics would never hear the end of it if Peter was the one holding the rod.

5) Paul is the only apostle who refers to his authority over ALL the churches (1 Cor 4:17; 7:17, 2 Cor 11:28) ...wreaking havoc with the claim of Vatican 1 that Peter immediately received from Christ a primacy of honor over the entire universal church.

6) The Jews in Acts 21:28 recognized Paul's "primacy" by saying he was THEE man they held most responsible for spreading Christianity everywhere.

7) Paul worked more than all the other apolstles (1 Cor 15:10).

8) Paul is the only apostle who is called God's chosen vessel who will bear His name before both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:15), while Peter's ministry was confided primarily to the Jews (Gal 2:1-10).

9) Paul is the only apostle to be taken to heaven to receive a revelation (2 Cor 12:1).

10) Paul is the only apostle Satan was concerned enough about to give a thorn in the flesh to (2 Cor 12:7).

11) Paul had the best training and education of all the apostles (Phil 3:4-6).

12) Paul wrote more about church unity, church government and the intricacies of the gospel than any other, and when he did, there was no mention of a papacy (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:10-11).

13) Paul said he was not a whit behind (or at all inferior) to the very chiefest (or most eminent) apostles (2 Cor 11:5 AND 12:11), and that,
"He who worked effectively in Peter...worked effectively in me also" (Galatians 2:8) --- putting himself on the same level as his spiritual brother, which casts a black cloud on your article thesis of differing ranks. Even if there were elements of differing ranks and a single bishop here and there, the Scriptural evidence dashes any hopes for petrine primacy and the outworking of a papacy with God's good wishes. In fact, perceptive, spiritual eyes see that God was well aware papal claims would arise, just as he knew that the person of Mary would soon blow all out of proportion, so he graciously nips Peter in the bud by the evidence presented here (as he also "nips" Mary no less than 5 times) so true Christians can honor them according to the script God has written of them and reject emerging Catholic fairy tales.

Eucharist Angel said...

14) Peter makes NO attempt to describe himself as head of the church, but instead refers to his person as simply, "an apostle", "as one among many living stones", and "the fellow elder" (1 Peter 1:1; 5:1). He did not claim nor did he assume any other authority, and was in all other respects on precisely the same footing as were the other apostles. His primary ministry was to the JEWS (Gal 2:1-10), so all true Christians must see the logical fallacy which bids us to believe Peter was assigned to be prime minister of GENTILE ROME, as well as king over the entire church militant. Nonsense!
Moreover, Christ telling Peter to feed the sheep in John 21 is no more relevant than when Paul told the elders of the church to, "watch over the flock which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to FEED the church of God" (Acts 20:17; 28).
And Peter Himself says to "the elders which are among you, I exhort, WHOM AM ALSO AN ELDER .....FEED THE FLOCK OF GOD" (1 Pet 5:1-2). These other "feeding" verses prove the the RCC is guilty of importing foreign concepts into John 21 to promote her own agenda,

15) Peter contradicts Rome's teaching on bringing "all our cares" to Mary (CCC #2677) teaching Christians, on the other hand, that
"The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears attentive to their prayers" (1 Pet 3:12; 5:7).

Furthermore, since Vatican 1 said that the purpose of the papacy was to "GOVERN the universal church" ("On the Power and Nature of thePrimacy of the Roman Pontiff", chapter 3) it is significant that 1 Cor 12 does indeed mention an office called "governments" ---but only at the TAIL END of the offices cited, and even then, no sweet serenade to a papal party. The true Christian believes the Bible!

16) If Peter was Pope, why was he being the one SENT to investigate the Samaritan revival, rather than the one doing the sending? (Acts 8:14).

17) If petrine primacy were so "PLAIN" as Vatican 1 asserts, why can the disciples after the Caesarea Philippi incident, still dispute among themselves concerning who was the greatest? (Matt 18:1; 20:20-28; Luke 22:24).
What izzzzzz crystal CLEAR and "PLAIN" is that they did not understand Jesus as giving Peter any priority over them, nor did the Lord correct them in favor of Peter....end of story.

18) You say in your article, "Scripture is clear that James was left in charge of the Jerusalem congregation (Acts 12:16-17). In fact, James leading the Jerusalem congregation in Acts 15 is one of the clearest Biblical proofs of a monepiscopacy."
However, you leave out the very essence of the Protestant argument against you! Namely, if Peter was Pope, why was he merely the first speaker and not presiding OVER the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? (over which James quite obviously presided). Why didn't they just turn the whole matter over to Peter?
Instead, we read that James said, "Hear me!"---and he was the one who gave the judgment in vs. 19, saying, "I JUDGE" in the Greek, which is variously translated as "It is my judgment" (NASB), "my sentence is" (KJV), and "I have reached the decision" (RSV). James might be an example of a monepiscopacy, but at the end of the day, if you are wrong about the person and place of Peter as I contend, you will be in hell with your monepiscopy theology doing you no good whatsoever.

Eucharist Angel said...

19) If Peter was bishop and pastor of Rome, and it was Paul's missionary practice "to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation" (Rom 15:20; 2 Cor 10:16), why does Paul declare that he had longed to come to Rome and had purposed many times to come there, "so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong" and "in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the Gentiles" (Rom 1:11-13). Would not such activity among them on Paul's part have been both a denial of his own missionary policy as well as an affront to Peter's ministry? Do not his words suggest that Paul knew of no apostle having labored in Rome?

20) Paul wrote his letter to Rome circa 57 AD. but he didn't address the letter to Peter or refer to him anywhere in it as its pastor! And in the last chapter he extended greetings to no less than 26 specific friends in the Imperial City, but makes no mention of Peter. He also gave no indication of what V-1 claims had ***always*** been the case; namely: "wherefore it has at all times been necessary that every particular church--that is to say, the faithful throughout the world--should agree with the Roman Church..." ("On the Perpetuity of the Primacy of Blessed Peter in the Roman Pontiffs", chapter 2).

21) Rome CANNOT escape Paul's implicit charge of creating a "Corinthian faction" disruptive to church unity when it urges the "primacy" of Peter over Paul (1 Cor 1:10-13; 3:3-9).

22) For all the RCC has to say about the pope being the expert on "faith and morals", we are told that Paul had to publicly rebuke the first "pope" for "not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel" (Gal 2:14). Yes, we know the RCC will say that Peter was not impeccable, but the reader must be astonished that not only did the Holy Spirit choose to record so much information that casts the fisherman in such a negative light, but it also cannot be dismissed He chose to record the fact that Paul most definitely did not regard Peter as being infallible in faith and morals....the touchstone of modern Roman Catholicism since 1870. We also must remember that much to a Roman Catholic's dismay, Peter was married (Matt 8:14). Out of all the recipients that would be listed in Scripture who were blessed with a healing, the Holy Spirit decided to overshadow Peter's MOTHER-IN-LAW with a fever, to be recorded for all time. Nothing else is ever said of her, so whatever God must want us to know about her MUST primarily relate to Peter himself. We say it was a brilliant move on God's part to choose to give this woman a fever for the express purpose to be healed later on, so that later generations would know Peter's marital status and have the arsenal to DEBUNK forthcoming Catholic claims. True Christians are grateful for her fever; otherwise we would never hear the end of Peter being a celibate Pope! Ergo, it simply makes SENSE that the Holy Spirit intended for us to conclude that it would be unbelievable Jesus would choose to begin a dynastic succession of celibate popes with a MARRIED MAN!

John Church said...

Hey Nick --- old post, but I have something you might be interested in! St. Chrysostom also weighs in on the presbyter/bishop controversy:

"To the fellow-Bishops and Deacons.' What is this? were there several Bishops of one city? Certainly not; but he called the Presbyters so. For then they still interchanged the titles, and the Bishop was called a Deacon. For this cause in writing to Timothy, he said, Fulfil thy ministry,' when he was a Bishop. For that he was a Bishop appears by his saying to him, Lay hands hastily on no man.' (1 Tim. v. 22.) And again, Which was given thee with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.' (1 Tim. iv. 14.) Yet Presbyters would not have laid hands on a Bishop." Homilies on Philippians 1:1

In the apostolic age, the terms "bishop" and "presbyter" were synonymous, but the offices were not. This isn't just the claim of modern apologists, this is the witness of the Fathers themselves!

Nick said...

If I'm reading this correctly, Chrysostom is saying that Timothy was to ordain priests in every town of Tim's diocese, and thus the plurality in every city was just a bunch of priests and didn't touch upon bishops per se. I think this is a reasonable argument that I'll make use of in the future, though it can also always fall back on the notion that there was often more than one bishop in a city, with the caveat that one of them was 'arch-bishop'.

John Church said...

I believe you were reading it correctly. I myself am quite convinced of this mixing of terms. As Jerome says, there was always a head presbyter, ie bishop. The first person to shift the semantic meanings (in writing) is St. Ignatius. Even if there was a conciliarity among the ancient priests, it doesn't disallow that there was a bishop among them which truly served as head.

I was writing an article on this whole thing myself. Should I ever actually publish it, please don't think I'm stealing! ;-)