The reader will recall that we, in our previous article, were calling attention to the development of the episcopal form of church government in the early period of the New Testament Church. We noticed the rise to power of the monarchical, diocesan, and met­ropolitan bishops.

I do not believe it difficult to understand this devel­opment of the episcopal form of church government, the rise to power of the bishops in the Church of God. I believe that three elements or factors contrib­uted heavily toward this development of Episcopalianism rather than Presbyterianism.

In the first place, the apostolic fathers were called such because the apostles had been their fathers and they had been their disciples. There is little reason to dispute this. Their writings certainly indicate that they had been very intimate with the apostles and had received instruction from them. Hence, in con­nection with this, these apostolic fathers were re­garded by many as the successors of the apostles of the Lord. Is it surprising, then, that these men, them­selves disciples of the apostles, should be regarded as their successor? I realize that not every elder who be­came a monarchical bishop in a local congregation was a disciple of the apostles. But the very fact that these apostolic fathers were regarded as the successors of the apostles certainly lent considerable impetus to the development of the episcopal form of church gov­ernment. This development is surely perfectly un­derstandable. We must bear in mind that the Church of God, one throughout the ages, now stood upon the threshold of the New Dispensation. The knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus was very limited. And the fact that these apostolic fathers had been disciples of the apostles gave them considerable dis­tinction. In fact, it would have been a truly amazing thing had the early Church been characterized by the Presbyterian rather than the Episcopalian form of Church government. This rise to power of the in­dividual elders and bishops is exactly what one would expect under the circumstances.

Another heavily contributing factor in this epis­copal development is the undeniable fact that these leaders of the early Church must have been able men. It is true that many speak slightingly of these men. One cannot deny the fact that their writings are not characterized by the profundity in thought which is true of the sound exposition of the Word of God in our present day. Much in their writings is highly allegorical and their language is strongly figurative. It is also true that these early leaders of the Church of God are characterized by simplicity and indefinite­ness. Consequently, many speak slightingly of them. However, we should try to be honest and fair in our appraisal of them. We must never overlook the time in which they lived and were called of God to labor. It must never be forgotten that they stand upon the threshold of the New Dispensation. The full Bible was not at their disposal. The Old Testament was the only canon which had been officially adopted. It is true that the apostles had written several epistles, but these epistles were not canonized, officially recog­nized as the inspired New Testament in addition to the divinely inspired and canonized Old Testament until the New Dispensation was well under way. This is not all. We must also remember that these apos­tolic fathers labored without the aid of creeds and confessions. We, who live in the twentieth century, have an exceedingly rich heritage. The saints of God have sealed the truth of the Word of the Lord with their own blood, and have left for us rich and beau­tiful creeds and confessions. Our advantage is in­deed that we may reap what the Church of God has sown throughout the ages. Fundamental creeds which confirm truths such as the divine person of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the amazing and wonderful union between the two natures of the Christ in one divine person, the sovereignty and unconditionality of election and reprobation, the complete and utter de­pravity of the human nature, the particular and vicar­ious character of atonement, the irresistible character of the grace of God, the certain perseverance of the saints, the wholly particular character of the grace of God are now at our disposal. And, as Protestant Reformed Churches we might build upon the truth of the wholly particular grace of the Lord and there­fore proclaim that the promise of the Lord is strict­ly and exclusively unconditional. All these wonderful truths, we say, are now at our disposal. However, the apostolic fathers lacked all these advantages. They stood strictly upon their own. Besides, we must surely not overlook the fact that the coming of our Lord Je­sus Christ into our flesh and blood was for them an event of very recent occurrence. How little the com­ing of Jesus Christ was understood at the time of His appearance among us! Anyone acquainted with the New Testament gospels will attest to the earth­ly conception which the disciples entertained of the kingdom which Christ came to establish. In addition to all this, we are also acquainted with the relentless attack of the Jews upon the Church and the apostles’ presentation of the truth. How bitterly the apostles were withstood wherever the Lord sent them to pro­claim the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord! Is it not, in the light of all this, a truly amazing thing that these apostolic fathers, be it oftimes allegorical­ly and vaguely, upheld the truth of the Word of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, our Lord? It is indeed remarkable that they were as sound as they were. And is it, therefore, surprising that the Church of the living God should look up to them for leadership and guidance in those exceeding­ly difficult times and recognize their episcopal author­ity? Had they not been taught personally by the a­postles? Were they not recognized as the successors of the apostles? Did not the people of God in that day have a very limited conception of the truth? It is surely natural, therefore, and indeed expected that the form of church government should be episcopal rather than Presbyterian. Everything certainly co­operated to bring this state of affairs about in the life of the Church.

However, even this is not all. There is a third con­tributing factor which must be borne in mind. Be­sides being disciples of the apostles and personally taught by them and also themselves very able, they led the fight against heresies. These heresies soon de­veloped. Of course, they were always present, and they were surely present during the time of the a­postles. We need not dwell upon this. But we must remember that, when the apostles lived, their word was final. They were infallibly led and directed by the Holy Spirit into all the truth. Soon after the close of the apostolic era the enemies of the truth launched their relentless attacks upon the Church of God. In fact, the recognition of the authority of the monarchi­cal bishops was occasioned exactly by the appearance of two heresies, known as Gnosticism and Montanism. Both these heresies arose and became real threats be­fore A.D. 160. Gnosticism comes from a Greek word which means knowledge. These Gnostics claimed they had the knowledge. The claimed that they understood the world, its makeup, operation, and destiny, and that knowledge was what saved those who possessed it. They also had their own conception of the Christ. The Gnostics worked very largely with the contrast be­tween good and evil. They called matter evil and spirit good. This means, of course, that, entertaining such views, they could not recognize the God of the Bible, the creator of heaven and earth, as the only true God. Neither could they believe in the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ had assumed our flesh and blood, inasmuch as matter is necessarily evil and Christ, therefore, could not have assumed our flesh and blood. This, we understand, was a very danger­ous heresy. If Christ did not assume our flesh and blood salvation does not exist. Then He was never born, did not suffer and die and rise again in our hu­man nature, and that for the simple reason that He did not take upon Himself our human nature and therefore could not have been born, suffered and died, risen again in it. More can be said about this here­sy but this can suffice. Montanism was an entirely different kind of heresy. The Montanists taught that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had really not oc­curred upon the day of Pentecost. This outpouring of the Spirit whereof the Scriptures speak really re­ferred to later times and was actually being fulfilled in them. Hence, to learn and know the truth the people should listen to them rather than to the apostles. This, too, of course was a very serious heresy. We un­derstand that if this were maintained, all the apostles must be regarded as imposters. Then they never re­ceived the Holy Spirit. Then they never proclaimed the truth. This implies that we have, then, no New Testament, no revelation of the Christ, inasmuch as the apostles are surely the writers of the New Testa­ment. These were the heresies with which the ap­ostolic fathers were forced to cope.

These heresies were condemned, even as all her­esies have been condemned by the Church which re­ceived the promise of the risen Lord that He would lead it into all the truth. But it is worthy of note that these apostolic fathers and the Church fathers who succeeded them led the Church in this fight against these heresies. And this struggle was fiercely and bitterly fought. Hence, it is not difficult to understand that the Church should ascribe special authority and powers to these bishops who led them in their fight against these departures from the truth. And we know that this recognition of their authority grew as the years rolled by. The Lord willing, we will call attention, in subsequent articles, to the high esteem in which these bishops were held by the early Chris­tian Church.

—H. Veldman