When discussing the organization of the Church of God during the first centuries of the New Dispen­sation (we discuss, of course, the organization of the Church when we call attention to the bishops and the bishop of Rome), we realize that the Presbyterian form of church government is the only conception of church government which is in harmony with the Scriptures. And this is also the Reformed conception. According to this conception of the organization of the Church, the elders, deacons, and ministers of the gospel are all of equal rank, and the presbytery or college of el­ders (the consistory) is under Christ the only and the highest judicial power in the Church of God. This means that each local congregation is autonomous. According to Rome, however, the Church of God is constituted of several churches or congregations un­der the pope of Rome, Christ’s vicar or representative upon earth, and everybody is subject to him. The pope is supreme in the Romish Church. He is the supreme judicial power and the culminating point in that church. He is the supreme deacon, the supreme el­der, the supreme minister of the Word of God. All the dignitaries of the Romish Church are subject to him. Rome maintains that the pope is the successor of the apostle, Peter, and that to him have been trans­ferred the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven which had been bestowed upon that apostle. The pope is the supreme head of the Church of God upon earth. This is papacy.

Incidentally, when discussing the organization of the Church, we do well to distinguish between the episcopate and the papacy or popery. Both have in common that the office of the bishop is of a higher rank than that of elder or deacon. We have already noted the historical development of the episcopate in the early history of the Church since the days of the apostles. However, the two are also different in one very important respect. Popery refers to the rule of one supreme bishop over the entire church. In the episcopate the bishops are all of equal rank. In the Romish church the pope is supreme and all the digni­taries of that church are subject unto him. The epis­copate knows of no such head, except it be the chief lay ruler in the land, as in England and in the Nether­lands in the present day. We are all aware, e.g., that the King of England bears the title: The chief de­fender of the faith. We understand of course, that the episcopate is historically first. The papacy is simply the development of the episcopate when drawn to its inevitable conclusion.

The offices, especially that of the bishop, were held in very high esteem. Submission to the bishops was generally emphasized as the duty of the mem­bers. One need not question the high esteem in which the office of the bishop was held from the following quotations in the letters supposed to have been written by Ignatius, one of the apostolic fathers and bishop of the church at Antioch in Asia Minor: “Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore, in your concord and harmon­ious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love and taking up the song of God in unison, ye may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you and perceive by your works that ye are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblamable unity, that thus ye may always enjoy communion with God….Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence (showing forbearance), the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to re­ceive every one whom the master of the house sends to be over His household, as we do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself….It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but to do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not steadfastly gathered to­gether according to the commandment….Since, therefore, I have, in the persons before mentioned, be­held the multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are interested with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Do ye all then, imitating the same divine conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbor after the flesh, but do ye continually love each other in Je­sus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality….As therefore the Lord did noth­ing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye any­thing without the bishop and presbyters.” Judging from this quotation, one need not doubt the tremen­dously high esteem in which the office of the bishop was held during the early New Testament Church.

Continuing with Ignatius we would also quote the following from this eminent church father: “For, since ye are subject to the bishops as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in or­der, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is, therefore, necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall (at last) be found….Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doc­trines; but where the shepherd is there do ye as sheep follow. For there are many wolves that appear wor­thy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive those that are running towards God; but in unity they shall have no place….See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop….Moreover, it is in ac­cordance with reason that we should return to sober­ness (of conduct), and, while yet we have opportuni­ty, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to rev­erence both God and the bishop. He who honors the bishop has been honored by God; he who does any­thing without the knowledge of the bishop, does (in reality) serve the devil….Give ye heed to the bish­op, that God also may give heed to you…My soul be for their’s that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another, strive in company together; run together, suffer together; sleep together, and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God.”

From these quotations of the church father, Ig­natius, we may safely conclude the following. We have quoted this eminent church leader of the era im­mediately following upon the apostles and have quoted him at length in order that our readers may have indisputable evidence of the high esteem in which he held the office of bishop. This can surely not be doubt­ed. In these letters which he is supposed to have writ­ten, the author emphasizes that the members owe submission to the bishops as unto God. This vein of thought runs throughout all these quotations. We must

look upon the bishop as upon God Himself; the bish­op presides in the place of God, and the presbyters or elders in the place of the assembly of the apostles. Besides, these quotations can easily be multiplied. The unity of the Church of God was inseparably link­ed up with the bishops. He who does anything with­out the knowledge of the bishops simply in reality serves the devil. The service of the Lord and the office of the bishop were simply considered insepar­able. This office was certainly held in high esteem.

There is, however, another thought in these quo­tations of Ignatius which we consider very important and to which we would call attention. This Apostolic Father certainly did not develop the episcopate as ex­tremely as it was developed later, particularly in the Romish Church. We must remember that Ignatius, bishop at Antioch, and who is believed to have died in the year, 115, lived immediately after the age of the the apostles. Later this emphasis upon the office of bishop reached far greater heights. The thought in his writings to which we now refer is his reference to the office of the presbyter or elder. It certainly can­not escape our attention that the office of elder is also held in high esteem. More than once he speaks of the bishops and elders in the same connection. Striking is surely this statement: “It is, therefore, necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also subject to the presbytery, as to the apostles of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall at last be found.” There is nothing in the writings of Ignatius which suggests the supremacy of one bishop over another (this, we understand, is characteristic of the papacy), and the members of the church are exhorted to hold the el­ders in esteem as well as the bishops. The fact, however, remains that one cannot doubt the fact that the office of bishop is held in tremendously high esteem during the early centuries of the Church of God in the New Dispensation. And this, we can readily surmise, had its invariable and bitter results.

—H. Veldman