Study of Church History in the Light of the Bible Proves Claims of Church Dignitaries Unfounded
By Pastor Russell
(This is the First of a Series of Three Contributions to the "Overland" from the famous Pastor of The New York City Temple and Brooklyn and London Tabernacles.) "And thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles and are not, and hast found them liars."—#Re 2:2.
THERE is just one class in the world to-day and for centuries past who have been claiming to be Apostles, and who are not Apostles, according to our text. The Bible shows us unmistakably that God never designed that there should be more than twelve Apostles of the Lamb. Let us refresh your memory on this point: Our Lord Jesus, in response to a question by the Apostle Peter, said to the Twelve: "Verily I say unto you that ye which have followed Me, in the Regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit in the Throne of His Glory, shall also sit upon Twelve Thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (#Mt 19:28.) There were to be only Twelve Apostolic Thrones—no more.
Again, in #Re 12:1, we have a picture given of the Church. She is shown as a woman clothed with the sun (the Gospel), having the moon (the Jewish Law, which supports the Church, but is not the source of her light) under her feet, and having on her.head a Crown of Twelve Stars (her Divinely appointed and inspired teachers). We see that there were only Twelve of these Stars authorized by God, St. Paul taking the place of Judas.
I remind you of another picture of this matter given by our Lord Jesus to John the Revelator, who was one of The Twelve. In #Re 21:9-27 the glorified Church is shown—see also verses 2-5. The Church is here pictured as coming down out of Heaven to begin her great work for the blessing of the world of mankind. Now note particularly that this glorified Church is shown as having Twelve Foundations, and in these foundations the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. (#Re 21:14.) There were never any more purposed by the Lord. So we see that it is through some very serious blunder that our Roman Catholic friends have Bishops claiming to be Apostolic Bishops. And it is by a similar blunder that our Church of England friends claim that they have Apostolic Bishops. It is the same with our Greek Catholic friends.
God’s Word Must Be Spoken Faithfully.
Jesus says that those who make claims of being Apostles when they are not are lying.
You and I are not to follow what the customs of the past centuries have taught us, but what the
OV411 Lord Jesus Himself says. He is the Authority. We have a certain amount of sympathy for these gentlemen, who have dropped into certain positions, and who have been taught for centuries that they were Apostles just the same as the original Twelve appointed by our Lord, having the same inspiration and speaking with the same authority. We have sympathy for them in that they are sadly deluded, but this will not hinder any of us, I trust, from remembering what Jesus said and taking the right viewpoint. "Thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." We are not saying anything uncharitable, for we are to speak the Lord’s Word. "He that hath a dream (an imagination), let him tell a dream; but he that hath My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully." (#Jer 23:28.) If we hold back for fear of man, then we would be sharing in the sin and wrong.
It may be asked, What is the difference whether they call themselves Apostolic Bishops or not? I answer, There is much difference. While at the present time these men have discarded the great claims once made, or at least do not attempt to speak with the authority of former days, because mankind are becoming more enlightened and their claims would appear more and more absurd, yet they still claim that they are the only ones who have the right to give authority to any to preach. They claim that if they do not ordain a man to preach he has no right to speak in the name of the Lord at all. They claim this right because they are "Apostolic Bishops." They are, however, not pressing this claim before the world and before the Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and others so loudly as formerly. These others inquire: "Why do you stand aloof from us?" and they do not quite like to tell fully their reasons. They hesitate to say to them, We are the Church, We are the Apostles, and you have no right to preach unless we ordain you; you are not God’s servants. They do not like to state this, and hence they are in a somewhat vacillating condition to-day.
We remember that about four years ago the Bishops of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, held a meeting in Detroit, and there passed resolutions that they would be willing to fraternize with other denominations provided they were orthodox, which meant, provided they were in harmony with the teachings of Episcopalians.
Anybody else would be unorthodox, and that would mean that they would refuse to recognize them in any way—they would have no right to preach.
How the People Became Dependent on the Clergy.
These claims of Apostolic Succession in the past got the Church into a great deal of trouble and confusion, from which we have not yet recovered. The great mass of Christian people are still bewildered. Beginning some time before the year 325 A.D., this doctrine had been growing. The bishops were beginning to "lord it over God’s heritage," as the Apostle Peter says (#1Pe 5:3), and to manifest the sentiment, "We are higher than you—you are only the common people; we are of a different class altogether." This lording came in very gradually, as such things generally do, and was associated later with the declaration that the people were the "laity," and that the Church was composed of the "clergy"—the priests, Bishops, arch-Bishops, Cardinals and the Pope. All had the general thought that these were Apostles, and had their varying degrees of authority from the Lord.
We are to remember that until a few centuries ago copies of the Bible were very scarce, and a Bible was worth really a fortune, because they had to be printed out by pen by scholars, and these were few. They had to be printed upon fine vellum parchment, as there were at that time no printing presses nor paper. These things were later inventions. One copy of the manuscripts of Scripture, carefully done by hand, would cost from $500
OV412 to $1,000, because it would require a long time to write out the entire Bible under such circumstances. Hence few had Bibles, and there were very few who could read at that time. In those days education was only for the wealthy and favored class, and even in the British Parliament some could not write their names, and a bill was passed permitting any member of the House of Lords who could not sign his name to make an X instead. Under such conditions, the people were very dependent upon the Church Bishops. When these began to claim that they were Apostolic Bishops, from that time on, instead of reading the Scriptures to the people, they gave them to understand that they were the proper ones to read and interpret the Scriptures, that they had received this authority from the Lord.
Jesus said to the Twelve Apostles that whatsoever they should bind on earth should be bound in Heaven, and that whatsoever they should loose on earth should be loosed in Heaven. Their writings were especially supervised by the Lord and their doctrinal utterances inspired. So you see that these inspired writings of the Apostles in their various Epistles are as authoritative as were the words of Jesus. (#Ro 16:25-27; #2Co 12:7, #Ga 1:11,12.) The Apostle Paul assures us that "the Word of God is sufficient that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work." Hence we need no further doctrinal utterances and no more writings than the Scriptures supply, and we have no need of any more Apostles than the original Twelve—St. Paul taking Judas’ place. Since the advent of printing and since the close of the 1260 symbolic days—1260 years—of Papal persecution, Bibles have been printed in immense quantities and scattered far and wide by the Bible societies, and education has become general. To-day, Bibles are everywhere and are very cheap, so that all can read.
Let us go back again to the year 325 A.D. By that time the Church bishops were claiming that they were Apostolic Bishops, with Apostolic authority. They claimed that they were the living Apostles, whose teachings were the voice of God. But these Apostles did not agree among themselves as did the early Apostles, the real Apostles; for when we read the writings of the Apostles appointed by our Lord we find that they all agree. But by the year 325 A.D. a positive position was taken as to belief. Emperor Constantine of Rome called for a Council of Bishops to be held in the city of Nice, or Nicea, in Bithynia, Asia Minor. The Emperor was apparently a very wise man, according to worldly standards, and he had said to himself: "My pagan supporters are gradually slipping from me, and the Christian religion seems to be coming to the front.
I think I can make a good stroke of policy by joining in with the Christians."
Origin of the Nicene Creed.
The Emperor did not become a real Christian; for he was never baptized to his dying day. He professed Christianity for policy’s sake. While we cannot judge his heart, and say that he had no motive of sincerity whatever, still the policy idea was surely there, as evidenced all through the matter. In this year, 325 A.D., he sent out a call everywhere to all the Bishops of the churches to come to the city of Nicea for a general convention.
He offered to pay all expenses. So about 384 Bishops—far from the entire number—came together, and a conference was held. This was the first Ecumenical Council, aside from the one held at Jerusalem by the Apostles of Jesus themselves. This was claimed to be another meeting of Apostles, and the Emperor, not knowing but that they were fully authorized, made the following proposition to them: You all claim to be Apostles, but you have different theories, and there are dissensions among you. Evidently there is something wrong. I will suggest what will set you all straight: I propose that at this Council you set
OV413 forth your views, what you consider the proper orthodox doctrines. Agree among you as to what these are. Then hereafter, whatever shall be taught by any that differs from these agreed-upon doctrines shall be heterodox—heresy. Further, I propose to join myself to you, to unite with your Church. I want your support, and you need my support. When you get my support, the pagan peoples will flock into your Church by hordes—they will be anxious to get in. I will back up your doctrines and all heretics will have a hard time in the Roman Empire. You make the Creed and declare what is Orthodoxy, and then leave its enforcement to me. I will attend to the heretics in the present life, and you can tell them of their eternal roastings throughout the future.
Thus the Nicene Creed was formulated, the first of the great creeds, and it was made by these self-appointed "Apostolic Bishops." So between the Emperor and the Bishops a heavy hand was laid upon the people. The Bishops had a strong grasp upon them.
Being uneducated, the Church leaders had them largely at their mercy. These Bishops had assured the Emperor that they had full authority from God to decide as to what were the teachings of Scripture, and the Emperor took their word for it. That was the end of Bible study, you see; there was no more use for the Bible. It was all interpreted for them. They were to follow the Nicene Creed. It was not necessary for them to study for themselves the writings of Moses and the Prophets, or what the Jewish Apostles of Jesus said. They had "apostles" inspired of God right with them, and these could teach them all they needed to know.
A LIVING Christ, of wondrous birth, Who trod the dreary paths of earth, Shedding abroad His holy light Through the deep gloom of sin’s dark night.
A dying Christ, whose precious blood Seals the poor sinner’s peace with God; And fills the soul with fullest love, Like to the joy prepared above.
A Christ ascended—all is done, A world redeemed, a victory won.
With angel hosts, a glorious throng, We’ll sing with joy salvation’s song.
A living Christ our spirits need, A loving Christ our souls to feed; A dying Christ, our ransom He, A risen Christ to set us free.
This, too, our need—a Christ within, A life with God, afar from sin, A Christ whose love our hearts shall fill, And quite subdue our wayward will.