“Editorial” American Sentinel 9, 27, pp. 209-211.

July 5, 1894

THE Scripture was fulfilled; there had, as shown in these columns last week, come a falling away.

BUT that there should come a falling away, was not all the prophecy—through that falling away there was to be revealed “that man of sin,” “the son of perdition,” “the mystery of iniquity,” “that wicked,” who would oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped; and who when he should appear, would continue even till that great and notable event—the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

REFERRING again to the scripture quoted last week from 2 Thessalonians 2:2, it is seen that self-exaltation is the spring of the development of this power. As that scripture expresses it, “He opposeth and exalteth himself.” Or, as another scripture gives it, “He shall magnify himself in his heart.” And another, “He magnified himself even to the Prince of the host”—the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet another, “He shall also stand up against the Prince of princes.” That is, he shall reign, or assert authority above, and in opposition to, the authority of Christ; or, as the thought is developed by Paul, this power would oppose and exalt itself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple—the place of worship—of God, showing himself that he is God.

REFERRING also again to the instruction of Paul to the elders who met him at Miletus, there is seen a prophecy of this same spirit of self-exaltation,—a wish to gain disciples to themselves instead of to Christ. They would prefer themselves to Christ, thus at once putting themselves above him, in opposition to him. And this would be developed from among the bishops. “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

THIS spirit was actively manifested in opposition to the apostle John while he was yet alive, for he says: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes who loveth to have the preëminence among them, receiveth us not.” 3 John 9.

According to the word of Christ, there is no such thing as preëminence, or mastership, or sovereignty of position, among men in the church. There was once an argument among his disciples as to who should be counted the greatest, and Jesus called them unto him, and said: “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45.

AND in warning his disciples of all times against the practice of the scribes and Pharisees of that time, who were but the popes of their day, he says they “love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren…. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:6-12.

IN the church each member has the same rights as any other member; but for the good of all and the mutual benefit of all concerned, as well as better to carry on His work in the world, the Lord has established His church, and with it a system of church order in which certain ones are chosen to exercise certain functions for the mutual benefit of all in the organization. These officers are chosen from among the membership by the voice of the membership. Of these officers there are two classes, and two only,—bishops and deacons. This is shown by Paul’s letter to the Philippians—“Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” Chap. 1:1.

BISHOPS are sometimes called elders; but the same office is always signified. When Paul gave directions to Titus in this matter, he said: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless…. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God.” Titus 1:5-7.

This is further shown in Acts 20, to which we have before referred; when Paul had called unto him to Miletus “the elders of the church” of Ephesus, among other things he said to them: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,“—episkopoi—bishops.

PETER also writes to the same effect: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:1-3.

This text not only shows that the terms “elder” and “bishop” refer to the same identical office, but it shows that Peter counted himself as one among them; and that not only by his precept but by his example he showed that in this office, although overseers they were not overrulers or lords.

SUCH is the order in the Church of Christ, and as every Christian is God’s freeman and Christ’s servant, it follows, as has been well stated, that “monarchy in spiritual things does not harmonize [210] with the spirit of Christianity.” [62] Yet this order was not suffered long to remain. A distinction was very soon asserted between the bishop and the elder; and the bishop assumed a precedence and an authority over the elder, who was now distinguished from the bishop by the title of “presbyter” only. This was easily and very naturally accomplished.

For instance, a church would be established in a certain city. Soon perhaps another church or churches would be established in that same city, or near to it in the country. These other churches would look naturally to the original church as to a mother, and the elders of the original church would naturally have a care for the others as they arose. It was only proper to show Christian respect and deference to these; but this respect and deference was soon demanded, and authority to require it was asserted by those who were the first bishops.

AGAIN: as churches multiplied and with them also elders multiplied, it was necessary, in carrying forward the work of the gospel, for the officers of the church often to have meetings for consultation. On these occasions it was but natural and proper for the seniors to preside; but instead of allowing this to remain still a matter of choice in the conducting of each successive meeting or assembly, it was claimed as a right that the one originally chosen should hold that position for life.

THUS was that distinction established between the elders, or presbyters, and the bishops. Those who usurped this permanent authority and office took to themselves exclusively the title of “bishop,” and all the others were still to retain the title of “presbyter.” The presbyters in turn assumed over the deacons a supremacy and authority which did not belong to them, and all together—bishops, presbyters, and deacons—held themselves to be superior orders in the church over the general membership, and assumed to themselves the title of “clergy,” while upon the general membership the term “laity” was conferred.

IN support of these three orders among the “clergy,” it was claimed that they came in proper succession from the high priests, the priests, and the Levites of the Levitical law. “Accordingly, the bishops considered themselves as invested with a rank and character similar to those of the high priest among the Jews, while the presbyters represented the priests, and the deacons the Levites.” [63]

THESE distinctions were established as early as the middle of the second century. This led to a further and most wicked invention. As they were now priests and Levites after the order of the priesthood of the former dispensation, it was necessary that they also should have a sacrifice to offer. Accordingly, the Lord’s supper was turned into “the unbloody sacrifice.” Thus arose that which is still in the Roman Catholic Church the daily “sacrifice” of the mass discussed in these columns three weeks ago. With this also came a splendor in dress, copied from that of the former real priesthood.

THE estimate in which the bishop was now held may be gathered from the following words of a document of the second century:—

It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord himself. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honors the bishop has been honored of God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does (in reality) serve the devil. [64]

The next step was that certain bishops asserted authority over other bishops; and the plea upon which this was claimed as a right, was that the bishops of those churches which had been established by the apostles were of right to be considered as superior to all others. As Rome was the capital of the empire, and as the church there claimed direct descent not only from one but from two apostles, it soon came to pass that the Church of Rome claimed to be the source of true doctrine, and the bishop of that church to be supreme over all other bishops. In the latter part of the second century, during the episcopate of Eleutherius, A.D. 176-192, the absolute authority of the Church of Rome in matters of doctrine was plainly asserted in the following words:—

It is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the church,—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vain-glory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings (we do this, I say); by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also (by pointing out) the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the succession of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church, on account of its preëminent authority…. Since, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the church; since the apostles, like a rich man depositing his money in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth, so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. [65]

When this unwarranted authority was asserted during the bishopric of Eleutherius, it is not at all strange that his immediate successor, Victor, A.D. 192 to 202, should attempt to carry into practice the authority thus claimed for him. The occasion of it was the question of the celebration of what is now Easter, as already related last week. This action of Victor is pronounced by Bower “the first essay of papal usurpation.” Thus early did Rome not only claim supremacy, but attempt to enforce her claim of supremacy, over all other churches. Such was the arrogance of the bishops of Rome at the beginning of the third century.

THE character of the bishopric, in A.D. 250, is clearly seen by the words of Cyprian:—

Not a few bishops who ought to furnish both exhortation and example to others, despising their divine charge, became agents in secular business, forsook their throne, deserted their people, wandered about over foreign provinces, hunted the markets for gainful merchandise, while brethren were starving in the church. They sought to possess money in hoards, they seized estates by crafty deceits, they increased their gains by multiplying usuries. [66]

As the bishopric became more exalted, and arrogated to itself more authority, the office became an object of unworthy ambition and unholy aspiration. Arrogance characterized those who were in power, and envy those who were not. And whenever a vacancy occurred, unseemly and wholly unchristian strife arose among rival presbyters for the vacant seat. “The deacons, beholding the presbyters thus deserting their functions, boldly invaded their rights and privileges; and the effects of a corrupt ambition were spread through every rank of the sacred order.” [67]

These rivalries caused divisions and discussions which gave opportunity for the further assertion of the dignity and authority of the bishopric. Cyprian, “the representative of the episcopal system” as Neander relates, declared that—

The church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the church is controlled by these same rulers…. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the church, and the church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the church. [68]

He insisted that God made the bishops and the bishops made the deacons, and argued thus:—

But if we [bishops] may dare anything against God who makes bishops, deacons may also dare against us by whom they are made. [69]

Not long afterward, there arose another subject of controversy, which caused much contention with far-reaching consequences. As the bishops arrogated to themselves more and more authority, both in discipline and doctrine, “heretics” increased, Whosoever might disagree with the bishop, was at once branded as a heretic, and was cut off from his communion, as Diotrephes had counted as a heretic even the apostle John. Upon this point, Cyprian, the representative of the episcopal system, further declared:—

Neither have heresies arisen, nor have schisms originated, from any other source than from this, that God’s priest is not obeyed; nor do they consider that there is one person for the time priest in the church, and for the time judge in the stead of Christ; whom if, according to divine teaching, the whole fraternity should obey, no one would stir up anything against the college of priests; no one, after the divine judgment, after the suffrage of the people, after the consent of the co-bishops, would make himself a judge, not now of the bishop, but of God. No one would rend the church by a division of the unity of Christ. [70]

He therefore argued that if any person was outside of this system of episcopal unity, and was not obedient to the bishop, this was all the evidence necessary to demonstrate that he was a heretic. Consequently he declared that no one ought “even to be inquisitive as to what” any one “teaches, so long as he teaches out of the pale of unity.” In this way the truth itself could be made heresy.

Of the condition of the bishopric in 302, when the Diocletian persecution began, Eusebius says: “They were sunk in negligence and sloth, one envying and reviling another in different ways, and were almost on the point of taking up arms against each other, and were assailing each other with words as with darts and spears, prelates inveighing against prelates, and people rising up against people, and hypocrisy and dissimulation had arisen to the greatest height of malignity.” Also [211] some who appeared to be pastors were inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, only accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalry, hostility, and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves.

The scripture was fulfilled. There had come a falling away; there was a self-exaltation of the bishopric; and THE TIME WAMS COME WHEN THE MAN OF SIN SHOULD BE REVEALED. [211]

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