By Loren N. Raines
Paul made it clear to the church at Thessalonica that before Christ’s second coming there would come a “falling away first.” History makes it clear that a great apostasy has taken place. We have found that the causes of this apostasy were both external and internal, and that these causes resulted in both a falling away from the church, and a falling away of the church. Every Christian should know something about the course which this great apostasy took.
First, there was a departure in organization. Not many years passed after the church was established until there began to be a distinction between the “clergy” (preachers) and the “laity” (members). Preachers elevated themselves to a pedestal, became men of “the cloth,” and insisted that the “laity” call them “Reverend.” Many preachers today still do the same thing. Prior to that they insisted upon being called “Father,” many still do. They ignore the instruction of Jesus, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Mt. 23:9). Any student of the Bible knows that God makes no such distinction, and that a preacher is no better than any member, unless he does better. We should not overlook the fact that the word “reverend” occurs but once in the Bible, and that it is used of God only (Psa. 111:9). No man is worthy of such a distinction.
About the same time there began to be a distinction made between bishops and presbyters. In the Bible the terms are used interchangeably, referring to the same office. Today we usually speak of them as elders. In each congregation the elder with the most seniority, and perhaps with the greatest leadership ability, took the title of “Bishop.” The other elders were just recognized as elders or presbyters. The bishops extended their authority beyond the local church, assuming authority over lesser congregations, and created a diocese. Later the bishops of the largest cities took the name “metropolitians” and assumed the power of presidency over bishops of more limited jurisdiction. They began to look upon themselves as successors of the apostles, and by the middle of the second century they held almost absolute authority in the church. These bishops took under their jurisdiction all smaller and less influential congregations in a given district.
The next logical step in the development of a super organization was to combine all the districts in each province and to elevate one man, known as archbishop, to become head over the entire province. Then, two or more provinces, perhaps in some cases all of a small nation, were placed under a still more powerful man known as a cardinal. There now remained but one step to make the organization complete.
About the year 606 A.D. one man, known as pom was given complete jurisdiction over the entire religious world. The hierarchy was now complete, with a priest over the local congregation, a bishop over a district, an archbishop over a province, one or more cardinals over a nation, and a pope over the world. Any group of people so well and effectively organized should be able to accomplish much. And they did, but the things they achieved were not authorized by, nor in accord with the Scriptures.
At first the power of the pope was merely religious. But nothing can satiate the thirst for power but more power. The pope began to reach out for power over the state. This insatiable thirst for power soon resulted in the union of church and state. It was not too long until the pope became sufficiently powerful that he could and aid crown and uncrown kings and emperors.
The ultimate in power and arrogance came when the pope was declared infallible, that is, when he spoke ex cathedra, or from his papal throne, his pronouncements could not be questioned. According to this apostate church there was now one head in heaven, Christ; and one head upon earth, the pope. Hence they had a-body with two heads – what a monstrosity!
How different from the simplicity of the gospel plan which provides for each congregation to be under local elders, completely autonomous and independent of every other congregation, being guided only by the New Testament, and taking its orders only from Christ, the real and only Head. Let us take heed. Any departure from the faith, however small, will have a tendency to grow. Let us speak and act only as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11).
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 19, p. 587
October 6, 1983