LISTEN: The Organization of the Church, Part 1 (The History of Christianity #71 with Daniel Whyte III)

Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

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When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Acts 20:28 which reads: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Clement of Alexandria. He said: “Many women have received power through the grace of God and have performed many deeds of manly valor.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 8) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The Organization of the Church (Part 1)

It is clear that early in the second century there were three distinct positions of leadership in the church: bishop, presbyter — or elder — and deacon. Some historians have claimed that this hierarchy is apostolic in origin; but the extant documents would seem to point in an opposite direction. Although the New Testament does refer to bishops, presbyters, and deacons, these three titles do not appear together, as if they were three clearly defined functions or offices that always existed together. In fact, the New Testament would seem to indicate that the organization of local churches varied from place to place, and that for a certain time the titles of “bishop” and “elder” — or presbyter — were interchangeable. There are also some historians who are inclined to believe that some churches — Rome among them — were not led by a single bishop, but rather by a group of leaders who were sometimes called “bishops” and sometimes “presbyters.”

As has already been explained, the emphasis on the authority of bishops and on apostolic succession was in response to the challenge of heresies in the late second and early third centuries. As the church became increasingly Gentile, the danger of heresies rose, and this in turn led to a greater stress on episcopal authority.

The roles of women in positions of leadership in the early church deserves special attention. It is clear that by the end of the second century the official leadership of the church was entirely masculine. But the matter is not quite as clear in earlier times. Particularly in the New Testament, there are indications that women also had positions of leadership. Philip had four daughters who “prophesied” — that is, who preached. Phoebe was a female deacon in Cenchreae, and Junia was counted among the apostles. What actually seems to have taken place is that during the second century, in its efforts to combat heresy, the church centralized its authority, and a by-product of that process was that women were excluded from positions of leadership. But still in the early years of the second century, Governor Pliny informed Trajan that he had ordered that two Christian female ministers be tortured.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Organization of the Church in Christian Life.

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Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Who this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in twenty-three foreign countries. He is the author of thirty-four books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts, The Prayer Motivator Devotional and the Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report and the Second Coming Watch Update. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, and a Master’s degree in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for twenty-five years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at www.danielwhyte3.com. Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.