The Church Ages - Ephesus, The First Age, 33 AD-170 AD

 

The early church was born supernaturally, with no man elevated between the believers in the upper room and God. The Holy Spirit came down directly into each of the individuals and filled the whole house as tongues of supernatural fire appeared on their heads. Thus the New Testament church was born in a house.

ACTS 2:1   And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

:2     And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

:3     And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

:4     And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Drawing4

The seven branched candlestick represented the seven church ages that would occupy 2 000 years of human history. The first church age of Ephesus was launched on the day of Pentecost when God ignited the central candlestick. This first church was the church at its best. This is the only guaranteed example of what a true church should look like, and the beliefs of the New Testament should be central to all our Christian thinking. Anything different to the New Testament beliefs means that we are deviating either to the left or to the right. Deviation is not a good space to be in. The first four letters of deviation are also the first four letters found in the word devil. Satan is the author of any movement away from the written Word.

Let us follow the example of that superb child king Josiah.

II CHRONICLES 34:1   Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years.

:2   And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left.

What God did to the first church on the day of Pentecost, He also did when He anointed Solomon’s temple in the same way with a supernatural fire that consumed the sacrifices.

II CHRONICLES 7: 1   Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house.

:2     And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD'S house.

But the Jews had an Aaronic priesthood of elevated human leaders above the congregation. The people could only worship God by having the priesthood between them and God. As time went on this elevated priesthood that stood between the people and God failed miserably. Anything that depends on humans will fail. God finally tore up the Temple veil during the crucifixion signifying the end of the Temple worship and its failed priesthood in AD 33. But those self-centred priests desperately continued to cling to their tithes and their power over the people, which was their only interest in life. They continued to dominate the Jews, successfully fooling them as they carried on with a form of godliness that no longer had any reality, until God destroyed the Temple in AD 70, together with the self-seeking priests who had maintained their empty farce of uninspired religious leadership down the wrong path when God had turned a corner.

The New Testament church was to be different.

There must be no human leaders between the people and God.

God then ordained all Christian believers to be priests as they carried the Gospel to a sinful world, spread out in space in all directions, but looking back in time to its apostolic founders. As sinners repented, so they also joined the priesthood. Thus no Christian was ever standing between God and another Christian.  “See how these Christians love one another” was the typical pagan comment. A Christian can stand between God and the unsaved, pointing them to their Saviour. But when the sinners have repented, they are equal to other Christians as members of the royal priesthood.

I PETER 2:9   But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.

Brotherhood is based on equality. We can all learn from each other. No one is better than another.

I PETER 2:17   Honour all men. Love the brotherhood.

I PETER 5:5   Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

We submit to each other by acknowledging the Scripture that anyone refers to. We do not try to prove that we are right, we simply establish that we are Scriptural. If you have a better gift or ability than others, God gave that to you. So it does not make you better than them. You are just better off because of what God has given you. Whatever gift God has given you, He expects you to use it by serving others, and not dominating others. Equally, when anyone else points out a Scripture that is different to what we do or believe, we immediately submit to the Scripture, irrespective of who pointed it out.

Two vines were growing in the Christian church right from the beginning.

One vine was the Christians who felt that they had to develop their own relationship with Jesus and believe the Bible and not have their thoughts controlled by what other people say. This freedom to worship God according to what was written in the Bible and according to the conscience of the individual was a flame that could not be organized. It flared up in different places, and if it died down somewhere it would flare up somewhere else. Often, like the 7 000 who secretly worshiped God in the days of Elijah, it was hidden from public view. Endless persecutions forced Christians to keep a discreetly low profile. But whatever the circumstances, there were always people that God raised up who desired to obey only what was written in Scripture. These were usually an unnoticed, humble group who desired in quietness to serve God and do good works as they took the Sermon on the Mount to be their rule for living.

No authority of any man, however eminent, was allowed to set aside the authority of Scripture.

This vine continues to this day. They may fellowship in a church, but they do not "belong" to that church as they belong to Jesus and seek only to obey His Bible, even though this may make them unpopular and unwanted. They need the freedom to think for themselves, and be convinced that an idea is Scriptural. Then they believe the idea because the Bible says so, not because some man says so. They feel very uncomfortable having a man stand between them and God, especially since all men have their flaws.  No bride wants some man standing between her and her husband. No bride wants to be in submission to what any man says, but rather to what her husband says. In the same way God's bride are subject to the Lord Jesus Christ.

ROMANS 3:12   They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

JEREMIAH 17:5   Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

When Christians trust their leaders, they take their  eyes off God. Then we think we serve God, but we are actually cursed. The great curse of the last church age, our present age, is when we end up in the great Tribulation. Then we will realize that we are truly cursed.

 

Then another false vine started which would became the dominant church. The leaders of this humanly organized church fed their interpretations of the Bible and their clever human opinions to the people. This false vine consists of people who want to look up to some holy man, and have him tell them what to believe. Satan would endlessly try to use leaders to dominate people, and tell them to believe something that deviated from the New Testament. Their security lay in belonging to the church, rather than in belonging to Christ. Today there are more than 45 000 different church organizations or denominations, all claiming to be right, but all described as blind. The Roman Catholic church is easily recognized as the oldest and biggest of these centralized organizations. It boasts the longest line of absolute rulers in the world. The people have to submit to their infallible human leader, now called the Pope, even if he disagrees with what previous Popes said.

Both vines were impressive in terms of the practical acts of charity that Christians performed. This charity was a potent weapon in making Christianity successful. They cared for orphans, widows, and the poor and needy. Their social actions were seen in times of calamity like famine, earthquake, plagues, and war. They were generous in giving their money, goods, or time.

Once the apostles had established the early church, and the New Testament was written, the apostles left the scene. They had tried to establish churches that were ruled by groups of elders that held to what the apostles had said, and written in the New Testament. All saved Christians were priests,  and in this equality of brotherhood  there was no elevated Aaronic priesthood of special men.  Like John the Baptist, the preachers pointed the people to Christ and the written Word, not to themselves.

JOHN 1:35   Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;

:36   And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!

:37   And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus

If a great man of God speaks, you have not heard him speak just because you listened to his words. You have only heard him speak when you follow Jesus through the pages of the written Bible.

But where there is light, there are also shadows. The Devil has endlessly labored to elevate a human priesthood of the five-fold ministries between the people and God. According to Satan, there must be someone between you and the Word. These ministries, once they succeeded to become accepted as the head of each church, gradually led the people away from what was written in the Scripture. When the Christians stopped being Scripturally vigilant, and relaxed their guard, the weeds of human opinion and human domination were sown amongst the seeds of God’s Word. It is much easier to agree with a dominating personality who is the church leader, rather than trying to oppose him. When you agree with him, he makes you feel very popular. When you disagree with him, he makes you feel very unwanted. So he rules us by emotions and our longing to belong to a church, not by Scripture.

Pagan religions usually had a professional priesthood.

Alexander the Great, by his amazing achievements, was readily worshiped as god in the east, and won a reluctant godhood from the West. The east, where Cain went, worshiped their rulers as gods. This was not a habit in the west. Alexander was the first western man to go east from Greece and get accepted in Egypt as the "son of  god". Their god was Amun Ra,  because of his incredible military successes. He conquered Persia, went to Afghanistan, and by his sheer brutality and mass extermination of men, women, and children, plus his genius in marrying the daughter of a powerful Afghan warlord, he became the only man to ever conquer and pacify Afghanistan. He then proclaimed himself as "god", even to his western followers. Though western Greeks were forced to worship him, he never returned to the west. Within four years of declaring his godhood, he was dead in mysterious circumstances in Babylon. Jesus, who was both God and the Son of God, only had a ministry of three and a half years. So Alexander’s claim to be god, because he was the most famous of western conquerors and wanted the people back in Greece to worship him as god, limited him to less than four years of life. You cannot be greater than Jesus Christ. No man should ever be compared to Jesus, as it will cost that man his life. God wants no human competition. We humans are simply too insignificant to compete in that League.

Four of Alexander's generals  took over his mantle, but could not conquer the west, although they also claimed their godhood as Alexander’s successors. This idea of a deified king in the west tended to fade after the four generals died, except for the city of Pergamos. When Cyrus conquered Babylon the pagan priesthood of Babylon had fled to Pergamos under their high priest or Pontiff whose name was Attalus. After Alexander’s death, his general Lysimachus ruled Pergamos, and claimed to be a god like Alexander. The kingdom of Pergamos flourished. When Lysimachus was killed, the Babylonian high priest of Pergamos became the king, and also claimed to be god, like Lysimachus did, and the Attalid line of deified kings was established. These human god-kings only had local acceptance.

Unlike Alexander they performed no great exploits to attract wide spread attention. The Greeks were brilliant and eloquent in defense of error, with their cunning philosophy and clever interpretations. Their clever thinking polished up and spread the mysteries of Babylon, and then these mysteries and their idea that their human leader was god, were handed over to Rome in 133 BC when the last god-king of Pergamos,  Attalus III, died.  The Babylonian mysteries had great status among the pagans, but were rather unnoticed in Rome because no high priest or Pontiff ever won any fame. Then Julius Caesar borrowed heavily to bribe his way into being elected high priest or Pontiff of the Babylonian mysteries in 63 BC in Rome. The impressive robes of the Pontiff, and the elaborate Babylonian ceremonies, gave the high priesthood great status amongst the heathen. Under the fame of Julius Caesar, that most famous of the Roman rulers, the eastern Babylonian mysteries gained prominence and authority. The city of Pergamos deified Caesar in 29 BC, shortly after his death. Julius Caesar thus became the first man in Rome to be worshiped as god. His initials, J C, are the same as those for Jesus Christ. Caesar adopted his sister's grandson Augustus to succeed him. The emperor  Augustus was worshipped as god in Pergamos while he was still alive. The cult of emperor worship, since he was the Pontiff of the Babylonian mysteries, swept through the empire as a means of uniting all the different nations.  By 400 AD, the bishop of Rome had taken over this title of Pontiff, which made the Pope the high priest of the Babylonian mysteries. The mysteries of Babylon thus officially entered the Roman Catholic church, to turn her into Mystery Babylon. The Roman Catholic church now had a professional priesthood that was elevated above the congregation, just like the pagans.

Satan inspired the Roman Catholic church to ordain priests above the people, thus taking the Roman Catholic church back to the Old Testament Aaronic priesthood.  They then modified the system to have bishops above the priests.

The structure of the Roman Catholic church generally followed the Roman Empire imperial practice, with one bishop ruling each city and its surrounding territory. The bishop of the provincial capital, the metropolitan, enjoyed certain rights over other bishops in the province. Metropolitans became archbishops who ruled the bishops of a province. Around 700 AD Cardinals appeared in the hierarchy above the archbishops.

Thus was built up an elaborate church hierarchy based on the dictatorship of the Pope who had supreme power over the centralized organization. The growth of this colossal organization did not have a pre-planned blueprint, but proceeded in unexpected bursts as the church reacted to unforeseen events, and the papacy fell alternately into highly capable hands, who pushed for domination over all Christians, and very incapable hands who often hindered or reversed this progress.

This centralized church organization of the Roman Catholics, that had such impressive abilities to survive the chaos of the disintegrating Roman empire, was imitated amongst the non-Catholic churches with an elevated five fold ministry  to stand between the Christians and God. Efficiency required one man to be the head of this five fold ministry, and so “pastor”, only mentioned once in the New Testament, was sufficiently vague as a ministry to slip through unchallenged as head of each church. Then bishops rose above pastors in the cities. Then archbishops and patriarchs later appeared as these religious organizations grew. Instead of the church being run as a democracy of elders, it submitted to centralized one-man authority. Freedom in the Spirit gave way to rigidity.

God chose the Jews to be separate from other nations so that they would be uncorrupted by heathen influences. The Jews were called to be the people of the Book. No other ancient religion was strictly bound to one Holy Book. Those Christians who stayed strictly with the New Testament, and developed no church hierarchy, were usually unnoticed. The growing ranks of organized religion took the lime light and the attention of historians.

For certain Gentiles, the main attraction of the Jewish faith was their belief in monotheism, one God. For other Gentiles the main attraction of the pagan beliefs was their various trinities. So issues surrounding the nature of the Godhead would rip the churches apart, as it still does today.

The Jews were not chosen because they had any merit. This choice was the will of God. And we humans do not have the brain power to understand God’s will. The mistake of the early church was to not remain submissive to the will of God. They could not trust themselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They wanted a human leader to tell them what to do.

The true vine regarded the revealed will of God as a matter that required the most intense seriousness. The Bible became their spiritual compass, which guided them in the direction that they should go. The course of history would be shaped by the Bible’s divine doctrines, and the cunning and ruthless attempts of the Devil to oppose the spread of the written Word in the turbulent centuries that lay ahead.

The early church was a close-knit body that practiced property-sharing, and distributed money in accordance with individual needs. Clothes were often worn until threadbare. Extra clothes that were owned by people were dished out to those in need. Goods were shared. Their lives were frugal. Christ had not only broken down the barriers between sinful man and God, but also the barriers between one man and another.

Christians had to face adversity and persecution. But oppression only strengthened their faith. Persecution scattered them, and extended the boundaries of the church. An initial flood of missionary activity characterized early Christianity, as it was a faith that men and women were willing to die for.

Early Christianity was not for sissies. No one would dare join them unless called by God. Their standards were too high. Their challenges were too great.

ACTS 5:13   And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.

These were not comfortable churches where people were complacently self-satisfied.

The expansion of Christianity seemed to be an extraordinary chain of improbabilities and strange co-incidences that were far removed from human  expectations. God was working out His own will, which did not depend on any human organization. Forgiveness of sin by repentance, and public association with a Saviour through water baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, attracted people who in difficult and dangerous times were tired of living, and scared of dying. The ideal of a sinless life and high moral standards enabled them to live by their consciences in their pursuit of God. This gave them inner peace.

Baptism was a public act that separated Christians from the world.

ACTS 2:38   Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

:39   For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Peter had the only key that could loose us from our sins so that we can enter Heaven. That key was the doctrine of repentance. Repent to get rid of sin, and then get baptized in water so that you know the human Name of God. The Jehovah of the Old Testament, with His numerous other Names that indicated His various spiritual attributes, had now become a Man, and we only needed to know Him by His human Name,  Jesus Christ.

MATTHEW 16:19   And I (Jesus) will give unto thee (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Peter loosed us from our sins by opening a door to Heaven for the Bride,  that we can only go through if we repent and get baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ. In the process he locked the door to Heaven that John the Baptist had opened with his baptism of repentance. John baptized before he knew the Name of the Saviour.

Baptism was symbolic of death, burial, and resurrection. This had not yet happened to Jesus while John was alive.

ROMANS 6:3   Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

:4     Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

:5     For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

Thus Peter turned the key, and closed off or bound John’s baptism that no longer worked, as it had been a temporary measure.

It was crucial to understand this point when the first church age doctrines were being established by Paul, who was the most effective apostle towards the Gentiles.

So Paul, as the messenger towards the foundation Ephesian church age, confirmed what Peter had done, by also binding John’s baptism and loosing Peter’s baptism.

ACTS 19:1   And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,

2:     He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.

:3     And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.

:4     Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.

:5     When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

These disciples in Ephesus had been baptized by John's baptism. Paul basically said to them, “If you have not been baptized like Peter baptized ‘in the Name of Jesus Christ’, then your baptism is not valid, and you must get re-baptized properly”. This is part of the doctrine of the apostles that we must be restored back to.

COLOSSIANS 3:17   And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Baptism is a deed of submerging someone under the water, and the words of Peter are spoken over the person who is being baptized. So it is essential to baptize in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

But, since repentance and baptism in the Name of Jesus is the key that opens the door to Heaven for the Bride, it is going to be attacked by the Devil. Churches would emerge that do not preach about a heartfelt repentance of sin that leads to a born again experience, where Jesus is accepted as a personal Saviour Who turns the individual away from sin, and then controls the person’s life. Then the human Name of God, Jesus Christ, would be attacked by reducing Jesus to being only the Son of God. Thus the Name of Jesus Christ would be removed from the water baptism. Soon three titles would replace the Name of Jesus in baptism.
MATTHEW 28:18   And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

Jesus is Almighty God 

MATTHEW 28:19   Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

:20   Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Jesus has all power. Twice He says that we have to be taught. So there is a deep mystery here.

Baptize in the Name (singular) of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

If God is three Persons, then the Name of the Father is Jehovah. The Name of the Son is Jesus. The Holy Spirit has no Name in Scripture. Thus we have only two Names for three People. This is not a good fit.  To make it worse, Jesus said we must have only one Name for all three Persons. This is not possible.

"Trinity", "three-in-one",  "of the same essence",  and "of the same substance" are statements we find in Greek philosophy, not in the Bible.

So Peter realized that the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Christ.

COLOSSIANS 2:8   Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

:9   For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

The Father was the Spirit of God that dwelt above the Jews. This Spirit dwelt bodily in Christ, making Him Emmanuel, which is God with us. This physical Man was the Son of God. The Spirit in Him was the Father.

MATTHEW 1:23    Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

God was above the Jews as the Father. Then He was with the Jews as the Son, to pay the price for sin by dying. Then only could the Holy Ghost, that left His Body in death, return into us as repentant sinners and thereby dwell in us.

JOHN 14:17   Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

The Christians made the fatal mistake of saying that Peter in Acts 2: 38 contradicted Jesus in Matthew 28: 19, and therefore they stayed with what Jesus said. But Jesus said they must have one Name in the baptism, not three titles. So the Christians lost the Name of God, because there is no one Name for the three People who comprise their Trinity Godhead. They also reject as a mistake the Heavenly key of repentance and baptism in Jesus Christ's Name that Peter used to open the Door for the first church age Christians. Trying to correct the apostles is a bad situation to be in. We need to be restored back to them.

After all, the Father and the Holy Spirit never died for us. They were never buried -- How do you bury a Spirit?-- and thus never rose from the dead. So baptism has no reference to them as it refers to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

The fulness of God's Spirit was in Christ and left Him when He died. It was the corpse or body of Jesus that had died which was buried. Jesus is the human Name of God. He died like us, as a Man.

ROMANS 6:3   Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

The first Christians were mainly Jews, and thus Christians were classified as Jews at first. In AD 50 Roman emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, and the Christians were expelled with them. This opened the way for an alternative Christian concept of Roman Catholicism to rise up free from any opposition or correction. When the expelled Christians were allowed to return when Claudius died in 54 AD, there were two branches of Christianity. One followed the apostolic teachings of Paul, while the other modified the Gospel to become Roman Catholicism. It was this branch that became pre-eminent in Rome.

ACTS 18:1   After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;

:2   And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.

The emperor Nero began a murderous persecution of Christians between the great fire of Rome in 64 AD and his death in 68 AD. Most of the original apostles were either dead, or had moved beyond the borders of the Roman empire by the time Nero died. During the Neronian nightmare of persecution, in 66 AD Nero ordered the general Vespasian to conquer Jerusalem, where James the apostle had  been killed many years before. The Christians in Jerusalem fled. According to early Christian historians, some went to the nearby town of Pella. The final destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 removed the main Christian church that could be seen as more important than the church in Rome. Thus it became easier for men to rise up and lead the churches into error by slowly moving away from what was written in the Bible.

Persecution united the early Christians. They worshipped in secret for fear of arrest. Publicity was dangerous. The earliest churches were simply private homes that were gradually modified inside if the congregation grew big enough. Only after 312 AD did churches become public buildings that were easy to recognize. This was when the emperor Constantine stopped persecuting the Christians.

CHURCH AGE BOOK     EPHESIAN CHURCH AGE

All you have to do is recall this last move of God in the Spirit……     They …. worshipped in homes or old store buildings. They had reality. But it wasn’t too long a time until they began to get enough money  to build fine new churches. …… They organized a movement and ran it by man.

A Christian movement happily started in private homes. "Church" buildings were never a requirement in New Testament days. Organizing people in a church building leads to one-man human leadership and man-made rules and beliefs. The Devil has always used this very successful tactic, especially in our modern age. He brings in slow gradual changes that are unnoticed by those who are not very alert.

To establish the Ephesian church, which not only represented the first church age, but was also the foundation of all the future church ages, Paul called the elders of Ephesus to the city of Miletus. Miletus was the first city in that region to be laid out on a blueprint with streets in a grid that cross at right angles to each other, like a modern city. So this was the best place for Paul to lay out his blueprint for running the church in the Ephesian age, and all the church ages to follow.

ACTS 20:17   And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

ACTS 20:27   For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

:28     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.

:29   For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

:30   Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Human leadership would be creeping in with men saying, “Follow me” -- One man, as the head of the church, not a group of elders.

From Strong’s Concordance :

“overseer”  in the Greek is episkopos which also means ‘bishop’.

So the elders are the bishops or overseers of the church.

From Strong’s Concordance :

“presbuterion” is the presbytery or the body of elders.

So presbyter, overseer, and bishop are simply alternative words for an elder.

PHILIPPIANS 1:1   Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

There were many bishops in the city of  Philippi. These men were the elders or overseers of the church there.

Peter confirmed that a group of elders should feed the flock. Peter calls himself an elder, rather than an apostle. He did not stress a superior rank or ministry. He focused on the equality of the leadership, not on the elevation of one man above the others, which is what the Roman Catholic church would do by putting a priest as head of the church, and then a bishop as head of the priests. This is nicolaitanism -- the elevation of a holy man above the people.

I PETER 5:1   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:

:2     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;

Peter does not say that the tithes belong to the pastor.

Look at the ministries that Paul said should run the church.

I CORINTHIANS 12:28   And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

Only three ministries are mentioned.  The apostles established the truth, and are the most important ministry. Before they died, their teachings were written as the New Testament. By reading the New Testament, we are actually consulting the apostles.

God speaks directly to a prophet, but the prophet comes second because if he speaks on doctrine, the prophet can only bring us back to what the apostles wrote in the Bible. He has to agree with Scripture.

Teachers come third. The teacher gets the revelation or picture from the prophet, and then has to prove this revelation from the Bible, which the apostles wrote. Neither the prophet, nor the teacher, can disagree with what the apostles wrote. Note: Paul does not even mention pastors here.

ACTS 15:6   And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

This method should always have been continued. We still have what the apostles wrote down in the New Testament. So if today the elders of a local church consult the New Testament that the apostles wrote, then they are still consulting the apostles.

Nowhere in the New Testament was a pastor ever called the head of the church.

The word pastor is only mentioned once in the New Testament as part of the five ministries. Thus there is no Scriptural authority for a pastor to dominate a church. A pastor is simply part of a team of different types of preachers, that are part of the group of elders who oversee the church.

I TIMOTHY 5:17   Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

Thus not all elders are preachers. But all elders are equal to each other. Peter, an apostle, called himself an elder when speaking to the elders. An elder, who is not part of the five fold ministry, can still offer wise advice to the congregation.

I TIMOTHY 4:13    Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.

Here it seems that exhortation can be separated from doctrine, and thus may, for example, be just a word of encouragement or advice. Any elder can do this, even if he is not a preacher.

After the apostles died, God wanted groups of elders to oversee each local church and keep each church faithful to the doctrines of the apostles. But slowly the word “bishop” began to be mentioned more and more as the head of the church.

Historians say that within two generations after the apostles died, in a manner that is shrouded in secrecy, the bishop somehow emerged as the head of the church. All pagan temples had one man, a priest, as the head of the congregation. Christians slowly began to follow this pagan example. Antioch was a city whose church history was held in high regard. Ignatius of Antioch, who died sometime before 117 AD,  claimed to be bishop of Antioch, and stated that the local bishop of a city was God’s representative on earth and said, “We ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself”.

A bishop being the head of the church in a city was a new idea that captured the imagination of the Christians. This was the way that the majority would go. This was an unscriptural elevation of a man to be the head of the church. Making a man the head of the church was unscriptural, and then comparing him to God was completely wrong. Christians, thinking that this was the best way to combat error, were promoting nicolaitanism which is the elevation of a holy man above the church. Bishops were now classified as above the presbyters or elders. An Aaronic priesthood was beginning to form that stood between the congregation and God. The church was too relaxed to take this error seriously and stamp it out. Christians became careless about keeping the details of their faith strictly in line with what the apostles taught. This stress on human leadership entered slowly, but surely. After a while, having forgotten what the apostles had said, (or being too relaxed to research the truth from Scripture) the churches submitted  to having a man as head of the church. Just like it is today.

Choosing a bishop could be difficult at times for a local church. Fabian of Rome was elected because a dove landed on his head. The church assumed this was the choice of the Holy Spirit.

But by the time the first church age ended around 170 AD it was common to have a bishop as head of the church in a city. Presbyters were then regarded as an inferior rank to the bishop. Elders were losing importance. Rank and titles were taking over the leadership of the church.

The church began to see itself as a world wide organization like the Roman empire was.

The church allowed its environment to determine its line of growth. It became a practical organization  for social duties. An organization obeying human rules, not a collection of individuals who loved Jesus, with no bond of union beyond certain practices like baptism, communion and foot washing, and their beliefs in the written Word.

Romans were skilled administrators, and all organization tended to this highly efficient and effective system.

The church became more and more Roman in its practical organizational methods like feeding the poor.

Different areas in different cultures had to be kept the same. So officials were needed to travel between groups to maintain common policy.

By 170 AD every community was ruled by officials who had certain ranks, at whose head was a bishop, and the bishop represented the community. All the communities were part of the same universal or Catholic church (so-called by Ignatius  who was the first to use this word “Catholic”). Councils of bishops were called up and determined and expressed the common views of a number of communities. Slowly the edicts of these councils began to deviate from Scripture.

The bishops were the ruling heads of the different parts, so that the different places would have the same beliefs. The bishops soon became directors of the church as a party struggling against the state.

The officials who maintained communication between the churches became important as the guardians of unity, first in the universal church, and then as heads of their local churches.

They also learned something about that organisation by which Rome ruled the world, and they appreciated the fact that the Church could fulfil its destiny and rule the Roman Empire only by strict organisation and rigid discipline. Without the hand of a vigorous organiser there was extreme danger that "heresy" would triumph.

This was the downfall of human wisdom. Trying to combat heresy or doctrinal error, which would always be around like weeds in a garden, the church introduced a major error -- nicolaitanism or human leadership by a man.

With this process established, and good Christians thinking that a bishop must be in charge of the church, this unscriptural form of church organization set the stage for further doctrinal errors to take over the church. The original light of the apostles was getting dimmer.

Who does the Bible say is the Head of the church?
EPHESIANS 5:22   Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

: 23   For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

: 24   Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

SEVEN CHURCH AGES BOOK CHAPTER 5   PERGAMOS AGE  DOCTRINE OF NICOLAITANES

You will recall that I brought out in the Ephesian Age that the word, Nicolaitane, comes from two Greek words: Nikao which means to conquer, and Lao which means the laity.

Nicolaitane means, "to conquer the laity".

Now why is this such a terrible thing? It is terrible because God has never placed His church in the hands of an elected leadership which moves with political mindedness. He has placed His church in the care of God-ordained, Spirit-filled, Word-living men who lead the people through feeding them the Word.

He has not separated the people into classes so that the masses are led by a holy priesthood.

It is true that the leadership must be holy, but then so must be the whole congregation.

Further, there is no place in the Word where priests or ministers or such mediate between God and the people, nor is there a place where they are separated in their worship of the Lord. God wants all to love and serve Him together.

Nicolaitanism destroys those precepts and instead separates the ministers from the people and makes the leaders overlords instead of servants.

Now this doctrine actually started as a deed in the first age. It appears that the problem lay in two words: 'elders' (presbyters) and 'overseers' (bishops). Though Scripture shows that there are several elders in each church, some began (Ignatius among them) to teach that the idea of a bishop was one of preeminence or authority and control over the elders.

Now the truth of the matter is the word 'elder' signifies who the person is, while the word 'bishop' signifies the office of the same man. The elder is the man. Bishop is the office of the man. 'Elder' always has and always will refer simply to a man's chronological age in the Lord. He is an elder, not because he is elected or ordained, etc., but because he IS OLDER. He is more seasoned, trained, not a novice, reliable because of experience and long standing proof of his Christian experience.

…. But no, the bishops did not stick to the epistles of Paul, but rather they went to Paul's account of the time he called the elders from Ephesus to Miletus in Acts 20. In verse 17 the record states, "elders" were called and then in verse 28 they are called overseers (bishops). And these bishops, (no doubt political minded and anxious for power) insisted that Paul had given the meaning that 'overseers' were more than the local elder with official capacity only in his own church.

To them a bishop was now one with extended authority over many local leaders. Such a concept was neither Scriptural nor historical, yet even a man of the stature of Polycarp leaned toward such organization.

… In organizing they separate themselves from the Word of God, and bring themselves into spiritual adultery.

PERGAMEAN.CHURCH.AGE  -  CHURCH.AGE.BOOK  CPT.5

That is what has happened in every age since. God delivers the people. They come out by the blood, sanctified by the Word, walk through the waters of baptism and get filled with the Spirit; but after awhile the first love cools off and someone gets the idea that they ought to organize in order to preserve themselves and make a name for themselves, and they organize themselves right back in the second generation and sometimes even before then. They no longer have the Spirit of God, just a form of worship. They are dead. They have hybridized themselves with creed and form and there is no life in them.

 

REVELATION 2: 1  Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

Paul is most important as the angel or messenger to the Ephesian church age. But before we get too impressed with this great star, Jesus reminds us that there are six other stars, and all seven of these great men only have their great power and influence because they are held in His right hand of power.

MATTHEW 26: 64   Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

However great a messenger to a church age  is, and they were all very great men, in comparison to Jesus they are just a star in His hand. Thus He is so much greater than any or all of them. The brightest stars fade when the sun rises. The brightest star or messenger fades in the light of the Word of God, which alone is the truth, as Jesus, the Sun of righteousness, arises in the hearts of His people.

MALACHI 4:2   But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

Thus all the messengers can do is point people to the written Word of God, in the same way that John the Baptist pointed two of his disciples towards Jesus.

JOHN 1: 35     Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;

:36     And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!

:37   And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

The only exception was the first messenger Paul, as he had the great responsibility of writing the Word of God. And no one must dare to disagree with Paul.

GALATIANS 1:8    But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

: 9   As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

:10   For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

Paul would never try to please some human leader. It was the Scripture that he wrote or nothing.

Jesus alone is seen walking amongst the candlesticks. No other human being.

Each messenger influences his age. Jesus is there throughout all seven ages. So each messenger or star was to point people to Jesus, because Jesus alone could sustain the Christians throughout each church age.

A messenger is a sign post pointing to the destination.  The destination is Jesus, Who is the written Word.

Your personal experience with Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, and the extent to which you believe and follow the written Bible, determines your spiritual future. It does not depend upon the church you belong to.

PHILIPPIANS 2:12 … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

There is no group salvation of a church. Salvation is a personal issue between you and God. This verse does not speak of people being complacently happy in a church.

ROMANS 14:12   So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Your church may help you or hinder you but it cannot save you. You alone answer to God for your own lifestyle and beliefs. He in turn judges you by His Word, not by some man’s quotes.

JOHN 12:48   He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

Hard work was a feature of the early church.

ACTS 17:10   And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.

:11   These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

They checked everything they heard against the written Word. No error would sneak past this quality of believer. They trusted no man and checked what was said against the Scriptures.

REVELATION 2:2   I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

The church started well. They climbed in with enthusiasm, not counting the cost. They were not scared of hard work and hard circumstances. They labored to spread the Gospel, and were patient when persecution and misfortune undermined their efforts. Thrown to the lions to die a brutal death, they stunned the pagans by their singing of praises to God as they awaited their fate, though their songs were sometimes cut short by their involuntary screams of agony which testified to their humanity. They were ordinary human beings who had found a cause that was worth painfully dying for. The pagans realized that their attachment to their false gods was extremely shallow in comparison. These brave martyrs thus turned many pagans to Christ.

The word labour creates a picture of weariness through oppression. They labored hard to stop the teachings of the apostles from being corrupted. The Bible was their Absolute. But all around them were people obsessed with their own clever opinions that deviated from the written Word. It was a case of choosing to believe the quotes and statements of some uplifted leader, or choosing to just simply stay with the written Word of God.

At first the Christians were very strict. They would only believe what the apostles said. These words formed the New Testament. When the apostles died, the early Christians would only believe what was written in the New Testament. If any leader said anything different to the New Testament, they would simply call him a liar.

Persecution scattered them, but wherever they ended up, they taught what the apostles had written, and so the Word of God spread, and people developed an intense relationship with Jesus which made Him the Head of the church. Early preachers had to be careful. If you said what the apostles said you were well regarded. If you said anything different, you were a liar. There was nothing in between.

For the early Christians Jesus was their main love, and His Word was their Absolute. As a Bride they were in complete submission to their Husband. No one else could tell them what to do. They had a great reverence for every word that was written in the Bible. For the Bible was Jesus, in Word form.

EPHESIANS 5:31   For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

:32     This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

:33     Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

The early church had no desire to follow men. Once you fall in love with Jesus, any other man has little influence on your beliefs. Only the Bible verses stick in your brain.

REVELATION 2:3   And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

In the previous verse they had labored hard to keep the apostolic beliefs of the New Testament. Now they also had to labour hard to keep the Name of Jesus. The Jews of the Old Testament  could not believe that Almighty God could become a Man. Thus the Jews could not believe that Almighty God had come down to live inside a Man, and become manifest in the Man Jesus. Then the reverse problem occurred.  After the apostles died, within one or two generations,  the Gentile Christians were struggling to believe that the Man Jesus could be Almighty God. It was easier for the human mind to see Him as the Son of God. Slowly the idea was gaining ground that, if Jesus was the Son of God, then there had to be another Person in Heaven, who was God the Father. At first this concept was very fuzzy, but it opened the door to human speculations about the nature of God. Slowly these Christians moved away from what was actually written in the Bible. They began to use arguments from Greek philosophy, and introduced the word “triad” which the Greek philosopher Plato had invented. This would slowly evolve into the Word “Trinity”. Unscriptural words were slowly creeping in, which would result in a "Godhead of three Persons" (an unscriptural statement) that could no longer be described by the Name of Jesus.

There were now two vines in the church -- the true vine that held onto the Name of Jesus and only believed the Bible, and the false vine.

CHURCH AGES BOOK      THE EPHESIAN CHURCH AGE

“… And for My Name’s sake has labored”. These believers weren’t laboring for Paul, or for an organization.  They weren’t committed to programs and institutions whereby they built up holdings of value. They worked for the Lord. They were His servants, not pawns of organization.

No representative of an organization can give an honest personal opinion. They can only say what the organization permits them to say, or expects them to say.

Then a false vine was developing that was happy to accept ideas from outside the Bible, and was keen to develop a multi-Person Godhead that was not described by the Name of Jesus.

The war was on. The two seeds had been planted.

REVELATION 2:4   Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

Somewhere down the line the true vine grew careless. They were too relaxed. Vigilance was undermined by success. Things would go well for a while. Persecutions would ease off. And slowly there developed an attitude that there was no need to be strictly Scriptural. Their intense love of the Bible began to slack off. A bit of compromise began to creep in. The pressure to conform to the manners and beliefs of the surrounding society would grow intense. Their first strong love for the Bible was fading. They no longer demanded that a doctrine had to be written in the Bible.

One important idea that was starting to take over was the efficiency of having one man as a church leader, who tells us what to believe, as that makes our lives so much easier. We no longer have to think for ourselves.

It is so much easier to follow a human leader than to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

But the tiny seeds of error that were planted in the first church age would grow up until they became a universal world-wide form of unscriptural "churchianity" (called denominationalism), that would swamp the truth, until in the end hardly anyone would believe that the Bible is infallible. As happened with Eve in Eden, even if one Scripture is not believed, that is sufficient to ruin the church. Try finding a Christian today who believes that every word of the Bible is true. You will have to look hard.

Science claims that the Theory Of Evolution (TOE) is true, so millions of Christians regard the first Chapters of Genesis  as a fable.

Remember the Gentile image in Nebuchadnezzar’s image? The Rock smashed into the feet of the image and broke the TOEs of the image. Try finding a Christian who adds no human opinion to the Bible. They are very scarce. Science claims the theory (or guess) of the Big Bang is true, so we do not need God to create us. The scientific world is desperately trying, although  unsuccessfully, to combine the theories of the four forces of nature into a Theory Of Everything that they call a  TOE. (So it will also be smashed by the coming Rock, which is the Coming of the Lord Jesus.) Thus scientists claim we do not really need God, nor must we take the Bible too seriously. Countless millions fall for this idea. Church preachers endlessly proclaim that various verses in the King James Bible are wrongly translated from the originals. To modern  Christians the Bible has become the “opinions” of the Bible writers. Christians are convinced that the Bible is full of contradictions. The seed of doubt sown in the first church age is now reaping a deadly harvest.

PROVERBS 30:5   Every word of God is pure:

MATTHEW 4:4   But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God

II TIMOTHY 3:16   All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

Every Word needs to be believed and obeyed. God gives us no permission to pick and choose the Scriptures we like. If there is any Bible verse that disagrees with your beliefs, then your beliefs are wrong.

REVELATION 2:5   Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Many in the early church were responding to peer pressure from important people, to conform to human leaders in their cities and towns. Because the people were listening to human leaders instead of the teachings of the apostles, God removed virtually all the apostles, except for John, by the year 70 AD and thus the trend to follow human leaders increased. If we want error, God will give us error. The Jews had also wanted a human leader, a king, and God gave them king Saul, who did them a lot of harm because a king was not God’s perfect will for the Jews.

REVELATION 2:6   But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

"Rome" can also be pronounced "Roam", which means to wander about. When the Jews believed that they could not conquer the promised land, God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

NUMBERS 14:33   And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.

Christians ignore and drift around the difficult Bible verses, wandering around spiritually as they do not know the deeper meanings of so many Scriptures. They tend to regard these Scriptures as mistakes, or else as being unimportant. That is the easy way out, so we do not have to seek for a deeper meaning.

The Bible is full of such mysteries which most Christians cannot answer. Skeptics use these verses to claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. Thus skeptics win the argument against these Christians. Why cannot so many Christians, including 'Message believers', answer these questions? The simple answer is that they have been kept in the dark by their church leaders, who do not know the answers either.

So right at the beginning, church leaders took over, and guided the church down a path that would obscure the truth until it was forgotten.

Nicolaitanism comes from “nikao” which means “to conquer”, and  “laos” which means “the laity”, in other words the congregation.  The conquering of the laity was most effective in Rome.  The Roman Catholic church would grow to be the world’s largest denomination, dominated by a Pope, who rules the church as a supreme dictator. Today, the Pope is the only dictator in Western Europe. But Rome is in Italy. Take the word ITALY  and rearrange the letters -- You get LAITY.  So conquering the laity was at its most effective in Rome, to produce the Roman Catholic church.

REVELATION 2:7   He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

You can see a picture immediately when you look at it. At one glance. But you cannot hear a lesson immediately, as speech requires time before the words are all said. So the Spirit puts the emphasis on the ear, so that we can hear the unfolding of what God wants to tell us about each church age.  80% of our contact with the visible world comes from our eyes, but only 15% comes from our ears. So God gives the Devil the advantage of using our eyes. Satan fools us with the lust of the eyes, the glamour and glitter of the world, and its big and impressive looking churches and luxury lifestyle. The lure of wealth that makes us greedy for gain.

God moves in a humble way by asking us to hear what is written in the Bible. Then we have to wait patiently until God decides to reveal the mysteries of His Word. Truth takes time. Plants grow at their own pace. Fruit has to ripen slowly.

Today Message preachers try to rush future events into the past. But events will unfold in their proper time. All we can do is try hard not to be fooled by this reckless preaching. Running ahead of God's timing is a waste of time.

God speaks to all the churches, plural. Each age should be the same as the first church age, as God has no other blueprint. Each age will be judged in terms of its deviation from the first age. Our church age, Laodicea, is the critical age. God expects us to be fully restored back to the first church age, and to be just like them. Then our church age is going to be viciously cut off by the great Tribulation. Those who are not identical in belief to the New Testament church, are going to learn the harshest of lessons. The holocaust of the Jews during the second World War, when 6 million were killed by the brutal Nazis, was a preview of the Tribulation, as was the vicious destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 when just over a million Jews were killed.

But to the individuals who will combat the growing trend of denominationalism, with its rejection of Bible truth in order to elevate a human leader as head of the church, the future rewards in Paradise far outweigh the rejection and unpleasantness that they encountered on earth. Jesus Christ is the Tree of Life. He alone gives eternal Life. He is the Bible in Human form. So if you want to stay with the Bible on earth, you  can only do that if the Spirit of Christ is in you. Then your portion of the Holy Spirit will take you into paradise, as you will be part of the great Holy Spirit, part of Jesus. If you stood for Him on earth, you will stand with Him in Heaven. There can be no better destination.

But each age has to overcome the error of the age.

The fault with the first age is they began to believe that they did not have to stay strictly with the Bible. They began to think that obedience to the will and opinions of human leaders, who claimed to be serving God, was how God wanted to be served. The idea of loyalty to a church and safety in church membership and church attendance was born. None of these things seem bad in themselves, but what they were doing was taking peoples’ eyes off the Bible  so that Christians no longer quoted Scripture when they defended their church leadership. “The pastor is the head of the church”, “The tithes belong to the pastor”, and “Your pastor will see you through” are all unscriptural statements that we still have with us today. So an unscriptural organization was starting to form which would take people further from the Bible. At first it seemed harmless. So these ideas slipped into the church, under the radar. People were too relaxed to check that the word “pastor” only appeared once in the New Testament, and thus had no Scriptural authority to be the head of the church.

The beliefs that the apostles had died for, were no longer being taken that seriously.

The apostles said Jesus was the Head of the church and that the church should be run by a group of elders. The spiritual watchmen were no longer at their posts to check that these new ideas were not written in the Bible. Vigilance slackened, and people focused on enjoying themselves and prospering in the material world, just like they did at Belshazzar’s feast when they thought they were secure. It was much easier for the church to have one man as a human leader, who could tell them what to believe.

Paul had been stamping on this human love of human leadership right at the beginning. It is a weakness that is built into our human genes.

The group of believers, or church, that met in the house of Chloe complained to Paul about the competitive Christianity of other believers who called themselves Paul’s church, Apollos’ church, Cephas’ church -- as if the church belonged to some man and thus gained pre-eminence if the head man was more important than other head men. Today we still have Luther’s church, Wesley’s church, William Branham’s church, the Message church. Tom's church. Dick's church and Harry's church. Churches are named after their pastor's name. This sad error has survived 2 000 years. It sure is a tough virus, and is very infectious. Hanging onto human leadership at all costs is the downfall of the church.

I CORINTHIANS 1:11   For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

:12     Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

:13   Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Paul was horrified that someone could be baptized in his name. Today this has actually materialized as some people get baptized in the name of William Branham, or Lord Branham Christ. So the errors of the first church age began with one-man human leadership of the local church, and that error has never been effectively stamped out.

There is great danger of over-emphasising one aspect (one man promoted up to efficiently lead the church), and omitting others entirely (what the Bible says about a group of elders running the church).

Over-emphasizing a big church building where a large congregation meets to be guided by one man. It is efficient, but then traps the whole group in error.  But we omit that the early churches met in houses, where no one man could thus dominate a big group, because each house could not contain a very big group. There they could read and discuss the Bible, and live Scriptural lives, free from the domination of an ambitious leader.

So true believers in the first church age had to combat that error of elevated human leadership, which God hates. Today we also have to combat that error, just like they had to. But our problem is more tricky. We not only have to oppose the errors of the first church age, which like snakes could slither in under a small gap in the Scripture that was no longer obeyed, but we have to also combat the errors from six other church ages where bigger gaps of unobeyed Bible verses allowed bigger snakes to slither in.

PHILIPPIANS 2:12   Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

If you are comfortable and complacent in your church, you are missing something. Beware.

LUKE 21:34    And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.

:35   For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.

:36   Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

A snare is a hidden trap. If God does not reveal the errors to us that blind us from seeing the truth of the Bible, then we are in serious trouble.

By listening to human opinion the church proved unfaithful to its trust, and ceased to adhere to the principles with which it started. We make the same mistake today.The city of Ephesus faded away as a port when the silt from the river that flowed into the harbor filled up the harbor, and the sea shore moved away from the city. So, gradually, human leadership and ideas filled up the minds of the people in the early church as they drifted away from the written Bible.The main error of the first age was that a presbyter was called a priest, and he was established as the head of a local church. Then this system was compounded by a bishop being established as the head of the local churches in each city and its surrounding areas.

Thus the stage was set for the next errors that entered during the second church age.

Some people hold the view that the most important cause of the decline of the Roman Empire came during the reign of a basically good Emperor: Marcus Aurelius. Except for his mad compulsion to persecute Christians. It was the Antonine Plague, one of the most devastating plagues in history, that swept through the Empire between 165 AD - 180 AD. This plague came when Rome was at war, so the army was gathered together. It swept through their ranks, removing their numerical superiority. It also created a population problem. Less people in the Empire meant less people to produce food, which led to a decrease in urbanization (because cities need large agricultural production to survive) and less population growth overall. In short: Rome no longer had enough manpower to garrison all of its Empire at the same time.

This laid the seeds for the later collapse of the western Roman Empire when there was neither the money nor the manpower to defend their borders.

Thus in the midst of this great plague we can probably draw a line around 170 AD to indicate where the first church age ended and the second church age started.

Life was tough. This was the consequence of the church moving away from the example of the apostolic church of the New Testament.