Course:  Church History (1)

Course Title:  Church History and the Standard of the New Testament

Section One: Departure from the simplicity of the New Testament Church.  

Lesson Four

Lesson Title: The Development of Hierarchy


Text:  3 John 9-10 ‘I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, receives us not.  Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and forbids them that would, and casts them out of the church.’


Introduction:  Worldliness – hierarchical leadership. 

The mystery of iniquity was already working at the time of the Apostles. 

Man taking pre-eminence in the church.

John says Diotrephes wanted pre-eminence in the Church; he would not allow John to preach; he spoke against John; he controls the church by threatening to throw out anyone who receives John.

  • The word pre-eminence (Greek: ‘philoproteuo’ means love to have first place).

Leadership by one who loves to have first place.  Lording it over the flock.

Compare Peter - 1 Peter 5:1-3.


·        New Testament leadership functioned as a body. It was not hierarchical. 

Serving the body in humility and love.



Main Points:

1.      Church government in the New Testament.

How was the church of the New Testament organised?

·        Elders appointed on the basis of experience.  Paul appointed elders (presbyter) in every church on his first missionary journey, Acts 14:23.  Where did the elders come from? The synagogue.  Men of experience who recognised Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.

·        Overseers (episkopos) elders who desire the work.  Chosen on the basis of a good reputation and ability to teach. 1 Timothy 3:1ff.  if anyone desire...’ (volunteers who are chosen).

·        Deacons (diakonos) must be examined and chosen on basis of character, 1 Timothy 3:10.  The office is the means to ‘purchase a good degree’, 1 Timothy 3:13.

·        Supervisory role -Titus was to appoint elders in every city, Titus 1:5.  This does not mean that Titus was above the elders in rank.

·        Ministry gifts – Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher (Ephesians 4:11).

Purpose of the ministry gifts – to build up the body of Christ.

See also Romans 12.



2.   The development of a threefold leadership.

Development of hierarchy - Bishop, Elder and Deacon.  Separation of the clergy from the laity.

·        Rise of the importance of the Bishop.

Hierarchy in leadership is seen in 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius.  Neither can be positively identified as authentic.


Clement of Rome (c.30-100). 

1 Clement 44:1 Our Apostles, too, by the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ, knew that strife would arise concerning the dignity of a bishop;


Ignatius: Bishop of Antioch (c.50-117). Wrote seven letters on his way to Rome to be Martyred. He wrote about the role of deacon, elder, bishop - overall leader.

Epistle to the Smyrnaeans

‘Follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father; and follow the presbytery as the Apostles.  Moreover, reverence the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no man do aught pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop.  Let that Eucharist be considered valid which is under the bishop or him to whom he commits it....’ (VIII. 1.) ‘He that honours the bishop is honoured of God.  He that does anything without the knowledge of the bishop serves the Devil.’ (IX. 1.)


  • Ignatius associated the position of the Bishop with the validity of the Eucharist. 

The rise of hierarchy led to the leaders of the Church being seen as priests. 

Threefold leadership - Bishop, Priest, Deacon.  

Leadership develops into a hierarchy of priesthood based on the Old Testament. 

Offering a sacrifice in contrast to teaching ministry. 

A sacrificing priesthood – emphasis on the sacraments. 

A teaching ministry – emphasis on the Word of God.



3.   Rise of the papacy.

The importance of the Bishop of Rome develops through the importance of the city, and the claim of descendancy through Apostle Peter.  Apostle Paul also died in Rome.

Importance of the city determined the importance of the Bishop.  Principal regions Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage, Rome.  Bishop of Rome became more politically prominent after Constantine made Constantinople the capital of the empire.


a)  Leadership built on the teaching of Apostolic Succession.

Apostolic Succession of ordination.

First Bishop of Rome – Peter. The rock upon whom the church is built. 

Bishop of Rome successor of Peter and head of the church.


The claim that the true Church had received its ministerial commission through Apostolic succession was used as early as the second and third centuries when careful attention was given to establishing the line of continuity from bishop to bishop in the churches.


·        Irenaeus (c.120/140-200/203) claimed that ‘in the various churches a perpetual succession of Bishops was kept up’. ( Irenaeus Against Heresies Book III. Preface.) Irenaeus held that Apostolic succession provided the evidence that the faith of the sub-Apostolic Church was the same faith that the Apostles had held.   He wrote: by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.’  Irenaeus described the Church as ‘ founded and built up’ by the Apostles, and that the succession of the episcopate in sub-Apostolic times was first ‘committed into the hands of Linus'.  ( Irenaeus Against Heresies Book III. Par..3.)


·        The tract of Tertullian (c.155/160-220) entitled de Praescriptione Haereticorum  maintained that the episcopal offices in the Church could show their succession to the Apostles.  He upheld Apostolic succession as the standard for determining the true Church from heretical sects, and he denied the authenticity of the sects on the basis that their bishops were not consecrated in the line of continuity from the Apostles.  He believed that every Church could ‘point out the individual to whom the superintendence of its doctrine and discipline was first committed by some one of the apostles’.   He wrote, ‘Let them show the origin of their churches; let them trace the succession of their bishops, and thus connect the individual who first held the office, either with some apostle, or some apostolic man who always remained in communion with the Church.  It is thus that the apostolic churches show their origin.’


·         Augustine of Hippo (354–430) wrote that it is impossible for a bishop who has been legitimately consecrated to lose ‘his consecration or the power of conferring others’.  This was the view that was predominantly upheld by the Roman Catholic Church.  This goes against the teaching of Paul in 1 Timothy 3.  A person who leads the Church must be able to teach and lead by example.



            b)  Supremacy of the Bishop of Rome



Constantine (272 – 337) embraces Christianity.

Constantine takes Rome – The Battle at the Milvian Bridge, October 28, 312.


‘In this sign conquer’

Eusebius writes the story in in his later book ‘Life of Constantine’.

The story is not mentioned by Eusebius in his earlier ‘Ecclesiastical History’. 

Before the The Battle at the Milvian Bridge, October 28, 312,  Constantine saw a cross of light above the sun and written in Greek the words "Εν Τούτ Νίκα" (in this conquer). 

In Latin the words are ‘in hoc signo vinces’. 

The night after the Lord told Constantine in a dream to use the sign of the cross in fighting his enemies.  Eusebius describes the cross of Constantine as the Chi Rho sign.  Chi Rho are the first two Greek letters of the name Christos.


Edict of Milan 313. 

Christianity is given the status of a legal religion.


Constantine calls Church Councils;

Arles 314 (Donatists), and

Nicaea 325 (Arians)


Constantine moves the capital from Rome to Constantinople (330).

Power void in Rome by absence of Emperor.


Christianity made state religion by Theodosius in 380

Council of Constantinople 381, Emperor Theodosius makes Bishop of Rome head patriarch.

Hierarchy of church resembles hierarchy of Rome.  Roman Christianity resembles pagan religion.   Institution of seven sacraments performed only by ordained priests.

Damasus (366 -384) claims primacy of Bishop of Rome due to Apostolic Succession from Peter.

Ambrose of Milan (c.337-397)upheld teaching that church authority above authority of State.

Leo 1 (440 – 461) recognised as first pope, spiritual and civil leader.

Pope Gregory 1 (540-604).  Sends Augustine to Britain. Introduced the Gregorian chant.


Donation of Constantine (written about 750)

False document to uphold Pope’s claim of temporal authority

Constantine grants secular authority over Western Europe to Pope Sylvester 1 

Charlemagne crowned by Leo III as emperor of the Western Empire on Christmas Day 800.


The False Decretals

In the mid 9th century a collection of letters belonging to Isidore, a Spanish bishop

who died in the 7th century, were produced.

The letters consisted of church law and the pope’s letters. But also some letters

claiming to have been written by Bishops of Rome from Apostolic times.

The letters claimed that the pope had been appointed by the Lord to be head of the

Church, to govern according to his own will, and the pope had always used this

delegated power.

The collection of letters are called the ‘False Decretals’.

The letters were held to have been authentic and increased the power of the Pope.



Became Gregory VII (c.1020/1025-1085)

1. Increased power of the papacy

2. Introduced celibacy as a requirement of priesthood.

3. Investiture controversy – appointment of church officials.

Pope Gregory VII’s Dictatus Papae (1075) claimed that only the Pope as head of

the Church could appoint Church officials.


Gregory VII (c.1020/1025-1085)

Henry IV wrote to Pope Gregory VII taking away his protection.

Pope Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV.

Henry IV backed down.

1077 Henry IV walked to Canossa

in Northern Italy.

Henry IV stood as a penitent before

the Pope.

Wore a hairshirt

Stood in the snow barefooted.

Pope lifted the excommunication.


The fact that the Pope was able to humiliate a King in this fashion elevated papal

authority in the minds of the people.





  1. New Testament leadership consisted of elders who were overseers and deacons.  Leaders were to clothed with humility serving the body.  The fivefold ministries of the church functioned through this leadership.
  2. The development of a hierarchical leadership happened soon after the Apostolic era.  Ignatius promoted a three tier form of leadership with pre-eminence of the Bishop over the elders and deacons.
  3. Leadership became associated with a sacrificing priesthood; Bishop, priest and deacon.  The doctrine of Apostolic Succession lifted up the office of the Bishop. 





Ignatius – Epistle to the Smyrnaeans

8:1  [But] shun divisions, as the beginning of evils. Do ye all follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God's commandment. Let no man do aught of things pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop. Let that be held a valid eucharist which is under the bishop or one to whom he shall have committed it.

 8:2  Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal Church. It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve, this is well-pleasing also to God; that everything which ye do may be sure and valid.

9:1  It is reasonable henceforth that we wake to soberness, while we have [still] time to repent and turn to God. It is good to recognise God and the bishop. He that honoureth the bishop is houroured of

God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil.

 9:2  May all things therefore abound unto you in grace, for ye are worthy. Ye refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ shall refresh you. In my absence and in my presence ye cherished me. May God

recompense you; for whose sake if ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him.


Irenaeus Against Heresies Book III. Par.3


3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.