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Part 5: Catholic Europe. Lesson 1 of 8
Lesson 26. Church organization

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will see that the historic system in Europe, with bishops and a pope, was created by men, and is not required by the Bible, so that the Protestant Church is not rejecting the Bible by creating other systems of organization

1.Supervision. In the Bible, God provides for leadership in churches.  Please read Paul’s words in Here Paul uses two words for church leader: Titus 1:5 calls them elders, and in verse 7 they are called overseers  (which means supervisors).  These were not two different people, but two ways to describe the function of leadership.  Peter also uses “elder” to name the church leaders, and tells the leader to “shepherd” the flock and to “supervise” them. because of that command to “shepherd,” a church leader today is called a pastor (which means “shepherd.”  1  In the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, he may be called a pastor or a priest. As years went by, these functions became part of a formal system.

2.Bishops. During the early centuries, many people who claimed to be led by the Spirit but said things that were contradictory or against the teaching of the apostles.  A formal system designed to bring authority and order developed to solve the problem of the many differences of opinion.  This system followed the example of the Roman government system, which had supervisors for cities and regions.  Church officials were likewise created for cities and regions.  According to lesson 2, someone who supervised all the churches of a city or region was called a “bishop.” He is responsible to see that the teaching in his area is correct.  Eventually he became the one who authorized people to become the pastors or priests of the local congregations.  This happened quite early, but after the end of the New Testament.  By the year 112, a letter urges believers to follow their bishops. ²  This system³ remains in effect today in the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Church of England, and the Lutheran churches of some European countries.

3.Authority of Bishops.  As mentioned in lesson 3, In order to remove any doubt about the authority of the bishop, a new bishop received the laying on of hands ceremony from an original apostle, and after that only those who had received this ceremony were permitted to give this ceremony to future bishops.    Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the Church of England still believe that a bishop must receive authority in this way to be authentic.  This concept is called “apostolic succession.” 4  Most of the Protestant churches do not use this custom.  They feel it is sufficient to follow the same teachings as the apostles, and not necessary to be in the line of people who have had hands laid on them from the apostles.  The Lutheran churches in northern Europe did receive laying on of hands in this way, but Lutherans in other countries do not follow this custom.

4.Equality of bishops. By the second century, the bishops in five major cities were looked to as leaders above the other bishops.  Four of these cities were in the Middle East, and the fifth city was Rome. 5  These cities were chosen because they were already important cities in the Roman Empire.  In 325 the ecumenical council at Nicea gave authority to these five bishops. The bishop of Rome is called the “pope.”  This word in Italian simply means “father.”  The following section narrates the development and changes in the power of the popes.

5.Claims by Rome. The idea that one church, the church of Rome, should rule over the other churches was developed and promoted over a period of centuries. 6   An important beginning was around 366, when a pope 7  used Jesus’ words to Peter to claim that the bishop of Rome should have more power than the other bishops.  In Matthew 16:19,  Jesus was talking to Peter.  Jesus gave the authority to forgive sins.  The bishop of Rome said that this authority to forgive sins is only given to Peter and to the one who continues to rule in the same city as Peter.   Other churches say that Jesus was giving this power to forgive sins to the entire church.

6.Rome as protector. In 441 the Huns under their leader Attila began to attack the Roman empire.  In 451 Pope Leo I led a delegation from Italy to negotiate with Attila, preventing him from attacking Rome.  Four years later as a Germanic tribe was looting Rome, Leo got them to agree not to kill the people.  Events like this added to the prestige of the pope and symbolized the rising view of the pope as a protector for Europe, since the Roman empire was under attack and finally lost control of Europe in 476.  Leo I continued the claim that the popes had authority over the rest of the church due to Christ’s words to Peter.  In 451 the third ecumenical council accepted many of the ideas of Pope Leo I about how to properly balance the human and divine natures of Jesus, though the council did not agree that Leo had authority over the other bishops.

7.More claims. In 492 a pope 8 claimed the title “vicar (representative) of Christ,” basing it on other words of Peter to Jesus, in John 21:17. where Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. The popes continued to feel that this gave them the authority to take charge of all believers. The prestige of the papacy grew further after 590 through the work of pope Gregory i who was known as a good administrator and moral reformer. Since the Roman government was unable to help, he organized the defense of Rome when enemy tribes threatened to attack, he made sure city services kept running, and that the poor were given relief.   Gregory liked to call himself the “servant of the servants of God.”  Since then, this title has been used by the other popes as well.  It expresses an ideal view of how the leader of the church in Europe should serve.

8.Growth in prestige. In AD 800 a pope 17  claimed to have power over government by placing the crown on the King of the Germans (Charlemagne) and calling him an emperor. As the countries of Europe grew strong again, the rulers used their power to decide who could be bishops in their countries, and sometimes sold those offices as a way to get money.  Many felt that the church was becoming  controlled by the  kings and nobility, and that moral standards were getting lower. The highest point of the pope’s power occurred in 1077 when the pope 18 told the rulers they could not pick their own bishops. He said that just as the soul is more important than the body, so the spiritual authority (pope) is higher than the secular authority. He also did not permit people to become bishops by paying money.

9.Success of the popes. In 1095 a Pope 10 started the first crusade, as explained in lesson 12. A hundred years later, a pope 11 succeeded in bringing all the churches of Europe under his centralized control.  He made all church officials pay taxes to him, and found many additional ways to get money.    At a meeting he called in Rome in 1215, the idea that in holy communion the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Jesus was made official. 12  A common theme of reformers both before and after the time of Luther was to reject this theory.  Many additional rules were adopted at this meeting: people must received communion at least once a year; people must go to a priest for confession and accept the tasks given to them to show their repentance. The university scholar Thomas Aquinas had a high regard for the popes: around 1260 Thomas used the phrase “it is necessary for salvation for all to submit to the pope of Rome.”   This remained Catholic teaching until 1962 (explained in paragraph 18, below).

10.Low point of prestige.   After this time, although the claims of the popes continued to grow, their actual power began to decline, until in recent centuries popes are regarded as having “moral authority,” as the spiritual leaders of the Catholic Church, but no political power.  The prestige of the popes was lessened when they lived in France from 1309 to 1377.  Their reputation was even lower when during the next 40 years there were two competing popes at the same time, and then in 1409 three; these problems were finally resolved in 1418, and again there was only one pope.

11.Renaissance popes. The next series of popes concentrated on the ideals of the Renaissance, a period of European history that rediscovered the way Greeks and Romans had put humans at the center of culture, rather than God.  These popes accumulated money from the churches of Europe to live in an extravagant lifestyle, and built expensive buildings in Rome containing beautiful works of art.  Many artists are known today because of the beautiful pictures they painted for these popes and other officials.  These popes are not noted for good morals. One of them had numerous children before being elected pope in 1492; two years later he called on the Turks, who were Muslim, to help him fight against the French, who were part of the church. 13  The disgust of the people of Europe at the low morals and financial demands of those popes prepared the way for the acceptance of the Reformation.  As a young monk, Luther had taken a trip to Rome, and was saddened by the lack of spirituality there.

12.The church splits again. When Luther began the reformation, the pope at that time 14 could have found a place for reform, like an earlier pope had done. 15  But knowing he had the support of the European emperor and kings, and convinced that everyone must obey the pope, he chose instead to demand that Luther submit to him, and retract his ideas.  Luther said he could not retract unless he was convinced from the Bible, so in 1521 the pope excommunicated Luther.  He thus caused the church to break into its third branch, called the Protestants.

13.Catholic reforms. The Catholic Church then began a reformation of its own. In 1545 meetings called the Council of Trent began, where the Catholics dealt with the challenges presented by the reformers; the resulting movement is called the Catholic Reformation, or the “counter-reformation.”   Although they did not change their theology, they did push for an improvement in morals among the church leaders, and they did work against the practice of raising money by selling church offices.  As Europe entered the industrial revolution, the Catholic Church in general stood with conservatives against the rising demands of the poor for social justice, and saw the newly emerging science as a possible threat to faith.  This stance was made official when in 1864 Pope Pius IX presented a list of errors which must be avoided, including rationalism and liberalism.  He also took a great step in advancing the popes’ claims for power: in 1870, Pope Pius IX at a meeting called Vatican I obtained the decree that popes are always right when they are making an official teaching about faith; when this happened, a group of Catholics left the church and formed a new organization called the “Old Catholic Church,” which does not accept that the pope has this power.

14.Social Justice. The next pope changed the policy of wariness toward social change: in 1891, Pope Leo XIII wrote a document committing the church to social justice.  In 1907 Pope Pius X wrote of the dangers of “modernist theology,” because it approached the Bible as a book without miracles. The pope and bishops continue to show its concern for social justice  by publishing detailed documents 16 about the moral aspects of the problems of our time. Pope PIus XI was an opponent of the Nazis, and refused to let Hitler visit him.  The next pope, Pius XII, though, is controversial today because he lived during the time when Hitler was killing Jews, and some ask why he could not have done more to save the Jews.  One explanation is that during this difficult time he was most concerned with his responsibility to protect the Catholic Church.

15.Recent changes.    In 1930 Pope Pius XI declared that Catholics must not use birth control.After the war, in 1950 Pope Pius XII announced the Mary ascended into heaven without dying.   In 1962 Pope John XXIII summoned church leaders to a meeting called Vatican II, which has brought about many changes in the Catholic Church, including the permission for Catholics to receive both bread and wine when they take communion, and the directive for the Catholic mass to be translated into the local language instead of being limited to Latin (the sermon and explanations of the mass had already been in the local language).  He promoted a new attitude toward those who are not Catholics, calling them separated brothers, but not unbelievers.  He lifted the restriction against eating meat on Fridays (instead, people are to take time on Fridays to note and feel sorry for their sins.)

16.Last pope of the century. John Paul II became pope in 1978, continuing through 2006..  He traveled more than any other pope.  Wherever he went he encouraged people not to use war, and to have good morals.  He was born in Poland, and visited Poland when it was still under the control of the Soviet Union.  In 1999, he apologized for certain events sponsored in the past by the Catholic Church, such as the crusades and the inquisition.  In 2006, Benedict 16 became pope, and in 2013, Francis 1 became pope.  Francis has gained appreciation for emphasizing acceptance and love toward people even though they may not have achieved the moral standards of church teaching.

17.Organization outside the Catholic church. Luther and the other reformers have not accepted the claims of the pope.  Each of the churches that follow Luther and Calvin has had to find other ways to organize the church.  These ways were described in lesson 3 as follows: The system in which each local church is independent is called Congregational system.  The system in which each local church elects representatives to make decisions for all the churches of an area is called Presbyterian system.. The system with bishops who are thought to be in the “apostolic succession,” is called the Episcopal system.  The bishops are organized under other, higher bishops.  Today this system is used in the Roman Catholic Church, in which the pope is the highest bishop; the Eastern Orthodox church, which has several highest bishops in various countries, as well as a bishop above all the others, called the Ecumenical Patriarch, who lives in Istanbul (previously called Constantinople), and the church of England, in which the highest bishop lives in England, and is called the Archbishop of Canterbury.

18.Application. We can learn many things from the development of administrative structures.  It seems that people do have a need for order and organization.  The ideal is to protect people against false teachings without taking away their freedom.  All of us at times may face the danger of taking too much power for ourselves: at this time we could remember the slogan of Gregory I: be a “servant of the servants of God.”

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 Footnotes

1) Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1.  The English word “pastor” 牧师(師)  comes from the Latin word that means “shepherd.”  据洋人。 The English word “priest” is shortened from the Greek word “Prebyter,” which means “elder.” 长老 (张老)。The Chinese translation for the priest of the Catholic church is 神父  [shen fu].  The Chinese translation for the priest of the temple in the Old Testament is 祭司   [jisi].   In Titus 1:5 these leaders are called “elders”   and in verse 7 they are called “bishops,” which means supervisors  监督( 監督. The Greek word for bishops is episkopos. The epi means over and the skopos means looker, so the word does literally mean “overseer.” In Latin, super means over, and visor means looker, so the meaning is exactly the same.  In the course of time in the development of the English language, the first letter of the word episkopos was dropped, the ending was taken off, and the sounds P was softened to a b sound, and the sk was softened to an sh sound. This resulted in the word bishop. So the English word bishop is actually a shorter was to say the word episkopos. In the generation after the New Testament, the word for supervisor began to be used for those in charge of regions (bishops), and the word for elders (presbyters) began to be used for the pastors of individual churches,. In the course of time, the word presbyter simplified in pronunciation and became the English word priest.  As noted in chapter 23 section 9, the word priest in the Roman Catholic church is used in the Old Testament sense of someone who presents a sacrifice. In 1 Peter 5:2, the leader is commanded to “shepherd” 牧养(養)and to “supervise”  (照管)。In verse  4 Jesus is called the “great shepherd”  牧长  (長)。

2) The letter was written by Clement, the bishop in Rome. When bishop means the supervisor of a group of churches in one region, the Chinese word is 主教.

3) episcopal system    主教系统.
4) Apostolic Succession 使徒陆续   使徒陸續

5) The cities were Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria (in Egypt). After 1300, Moscow was added.

6) The book The Eternal City by Taylor Marshall presents these early references: Ignatius (who was not a pope) in AD 109 writes, “I do not, like Peter and Paul, issue commands to you (page 108), thus recognizing that the popes do issue commands..  Tertullian around AD 218 writes that Clement, the fourth bishop of Rome, was ordained by Peter (page 109).  Jerome writes to the pope in Rome, calling him “the successor to the fisherman”  (page 110).

7)  Pope Damasus.  Here is the decree: Although all the Catholic Churches spread around the world comprise but one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless, the Holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront , not by the decisions of church councils, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Saviior, who says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18-19)  …(he then mentions that Paul died in Rome) …  the first see , therefore is that of Peter the Apostle, that of the Roman Church.”   (He then mentions that the second see is Alexandria, and the third is Antioch.)

8) pope Gelasius 1.
9) Pope Gregory VII, who served from 1073-1085.
10) pope Urban II.
11) pope Innocent III.
12) The meeting was called the “Fourth Lateran Council.”  Lateran is the name of a place in Rome.    The theory is called transubstantiation.
13) Pope Alexander VI calling on the Turks for help is cited from Encyclopedia Britannica, edition of 1989 in the article Alexander VI.
14) Pope Leo X.
15) Pope Innocent III in the 1200’s allowed reformers named Francis and Dominic to form their own organizations within the church to carry out their particular ideals.
16) Here is a list of  social documents of the Catholic Church.
17) Leo III   利欧.
18) Gregory VII

Translations:      Apostolic succession 使徒陆续   使徒陸續   Atilla  阿提拉  Gregory  贵(貴)格利  Huns  匈奴 (Hsiung-nu)    Leo  利欧    Vatican City  教廷.