by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: Matthew 23:1-12
I. Very shortly after the first century, one elder in the church became the chief elder and took on the title of bishop to distinguish himself from the other elders.
A. Even though elder and bishop refers to the same duty - Titus 1:5,7
B. By the third century, we find “The bishop, he is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God and you in the several parts of your divine worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly god, who has a right to be honoured by you....let the bishop preside over you as one honoured with the authority of God, which he is to exercise over the clergy, and by which he is to govern all the people” [Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, 2.26].
1. Notice direct conflict with Christ’s teachings - Matthew 23:8-10
C. Churches in regions started working together as the persecution continued. The bishops of larger cities in the region became the head of the region, called metropolitans.
1. “Metropolitans are mentioned as a well-known institution in the Church by the Council of Nicæa (325) in its fourth, fifth and sixth canons, and by the Council of Antioch (341) whose seventh canon is a classical passage in this matter. It reads: "The bishops of every province must be aware that the bishop presiding in the metropolis has charge of the whole province; because all who have business come together from all quarters to the metropolis. For this reason it is decided that he should, according to the ancient and recognized canon of our fathers, do nothing beyond what concerns their respective dioceses and the districts belonging thereto"” [New Advent, https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01691a.htm]
2. Larger cities have more prestige, so the archbishops in the large cities tend to dominate.
II. Over time, the archbishop of Rome claimed to have authority over all the other churches. After all, Rome was the capital of the empire.
A. One of the early disagreements, in A.D. 180, was when Easter should be celebrated. The churches in Asia did it when the Jews celebrated Passover. The churches in the east waited until the next Sunday. The bishop of Rome threatened to excommunicate all the churches that did not celebrate Easter on Sunday.
1. Notice the shift in thinking from seeing all Christians as members of the universal church and members of separate local churches, to seeing the universal church being composed of local churches.
a. When you are saved you are added to the church universal (Acts 2:47).
b. You don’t find individual congregations composing a larger organization
2. This move was rejected by the other archbishops and Victor, the bishop of Rome was censured
B. By the fourth century, the bishop of Rome was often consulted to help resolve disputes
C. By the fifth century, it was declared that only the bishop of Rome should be consulted about disputes.
III. Another contributing factor is that the language of the west was basically Latin, while the language of the east was Greek.
A. Over time communication became increasingly difficult
B. When Constantine called the council at Nicea in A.D. 325, 318 bishops came, but only 3 were from the Latin west. The meeting was conducted in Greek.
C. The first seven councils were all in Greek and of the 1,486 bishops attending only 26 were from the Latin west.
IV. A problem developed in A.D. 330 when Constantine decided to move the capital to Byzantium, which became know as Constantinople.
A. This put the bishop of Byzantium (Constantinople) into the chief city
B. He organized a council that none of the western churches attended or recognized.
1. On of the decisions was that the bishop of Constantinople was now above the bishops of Alexandria and Antioch. Basically a claim to be equal to the bishop of Rome.
C. In A.D. 395 the Roman Empire divided into an east and west division, leading the two rival bishops to claim their territory.
D. In A.D. 449 a council in Ephesus declared Diosurus, the bishop of Alexandria, to be the Ecumenical Patriarch
E. The Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 called Diosurus’ title a dangerous innovation. Officially declared the bishops of Rome and Constantinople to be equals. But soon both the bishops of Rome and Constantinople began using this title.
F. Justinian I, the Byzantine emperor, declared that it was his duty to appoint the bishops in the major cities. This didn’t go over well with the western churches
G. Patriarch John IV of Constantinople declared himself to be the Ecumenical Patriarch exclusively in A.D. 588.
1. Pelagius, the bishop of Rome, declared John’s action to be annulled
2. Gregory, who succeeded Pelagius, said “Whoever adopts or effects the title of ‘Universal Bishop’ has the pride and character of Antichrist, and is in some manner his forerunner.”
3. But a later bishop of Rome asked the Emperor Phocas to give him the title “Universal Bishop”
4. In A.D. 606 both the bishops of Rome and Constantinople took the title
V. In the seventh century, the spread of Islam took out the churches of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, leaving only the two main rivals – Rome and Constantinople, who clearly were not getting along with each other
A. In A.D. 692, the Quiniset Council issued decrees condemning practices traditionally held in the western churches:
1. Celebrating Mass on weekdays during Lent
2. Fasting on Saturdays throughout the year
3. Depicting Christ as a lamb
4. Using unleavened bread in the Eucharist
a. The eastern churches thought the use of unleavened bread as Jewish and that leaven bread represented the risen Savior better
5. Requiring priests and deacons to be celibate
B. The bishop of Rome, Sergius I, rejected the council’s decrees and the emperor ordered his arrest, which failed.
VI. In A.D. 1014, the bishop of Rome added a clause to the Nicene Creed.
A. The clause, while subtle, hit at a belief in the eastern churches that the Holy Spirit only proceeds from the Father. The western churches said he proceeds from both the Father and the Son.
B. This upset the eastern churches because Council of Chalcedon said that the original Nicene Creed could not be altered by anyone because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit
C. Of course the argument ignores the fact that the original Nicene Creed was reworded a few times early on. No one uses the actual first Nicene Creed.
D. But notice the shift again in attitude. The writings of older councils, done by men, are now declared to be inspired.
1. Jude’s statement that the Scriptures were delivered once, is being ignored - Jude 3
2. Peter’s statement that the Scriptures contained everything for life and godliness is no longer considered - II Peter 1:3
VII. In A.D. 1048, a French bishop became the bishop of Rome.
A. He replaced the Greek appointed bishops with Latin ones.
B. All the old arguments about the differences in worship between east and west came to a head, but Pope Leo IX insisted that the Latin traditions be upheld.
C. In response, Patriarch Michael Cerularius, bishop of Constantinople had all the Latin following churches in Constantinople closed in A.D. 1052.
1. A scathing treatise was written condemning the Latin traditions
D. In response, Leo IX sent his chief advisor, Humbert, to deal with the problem in A.D. 1054.
1. Humbert’s tactic was to denounce the bishop of Constantinople and his followers, for which he was eloquently ignored
2. So Humbert got the attention he wanted by issuing a bull of excommunication against Cerularius and then returned to Rome
VIII. While the history of the division is interesting, there are lessons we can draw from them
A. Most of the arguments centered around traditions. People weren’t trying to find out what God said on a matter but whose council should have greater weight.
1. They had fallen back into the same problem that Isaiah warned about and Jesus emphasized - Matthew 19:4-9
2. Throughout the time, neither the western or eastern churches had the entire truth. Both had practices added that had no Scriptural foundation
3. Often the arguments were over variations of practices not in the Scripture at all.
a. Does it matter when Easter is celebrated when Easter isn’t in the Scriptures?
b. Does it matter how Lent is observed when Lent isn’t in the Bible?
4. As Isaiah said about consulting mediums - Isaiah 8:19-20
a. If you want to please God, consult with God’s law
B. Pride is probably the biggest factor. Various men trying to gain power over others
1. Again, they imitated the Pharisees - Matthew 23:1-12
2. Jesus warned against this very thing - Luke 22:24-26
C. The spread of false ideas came because of the organizing of the churches into hierarchies
1. The idea that the church is compose of a band of churches instead of all Christians
2. A false idea accepted by the leadership spread to all churches. Either you conformed or were kicked out.
D. Unity comes from following God, not negotiating what divergent groups want to believe - Ephesians 4:1-6