Quotes from book The Christian Passover: Agape Feast or Ritual Abuse?, by Stephen Perks. Get the free PDF here.
This material from the Kuyper Foundation: Post Office Box 2, Taunton, Somerset, England, TA1 4ZD, www.kuyper.org
To continue from the earlier posts (Part I) (Part II) (Part III):
The Age of the Apostles/Missionaries
EUCHARIST AND AGAPE IN THE EARLY CHURCH
The Apostolic Age
It has been accepted by virtually all Christian traditions that the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Mt. 26:17–30; Mk 14:12–26; Lk. 22:14–38; Jn 13ff.). It has also been accepted by virtually all Christian traditions that in the early Church the Lord’s Supper, for which the Last Supper is the model and pattern,13—since, as mentioned above, Christ is the true paschal sacrifice of which the Jewish paschal lamb was the type—was celebrated as part of a common fellowship meal, the agape feast,14 although the precise relationship between the Eucharistic rite (the giving of thanks for and consuming of the wine and bread that symbolise the blood and broken body of Christ) and the common fellowship meal has been subject to some debate.15 Nevertheless, it is clear that the two were, at least in the primitive Church, celebrated together, indeed were initially indistinguishable.16 This is evident from Paul’s criticism of how the Corinthian Christians came together to celebrate the feast17 (1 Cor. 11:20–34). It is generally agreed by commentators that this was a combined Eucharist and agape feast, and the Church Fathers who refer to this Scripture all consider this to have been the case.18 According to the Church historian Augustus Neander: “After the example of the Jewish Passover, and of the original institution, the Lord’s supper was accordingly at first united with a social meal. Both constituted a whole, representing the communion of the faithful with their Lord, and their brotherly communion with one another; both together were called the supper of the Lord (δεῖπνον τοῦ κυρίου, δεῖπνον κυριακόν) the supper of love (ἀγάπη).”19 Likewise, Lightfoot states: “In the Apostolic age the eucharist [sic] formed part of the agape. The original form of the Lord’s Supper, as it was first instituted by Christ, was thus in a manner kept up. This appears from 1 Cor. xi.17 sq (comp. Acts xx.7), from which passage we infer that the celebration of the eucharist came, as it naturally would, at a late stage in the entertainment.”20 Of course the agape feasts of the Corinthian Church had degenerated into an unacceptable abuse. Frederic Godet summed up the problems with the Corinthian agape feasts in the following way:
“all the provisions should have been put together and eaten in common by the whole Church. But selfishness, vanity, sensuality, had prevailed in this usage, and deeply corrupted it. These Agapæ at Corinth had degenerated into something like those feasts of friends in use among the Greeks where men gave themselves up to drinking excesses such as we find sketched in the Symposium of Plato. And what was still graver . . . each was careful to reserve for himself and his friends the meats he had provided; hence it was inevitable that an offensive inequality should appear between the guests, becoming to many of them a source of humiliation, and contrasting absolutely with the spirit of love, of which such a feast should have been the symbol.”21
As discussed above, Paul’s remedy for this abuse was to separate partaking of the covenant signs of bread and wine (the Eucharist) from the social meal and to put an end to the latter. But this was not a prescription for the Church generally. It was a disciplinary measure aimed at stopping an abusive practice in a particular Church at a particular time. We do not know whether or when the agape feast was subsequently restored to the Church at Corinth, but the combined Eucharist and agape feast continued for some considerable time in the wider Church, and there is no teaching in Scripture requiring the permanent separation of the two by Paul or any of the other apostles. The epistle of Jude also refers to the Church’s love (i.e. agape) feasts (Jude 12, cf. 2 Pet. 2:13), similarly warning the Church of those who abuse them, but there is no attempt to bring the practice to an end and no criticism per se of the combined Eucharist and agape feast.
13 It seems, however, that very little of the liturgy of the Jewish Passover, with the exception of the cup of blessing and the prayers of thanksgiving, survived into the practice of the Christian Passover, i.e. the Lord’s Supper. See Augustus Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1851), Vol. I, p. 448f.
14 Cf. Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J., The Early Liturgy To the Time of Gregory the Great (London: Darton, Longman and Todd,  1960, trans. Francis A. Brunner), p. pp. 30–34.
15 See A. J. Maclean, “Agape” in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark), Vol. I, p. 166bf.
16 See W. Lock, “Love-Feasts” in James Hastings, ed., A Dictionary of the Bible (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1900), Vol. III, p. 157af. Cf. M. H. Shepherd, Jr, “The Agape” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), Vol. 1, p. 53af. and “Lord’s Supper” in ibid., Vol. 3, p. 158bf.
17 See p. 26 supra. 18 Maclean, op. cit., p. 167b. 19 Neander, op. cit., p. 442f.
20 The Apostolic Fathers, Part II, S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889, Second Edition), Vol. II, p. 313b.
21 Cited in J. F. Keating, The Agapé and the Eucharist in the Early Church: Studies in the History of the Christian Love-Feasts (London: Methuen and Co., 1901), p. 48.
The point is simple: the love-feasts – to build fellowship among Christians – and the celebration of Christ’s passover sacrifice were united in the apostolic era. There is no Biblical reason to separate them, except for discipline for a limited time when the feast is being abused.
We need that fellowship. And we need to recall Christ’s sacrifice… and celebrate it, as the gift of life.
It is not a sombre, nearly funerary ritual, as it is today. This did not Jesus, nor did the apostles/missionaries teach this.
The faster we break from mourning the funeral to celebrating the resurrection – and crowning! – of Jesus (and, to a lesser extend, all of His adopted brothers and sisters), the better it will be for us.
And for the Body of Christ at large!
The Sub-Apostolic Age
There is also evidence from outside the New Testament that the common fellowship meal, the agape feast, was the context in which the early Church celebrated the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.
The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles is an early anonymous treatise on the Christian life and Church order and part of the collection of works commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers. The oldest complete manuscript transcription of the Didache is dated 1056 a.d.22 but the work is much older than this and its composition is estimated to have been somewhere between 60 and 160 a.d.23 Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215 a.d.) quotes directly from the Didache in his work The Stromata,24 and Eusebius (c. 263–339 a.d.) refers to it in his Ecclesiastical History.25 Since the eleventh century manuscript was discovered in 1873 two much earlier papyri fragments have been discovered, one from the fourth century, the other from the fifth century.26 The Didache gives instructions for the prayer of thanksgiving at the Eucharist. It then goes on to give instructions for the prayers of thanksgiving to be said “after ye are satisfied.”27 The latter is a prayer to be said at the end of the meal, and distinct from the earlier Eucharistic prayer.28 The implication is that the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist and the agape feast were still celebrated together at this early date.
Ignatius of Antioch, in his espistle to the Smyræans, written early in the second century,29 makes the following statement: “It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast.”30 Although there has been some debate about it31 the most reasonable interpretation of this statement is that the agape feast included the Eucharist. According to Lightfoot the words “either to baptize or to hold an agape” “seem to describe the two most important functions in which the bishop could bear a part, so that the ἀγάπη [agape] must include the eucharist. Indeed there would be an incongruity in this juxtaposition, as Zahn truly says (I. v. A. p. 348), unless the other great sacrament were intended . . . Nor would the omission of the eucharist be intelligible.”32
It seems clear from this that the Eucharist and the agape feast were still celebrated together at the beginning of the second century. […]
22 J. B. Lightfoot, op. cit. (London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1891, one volume edition), p. 216.
23 J. A. Robinson, Barnabas, Hermas and the Didache (London: SPCK/New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920), p. 43.
24 “It is therefore said, ‘Son, be not a liar; for falsehood leads to theft’”—Bk I, Chpt. 20 (The Ante-Nicene Fathers [Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark], Vol. II, p. 324a); cf. Didache, Chpt. 3, “My child, be not a liar, since lying leads to theft” (Lightfoot, op. cit. [1891, one volume edition], p. 230).
25 Ecclesiastical History, Bk III, Chpt. 25, §4 in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Father of the Church, Second Series (Edinburgh: T. and T; Clark), Vol. I, p. 156.
26 H. M. Shepherd, Jr, “Didache” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 841bf. A fragment of a Latin translation also exists (reproduced in Lightfoot, op. cit. [1891, one volume edition], p. 225).
27 Lightfoot, op. cit. (1891, one volume edition), p. 232f.
28 On the various interpretations of this text and alternative theories regarding the order of the events described in it see Maclean, op. cit., p. 168, 173b, cf. Lock, op. cit., p. 157b.
29 Maclean puts the date at c. 110 a.d. (op. cit., p. 168b). 30 Lightfoot, op. cit. (1891, one volume edition), p. 158. 31 See Maclean, op. cit., p. 169a.
32 Lightfoot, op. cit. (1889), Part II, Vol. II, p. 313b.
The union of the Christian Passover and the Wedding Feast continued into the second century.
Imperial Eyes on the Feast
It seems clear from this that the Eucharist and the agape feast were still celebrated together at the beginning of the second century. However, Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia and Pontus from 110–113 a.d., in a letter to the emperor Trajan c. 112 a.d.33 regarding the treatment of Christians, makes the following statement:
“They [i.e. former Christians whom Pliny had questioned but who had subsequently denied the faith—SCP] affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath [sacramento], not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations.”34
It has been argued that Pliny’s reference to an oath here was a misunderstanding. The word used, sacramentum, meant oath in the ordinary Roman usage of the time. It is believed by some scholars35 that Pliny mistook the Christians’ use of the term to refer to the Eucharist for the ordinary meaning of the term, i.e. oath.36 The inference from this is then that the Eucharist had by this time been separated from the agape feast and was celebrated in the morning before dawn while the latter was celebrated in the evening. There are, however, a number of problems with this theory. First, Pliny’s letter contains the first recorded use of the Latin word sacramentum in relation to Christian worship.37 The word does not appear in Christian writings until at least the late second century since there is little Latin Christian literature before this time.38 It seems that Tertullian (160–220 a.d., fl. 197–220) was the first Christian writer to use the word sacramentum in the specifically Christian sense in reference to baptism and the Eucharist,39 although he also uses it to mean oath.40 After Tertullian sacramentum is used by other Christian Latin authors in relation to the Christian faith.41 To assume that Pliny misunderstood the meaning of sacramentum—if indeed it was even the word his informers used, which is another assumption that cannot be proved (see below)—seems to be reading later theological terminology back into the early second century when there is no evidence for such usage, and therefore anachronistic. Second, the use of the word sacramentum by Pliny to mean oath fits the context precisely. The context does not lend credibility to the idea that Pliny misunderstood his informers. According to Van Slyke,
“Pliny specifies that this sacramentum does not bind Christians to one another for any criminal purpose. They swear rather to avoid such misdeeds as violating informal and consensual contracts for sales and loans—misdeeds that pagans apparently accused Christians of committing. Pliny’s list of wicked acts that Christians swear not to commit bears some similarity to the list of deeds that Livy depicts Bacchanalians swearing to commit. Pliny keeps the Bacchanalian precedent in mind while investigating the possible crimes of Christians. He also weighs the Christian sacramentum in other terms of that sworn by thieves, who do indeed bind themselves together for a criminal purpose. Pliny’s goal, after all, is to determine whether or not Christians are guilty of any crimes worthy of punishment.”42
33 See ibid., Part II, Vol. I, p. 56.
34 Pliny the Younger, Letters (London: William Heinemann/New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1937, trans. William Melmoth), Book. X, No. Xcvi, Vol. II, p. 403f.
35 See for example J. F. Keating, op. cit., p. 54ff.; Lightfoot, op. cit., Part II, Vol. II, p. 314a; Joseph Bingham, Origines Ecclesiasticæ; or The Antiquities of the Christian Church (London: William Straker, 1839), Vol. V, p. 403.
36 On the meaning of the word sacramentum and its use by the Church for the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper see “Covenant Signs and Sacraments” in my book Common-Law Wives and Concubines, pp. 32–46.
37 Daniel G. Van Slyke, “The Changing Meaning of sacramentum: Historical Sketches” in Antiphon (Society for Catholic Liturgy), Vol. 11, No. 3 (2007), p. 250.
38 Ibid., p. 249.
39 E.g. Against Marcion, Bk IV, Chpt. 34: “ad sacramentum baptismatis et eu- charistiae admittens” (cited in Lightfoot, op. cit. (1889), Part II, Vol. I, p. 51bf. See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 405a); cf. Van Slyke, op. cit., p. 253.
40 On Idolatry, Chpt. XIX: “Non conuenit sacramento diuino et humano” (cited in Van Slyke, op. cit., p. 252; see The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 73b). The reference here is to the military oath of allegiance.
41 Van Slyke, op. cit., p. 251ff.
42 Ibid., p. 250.
Now, the Passover is a feast, and is a form of oath like the original passover: we are covenanted with God to obey Him, and so He will protect us. Otherwise, we will be torn apart just as this lamb – whose blood was on the doorpost of the Exodus generation, and whose blood and flesh we partake in the Lord’s meal – was.
Again, a covenantal oath is a self-maledictory oath, the basis of a suzerain-vassal treaty (See Kline, Treaty of the Great King) : “I keep this promise for the blessing of me and mine, and if I break it, may this curse fall upon me and mine.”
In the Biblical context as found throughout the Bible (and as Kline noted in Deuteronomy):
- God is the Suzerain, the Great King.
- We, His people, are the Vassals.
This is different than the military oaths of allegiance that soldiers – and, in another context, the blood-oaths of criminals – take.
Note that covenantal oaths, taken between God and His People, are not the same as the mystical-magical ritualistic “sacred re-enactment – a.k.a. “sacramental” – ceremonies that a priest performs.
One is a matter of law and treaty, that the men of the Bible – form Abraham to Paul – would have recognized.
The other is grounded on re-enactment magic, tying ritual to a chanting priesthood.
The God of the Bible is a Lord of Law and Justice. Not magic and ritual.
Not the traditions of men, but the commandments of God, are to be normative.
The End of the Feast…
Tertullian and Beyond
It seems, however, that by the time that Tertullian was writing in the late second and early third centuries the Eucharist had become separated from the agape feast. In his Apologeticus, dated between c. 198 and 204 a.d.,52 Tertullian makes the following statement about the agape feast:
“Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agapè, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you, do parasites aspire to the glory of satisfying their licentious propensities, selling themselves for a belly-feast to all disgraceful treatment,—but as it is with God himself, a peculiar respect is shown to the lowly. If the object of our feast be good, in the light of that consider its further regulations. As it is an act of religious service, it permits no vileness or immodesty. The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste. They say it is enough, as those who remember that even during the night they have to worship God; they talk as those who know that the Lord is one of their auditors. After manual ablution [i.e. washing of hands—SCP], and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God, either one from holy Scripture or one of his own composing,—a proof of the measure of our drinking. As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed. We go from it, not like troops of mischief-doers, nor bands of vagabonds, nor to break out into licentious acts, but to have as much care of our modesty and chastity as if we had been at a school of virtue rather than a banquet.”53
It is clear from the references here to worshiping God in the night and the bringing in of lights that the agape feast ran into the evening. However, in his treatise De Corona (or The Chaplet ), dated c. 204 a.d.,54 Tertullian makes the following statement: “We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike.”55 It appears from a comparison of these two passages that the Eucharist had in Tertullian’s time been separated from the agape feast and was celebrated in the morning before dawn while the latter continued to be celebrated in the evening.
It is doubtful there was ever complete uniformity in the way the various Churches throughout the Roman empire celebrated the agape feast, but the above account indicates the general practice. Canon 28 of the Council of Laodicea, which took place sometime between 343 and 381 a.d., forbade the holding of agape feasts in churches,56 although agape feasts were not forbidden altogether.57 The Council of Gangra, held sometime between 325 and 381 a.d., defended the agape feasts and anathematised anyone who despised them or those who attended them.58 The practice of holding agape feats in churches, however, does not seem to have come to an end entirely with the Council of Laodicea since Canon 74 of the Council of Trullo or Quinisext Council in 692 a.d. repeats the Council of Laodicea’s ban.59 It seems the agape feast eventually fell into complete disuse after this.
52 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 17a, note 1.
53 Apology, Chpt. XXXIX, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 47af.
54 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 93a note 1.
55 Chpt. III, (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 94b.)
56 “It is not permitted to hold love feasts, as they are called, in the Lord’s Houses, or Churches, nor to eat and to spread couches in the house of God” (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, The Seven Ecumenical Councils [Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark], Vol. XIV, p. 148).
57 Canon 27 states: “Neither they of the priesthood, nor clergymen, nor laymen, who are invited to a love feast, may take away their portions, for this is to cast reproach on the ecclesiastical order” (ibid.).
58 “If anyone shall despise those who out of faith make love-feasts and invite the brethren in honour of the Lord, and is not willing to accept these invitations because he despises what is done, let him be anathema” (Canon 11, ibid., p. 96)
59 The Canon ads the warning: “If any dare to do so let him cease therefrom or be cut off ” (ibid., p. 398).
…and the Reason Why
I’m bolding certain striking sections of the quote below.
The Separation of Agape and Eucharist
The questions we must consider now are these: first, why was the Eucharist permanently separated from the agape feast, and second, why did the Church ban the holding of agape feasts in Church buildings, with the eventual result that they ceased altogether? J. A. Robinson gives the following four reasons for the separation of the Eucharist from the agape feast: (a) the increase in numbers of Christians made holding the feast more difficult in itself and unsuitable as the context for the celebration of the Eucharist. (b) Abuses such as those at Corinth in apostolic times were always likely where large numbers met together to feast.60 (c) There was a great expansion of liturgical developments accompanying the Eucharist, and (d ) celebration of the Eucharist was restricted to occasions when a bishop or his deputy could be there to officiate.61 Of these four reasons the first two are logistical and Church discipline problems respectively that are not insurmountable and therefore do not per se constitute valid reasons for separating the Eucharist from the agape feast. The real reasons for the separation of the Eucharist from the agape feast are to be found in the last two causes mentioned by Robinson: liturgical expansion and growth of clerical control over the Church, and these two causes really amount to the same thing. “The agapæ” says Robinson “lost more and more their semi-eucharistic character. They became in some places occasions of unseemly riot or mere excuses for wealthy banqueting; and Clement of Alexandria, at the close of the second century, is already indignant that so lofty a name should be given to them, and complains that ‘Charity has fallen from heaven into the soups’.”62 According to Neander the reason for the abolition of the agape feast was that “these meals were especially calculated to excite the jealousy of the heathen, and gave birth to the strangest and most malicious reports, a circumstance which may have early led to their abolition or less frequent observance.”63 There were indeed malicious false reports about what Christians got up to at the agape feasts, and these included accusations of sexual immorality, incest and cannibalism. But these rumours were easily refuted64 and were not the reason for the Church’s abandonment of the agape feast. Robinson summarises the reasons for the abolition of the practice more realistically:
“the original institution underwent a twofold development, according as the liturgical or the social character of it came to predominate. In the one case, the supper itself disappeared, or was but symbolically represented by the consumption of small portions of bread and wine; the spiritual significance was emphasised, and the Eucharist became the centre of the Church’s worship. In the other case, the supper was everything, and the eucharistic acts which accompanied it were little more than graces before and after meat; the spiritual significance had passed elsewhere, and, though under favourable conditions the agapè still had its value and lingered long, it had no principle of vitality left, and its place was filled in time by more appropriate methods of charitable assistance.”65
In other words, on the one hand the Eucharist became a “sacrament,” controlled by the clergy and attended by developed liturgical rituals, while the agape feast, on the other hand, became little more than a means of helping the poor that was superseded by more appropriate works of charity.
The real reason for the separation of the Eucharist from the agape feast, therefore, is intimately connected with the demise of the latter and to be found in the fact that it was difficult to transform the agape feast into a clergy-controlled and regulated ritual, whereas the Eucharist, separated from the Agape and accompanied by an expanding liturgy, was easily transformed into a rite that could be sacralised and subjected to clerical domination. The ritualisation of the Church’s cultic activities was essential if the clergy were to take control of Christ’s Church. The separation of the Eucharist from the social meal along with the sacralisation of the former and abolition of the latter as the permanent practice of the Church, however, goes against the institution established as the norm for the Church by the Lord’s own example and command at the Last Supper. In other words, in order to consolidate their power the clergy hi-jacked the Eucharist and dispensed with the agape feast, since the latter was a hindrance to their ability to control the life of the Church. The life of the Church was then redefined and its most important communal expressions were transformed into rituals performed by the priesthood (sacerdotalism). The ability of the Christian community, the Christian society or nation (1 Pet. 2:9 cf. Ex 19:5–6),66 to achieve the potential of its life as the true social order, although by no means completely suppressed, was nevertheless curtailed and restricted as an inevitable consequence. The development of this sacramental theology and practice, to put the matter in its true light, was the tool used to bring about the centralised bureaucratic control of the Church by clergymen. This problem can be observed in an incipient form in the efforts of the apostle Peter to establish control of the Church by means of ecclesiastical law-making prior to Pentecost (Acts 2:12–26), an attempt to take the Kingdom by force (Mt. 11:12) that was brought to nothing by the subsequent calling of the apostle Paul and the latter’s direct attack on the principle underpinning Peter’s agenda, namely, knowledge of Christ according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16). Of course, ritual per se is not sin, nor contrary to God’s word, and in some measure is unavoidable in life. But the development of a sacramental theology inevitably tied to an expanding ritual and the preservation and prioritising of the latter by an exclusive clerical order and its elevation to the most important aspect of the Church’s life and activity has blighted the mission of the Church throughout history. Already in the sub-apostolic era we see this development at work. “It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast” says Ignatius of Antioch. Why not? Whose law is this? Not Christ’s. Such a restriction is not found in Scripture. These are the laws of the bishops and clergymen who benefit from them at the expense of the “laity” and to the detriment of the mission of the Church and the Kingdom of God. “We take . . . from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike” says Tertullian. Why can the bread and wine be received only from the president? Christ did not command this. Neither does the subsequent teaching of the apostles. Who gave these bishops and clergymen this right to restrict the life of the Church in such a way? Not the Lord Jesus Christ or his apostles. “Charity has fallen from heaven into the soups”67 says Clement of Alexandria.68 Such contempt for the institution established by the Lord himself and the preference for rituals devised by men in its place is entirely worthy of the Pharisaism that Christ rebuked so severely. “Sacraments,” which are nowhere to be found in Scripture,69 were the invention of clerics as a tool for consolidating their own power and control over the Church and an abuse of the legitimate authority given to those who are elected to positions of oversight in the Church.
As the theology and practice of sacramentalism grew the Church was increasingly redefined as a clerical order (sacerdotalism). As a consequence the Christian faith and the Christian social order became over the centuries reduced almost to the function of the clergy, i.e. the institutional Church, with dire consequences for the mission of the Church as a social order. As power was concentrated into the hands of clerics (prelacy) the Kingdom of God became a target for those seeking power, as the Lord himself had forewarned (Mt. 11:12), and the Church was corrupted not only from within but also by invasion from without.70 If the Church, as the true society,—i.e. a social order that is commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to transform the whole world by discipling the nations—is to fulfil the task entrusted to her by her Lord in the Great Commission, Christians must reclaim their citizenship of the Kingdom of God from those who have sought to dispossess them of it for so long. Centralised bureaucratic control of the Church by clergymen has vitiated the life of the Church as a social order and thereby wrecked the mission of the Church. The life of the Church as the true society, the true social order, must be restored if the Great Commission is to be accomplished.
60 See further the Excursus on p. 52ff. infra.
61 J. A. Robinson, “Eucharist” in Encyclopædia Biblica (New York: The Macmillan Company/London: Adam and Charles Black, 1903), Vol. II, col. 1425.
62 Ibid., col. 1425
63 Neander, op. cit., p. 443.
64 See for example Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, Chpt. III (The Ante- Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, p. 130b); Theophilus of Antioch, Theophilus to Autolycus, Bk III, Chpt. IV (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, p. 112a); Tertullian, Apology, Chpt. VII (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, p. 23bf.).
65 Robinson, “Eucharist,” Encyclopædia Biblica, Vol. II, col. 1426.
66 On the political nature of the Christian faith and the Church as a political community see my essay “Christianity as a Political Faith” in Christianity & Society, Vol. Xiv, No. 2 (April 2004), pp. 16–23; see also the “Editorial” in the same issue.
[Addendum: The journal of Christianity & Society can be found here.]
67 Or sauces, see further the Excursus on p. 52ff. infra.
68 Pædagogus, Bk II, Chpt. I.
69 On the development of the concept of sacraments see “Covenant Signs and Sacraments” in my book Common-Law Wives and Concubines, pp. 32–46.
70 It was inevitable that once a clerical order developed as the power base in control of the Church, the latter, as a newly established “principality” (cf. Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21, 3:10, 6:12; Col. 1:6, 2:10, 15; Tit. 3:1), should become subject to invasion from without by those motivated not by service of God but by the acquisition of power, contrary to the command of the Lord himself (Mt. 20:25–28). It should be remembered, however, that the precursor to this was the development of centralised bureaucratic control of the Church by the clerical order, i.e. the establishment of the Church as a principality by the Church leaders themselves. This development was begun and well advanced before Christianity became the established religion of the Roman empire. The problem of abuse of ecclesiastical power and the inevitable corruption that must accompany it, therefore, is not to be laid at the door of the establishment of the Christian Church as the religion of the State, as is often quite erroneously thought to be the case, but rather at the form of government adopted by the Church herself, i.e. prelacy, prior to the establishment of the Church as the religion of State. This is another aspect of the life of the Church that requires major reformation, since the present situation is unlikely to last a great deal longer; but this subject, important as it is, goes far beyond the scope of this essay. See further “The Establishment Principle” in my book A Defence of the Christian State: The Case Against Principled Pluralism and the Christian Alternative (Taunton: Kuyper Foundation, 1993), pp. 163–173.
[Addendum: you can find the book A Defence of the Christian State at this webpage – along with a free PDF and audio book.]
“The ritualisation of the Church’s cultic activities was essential if the clergy were to take control of Christ’s Church.”
Same old story, be it priests from the Temple at Jerusalem, priests from the Vatican, or priests from the denominational seminary.
Or the white-cloaked priesthood from the secular (or religious) universities, for that matter.
(As to how effective and safe said drugs are: see the COVID non-vaccines for the most recent outrage.)
Like all power-seekers, pious Organization Men seek power over the Common rift-raft.
They seek this far more than personal and corporate submission to the Word of God, and to the explicit and clear commandments of Jesus Christ.
I have no interest in having the Body of Christ fail and perish under the watch of self-serving (when not frankly treasonous) shepherds.
Neither does Jesus Christ, for that matter.
“If the Church, as the true society,—i.e. a social order that is commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to transform the whole world by discipling the nations—is to fulfil the task entrusted to her by her Lord in the Great Commission, Christians must reclaim their citizenship of the Kingdom of God from those who have sought to dispossess them of it for so long. Centralised bureaucratic control of the Church by clergymen has vitiated the life of the Church as a social order and thereby wrecked the mission of the Church. The life of the Church as the true society, the true social order, must be restored if the Great Commission is to be accomplished.”
Today is the day to change things for the better.
Regardless of what the Men of Power say.
(We all know the comprehensive failure of the Catholic and Mainstream Protestants, but it would do us good to look into the self-serving attitude of the “Evangelical Conservative” John MacArthur for a better grip on that mirror… before saying goodbye to him.
Also, let’s carefully step around Ravi Zacharias, shall we?)
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