History and Centralised
NCW 26, December 1995
Q. In the first three centuries of the Christian Church those churches planted by the apostles -- such as in Rome, Ephesus, Antioch, etc. -- acquired a special authority. As each of these churches planted more churches in their local areas, so these new churches naturally accepted the authority of their mother churches, which became what are called "sees". The church at Rome eventually acquired prominence by virtue of the fact that it was the civilian centre of the Empire. From this, we understand, the idea of central ecclesiastical authority came into being which forms the basis of the Roman Catholic Church. The first Church therefore consisted of a voluntary association of "mother churches" who regarded one another as possessing equal authority (Rome included). It seems to me that the New Covenant Church of God follows this pattern -- up to a point: it organises local colonies which are in equal authority to one another, yet there is a presiding PATRIARCHY which seems to me to resemble and exercise papal (and therefore unbiblical) ecclesiastical authority. How do you reconcile your own central authority (the Patriarchate) with the Christian Church of the first three centuries (before Roman hegemony) which was essentially episcopalian -- a voluntary association of bishoprics?
Three centuries is a very long time and the Church underwent considerable change in this time. This period may, broadly speaking, be divided into two eras: (1) The Apostolic, and (2) The Sub-apostolic. In the Apostolic Era the apostles were the undisputed authority in all the churches. In the Sub-apostolic Era -- or the time when bishops governed first local congregations and then groupings of congregations called Sees -- the opinion arose that the apostolic commission was transferred to the bishops. In effect, with the death of the apostles, a post-apostolic church arose with a different form of ecclesiastical government. In the beginning it worked well, with the bishops regarding one another as equals, but it eventually fossilised into a formalistic, political organisation.
We know, from John's, Peter's and Paul's writings in the New Testament that the early churches had enormous problems. By the time John wrote the Book of Revelation, only seven congregations were being faithful in the province of Asia (modern Turkey), and that all of these had severe spiritual problems. These churches, which were in the throes of apostasy, became "apostolic churches" in the episcopal period. In short, apostasy was well entrenched by the end of the first century.
This is not to say, as many modern authoritarian churches maintain, that the church was plunged into darkness by the end of the first century. The light of the Gospel has burned (or flickered) to various degrees everywhere more or less continually, if not in congregational life, then certainly in the lives of holy men and women. But it is to say that the "New Testament Church" was, at least by the middle of the second century, dead.
The New Covenant Church of God is not, moreover, steered by a papal type of authority. The Local Colonies are governed by a quorum of 12 apostles, in conjunction with the elders of the local local colonies, as was the New Testament practice. These elders include, of course, all the pastors (the office which later developed into that of bishop for larger administrative units). Of these 12 apostles, three have prominence, namely, the Patriarchate, as Peter, James, and John did. They do not pontificate as popes do, nor are they a "first presidency" as in the Latter-day Saint system, but are father-figures, guiding the church not by virtue of legal authority (though this is granted them by the Church for order's sake) but by virtue of moral and spiritual authority.
If there is one difference between the modern New Covenant Church and the New Testament Church it is that women have finally been elevated into their natural position, the Patriarchate consisting of three men and three women. It is doubtful that the Roman Catholic system would have ever evolved had women been in positions of highest authority. These matriarchs are not apostles -- they are not "sent out" missionaries but fulfil more local functions in the Church. They therefore occupy different priesthoods from, and thus different callings to, the patriarchs.
This is not to say that the New Covenant Patriarchate could not become papal in the future -- the Church could go off course as the first Christian Church did. To me that seems unlikely. Both Mormons and Roman Catholics (along with Jehovah's Witnesses and others) claim that there is no salvation outside their churches. We make no such claim. We do not claim for our Presiding Patriarch what the Catholics claim for their Pope or the Mormons for their prophet, namely that "for every human creature it is altogether necessary to salvation that he be subject to the Roman pontiff [pope]" (Regestrum of Pope Boniface VIII). Rather, we claim that salvation is of Christ, and of Christ alone. If a man or woman does not wish to be subject to the Patriarchy of the New Covenant Church because he does not agree with it, then he can just as well be saved in some other Christian body so long as he is doing everything in his power to be true and faithful to the Gospel as he understands it.
Any system of ecclesiastical government which places man, men or institutions between a believer and the Lord Jesus Christ is apostate and teaching heretical doctrine. The ecclesiastical government and power exists to maintain the apostolic faith, incarnate as living examples -- i.e. to exemplify by teaching by precept -- the Gospel of Christ, and maintain the rule of order of the society (the New Covenant Church) to which its members have freely allied themselves, and from which they may freely leave in good faith without being branded as an anti-Christ.
I repeat, the New Covenant Church of God maintains no claim to being the only church possessing exclusive priesthood authority, no claims to patriarchal infallibility, and no claims to being the only true incarnation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on earth. It rejects these positions unequivocally. At the same time it is not sub-apostolic -- it is apostolic.
This page was created on 8 May 1998
Last updated on 8 May 1998
Copyright © 1987-2008 NCCG - All Rights Reserved