Bishops and Their Congregations, Third Century, A History of the Christian Church, Lesson 4, 6-8

We see in this century a large number of writings and translations of the scriptures which allowed the gospel to be spread over a wider area. A man named Origen was very prolific in his writings and translations. His father was one of the martyrs of this ear. The benevolence and liberality of the Christians even toward those that were pagan made an impression upon the pagans and helped the spread of Christianity. The acts of love toward those who were loved by no one else, such as the redemption of captives, is bound to have made an impression on those who saw them.

It is not certain how far the church spread in this century. There are reports that it was established in Scotland during this century. The churches in Gaul established in the Second Century were strengthened, and the churches were established in Germany. Origen was invited to Arabia where he is supposed to have converted a tribe of Arabians. We know also that by this century the church had places to assemble rather than just a member’s home.

We know that there were certain developments in the church government during this century. It is evident that there was a Bishop in charge of each congregation, and he ruled the congregation with the help of certain Presbyters. However, the rules were not settled and the power and authority of these Bishops varied somewhat. However, it is also true that in each province or district there was one bishop who had certain authority over the rest. Furthermore, the Bishops at Alexandria, Antioch and Rome had a pre-eminence over all other Bishops. The face of things began to change in this century with the Bishops desiring to take away from the Presbyters some of their authority in order to gain more power. In order to do this with an air of justice, the Bishops published new doctrines on the nature of the church and concerning the dignity of the hierarchy of the church.

We know what happens when men gain authority without responsibility, and the bishops separated themselves from any responsibility to the congregation. They began to live on the order of ruling princes, leaving their Christian duties to others. The Presbyters and Deacons were not fools, and they too began to see what an easy thing this was so that they appointed sub-officers to attend to the lower functions. We see in this century the beginning of those sub-officers who continue in many churches in the role of candle lighters, to prepare the later vessels for the communion and deliver them to the deacons, etc. These various orders and suborders in the church were so limited in their social level that the subdeacons, by order of the council of Laodices, were not allowed to sit in the presence of a deacon without his permission.

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