The Development of Leadership in the Early Church - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1798 Words
Date:  2022-11-10


There have been a lot of changes in the Church today compared to what it was two thousand years ago when it was established. These changes have been small, and often negligible, but over the centuries, these very changes have accumulated and there are now very clear differences between the Early Church and the Modern Church. Although the changes in the modern church have been negligible and gradual over time, they have come to be a distinctive defining factor over time.

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One of the most obvious changes over the centuries is the rise of the number of converted Christians in the Church. As the church begun with the 12 disciples (including Matthias, who was elected to replace Judas after he betrayed Jesus), they were only a handful of followers. Soon after, Christianity spread quickly and was now the religion of the entire empire (Guy, 2011). Today, it is among the most influential and perhaps the world's largest religion, comprising of nearly a third of the entire global population.

One major change in the Christian religion is the establishment of its own identity, separate from what it initially was thought to be part of - Judaism. In the Book of Acts, Paul made a reference that the Jews called the then Christians a hairesis, which meant a sect of the Jews (Guy, 2011). Over the centuries, this has proven to be far from the truth with both religions setting apart from each other.

Other changes in the Early Church and the current establishment include the leadership of the Church, which shall be discussed in great depth in this paper. There have also been changes in the relationship between the Church and the State or the ruling governments. The early Church faced great persecution from the State, with many of its followers being killed for it (Early Christian History, 2009). Today, most countries have the Church and the State working together.

The Church has also become an institution, a factor that was not present in the early Church which was characterised as spontaneous (Hierarchy Structure, 2018). The Church now has adopted a hierarchy with different denominations being under the leadership of the Pope (in the case of Catholic), Bishops, Reverends, Evangelists, Senior Pastors, and Pastors.

A Brief History of the Early Church

The Early Church was founded by the disciples of Jesus Christ, commonly referred to as Apostles (Nichols, 1997). The Apostles established churches by spreading the message of the gospel orally, starting from Israel and spread out to other parts of the world. This brought the rise of apostolic successions, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church, the Oriental Orthodoxy, and Protestant Churches.

The first Christians were Jews or converted Jews with the first Christian institution, as highlighted in the book of Galatians as well as the Acts of the Apostles, located in Jerusalem (Hierarchy Structure, 2018). The leaders of this church were Peter, James (the 'brother of Jesus') and John the Apostle. During the first few years of its establishment, Christianity faced great persecution, initially by the Jews, then by the State of the time, which was the Roman Empire. The persecution, which involved imprisonment and death, went on until the year AD 313 when Emperor Constantine declared freedom of religion.

Leadership and Ecclesial Offices of the Early Church

The Early Church was governed by a Council of Apostles, who sought wisdom from the Holy Spirit (Boer, 1976). As this point, there were no bishops, deacons, elders, or other titles that are present in today's churches. These roles arose with need and were established along the way in order to take care of the different ministries and service that the church was involved in at the time (Boer, 1976).

The first post to be established by the Early Church was the office of the Elder. The elders were involved in missionary work such as supporting other growing churches. Soon to follow around the year AD 115 was the post of the Bishop, which was closely related to that of the Elder (Nichols, 1997). The Bishop was the leader of the congregation of a specific church or the churches in a certain city. This role came about when there was a need for one person to lead the council of elders in the church.

Following the establishment of the Bishop, the role of the Deacon was put in place, whose role was to help in the administration of the church. Other roles that were established were like the Priesthood, who would help in giving the sacrament to the congregation in absence of the Apostle (Britannica, 2019). The Deacon has remained to be a significant post in modern-day churches and still serve the same purpose as in the Early Church.

Despite the establishment of these roles, they were not made official and legal until the 1st and 2nd centuries. The overall leader of the churches was the Apostle, which was considered to come immediately after the authority of Jesus Christ. They were the witnesses to Jesus' resurrection and were commissioned specifically by Christ himself, thus they derived their authority from this (Nichols, 1997). The Apostles then established the rest of the leadership so as to accommodate the enormous number of churches and congregation, which were becoming difficult to manage (Hierarchy Structure, 2018).

It is important to note that Christianity as a religion is different from Christianity as the church. The religion is the same, as all Christian churches are based on the message of Christ, however, the churches - or rather the denominations are different. Various churches have their own view and concept of Christianity.

The need to develop a doctrine for theological debates by the churches led to the establishment of posts such as the deacon, who was the caretaker of the doctrine of the church (Boer, 1976). At this time, these posts in the church were a part-time job as all had other professional jobs. However, with growing responsibilities, these posts had to be filled in full-time. According to the book of Acts, seven men of 'good reputation, full of the spirit and of wisdom' were selected to serve in the church (Guy, 2011). These seven men later became future deacons and future presbyters and heads of the Jerusalem church.

The Development of Ecclesial Offices

The establishment of ecclesial offices by the Early Church harmonised the institution by allocating each church its own leader, or rather a Bishop (Early Christian History, 2009). This brought about harmony and solved the ever-growing needs of the church, which was spreading at a very fast pace. During this time, Bishops at times would consult or work with other bishops of other churches but this was only optional. Because of this, there was little cohesiveness between churches located in different cities and districts. However, with time, this started to change as bishops would regularly meet or communicate through letters; exchanging doctrinal ideas (Early Christian History, 2009).

As the churches and their leaders continued to interact, there was a need to institutionalise the Church which consequently led to the establishment of the clergy with their duties standardised (Hierarchy Structure, 2018). Even though the Church was institutionalised, differences in the doctrine taught by the different churches separated members of different churches. To solve this situation, it was decided that the doctrine too should be harmonised. Individual teachings were, therefore, discouraged and the churches begun to catalogue acceptable teachings.

A major historical factor that contributed to the development of the Church and the establishment of the Ecclesial Offices is when Emperor Constantine declared freedom of religion in the year (Early Christian History, 2009). Previous years had been marred with the prosecution which hampered the growth of the Church as most congregants were in hiding or would meet secretly. This then sparked a series of events and decrees such as the establishment of Christmas day and the compilation of the Bible by the Council of Rome under Pope Damascus I in the year (Hierarchy Structure, 2018).

The politics of the Roman Empire played a significant role in shaping Christianity into what it is today. The first, as mentioned in previous paragraphs, is the persecution of Christians by the Romans. This oppression lasted for almost three centuries and that has made martyrdom a significant aspect in the Christian faith. The second factor is the adoption of a hierarchy form of leadership, similar to that of the Roman political institution. The Church leadership (or the clergy) has the Pope as the highest in authority, followed by archbishops, bishops, and priests.

As the spread of Christianity grew in Rome and other nearby cities, laws were changed with the Theodosian decrees outlawing most pagan rituals, which further encouraged the conversion of the population to Christianity. In the year 431 AD, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus established the Holy Trinity, which declared that Jesus existed both as Man and God (Hierarchy Structure, 2018). Those are just but a few examples of how the Church and the doctrine that it preaches evolved to what it is today.

One major event that changed the course of leadership in the Church was the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century (Nichols, 1997). The Reformation, which was the basis of Protestantism, was led by Martin Luther and John Calvin and it has major political, economic and social effects. The Church, particularly the office of the papacy, at this point had become so entangled with politics in Western Europe (Nichols, 1997). This continued relationship made the Church devoid of spiritual force as it engaged itself in political manipulations that created great wealth for the Church.

In opposition to such behaviour by the Church, Martin Luther then led the reformation and unlike previous reformers who were opposed to the corruption in the Church, Luther focused on the perversion of the Church's doctrine of redemption and grace (Britannica, 2019). Further reformers also touched on the method of baptism, saying that it should be performed on adults who were born again and not on infants (Britannica, 2019).

There were also reforms in the Catholic Church, which was as a result of the Protestant Reformation and the positive effects it brought to the Protestant Church. In 1524, there were strict orders to reform the parish clergy (Guy, 2011). However, the Council of Trent was the major reformation, which left a significant mark on the history of the Catholic Church. This reformation provided clarity on the beliefs held by the Church as well as the restoration of the discipline of the ecclesial offices by majorly addressing doctrine, discipline, and devotion.

Overall, the Church has come a long way since it was established by the first disciples of Jesus following His death and resurrection. A significant part of that change is the institutionalism of the Church and establishment of different ecclesial offices, which are still in effect to date. Many factors contributed to this, among the first of them being the differentiation of Christianity and Judaism. Although the...

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