Later, under the Christian emperors, it becomes a regular consultative, judicial and legislative assembly, in which bishops function like local or imperial senators. In the earliest period, it was very different. There are stories of ecclesial assemblies in Acts, the first being primarily ofapostles, though a congregation of others, including Jesus' family and some women, is mentioned (1:15-26), the second consisting of a group of named prophets and teachers (13:1-3) and the third involving a formal deputation from Antioch presenting its case to the 'apostles and presbyters' in Jerusalem (15:1-35). In this latter case, a formal letter (later anachronistically dubbed 'the apostolic decree') is despatched to Antioch, and read to an assembly of the faithful there. While every one of these is a largely idealised reconstruction by Luke of events past, they give a valuable insight into the sort of process he would expect to happen in the church of his day, perhaps the last decade of the first century. Hess finds the consultations of the first two centuries largely local and congregational, only becoming inter-church councils in the third century.83 Even this may be too sharp a distinction. If the faith began in great cities like Rome with a set of discrete house churches, among whom a single bishop ultimately emerged as superior, wide consultations must have taken place before Clement wrote on behalf of the church of Rome to that at Corinth, or when Hermas presented his weighty volume of prophecies to the presbyters and teachers at Rome. According to an unnamed writer quoted at length by Eusebius, the New Prophecy in Phrygia precipitated councils:
When the faithful throughout Asia had met frequently and at many places in Asia for this purpose, and on examination of the new-fangled teachings had pronounced them profane and rejected the heresy, these persons were thus expelled from the church and shut off from its communion.84
It is not clear whether these are inter-church meetings, or simply consultations within a local congregation.
Even a local assembly, however, could benefit from the presence of a visiting expert or scholar. The same author begins his treatise by describing a local dispute at the important town of Ancyra in Galatia, how he refuted the New Prophecy, and was asked by the local presbyters to leave a written memorandum: in fact he wrote it afterwards.85 We find similar consultation of an expert in the surviving stenographic record of Origen's doctrinal debate with the
83 Hess, Early development, 4-20.
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