From Presbyter To Priest

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Clement of Rome, who died in about 100, was the first Christian writer to make a distinction in status between Christian leaders and nonleaders. He was the first to use the word laity to distinguish them from the ministers." Clement argued that the Old Testament order of priests should find fulfillment in the Christian church."

Tertullian was the first writer to use the word clergy to refer to a separate class of Christians." Both Tertullian and Clement popularized the word clergy in their writings.'

The New Testament, on the other hand, never uses the terms clergy and laity and does not support the concept that there are those who do ministry (clergy) and those to whom ministry is done (laity). 41 Thus what we have in Tertullian and Clement is a clear break from the first-century Christian mind-set where all believers shared the same status. By the mid-third century, the authority of the bishop had hardened into a fixed office.'

Then Cyprian of Carthage appeared, furthering the impact. Cyprian was a former pagan orator and teacher of rhetoric.' When he became a Christian, he began to write prolifically. But Cyprian never abandoned some of his pagan ideas.

Due to Cyprian's influence, the door was open to resurrect the Old Testament economy of priests, temples, altars, and sacrifices."

1 Clement 40:5. See also Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 168; R. Paul Stevens, The Abolition of the Laity (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1999), 5. ^ Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, 38. Tertullian, On Monogamy, 12. Stevens, Abolition of the Laity, 28.

The term laity is derived from the Greek word laos, which means "the people" (see 1 Peter 2:9-10). The term clergy is derived from the Greek word kleros, which means "a lot, a share, or an inheritance." The New Testament never uses the word kleros for leaders. It rather uses it for the whole people of God. for it is God's people that are God's inheritance (see Ephesians 1:11; Galatians 3:29; Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 5:3). In this connection, it is ironic that Peter in 1 Peter 5:3 exhorts the elders of the church to not lord over the kleros ("clergy")) Again, kleros and laos both refer to the whole of God's flock. " 1. G. Davies, The Early Christian Church: A History of Its First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1965), 92. For a brief synopsis of how the clergy developed, see Stevens, Other Six Days, 39-48.

"Come and See" Icons, Books, and Art, "St. Cyprian of Carthage," Nichols, Corporate Worship, 25.

Bishops began to be called priests," a custom that became common by the third century.' They were also called pastors on occasion." In the third century, every church had its own bishop." (At this time bishops were essentially heads over local churches. They were not diocesan superintendents as they are today in Roman Catholicism.) And bishops and presbyters together started to be called "the clergy.'

The origin of the unbiblical doctrine of "covering" can be laid at the feet of Cyprian also. 50 Cyprian taught that the bishop has no superior but God. He was accountable to God alone. Anyone who separated himself from the bishop separated himself from God." Cyprian also taught that a portion of the Lord's flock was assigned to each individual shepherd (bishop)."

After the Council of Nicaea (325), bishops began to delegate the responsibility of the Lord's Supper to the presbyters." Presbyters were little more than deputies of the bishop, exercising his authority in his churches.

Because the presbyters were the ones administering the Lord's Supper, they began to be called priests." More startling, the bishop

Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 168. Cyprian normally called the bishop sacerdos, which is Latin for "priest." Sacerdotal language taken from the Old Testament to define church offices quickly caught on (Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, 177; Smith, From Christ to Constantine, 136). J. B. Lightfoot wrote that the "sacerdotal view of the ministry is one of the most striking and important phenomena in the history of the church." "Christian Ministry," 144.

Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined. 35,95. There is no evidence that anyone thought of Christian ministers as priests until the year AD 200. Tertullian is the first to apply the term priestto bishops and presbyters. Throughout his writings, he calls the bishop and the presbyters sacerdos (priests) and he calls the bishop sacerdos summus (high priest). He does so without any explanation, indicating that his readers were familiar with these titles (p. 38). See also Hans von Campenhausen, Tradition and Life in the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), 220. Cyprian is also credited for saying that the bishop is the equivalent of the Old Testament high priest (Smith, From Christ to Constantine, 136). The historian Eusebius regularly calls clergy "priests" in his voluminous writings (Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 61).

"Thus it was the bishop, as chief pastor of the local church, who came to represent the fullness of the ministry. He was prophet. teacher, chief celebrant at the liturgical assembly, and chairman of the board of overseers of the Christian 'synagogue - (Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 28). Gregory the Great's work The Book of Pastoral Rule written in AD 591 is a discussion on the duties of the bishop's office. To Gregory, the bishop is a pastor, and preaching is one of his most important duties. Gregory's book is a Christian classic and is still used to train pastors in Protestant seminaries today. See also Philip Culbertson and Arthur Bradford Shippee, The Pastor: Readings from the Patristic Period (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 19901. For a discussion of this development, see Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 13-14. Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 28. 'A For a thorough discussion of this doctrine and its refutation, see Viola, Reimagining Church. 41 Stevens, Other Six Days, 41-42.

Cyprian said, "a portion of the flock has been assigned to each individual pastor, which he is to rule and govern, having to give account of his doing to the Lord" (Letter to Cornelius of Rome, LIV, 14). See also Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches, 171.

Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 28-29.

Campbell, Elders, 231; Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 29.

came to be regarded as the high priest who could forgive sins!' All of these trends obscured the New Testament reality that all believers are priests unto God.

By the fourth century, this graded hierarchy dominated the Christian faith." The clergy caste was now cemented. At the head of the church stood the bishop. Under him was the college of presbyters. Under them stood the deacons.' And under all of them were the laymen. One-bishop rule became the accepted form of church government throughout the Roman Empire. (During this time, certain churches began to exercise authority over other churches—thus broadening the hierarchical structure)"

By the end of the fourth century, the bishops walked with the great. As noted in chapter 2, Constantine was the first to give them tremendous privileges. They became involved in politics, which separated them further from the presbyters." In his attempts to strengthen the bishop's office, Cyprian argued for an unbroken succession of bishops that traced back to Peter." This idea is known as apostolic succession.61

Throughout his writings, Cyprian employed the official language of the Old Testament priesthood to justify this practice.' Like Tertul-lian (160-225) and Hippolytus (170-236) before him, Cyprian used the term sacerdotes to describe the presbyters and bishops." But he went a step further.

Davies, Early Christian Church. 131; The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, trans. Burton S. Easton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934). Hippolytus distinguishes sharply between the powers of the bishop and the presbyters. His writings give the bishop the power to forgive sins and to allot penance (Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 39-40). Presbyters and deacons could only baptize with the bishop's authority (Campbell, Elders, 233).

Davies, Early Christian Church, 187. (n AD 318, Constantine recognized the jurisdiction of the bishop. (n AD 333, the bishops were placed on an equal footing with Roman magistrates (p. 188).

Hans Lietzmann, A History of the Early Church, vol. 2 (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1953), 247.

According to the canons of the Council of Nicaea, Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch had special authority over the regions around them

(Smith, From Christ to Constantine, 95).

Hanson, Christ/an Priesthood Examined, 72. Hanson explains how the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century strengthened the bishop's office (pages 72-77).

Ann Fremantle, ed., A Treasury of Early Christianity (New York: Viking Press, 1953), 301.

Apostolic succession first appears in the writings of Clement of Rome and Irenaeus. It also appears in Hippolytus. But Cyprian turned it into a coherent doctrine. Grant, Early Christianity and Society, 38; Norman Sykes, Old Priest and New Presbyter (London: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 240.

G. S. M. Walker, The Churchmanship of St. Cyprian (London: Lutterworth Press, 1968), 38. Many of the church fathers treated the Old Testament Scriptures as containing a normative ordering of the church. The use of Old Testament priest terminology for church officebearers became common as early as the second century (Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, 50, 161; Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 46, 51).

Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 59; Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, 39.

The non-New Testament concept of sacerdotalism—the belief that there exists a divinely appointed person to meditate between God and the people—originated with Cyprian. He argued that because the Christian clergy were priests who offer the holy sacrifice (the Eucharist) they were sacrosanct (holy) themselves."

We can also credit Cyprian with the notion that when the priest offered the Eucharist, he was actually offering up the death of Christ on behalf of the congregation." To Cyprian's mind, the body and blood of Christ are once again sacrificed through the Eucharist." Consequently, it is in Cyprian that we find the seeds of the medieval Catholic Mass." This idea widened the wedge between clergy and laity. It also created an unhealthy dependence of the laity upon the clergy.

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