Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Has the Church ever apostatized?

From here.

Because of the sudden appearance of Protestantism during the 16th century, there arose an inner need to prove that it has a place in the history of the Church, and also that Protestantism belongs to the Church. Hence they created a theory, which claimed that the Church supposedly apostatized after the demise of the Apostles, and hence, for centuries did not exist in any organized form.

  • Proportional Judgment?
  • Unworthy Priests of the Old Testament
  • Unworthy Priests in Christ’s time
  • Unworthy Priests in the Apostles’ time
  • Unworthy Presbyters in the Apostles’ time
Because of the sudden appearance of Protestantism during the 16th century, there arose an inner need to prove that it has a place in the history of the Church, and also that Protestantism belongs to the Church. Hence they created a theory, which claimed that the Church supposedly apostatized after the demise of the Apostles, and hence, for centuries did not exist in any organized form.

Other groups claim that the Church apostatized during the 4th century, others during the 3rd, others during the 2nd, and others even claim it happened during the 1st century (!), depending on each group’s benefits. They use the scandals that occasionally appear in the Orthodox Church as their excuse, in order to validate their assertion that “the Church has apostatized, because it has a large proportion of unworthy presbyters and faithless people.”

This is the topic that we shall deal with here.  Can the Church have unclean Elders?

Proportional Judgment?

Someone might say: “Alright, perhaps people are indifferent, so we can expect a large proportion to be unclean and perhaps every now and then a presbyter may behave disrespectfully, but, when there is a huge proportion of scandals – and especially in the topmost “leadership” of the Church – God cannot accept worship from a religion that allows the continuation of scandals!”

The proportion of scandals is of course not as large as the other religions would have liked it to be. Quite often, the same subject is repeated again and again; some become confused and relate it to another presbyter, and the same topic takes on entirely different dimensions. But even if everything rumored were true, and one, sole, good presbyter existed, God would not judge His people proportionately, even if it were comprised only of  one presbyter. Even a presbyter will be judged on a personal basis, as a human being, and will receive whatever he deserves under God’s fair judgment. He will not condemn the innocent along with the guilty!  Besides, there are ecclesiastic canons, which provide for the corrective instruction of disrespectful clergymen, when their guilt has been proven. They too, as humans, need educating!

The question that remains however, is: “Does God accept the worship of an unsuitable presbyter? Can his ministry be of any value?”

Let’s take a look once again at what the Holy Bible has to say on the subject (the Bible that Protestantism claims it observes)

Unworthy Priests of the Old Testament

A first example that we shall mention (of the many that exist) is from the book of Samuel I, 2/II: 22-25. In there are mentioned the two sons of Eli, Head Priest of Israel; both of them upcoming high priests of the people. They, with their father’s tolerance, fornicated with the women that came to the temple of God, and according to 2/II: 12-17, they ate of the sacrificial fat (which was something that God’s law prohibited); in fact, they actually snatched it from the faithful forcefully. This scandalized the people and they refrained from sacrificing to God.  Yet they, as well as their father the high priest, remained in the temple as priests of God. One wonders, did God accept the sacrifices of those unworthy priests?  Of course He did! And this is confirmed, in chapter 1/I verses 3-5 and 19, where we read that God accepted the sacrifice of the parents of the prophet Samuel, and replied, by sending them a son-prophet! And moreover, Anna – Samuel’s mother – received and accepted the blessing of Eli, the unworthy high priest!! (1/I 17,18).

God of course later withdrew His protection from those unworthy priests, which eventually led them to losing their lives, according to the narration further down (2/II 31-36).  Thus, we see that it was God who imposed judgment, and not the people.  God did not reject Israel on account of its unworthy priests, He did not reject the righteous Levites, nor did He cease to accept the sacrifices of the faithful Israelites from the hands of unworthy priests.

The same applies today; even if an act of irreverence is tolerated by those in charge and the people are scandalized, it is God who has the last say in matters. He does not reject His Orthodox Church, or the righteous and worthy presbyters. And He furthermore continues to accept the ministering by unworthy hands, until such time as He decides to mete out justice.

Obviously, all scandal-seekers are left with no grounds for justification, given that everything that happened to Israel during those times was also going to happen tο the Christian Church, according to the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle II to Peter, 2/II 1-3, etc.

Let’s take a look at another example that proves God accepts as his minister even someone who is unclean.

Unworthy Priests in Christ’s time

We are well aware that the Lord’s crucifixion was the result of the designs of the high priests of God’s people (Israel) at the time.  John the Evangelist in his gospel (chapter 11/XI and verses 47-53) discloses the following event:  Caiafas, acting high priest of that year, along with other priests and Pharisees, conspired to assassinate Jesus Christ because of the many miracles that He had performed and because He was so persuasive to the people. So they said: “If we leave this person alone, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and destroy our people and our nation.” And the high priest Caiafas added: “It is better for us that one person die for the people, rather than the entire nation be destroyed.”

At this point, John the evangelist clarifies that: “Caiafas did not utter these words by chance; being the high priest for that year, he was actually prophesying that Jesus was destined to die for the nation’s sake.”

Just think! God conceded to giving a prophecy to someone, at the very moment that he was designing to assassinate Jesus Christ, simply because he was the high priest of that year!  What does this prove?  It proves the following:  That God may disapprove of an irreverent minister of His, but: He disapproves of him as a person. He accepts that person as a priest, and blesses his divinely given ministry.

Unworthy Priests in the Apostles’ time

But how did the Apostles behave towards such unworthy priests? Did they follow the tactics of today’s seemingly reverent accusers?  Let’s check it out:

In Acts 23/XXIII 1-5, Luke the Evangelist records an event involving the Apostle Paul. The apostle had been brought before the council as the accused; and while he was speaking, the high priest Ananiah ordered those present to strike him in the mouth. Then Paul said to him:  “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall; and yet you sit in judgment over me according to the law, and you violate it by giving the order to strike me?”

Then the spectators admonished him: “Are you insulting the high priest of God?”

The apostle apologized immediately: “My brothers, I didn’t know that he is a high priest! For it is written: you shall not speak badly of the potentates of your people”

So, what do the critics of the presbyters of God have to say about this?  Do they have the same kind of respect for their own presbyters?

Unworthy presbyters in the Apostles’ time

Now let’s take a look at some examples of the situation that prevailed INSIDE the Christian Church during the time of the Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament.

Especially in Corinthians II, chapters 10-12/X-XII, we learn that the Apostle Paul was downhearted, because apparently certain so-called “apostles” had enslaved the Church of Corinth and were also accusing the Apostle Paul.  Paul was thus compelled to present his arguments in these three chapters, in order to remind them of his labors for their sakes, so that they might comprehend that his accusers are bad pastors of the Church of Corinth.  The reader is asked to read these three chapters very carefully, so that he can become fully aware of the unworthiness of those pastors of Corinth.

But this was not the only incident! John the Apostle writes in his Epistle III, 9,10 to the Christian Gaius: “I wrote something to the Church, but the primacy-loving Diotrephes does not accept us. So, when I come there, I shall remind him of what he has been doing, and of his gossiping about us with malicious words; and as if this weren’t enough, he doesn’t receive our brothers and he obstructs them and drives them away from the Church.”

Just imagine! The prebyter of this Church refused the Apostle John and other Christians into the Church! And yet, despite all this, it was still the Church of Christ, albeit with an unworthy presbyter and persecutor of the apostles. And what is more, neither Gaius or anyone else –not even John himself- asked for his dethronement, nor did they deny his status as presbyter!

In the first chapters of Revelation, the Lord dictates 7 epistles to the corresponding 7 Churches of that time. Each epistle is directed to the “angel” - the “messenger” – who bears the wills of God for those Churches; in other words, to their Bishop.

Evidence that it does not refer to a spirit but a person, can be discerned in verses 7,10 of chapter 3/III, where Jesus Christ addresses the “angel of the Church of Philadelphia” and in verse 10 He includes him in “those inhabiting the earth”. If the angel therefore resides on earth, he cannot be an angel in the sense of a spirit, but only in the sense of a “messenger”.

In the same sense, therefore, the ‘angel’ of the Sardis Church is its Bishop - the pastor who is responsible for that Church.  In Revelation 3/III 1-4, the Lord Jesus Christ orders this Church’s bishop “to wake up, because only in name is he alive, when in fact he is (spiritually) dead”. He informs him that “his works are known” and that “he must recover, and give support to whatever else is destined to die on his account, because his works are not perfect in the sight of God”. He warns him that “He will be caught in his sleep, as by a thief, if he doesn’t stay alert.”  He is also told that “he has a few in his Church who are still pure, and that they shall receive suitable wages, because they are worthy”.

What is it saying here?  It is showing that in the Christian Church of the Apostolic era there were Bishops who –as we saw in the previous examples- were spiritually dead! Their works were mischievous; they scandalized Christians and were the cause of spiritual death for many people. In fact, in the Church of Sardis, only a few had remained pure Christians, which indicates that the majority of the Church was unclean. So, here we have an unclean (in its majority) Church, with a spiritually dead Bishop!

According to the seemingly reverent groups of our time, a corrupt Church such as this could not be Christ’s. But, according to the above words of the Lord, He continued to acknowledge it, unclean as it may have been, and regardless how few the worthy ones were!  He furthermore did not deny His “angel’s” status of Bishop; in fact, He invited him to rise to the demands of his mission, and did not ‘dethrone’ him immediately, just as John didn’t, just because that bishop had sinned. We furthermore observe that this Church is among the 7 Churches that had the Holy Spirit as oil, being the lamps of God that they were. (Revelation /I 20). And most importantly, according to verses 16 and 20, the Lord is “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand” and “the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches”.  It is interesting, how that unworthy bishop WAS ONE OF THOSE SEVEN ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES, AND ONE OF THE SEVEN STARS IN THE LORD’S RIGHT HAND.

All of the above indicate to us that the Church remains the treasury of divine grace, even if its shepherd and the majority of its congregation are “spiritually dead”.


Translation by A.N.

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