Solving the MAZE.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, I think it’s best to give you an over view of where we’re going. Let me give you some of the BIG PICTURE. So to the best of “my” understanding and research, here we go. Please correct me if you find any serious mistakes.
For the first 10-20 years Christians continued worshipping in Jewish synagogues as they could, and in private homes. Eventually they were no longer allowed in the synagogues and the private homes became their churches. It will remain basically this way until the Roman Emperor Constantine rises, (who had a Christian mother), and he passes a law of religious tolerance, and begins giving great favor to the Christian church, even though he himself lived as a pagan until close to death, whereupon he (hopefully) got saved. He did get baptized.
So the “Home Setting” was very much the “norm” for the first almost 300 years of the church. It was very personable, AND… so was the Lord’s Table. The celebration of the Lord’s Table was very connected to the Jewish Passover. After all, the Jewish Passover is a vivid symbolic picture of everything Christ was going to do, in paying the price for our sins, and setting the slaves to sin, free! (Pictured by the Children of Israel being set free from slavery to Egypt after the death angel took out the first born son of the unbelieving families.) Blood on the doorposts. When the death angel sees the blood, he will PASSOVER you.
Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples in that upper room. He was and is the Passover! He is the fulfillment of that very promise and prophecy. The Passover is the Easter story! The two are completely connected. The early church fathers knew this and evidently the Apostle John instructed his student, Polycarp, who becomes Bishop of House Church Smyrna, to continue in the way the Jews celebrate Passover, as far as when you end the fast, and how you have the meal. (These are very important details that will be shared later.)
Now we have to ask ourself why that would be? I can actually understand why the Bishops of Rome started thinking some changes had to be made. After all, for the Christian, the story of Passover no longer ended with a death angel and a hurried escape from slavery out of Egypt! But now… three days later there is a Resurrection! Seems logical to me.
However, knowing there would have to be a very good reason for Polycarp to risk causing “division” over a matter, that set me to a deep study. And much to my surprise, I found some very rich answers! But first…our OVERVIEW is not finished.
I may need more than 1000 words today. So the word “Church” actually means someone’s “Home” for the first almost 300 years. AND…by the very fact that Polycarp and the Asia Minor House Churches refuse to agree with Rome concerning the Passover, is proof positive there was not a monarchial system established “yet”. This big Easter controversy begins around 140 A.D., towards end of Polycarp’s long life. He lives like 85 or so before martyred.
The House Church in Rome held a position of honor because of recognition and RESPECT of people like Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul, who were both martyred in Rome. A lot of people were taken to Rome to be martyred, including Polycarp. They took this poor eighty-something year old guy on a long trip, (like Paul), just so he could be burned at the stake in Rome. He died bravely, not defending himself, but just like Christ, a lamb to the slaughter. And this is how many died. Bravely declaring their faith in Christ. Knowing that meant certain death. Again, a picture of THE CROSS! (Whether a burning stake, hungry lions, or crucifixion.)
This is why the Bishop of Rome held a certain position of RESPECT, not that they had any actual authority over any of the other House Churches. Each House Church had their own Bishop, whom they probably chose themselves, because they knew the character of the person before they ever elected them. And once that person was elected to that position, then submission to the authority was expected, in order to maintain order, and PEACE, in the House representing the Prince of Peace.
But we will see as Bishops come and go, some Bishops of Rome begin to try using their “advantage” to exercise more power. And the first real indication of this I found with the 6th Bishop from Peter. Again I point out, very odd to see this begin to rear its ugly head with the number 6! This Bishop, (still not Pope!), but this Bishop announces 3 new rules. I’ll give you the one most obvious of what I’m saying. This is Bishop Sixtus of Rome. He was Bishop of House Church Rome from 115 – 125 A.D.. He decreed this>
“Bishops who have been summoned to the Holy See shall, upon their return, not be received by their diocese except on presenting Apostolic letters.”
So this came somewhere in 115 – 125 A.D.. And as far as I can tell, it was honored, BUT…when the Easter controversy begins arising around 140 A.D., Polycarp, possibly the only Bishop left at that time who could still claim direct training from the Apostles, declares he does not agree and will not change! He declares the Apostles specifically taught him to do it this way. WOW!
So… at that time…Rome and the Asia Minor House Churches agree to disagree and basically do it the way they each want. However, this controversy continues to boil, and the waters will grow hotter and hotter. It is interesting to me, that it is the Lord’s Supper, of all things, that becomes the most vivid “KEY” and answer to all this.
Now leaving our Rome Bishop for a moment; for some reason, which I have yet to find explanation for, but very early 3rd century (205 AD?), letters floating around and terminology being used begins to call any church Bishop a Pope! This title which by the end of the century somehow becomes the title of just the Bishop of Rome, first comes onto the scene in early 3rd century as applicable to ALL the Bishops! Now this really disturbs me, because simple minded as I am, I have read explanations that just because Jesus very specifically said to call no man father, but your heavenly Father, certain experts say that doesn’t necessarily mean he was forbidding the use of the word “Father” as a title in the Church. He was merely coming against pride and self-exaltation.
Well…as I said…I’m pretty simple minded…and as a simple minded person…maybe I can’t see so deep…but when Jesus said something so plainly…it worries me to in any way seem to go against that…even to take a chance of such a thing…but already we begin to see as early as aprox. 205 A.D….at least some Churches are daring to do such things. You can decide for yourself if you think the use of the term “Father” is an issue or not. And they do spell it with a capitol “F”! (Hhmmm.) Maybe I’ve said enough on this. May the Holy Spirit guide you on what you think pertaining to this, but I know what I’m thinking.
Next BIG PICTURE item, Bishops of Rome continue reaching for more power and by end of 3rd century, somehow they are the only one with the title Pope, (pope is a Greek word meaning “Papa”, if I remember that right. Again, calling a man, Father), and now the Roman Emperor Constantine is coming on the scene, and because he gives such favor and benefits to Christians, everyone starts wanting to be a Christian, (at least on paper), so they can get the benefits! Congregations are growing like crazy. Constantine begins giving the Home Churches very nice buildings to move into. The Lord’s Table changes from a very plain wood table in a home, to a cold stone altar in a very large cold stone building! And as far as I can see, church was never the same again!
The Bishop of Rome continues pressing his power to change Easter, and eventually forces his way. One of the worse points happened with Bishop Victor I. There had been other debates with other Bishops of Rome, but until Victor I, they always ended in compromise in favor of UNITY. But during 189-199 A.D., the reign of this Bishop, and with church still in Homes, this Bishop tried to really put his foot down! And when the Asia Minor churches still refused, (Polycarp long gone), Victor I actually cut off communications with them!
Fortunately, a man by name of Polycrates of Ephesus manages to write a letter bringing some grace back to things, and some unity is restored. But Rome will continue pushing this until they get their way, never mind that the Apostles themselves, had said OTHERWISE!
My conclusion has been that the Church managed to hold onto a pretty pure form, at least some of them, like Asia Minor, until around 250 A.D., but when the pagan Emperor Constantine begins to be allowed to have great influence in the church, this pagan influence seals the deal. We’ve never been the same since. We have very well-meaning and sincere Pastors doing the best they can with what we know. We also have Pastors who are no better than the ones who linked arms with a pagan emperor and allowed a pagan to influence the House of God!
Now…the impact on the changes made to the Lord’s Supper and Easter, are much deeper than simply when the fast should end. As a sincere Christian, you are being hurt by this change without even knowing it. The whole Church has been. The Apostle John and Polycarp and others back then, knew this. It will take a whole article in itself to reveal how insidious this move actually was, and is! This has been an overview, and next article we work on the nitty-gritty. I hope this has given you enough to think about for now.