Baptist History Homepage

A Statement on the Apostle John and Authority
From The Early Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers

By Bill VanNunen, Dean
John Leland Baptist College

      Below is an interesting passage from a second century writer that addresses the issue of church organization. This passage suggests that Christians in the first century (within 60 years of Jesus' ascension) did not "organize themselves" into a church apart from some formal authority. They apparently requested authority to be formally constituted. This has to take precedent over any tradition to the contrary suggested by our Baptist forefathers.

      The excerpt comes from Clement of Alexandria's "The Rich Man Who Finds Salvation" (Section 42). This work is found in most editions of the Church Fathers, should anyone wish to verify it for themselves.

      This translation comes from The Early Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. It reads:

"For when, on the tyrant's death [Domitian], he [John the Apostle] returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit." (Italics mine - William Wilson, Translator)
      The Greek word "to set in order" is harmazo. It has a wide range of meanings including to prepare, make ready, to betroth, to set in order, regulate, organize, and to govern.

      The passage is also quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical Histories (Book 3.23.6). Below are three translations of Eusebius; there should be no questions over the meaning of the passage. Note that these churches "asked" the Apostle John to form and organize the new churches.

      "For when, after the tyrant's death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches (Italics mine - bvn), elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit." (Arthur Cushman McGiffert)

      "For after the tyrant was dead, coming from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went also, when called, to the neighboring regions of the Gentiles; in some to appoint bishops, in some to institute entire new churches (Italics mine - bvn), in others to appoint to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Holy Ghost." (C. F. Cruse)

      "When the tyrant was dead, and John had moved from the island of Patmos to Ephesus, he used to go when asked to the neighboring districts of the Gentile peoples, sometimes to appoint bishops, sometimes to organize whole churches (Italics mine - bvn), sometimes to ordain one person of those pointed out by the Spirit." (G. A. Williamson)


More on Baptists: Various Subjects
Baptist History Homepage