Monday, July 20, 2015

Were Early Churches Ruled by Elders or a Single Bishop?

There is a (seemingly) never-ending debate amongst theologians and pastors about the proper form of government for the church. For generations, Christians have disagreed about what leadership structure the church ought to use. From the bishop-led Anglicans to the informal Brethren churches, there is great diversity.

And one of the fundamental flash points in this debate is the practice of the early church. What form of government did the earliest Christians have? Of course, early Christian polity is a vast and complex subject with many different issues in play. But, I want to focus in upon a narrow one: Were the earliest churches ruled by a plurality of elders or a single bishop?

Now it needs to be noted from the outset that by the end of the second century, most churches were ruled by a single bishop. For whatever set of reasons, monepiscopacy had won the day. Many scholars attribute this development to Ignatius (pictured above).

But, what about earlier? Was there a single-bishop structure in the first and early second century? Keep reading

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