Opening Our Eyes – “SCHISM” – Part 3 of 4

denominationaltree

As we near the end of the first century, the Church of Jesus Christ, which began in the upper room on Pentecost was still united in faith and practice.  There was one church, rooted in one doctrine, spreading around the entire Mediterranean basin.  The Church was growing, in size and in influence, and subsequently found herself under attack in a physical way through persecutions, and in a spiritual way through heretical teachers.  The persecutions in the long run strengthened the Church, while the heresies and false doctrines that were repudiated through the seven Ecumenical Councils at first hindered the church, but in the end, they too strengthened the resolve and commitment to orthodoxy in the church.  By the end of the first century it was very clear what the true marks of the Church were: those adhering to 1. Historic antiquity  2. Apostolic authority  3. Doctrinal unity  4. Liturgy and Sacraments

It must be reiterated again, that the Church in this first century was never broken or divided.  And it needs to be asserted here that this One holy, catholic, orthodox and apostolic church that was birthed at Pentecost is still here today!!  Not broken or divided.  There was one church, gathered around the teachings of one Christ, and led by the apostles and their successors, Orthodox bishops.  Sadly though, there were many who broke away from the church, but the Church was never broken and divided.  This is a crucial understanding for us to realize.  There were no “denominations of Christians.”  You were either a member of the Church and her apostolic teachings and Ecumenical creeds – or you were outside the Church.  There was no middle ground.

As the first century came to a close, there were Five Patriarchal Bishops who led the Church in areas where Christianity was most influential.   The five Sees were: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem.  All being led by bishops, the successors to the apostles, and all bishops whether in large urban cities, or in small towns and villages – were equal…no heirarchy existed.  The Patriarchs had administrative authority for the church in their lands, but each bishop in each city was in charge of the churches charged to their care.  The unity of the Church was in the unity of the Bishops, who taught the same faith, and administered the same sacraments and doctrines.  But in the late 900’s the Bishop of Rome began to change all this.  He began to assert special prerogatives and instituted a “universal authority” with himself and the See in Rome  that was never known in the history of the Church.

The Bishop of Rome, was always afforded the honorary position of “first, among equals” – as the successor to the first bishop of Rome – the apostle Peter.  That is an undisputed truth.  But as the years went by the culture, politics, and communications between Eastern Christianity marked by the four patriarchates in the east and the Western Church in Rome – began to unravel.  Language issues, culture, travel and distance along with complex political maneuverings made the two regions become increasingly tense, and distant from one another.

However, in spite of all this the Church was still one.  But in 1054 AD, the Bishop of Rome sent a representative to Constantinople, Cardinal Humbert , and he placed a “bull” (papal decree)  on the Church altar of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia)  during the Divine Liturgy that excommunicated the Bishop of Constantinople.  

So how did this happen?  Two critical reasons:

1. The Bishop of Rome and the Church in the West, acted unilaterally (on their own) and changed the wording of the six hundred year old “Nicene Creed”.  By adding a new clause to the creed, on their own with no consultations with the other bishops or Ecumenical Councils, not only did Rome break with the historic precedent of conciliar unity – but they also introduced a heretical teaching about the Holy Spirit called the “filioque” clause – stating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son…  The Church never taught that, the Nicene Creed never contained that, and Rome changed it at their own whim.  See John 14:16; 15:26  “…the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father…”

2. The Bishop of Rome asserted universal authority over all the other bishops.  Specifically, not only was the Pope “first”, but now the rest of the Bishops were no longer equals.  The Pope of Rome would be the “head of all the Church” and he alone would exercise universal authority for all doctrine, practice and administration.   This contradicts the humble teaching of Jesus who said that whoever wanted to be greatest must be servant of all.  Peter never referred to himself in this supreme manner, and in fact, at the first council recorded in Acts 15, James, the Lord’s brother, Bishop of Jerusalem was the leader and rendered the final decision because the council occured in his diocese.   The Church has only One True Head – One Pontiff:  Jesus Christ, and His bishops serve Him in unity with equality.  The church’s Head is Christ, and she is led by the Holy Spirit, and the Body is served by those called and ordained in apostolic succession.  The unity of faith and practice under Bishops who rightly divided the word of truth is what kept the church whole.

schism

Finally in 1204  AD the split was completely broken by the actions of Western “Crusaders” who sacked, burned, raped and pillaged their Christian brothers and sisters in the city of Constantinople.  Blood flowed like rivers in the streets, sacred vessels were plundered and stolen (you can see them today in the Roman Catholic Church, St. Mark’s in Venice) and prostitutes danced openly on the holy altar of Hagia Sophia.   The bloodshed and devastation to Eastern Christians is remembered even to this day.  Both of these decisions by Rome caused them to break way from the true church – and to become the “first denomination”, to become a literal Pandora’s box that opened the lid for thousands of others who would do their own thing and break from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  This terrible event of unilateral assertion was the spark that birthed the raging fires of many more teachings and proclamations that were not Orthodox and which eventually caused a little known monk named Martin Luther to nail 95 Theses on Wittenberg Wall.   Luther saw the profound errors of Rome – but he and the other Reformers failed to return to the Church.

Instead they started their own “churches”, (Luther-ans – Calvin-ists – Wesley-ans etc.) What once was united in faith and practice is now a mishmash of individuality and confusion.  We study these facts not to gloat, or to claim “supremacy” as the “right” church – but as a lamentation and a clarion call for us all to come home to the faith that was unified for a millennia.  And so we see today a Christianity that is divided in faith and practice across the Globe.

Except for one….

Anaphora!

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2 thoughts on “Opening Our Eyes – “SCHISM” – Part 3 of 4

  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

    • Dear Jim,

      Thanks for your kind remarks and for spending the time to visit the site. I really appreciate that you take the time to do this. At heart I am basically a “learner” and a student – fairly ignorant but with a strong desire to humble myself at the feet of those who are wise. In the end I still find myself wholly inadequate when it comes to “wisdom” i.e. true knowledge… but there is hope! I find that when I sit and listen to the voices of those who have gone on before us, to listen to men and women who are the “mothers and fathers” of church and culture – that I am wiser for simply being in their presence.

      I’m glad that something that I’ve commented on has been helpful to you – and God willing to others. So here’s to the lifelong journey of shaping the present and future, by learning from the wisdom and beauty of the past.

      Grace and Peace —- Mike

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