1. The churches of the early period. It is commonly agreed among scholars that the "bishop" or "presbyter" of the New Testament was the pastor of a local church, and that there is no hint of the formal organization of these churches into diocesan or other unitary groups. By slow degrees, in sub-apostolic and later times, the pastor of the local body became the bishop of the city and then of the paroikia or group of neighboring cities. "In great cities," says Du Chesne, a Romanist writer (in "Christian Worship," p. 401, and speaking of the fourth century), there were many churches, but all "expansions of the cathedral, rather than distinct parishes." The sacred elements consecrated in this central "cathedral" were sent around to the branches in the city, and later sent to those in the larger diocese, and they were thus taught to regard themselves
as fractional parts of the diocesan whole.
2. The World-Church under Constantine. It was not until the calling of an "ecumenical council" by the world-ruler, Constantine, that the notion of an ecumenical church seems to have ripened into definite form, and the word "catholic" to have been introduced into the so-called Apostles' Creed. Councils had hitherto been local, advisory in character, independently summoned by local bodies, and composed of laity as well as clergy. But the Council of Nicea was officially summoned by the head of the Christian empire and composed of the official heads of all its component ecclesiastical and civic dioceses. Its decrees were endorsed by the imperial hand, and the church thus consolidated into a world organism. So came, later, the "Holy Roman Empire," and in the end the "Holy Catholic Church" of modern times, under a Christian Pontifex Maximus, as lineal successor of Peter and Constantine alike.
[Jesse Thomas, The Church and the Kingdom: A New Testament Study, Louisville, 1914, pp. 165-166. - Scanned by Jim Duvall]
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