Imagine for a second a world where most Christians could not read scripture, were not able to interpret it on their own. There was no Mardel’s down the road. No Matt Chandler on a podcast. For centuries, the gospel was not accessible for Christians. Knowing how to read was not enough. You had to know how to read in either Hebrew & Aramaic, Greek or Latin. It wasn’t until the invention of the Gutenberg Press in the late 15th Century that we see scriptures being translated into vernacular for the first time among Christian communities.
What kind of effect did this have on Christian submission?
At first, the Church (collectively) organized itself around apostolic succession. If one of the original apostles left you in charge, then you had their authority. You then passed it down to the next one in charge. However, the Church grew to rapidly and widespread. In response, it began to organize itself with a formal leadership structure: deacons, bishops, etc. Early Christians were at the mercy of those in leadership positions. Power corrupts and we see that some men in authority abused that power. After Constantine, Christianity even had the authority of the government behind it.
But not all authorities were corrupt. There were a great deal of men (and women) who were in authoritative positions and loved God. You see in the early church a battle to fend of heresies and make a formidable defense around the truth of Christ. One such example is St. Irenaeus of Lyons:
Those who desert the preaching of the Church call into question the teachings of the holy elders. They don’t even consider how much more religious man is worth – even in private life – than a blasphemous and insolent psuedo-intellectual. That’s what all the heretics are, and all those who imagine they’ve found something more beyond the truth.” – Against Heresies, 2nd Century
The Early Church was dealing with propaganda and their own version of “WWJD”. Was it powerful & life changing for some? Yes. Was there an opportunity to make money off of it? Yes, unfortunately. It was through submission and humility though that the Church continued to spread.
Take Jerome for example. He was asked to translate the Book of Tobit from Chaldean to Latin. Jerome had an issue with this task because the Jews rejected this book as scripture. Yet, we see Jerome submitted to the task, because he felt it was important to submit to the bishops:
“To Cromatius and Heliodorus, biships in the Lord….I have done what you have asked, but not by my own efforts. The Hebrew studies rebuke and fault us for translating this into Latin contrary to their cannon. But I imagine it is better to offend the opinion of the Pharisees and be subject to the commands of bishops.” – St. Jerome, Prologue to Tobit
I like to think the Holy Spirit was just as involved in the development of the Church back throughout history as much as it is today. Yes, there are unfortunately stains on the canvas of our history, but there is a great deal of good to appreciate.
- Spiritual Discipline: Submission
- Submission: Lens of Tradition
- Submission: Lens of Reason
- Submission: Lens of Experience