The Second Century Church, part 8
In our last article, we saw that the second century Church maintained the wisdom to preserve the type of unity that we Christians today pray for, but that seems so distant from us now. Even though cults existed during the second century such as the Gnostics, who taught a totally different Jesus and who followed their own "Scriptures", different from ours, the true Church stayed in unity. There was enough unity and agreement for all believers in the same city to go to the same church, and for the churches throughout the world to be linked together in fellowship. In the last article we read Irenaeus' (circa A. D. 170) description of the unity of the Church of his day. Now let's look at what another leader of the Church, writing around A. D. 200, said about the unity of the Church of his day:
"The churches throughout the world, although they are many, and many of them are large, make up only one primitive Church. And that Church was founded by the apostles. In this way they are all apostolic and are on in unity, in peaceful relationships and brotherhood, and in hospitality and love." (Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics, chapter 20; found in Polycarp and the Second Century Church, page 108).
Actually, by the time Tertullian wrote this, the Church was already experiencing its first division. Some Christians at that time insisted that a man named Montanus, who first became popular around A. D. 180, was a very important Christian prophet. However, the majority of the Church, although they agreed that there should be true prophets in their time, did not accept Montanus. They judged him by the fruit he produced and concluded he was false. After decisions had been made and people took sides, there began to be two churches (or what we would call denominations) in each city instead of one. The two groups agreed on the major doctrines of the Church, but the division was over whether or not to receive and honor the ministry of a certain man! This should be a lesson for us today. Divisions may occur because some receive the words of Jesus and others reject them. But we should never exalt a man to the place that we cannot be in unity with other Christians unless they receive and honor that man's ministry. For the Church, there is only one Great Hero and His name starts with a "J".
I am thankful that the Early Church had the discernment and wisdom not to honor Montanus as though he were a great prophet. But to examine that decision would take us a little past the second century. The second century Church was special because from A. D. 100 almost to A. D. 200 the Church remained as one body, without any denominations.