It’s a popular (but untrue) meme among liberal and revisionist scholars of early Christianity: that the Orthodox/Catholic/Nicene leaders in the early church solidified their power and subsequently squashed the diverse, feminist strands of Christianity that flourished in the first couple of centuries of the church. Usually these revisionist scholars submit as evidence for their claims the Gnostic “Gospels” that emerged well after the first century, that they claim were blocked by those in power.
So I’m thankful for Timothy Paul Jones’ article refuting revisionist claims that other “Gospels” were barred from the New Testament canon by the powerful.
But while refuting the revisionists, Jones commits a tiny revision himself. Jones is a Baptist scholar at a Baptist seminary. And he retells church history with a distinctly Baptist slant. Which is fine. Except that the early church was not Baptist. At least not as we understand Baptist today.
Jones says that in A.D. 199, Serapion “became the lead pastor of the leading church in Syria, the church in Antioch. As the leading pastor in Antioch, Serapion was responsible not only for his own church but also for several smaller congregations in the area.” That would be the job description of a bishop, or even a patriarch, but not a “lead pastor.” “Lead pastor”–a distinctly 21st century megachurch term–makes it sound like Serapion called weekly staff meetings to “cast a vision,” to deal with the issues of opening a new satellite campus in the suburbs of Antioch, and to work out the details of the new worship service targeted at 20-somethings. I’m surprised Jones didn’t refer to Serapion’s jurisdiction as a “conference”!
Jones may not like the terms “bishop” or “patriarch”–since Baptists are radically congregationalist–but that doesn’t change history that by the time Serapion lived, the church was firmly episcopal.