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3. Division and Classification of Christians

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER II. Names and classes of christians

3. Division and Classification of Christians

As in the Old Testament, two great classes of persons are recognized and distinguished, the one from the other – the children of Israel and the gentiles.** So in the New Testament we observe a similar division,* those that are within and those that are without. The former denotes Christians, not only as united together in the fellowship of the church, but as opposed to the latter class, which includes both Jews and gentiles. This classification, however, has no reference to a division of Christians among themselves, but simply to the distinction between such as are, and such as are not, believers in the Christian religion. A similar form of expression is used in various passages also to distinguish the true and the false disciples of Christ, Mark 4:11, 13:14, Luke 6:13, 2 John 2:19.

The equality of all Christians is clearly asserted in the Scriptures. They are brethren, and as such have equal rights*. Comp. 2 Pet. 1:1. They are one heritage, 2 Pet. 5:3; and all members of the same head. Col. 1:18. Nay, Christ himself asserts the equality of all his disciples, Luke 22:25, 26. And yet a distinction is made between the master and his disciple – the teacher and the taught. The one are denominated the people*, the flock*, the body of believers*, the church*, private persons*, and laymen, or men devoted to seculiar pursuits*. The others are styled teachers*, leaders*, shepherds*, overseers*, elders*, rulers*, etc. Subordinate to these were the deacons*, the widows*, deaconesses*, the attendants*, and the inferiors*. So that even the New Testament indicates an ecclesiastical order, which at a later age became much more prominent.

The sacred persons mentioned in the New Testament, and the regulations prescribed for the worship of God, were undoubtedly derived from the religion of the Jews. Indeed this fact has never been called in question. The only inquiry has been whether the organization of the christian church is to be derived chiefly from the forms of the temple service, or from those of the synagogue worship, both of which were in use through the period of the second temple, from the time of the Babylonish captivity to that of the christian era.

This difference of opinion is evidently very ancient. Tertullian compares the office of bishop with that of the high priest. Cyprian and Jerome consider the Mosaic economy as the prototype of the christian church. while Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Augustine and others, refer its origin to the synagogue. The church of Rome manifestly has great interest in establishing the first hypothesis. And yet there are not wanting in that church those who maintain the contrary opinion. The majority of the learned, especially of the evangelical church, oppose the theory that the constitution of the church is to be traced for the most part to the temple service; but in every particular they labor to show that it is derived from the regulations of the Jewish synagogue.

The most ancient specific classification in the church, of which we have any knowledge, is found in Eusebius. In every church there are three orders of men. One of the superiors*, i.e. rulers, leaders or guides; and two of the subjects*, i.e. the people, the body of the church. The latter class comprehends two divisions, the unbaptized, and the faithful The unbaptized are usually denominated catechumens*, candidates for baptism." See 5. Catechumens.

The above classification of Eusebius, in reality recognizes but two classes of men. Those that teach, and those that are taught. And this corresponds with the classification given by Jerome,  though he specifies five classes – bishops, presbyters, deacons, believers, and catechumens. Here again, there really are but two divisions; those that teach, comprising the first three, and those that are taught, comprising the last two. The divisions of the church which occur in periods still later, are substantially the same. They universally recognize the distinction of the teacher, and the taught. These are most frequently denominated the laity and the clergy, with this difference, that in the latter class, the idea of ruler as well as teacher is comprehended, a distinction, however, which is rather implied than expressed.

Tertullian, De Baptism, c. 17.

Cyprian, Ep. 1. 2. 4. Hieron. contr. Jovin. lib. ii.

Morini, Exercit. lib. ii.
(No tag #3 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Demonstrat. Evangel, lib. vii. c. 2.

Comment. Isa. c. 19.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

(** denotes Hebrew text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

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