Was the main purpose of elders/priests to perform sacraments?
Was it to promote the sword?
Or was it to lead and support true Christianity?
Even though leaders in various professing Christian faiths often wear unusual garments and vestments, is that what early Christian leaders did?
What are the qualifications and duties supposed to be for Christian leaders?
This article will briefly attempt to answer those questions.
The Bible gives and early writings provide helpful information about the qualifications and duties of Christian leaders.
The Apostle Paul was inspired to write (1 Timothy 3:1-13):
- This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
- A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;
- Not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;
- One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence
- (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);
- Not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
- Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
- Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money,
- Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.
- But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.
- Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.
- Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
- For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Notice specifically that bishops (another word for a senior elder or pastor) were supposed to be married and serve well. Deacons were also married and were to serve well.
Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, and lived until the mid-second century wrote:
And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always "providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man ; " abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and "we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself." Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error (Polycarp, Chapter VI. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
It may be of interest to note that the term sacraments is not part of Paul's or Polycarp's description (nor is it in the New Testament) of the duties of an elder.
This does not mean that elders and pastors did not baptize or perform marriages (which took a relatively small part of their time) for example, but does indicate that sacramental duties were not the focus of church leaders in the first and second centuries.
The idea of sacraments, as now understood, came from pre-Christian Roman and Greek practices:
Rome and its laws gave the early church two things: universality and the specifically Roman concept of sacraments...The concept of sacraments, as it has come into the West through Latin-speaking Christianity is a legal...as well as mystical, as it was in Greek thought (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, pp. 35,36).
From a "Christian" perspective, it appears that a heretic named Marcus may have come up with a version of the Catholic eucharistic and baptismal sacraments/ceremonies. Notice that Irenaeus condemned mystical consecrations and non-immersion baptismal practices:
1. But there is another among these heretics, Marcus by name, who boasts himself as having improved upon his master. He is a perfect adept in magical impostures, and by this means drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him, as to one who is possessed of the greatest knowledge and perfection, and who has received the highest power from the invisible and ineffable regions above. Thus it appears as if he really were the precursor of Antichrist. For, joining the buffooneries of Anaxilaus to the craftiness of the magi, as they are called, he is regarded by his senseless and cracked-brain followers as working miracles by these means.
2. Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, he contrives to give them a purple and reddish colour, so that Charis, who is one of those that are superior to all things, should be thought to drop her own blood into that cup through means of his invocation, and that thus those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis, who is set forth by this magician, may also flow into them...
3...Others, again, lead them to a place where water is, and baptize them, with the utterance of these words, "Into the name of the unknown Father of the universe -- into truth, the mother of all things -- into Him who descended on Jesus -- into union, and redemption, and communion with the powers." Others still repeat certain Hebrew words, in order the more thoroughly to bewilder those who are being initiated, as follows: "Basema, Chamosse, Baoenaora, Mistadia, Ruada, Kousta, Babaphor, Kalachthei." The interpretation of these terms runs thus: "I invoke that which is above every power of the Father, which is called light, and good Spirit, and life, because Thou hast reigned in the body." Others, again, set forth the redemption thus: The name which is hidden from every deity, and dominion, and truth which Jesus of Nazareth was clothed with in the lives of the light of Christ -- of Christ, who lives by the Holy Ghost, for the angelic redemption. The name of restitution stands thus: Messia, Uphareg, Namempsoeman, Chaldoeaur, Mosomedoea, Acphranoe, Psaua, Jesus Nazaria...
4...But there are some of them who assert that it is superfluous to bring persons to the water, but mixing oil and water together, they place this mixture on the heads of those who are to be initiated, with the use of some such expressions as we have already mentioned (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book I, 13:1-2; 21:3-4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. KnightBook).
I no longer recall the precise terms that the Roman priests use (as they usually use Latin), but the appearance of these Roman Catholic sacraments seems to bear a strong resemblance to the type of ceremonies that Irenaeus condemned.
I will also state that the Roman Church admits that immersion used to be the norm, without the use of baptismal fonts, like it now uses:
In the Apostolic Age, as in Jewish times (John 3:23), baptism was administered without special fonts (Peterson JB. Transcribed by the Cloistered Dominican Nuns. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).
I should probably add that while I do not know if any oil is used with Roman Catholic baptisms, that oil is placed in the baptismal fonts when they are blessed (normally by a bishop or priest).
The late fourth century Latin Bishop Ambrose did writings that apparently got sacraments more accepted:
St. Ambrose...His dogmatic writings deal mostly with the divinity of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Ghost, also with the Christian sacraments...A special work on Baptism (De sacramento regenerationis), often quoted by St. Augustine, has perished. We possess yet, however, his excellent treatise (De Mysteriis) on Baptism, Confirmation, and the Blessed Eucharist (P.L. XVI, 417-462)...(Loughlin, James. "St. Ambrose." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 21 Jul. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01383c.htm)
Regarding priests and sacraments, the Eastern Orthodox teach:
The sacraments are seven in number, and include baptism, chrismation, Holy Easter, repentance, ordination, and holy unction...We see then, first of all, that the priest, as performer of the sacrament, is simply the instrument of the invisible and actual celebrant, the Lord himself...The Orthodox church accepts the above-mentioned seven sacraments, which were known from antiquity in the Orthodox East. They were always believed in, as testified by liturgical practice. The teaching concerning them, however, was not written down, as it was considered to be secret" (Clendenin D.B. ed. Eastern Orthodox Theology, 2nd ed. Baker Academic, 2003, pp. 22,23).
It should be noted that the term sacraments is not found in any literally translated version of the Bible. Orthodox claims notwithstanding, there is no evidence that the church in the East ever embraced Easter Sunday or chrismation before the third century or that repentance and baptism were considered to be separate"sacraments". Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that the word of God is complete (II Timothy 3:16-17)--hence there is no essential element to the church that should ever have been considered to be "secret". These practices were secret as they bear relationships to non-Christian practices of various pagans--they are not biblical.
It should be noted that the Roman Catholic Church considers that marriage is a sacrament, even though that is not one of the seven of the Eastern Orthodox. The Roman Catholic Church teaches this about sacraments:
Taking the word "sacrament" in its broadest sense, as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is "mystery"), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity...According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, accepted today by many Episcopalians, the sacraments of the Christian dispensation are not mere signs; they do not merely signify Divine grace, but in virtue of their Divine institution, they cause that grace in the souls of men. "Signum sacro sanctum efficax gratiae" -- a sacrosanct sign producing grace, is a good, succinct definition of a sacrament of the New Law...
The Council of Trent solemnly defined that there are seven sacraments of the New Law, truly and properly so called, viz., Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony. The same enumeration had been made in the Decree for the Armenians by the Council of Florence (1439), in the Profession of Faith of Michael (Kennedy D.J. Transcribed by Marie Jutras. Sacraments. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
The sacramental concept of confirmation is also not anywhere in the Bible nor in any known writings prior to the third century.
The sacramental concept of the Eucharist has raised concerns as some have noted that it has many similarities to Mithraism:
The view most widely held today among upholders of the historico-religious theory is that the Eucharist and the Mass originated in the practices of the Persian Mithraism (Dieterich, H. T. Holtzmann, Pfleiderer, Robertson, etc.). "In the Mandaean mass" writes Cumont ("Mysterien des Mithra", Leipzig, 1903, p.118), "the celebrant consecrated bread and water, which he mixed with perfumed Haoma-juice, and ate this food while performing the functions of divine service". Tertullian in anger ascribed this mimicking of Christian rites to the "devil" and observed in astonishment (De prescript haeret, C. xl): "celebrat (Mithras) et panis oblationem." (Pohle J. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. Sacrifice of the Mass. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Hence, at least certain sacramental elements are known to have non-Christian similarities (for more on this, please see the articles on Justin Martyr and Do You Practice Mithraism?).
And many were added in the fourth century:
Notice the following admission by a Catholic priest while discussing Revelation Chapter VII:
The Roman persecutions officially decreed are now over...
Verses 11 and 12...
In this period the Church labors to consolidate her gains, to solidify her institutions and to develop her literature, liturgy, music and art. It is the age of the Great Fathers and Doctors, both East and West, both Latin and Greek (Kramer H.B. L. The Book of Destiny. Nihil Obstat: J.S. Considine, O.P., Censor Deputatus. Imprimatur: +Joseph M. Mueller, Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, January 26, 1956. Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), p. 164).
As those Roman decrees against the Church of Rome did not end until the 4th century according to the same priest (p. 181), the priest is admitting that this is when the modern Roman liturgy was developed.
Furthermore, history records that there were those that objected to the Christians being involved in sacraments. The Catholic Encyclopedia states:
The Paulicians, as part of their heresy held that...all external religious forms, sacraments, rites, especially material pictures and relics, should be abolished. (Fortescue A. Iconoclasm. Transcribed by Michael C. Tinkler.The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
But who were the heretics?
Was it heretical to object to sacraments and ceremonies that were not in the Bible? The Paulicians (roughly 6th-10th century) were against sacraments and relics (like idols, please see the article What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?) as was the original church. So would they be the heretics or are the real heretics those who changed practices to endorse unbiblical sacramental practices?
(More about the Paulicians can be found in the articles on the Pergamos Church and the Churches of Revelation 2 & 3.)
Regarding priests, The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches:
Priest This word (etymologically "elder", from presbyteros, presbyter) has taken the meaning of "sacerdos", from which no substantive has been formed in various modern languages (English, French, German). The priest is the minister of Divine worship, and especially of the highest act of worship, sacrifice. In this sense, every religion has its priests, exercising more or less exalted sacerdotal functions as intermediaries between man and the Divinity (Boudinhon A. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Priest. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
But the Bible, as Saint Paul here wrote, states:
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
The only mediator in the Christian religion is supposed to be Jesus the Christ. Thus, the opinion of certain Catholic scholars seems to be in conflict with scripture, since the Bible says the one Mediator is Jesus, not some priest or human leader.
Because of the "intermediary" position that Rome now has placed its priests in, Rome has them hear confessions and essential claim to forgive sins. Yet, this is a seventh century change according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1447) and was not an original apostolic or early Christian practice (for details and quotes, please see the article History of Auricular Confession and the 'Sacrament of Confession'). The elder role was not sacramental.
Therefore, while Paul and Polycarp (in the first and second centuries, respectively) taught a service oriented eldership, Catholic scholars later seemed to change it to a sacramentally oriented profession.
It should be noted that early leaders/elders/priest did not have liturgical vestments as the Catholic/Orthodox priests and others now wear, as they did not exist before the fourth century.
Notice that The Catholic Encyclopedia admits this:
Stephen 1...it is generally believed that he was consecrated 12 May, 254, and that he died 2 August, 257...In his days the vestments worn by the clergy at Mass and other church services did not differ in shape or material from those ordinarily worn by the laity (Mann H. Transcribed by Kenneth M. Caldwell. Pope St. Stephen I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
The liturgical vestments have by no means remained the same from the founding of the Church until the present day. There is as great a difference between the vestments worn at the Holy Sacrifice in the pre-Constantinian period, and even in the following centuries, and those now customary at the services of the Church, as between the rite of the early Church and that of modern times...Four main periods may be distinguished in the development of the Christian priestly dress. The first embraces the era before Constantine. In that period the priestly dress did not yet differ from the secular costume in form and ornament. The dress of daily life was worn at the offices of the Church. In times of peace and under normal conditions better garments were probably used...The second period embraces the time from about the fourth to the ninth century. It is the most important epoch in the history of liturgical vestments, the epoch in which not merely a priestly dress in a special sense was created, but one which at the same time determined the chief vestments of the present liturgical dress (Joseph Braun. Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett. Vestments. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
It is impossible to indicate exactly when the pallium was first introduced. According to the "Liber Pontificalis", it was first used in the first half of the fourth century. ("Pallium." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 20 Oct. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11427a.htm>)
In other words, up until at least the fourth century, even Catholic leaders did not dress differently than members.
Jesus did not wear distinctive clothing else Judas would not have had to point Him out:
Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him." Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him (Matthew 26:48-49).
Paul did not wear distinctive clothing or he would not have been misidentified:
Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, "May I speak to you?" He replied, "Can you speak Greek? Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?" (Acts 21:37-38).
There is no record in the New Testament of any instruction for the clergy/ministry to dress differently than the lay members. The true leaders from Jesus to Paul to Polycarp to beyond simply did not dress in special vestments. Nor is there any indication from the Bible or tradition that the Apostle Peter did either. Thus there was no biblical reason to consider special vestments, etc. as necessary (or even desirable).
The ministry of the various COGs wear clothing appropriate for their respective cultures. There is no clear distinction in dress for the ministry compared to the laity.
Actually, because of persecution, it would have been dangerous for elders/presbyters/bishops to adopt the type of dress they now wear in the days of early Christianity. It should be noted that early leaders/elders/priest did not have liturgical vestments as the Catholic/Orthodox priests and others now wear, as they did not exist that early. This is a minor, but noticeable, physical example of how the COG is more faithful to the original practices of the Christian church than many churches are.
So where did priests, bishops, and other religious leaders get the idea of special clothing? Apparently by following the example of Emperor Constantine. Notice what was written by a Roman Catholic named Peter de Rosa:
Rome...successors will be not the servants but the masters of the world. They will dress in purple like Nero and call themselves Pontifex Maximus...
By the time Stephen III became pope, the church was thoroughly converted to the Roman Empire. From the Donation, it is plain that the Bishop of Rome looked like Constantine, lived like him, dressed liked him, inhabited his palaces, ruled over his lands, had exactly the same imperial outlook. The pope, too, wanted to lord it over church and state. (De Rosa, Peter. Vicars of Christ. Poolberg Press, Dublin, 2000, pp. 34,45).
Pontifex Maximus was a title, literally meaning bridge-builder (but figuratively meaning the link between God and man) that Roman Emperors, including Constantine, used for themselves. Emperor Constantine had been a follower of Mithras, and apparently influenced many of the Greco-Roman clergy to dress like the clergy of Mithraism. This is an obvious change to the practices of the original Christian leaders (see also Do You Practice Mithraism?).
Furthermore, other parts came from, not the Bible, but mystics.
For example, one item is the scapular. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as follows:
The scapular (from Latin, scapula, shoulder) forms a part, and now the most important part, of the habit of the monastic orders. Other orders and numerous religious congregations (both male and female) have also adopted the scapular from the monastic orders. It is usually worn over the habit or soutane. Description It consists essentially of a piece of cloth about the width of the breast from one shoulder to the other (i.e. about fourteen to eighteen inches), and of such a length that it reaches not quite to the feet in front and behind. There are also shorterforms of the scapular ("Scapular." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 11 Feb. 2009 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13508b.htm>)
But how did this idea become part of the dress of many? By some understanding of a mystic (who did not get the idea from the Bible):
Many Catholic devotions are based solely on private revelations: the Rosary, the Sacred Heart, and the Scapular are cases in point (Dupont, Yves. Catholic Prophecy: The Coming Chastisement. TAN Books, Rockford (IL), 1973, p.9).
Thus, it should be clear that the dress of the Roman/Orthodox clergy did not originate from the Bible, but were later additions from source outside the Bible.
Despite the truth about this, notice a declaration from a Catholic saint named Alphonsus Maria de Liguori who wrote in the 18th century:
The priest's vestments, namely, the amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole, and chasuble should be in a good condition and have been blessed by the bishop or by an authorized priest. It is certainly a mortal sin to celebrate Mass without a chasuble, or with a chasuble not blessed; the same thing holds good in regard to the alb. Theologians agree more or less in saying the same thing in regard to the other vestments. (Liguori AM. Eugene editor. The complete works of Alfonso Maria de' Liguori: the ascetical works, Volume XIII, The Holy Mass; translated from the Italian. Approbation: Elles Fred Schaeur, Baltimore, January 3, 1889. Benziger Brothers, Printers to the Holy Apostolic See, London, 1889, pp. 416-417).
His position is a violation of sacred scripture, early tradition, and the history of even his church.
Head Coverings for Overseers/Bishops/Patriarchs?
The Rheims New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11 teaches:
3. And I will have you know, that the head of every man, is Christ: and the head of the woman, is the man: and the head of Christ, is God. 4. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered: dishonorest his head.
The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
The Ninth Ordo states that the camelaucum was made of white stuff and shaped like a helmet...The camelaucum was worn by the pope principally during solemn processions. The mitre developed from the camelaucum in this way: in the course of the tenth century the pope began to wear this head-covering not merely during processions to the church, but also during the subsequent church service...
The Roman cardinals certainly had already the right to wear the mitre towards the end of the eleventh century. Probably they possessed the privilege as early as in the first half of the century...
In the Orthodox Greek Rite (the other Greek Rites need not here be considered) a liturgical head-covering was not worn until the sixteenth century. Before this only the Patriarch of Alexandria, who wore one as early as the tenth century, made use of a head-covering, and his was only a simple cap (Braun J. Transcribed by William Stuart French, Jr. Mitre. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
It has been claimed the “Bishop of Rome” started to wear one sometimes during Contantine’s era, but not before. Here is what the Catholic Lopes reported:
SILVESTER I, ST. (314-335)…he appears to have been the first one to wear the tiara from which the bishop’s mitre is derived. (Lopes A. Translation by Charles Nopar. The Popes. Pontifical Administration, Rome, 1997 and 2005 editions, p. 11)
It appears to be admitted that head coverings for male church leaders was not an early practice of any of the churches that professed Christ. Even those who visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City can notice (like I did there in 2009 and 2010) that while the statues of later leaders are shown to have head covering, none of the statues made to try to properly represent early leaders have any such coverings.
Genuine Church of God leaders follow the teachings of the Bible, including 1 Corinthians 11:3-4. They do not pray or conduct church services wearing hats, mitres, or other head coverings. However, just like the Bible allowed the priests in the Old Testament to have beards (e.g. Leviticus 21:1-5; Psalm 133:22), church leaders can have beards or other facial coverings (though in modern times few do).
Nearly every Catholic/Orthodox bishop I have seen praying has done so wearing some type of head covering--they are dishonoring their head (who is supposed to be Christ) by praying that way. Hence, they seem to be disqualifying themselves as true Christian leaders by their head coverings.
Therefore, just seeing the appearance of any Catholic/Orthodox bishop should be enough to show people that the genuine Church of God is more faithful than the Roman or Orthodox churches to the Bible and early traditions of the Church.
Should the shaved appearance of some practicing Catholics cause concern? Is this a Christian practice or did it come from somewhere else.
Wikipedia's Tonsure article states:
Tonsure is the traditional practice of Christian churches of cutting or shaving the hair from the scalp (while leaving some parts uncut) of clerics, monastics, and, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, all baptized members. Tonsure, usually qualified by the name of the religion concerned, is now sometimes used more generally for such cutting or shaving for monks, devotees, or mystics of other religions as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem, e.g., by Buddhist novices and monks, and some Hindu streams...
The origin of the tonsure remains unclear, but it certainly was not widely known in antiquity. There were three forms of tonsure known in the 7th and 8th centuries...(viewed 04/10/2013)
It is true that for centuries, various monks have shaved the center of their heads to make themselves bald. But I would like to help make its origins clearer.
First, it seems to have existed for a long time as something like it has been prohibited by sacred scripture for thousands of years:
1 "Speak to the priests...5 'They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh. (Leviticus 21:1,5)
15 "But the priests, the Levites...20 "They shall neither shave their heads, nor let their hair grow long, but they shall keep their hair well trimmed. (Ezekiel 44:15,20)
Despite what the Bible teaches, various ones who claim some version of 'Christianity' (those who prefer tradition over the Bible) persist in this type of practice today. Bald shavings were practices of some pagan priests who were involved in sun-god worship in ancient times. This may be why God prohibited it. Those who do it are rebelling against biblical and apostolic authority.
Irrespective of claims to the contrary, the type of shavings commonly seen were not an original practice of the apostles or those in the early church. Furthermore, even the late 4th/early 5th century Roman Catholic saint and doctor Jerome condemned some versions of it:
Tonsure A sacred rite instituted by the Church by which a baptized and confirmed Christian is received into the clerical order by the shearing of his hair and the investment with the surplice...St. Jerome (in Ezech., xliv) disapproves of clerics shaving their heads. Indeed, among the Greeks and Romans such a custom was a badge of slavery. On this very account, the shaving of the head was adopted by the monks. Towards the end of the fifth, or beginning of the sixth, century, the custom passed over to the secular clergy. As a sacred rite, the tonsure was originally joined to the first ordination received, as in the Greek Church it still is to the order of lector. In the Latin Church it began as a separate ceremony about the end of the seventh century, when parents offered their young sons to the service of God...In Britain, the Saxon opponents of the Celtic tonsure called it the tonsure of Simon Magus. (Fanning, William. "Tonsure." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 10 Apr. 2013 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14779a.htm>)
The tonsure originated prior to the time of the apostles. Notice the following references:
The tonsure of the priests and monks is an exact imitation of that of the priests of Isis; (Higgins G. Anacalypsis an Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis: Or an Inquiry Into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions, Volume 2. Longman, 1836. Digitized March, 29, 2010, p. 78).
Isis...Her worship advanced over nearly the entire Roman world...The tonsure (shaving of hair from the head) of her priests prefigured that of Christian monks. (Dunstan WE. Ancient Rome. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011, p. 465)
the infant Brahmin...in India...In the second or third year, after his birth, the ceremony of tonsure must be performed; this was an old practice of the priests of Mithra, who, in their tonsures, imitated the solar disk. (Maurice T. Indian antiquities: or, Dissertations, relative to the ancient geographic divisions, the pure system of primeval theology ... of Hindostan: compared, throughout, with the religion, laws, government, and literature of Persia, Egypt, and Greece, the whole intended as introductory to the ..., Volume 7. T. Maurice, 1806. Digitized August 24, 2007, pp. 339-340)
Mithraism had its monks and nuns, as Tertullian admits, with the tonsure in honour of the disc of the Sun. To be shorn of hair is, doubtless, a sign of asceticism ; but it is the form of the tonsure (Khwaja K. The Sources of Christianity. The Basheer Muslim Library, 1924. Original from Oxford University Digitized 21 Dec 2007, p. 100)
Those monks and others who practice the tonsure are following a pagan religious practice that the Bible opposes. This should not be for those that claim to follow the Jesus of the Bible--and He did not have a tonsure either. While the Bible does tell of a shaving of the head related to a Nazarite vow (Leviticus 6:18), which the Apostle Paul did once do (Acts 18:18), this was not a permanent situation for display like the practices of ancient pagan priests as various Catholic monks. And the hair shaving came AFTER a period of separation and hair growth (Leviticus 6:18)--which is another difference from the tonsure.
The tonsure is in conflict with Leviticus 21:5 and Ezekiel 44:20, and while some may suggest that those prohibitions were done away, Jesus and His apostles did not teach that Christians should attempt to look like pagan priests. And those that do so, give those, such as Muslims, reasons to question and dismiss the whole idea of Christianty.
What most of the world (including Wikipedia) believes represents original Christianity is a compromise with paganism and does not represent the practices of Jesus or His original apostles. The tonsure should be a sign to everyone that sees it that those who practice it are not being faithful to the Bible or the practices of the early apostles.
Mystic Priests Were Associated With Simon Magus and Mithraism
When did priests practicing mysteries first claim to be Christian? The writings from the second century heretics Justin and Irenaeus provide perhaps the earliest answers.
Notice that Justin wrote that the descendants of Simon Magus are called Christians:
"To Simon the holy God." And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him. And a man, Meander, also a Samaritan, of the town Capparetaea, a disciple of Simon, and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art...All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians (Justin. First Apology, Chapter XXVI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
And notice what Irenaeus wrote about priests associated with Simon Magus:
Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin...Thus, then, the mystic priests belonging to this sect both lead profligate lives and practise magical arts, each one to the extent of his ability. They use exorcisms and incantations. Love-potions, too, and charms, as well as those beings who are called "Paredri" (familiars) and "Oniropompi" (dream-senders), and whatever other curious arts can be had recourse to, are eagerly pressed into their service. They also have an image of Simon fashioned after the likeness of Jupiter, and another of Helena in the shape of Minerva; and these they worship.
Thus, even early heretics admit that the idea of "Christian" priests who are practicing mysteries, make incantations, and have images associated with worship actually derives from followers of Simon Magus! This is a concept NOT found within the true Church of God ever, and not even in the Roman Church until at least the third century.
As one baptized as a Roman Catholic, the following about priests of Mithra (predominant within the Roman Empire from before the first until the third/fourth centuries) strongly resembled (though not in all details) what I recall about Catholic priests who conducted daily mass:
The priest was the intermediary between God and man. His functions evidently included the administration of the sacraments and the celebration of the services. The inscriptions tell us that in addition he presided at the formal dedications, or at least represented the faithful one on such an occasion along with the Fathers; but this was the least portion only of the duties he had to perform; the religious service which fell to his lot appears to have been very exacting. He doubtless was compelled to see that a perpetual fire burned upon the altars. Three times a day, at dawn, at noon, and at dusk, he addressed a prayer to the Sun, turning in the morning toward the East, at noon toward the South, at evening toward the West. The daily liturgy frequently embraced special sacrifices. The celebrant, garbed in sacerdotal robes resembling those of the Magi, sacrificed to the higher and lower gods divers victims, the blood of which was collected in a trench; or offered them libations, holding in his hands the bundle of sacred twigs which we know from the Avesta. Long psalmodies and chants accompanied with music were interspersed among the ritual acts. A solemn moment in the service,--one very probably marked by the sounding of a bell,--was that in which the image of the tauroctonous Mithra, hitherto kept veiled, was uncovered before the eyes of the initiates (Cumont, Franz. Translated from the second revised French edition by Thomas J. McCormack. THE MYSTERIES OF MITHRA. Chicago, Open Court  p. 166).
It appears that some of the practices of the Mithra priesthood ended up in the Roman mass.
For what its worth, at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, I have seen what is claimed to be an image of Simon Peter that some others have claimed is actually an image fashioned after the likeness of Juno or possibly Jupiter. The toes of this metal image have been kissed so many times, that many of them have blended together. This particular icon is probably the second most popular feature of the basilica (the grave site would be the first). Each of the five times I have been in this basilica there has always been a line to kiss or touch (the image was raised to discourage kissing the toes a few years ago) this image of Simon. It is also highly photographed. (You can click here to see that image of "St. Peter".)
True Christian weekly worship services were not liturgical, nor sacramental in nature.
One modern historian described the early practices this way:
Much early Christian worship was taken over from Jewish synagogue worship.
1. Unlike pagan practices of worship, Christians had no sacred statues, temples, or rituals of sacrifices.
2. Like Jews of the second and third centuries, Christians in their worship service stressed the reading and exposition of Scripture, prayer, confession, exhortation, the singing of psalms and hymns (Ehrman B. From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Part 2. The Teaching Company, Chantilly (VA), 2004, p. 35).
I would add here that the songs were almost exclusively Psalms (more information can be found in the article Praises to Jesus Christ or Biblical Hymns: Which Should Christians Primarily Sing?).
It should be noted that although the early Church was against military service, in the fourteenth century the Roman Church later decreed:
Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest. However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power...Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff (THE BULL UNAM SANCTAM , 1302. English translation taken from a doctoral dissertation written in the Dept. of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, and published by CUA Press in 1927. In Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/b8-unam.html 01/16/06).
Thus, Roman leaders endorsed killing and the use of the military under the authority of church leadership.
Even Christianity Today has recognized that early Christians were against military service,
The ancient church understood that war has been around as long as human beings and sin have coexisted. It is a consistent tenet throughout the Christian tradition that war is the result of sin. The responses to war, however, have followed two basic trains of thought: pacifism, and the idea that certain wars can be just. Pacifism is characteristic of the early centuries of Christianity in someone like the North African apologist Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), who regularly warned Christians to distance themselves from pagan culture. He wrote: "How will he serve in the army even during peacetime without the sword that Jesus Christ has taken away? Even if soldiers came to John and got advice on how they ought to act, even if the centurion became a believer, the Lord by taking away Peter's sword, disarmed every soldier thereafter. We are not allowed to wear any uniform that symbolizes a sinful act" (On Idolatry 19.3). The third-century Roman Presbyter Hippolytus wrote The Apostolic Tradition, Canon 16, (ca. 215 A.D.) which opposed serving in the military as a matter of church discipline: "A soldier in the lower ranks shall kill no one. If ordered to do so, he shall not obey, and he shall not take an oath. If he does not want to comply with this directive, let him be dismissed [from the church]." (Elowsky, Joel. Ancient Christian Commentary on Current Events: What Is War Good For? Christianity Today, posted October 28, 2003).
Now, I should add that is doubtful that most of those quoted in the article were true Christians themselves. Yet, it is clear that they understood that John (the Baptist) and the Apostles were against war.
Furthermore, the historian Kenneth Scott Latourette noted that even late into the third century,
...perhaps most of the early Christians had conscientious scruples against military service (Latourette K.S. A History of Christianity, Volume 1, Beginnings to 1500. Harper, San Francisco, 1975, p. 89).
Actually, all true Christians were always opposed to military service, and their leaders did not will and support the use of the sword by kings. However, this changed for compromisers after Emperor Constantine, who had been part of Mithraism convinced many leaders who professed Christ to follow his understanding of doctrine.
According to Catholic scholars:
Mithraism was first and foremost a military cult (Aiken CF. Mithraism. The Catholic University bulletin, Volume 19, 1913. Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized Dec 19, 2008, p. 255).
But of course, original Christians were pacifists. For more details, please see Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare?
Celibacy was not practiced by the early Church leadership. Peter and most of the apostles were married (1 Corinthians 9:5). Nor was this an immediate postapostolic development.
Even The Catholic Encyclopedia admits:
Celibacy became an ideal for the clergy in the East gradually, as it did in the West. In the fourth century we still find St. Gregory Nazianzen's father, who was Bishop of Nanzianzos, living with his wife, without scandal. But very soon after that the present Eastern rule obtained. It is less strict than in the West. No one can marry after he has been ordained priest (Paphnutius at the first Council of Nicaea maintains this; the first Canon of the Synod of Neocaesarea in 314 or 325, and Can. Apost., xxvi. The Synod of Elvira about 300 had decreed absolute celibacy for all clerks in the West, Can. xxxiii, ib., pp. 238-239); priests already married may keep their wives (the same law applied to deacons and subdeacons: Can. vi of the Synod in Trullo, 692), but bishops must be celibate. As nearly all secular priests were married this meant that, as a general rule, bishops were chosen from the monasteries, and so these became, as they still are, the road through advancement may be attained (Fortesque A. Transcribed by Marie Jutras. Eastern Monasticism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Most early church leaders were married, and encouraged to be so.
More on celibacy can be found in the article Was Celibacy Required for Early Bishops or Presbyters?
Hence, the Bible and early writings show that the original Church taught that its leaders were to lead the flock, dress normally, be married, and support true Christianity. And that (other than marrying while on earth) is what Jesus, Himself, did.
Daily, or even weekly, liturgical rituals were not part of the practices of Christians in the New Testament. Nor did they hear regular confessions as the Church of Rome advocates.
Sadly, Rome and those that followed Rome's lead have changed to have leaders that dress strangely, are celibate, perform unusual sacramental rituals, and who support the use of the military to kill at the will and sufferance of the priest. And these seem to be practices that non-Christians held. And may have come from Mithraism (please see Do You Practice Mithraism?).
Which do you think is consistent with apostolic Christianity? Which should you support?
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Thiel B. Ph.D. Were the Early Duties of the Clergy Sacramental and What was Their Dress? www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2008/2009/2010/2013 0101