TREASURING THE OUTWARD FRAME
In the New Testament, first of all the church was set up and the New Testament writings came out to unveil the mysterious, all-inclusive Christ. You have to realize that both the setting up of the church and the writing of the New Testament to unveil Christ became the very outward frame treasured by the Christians. The real things, the genuine things, are Christ and Christ increased. Christ is the Christ of God, and Christ increased is the Body of Christ. Both are mysterious; both are divine. Both are hard for the human mentality to understand. So even while the Apostles were still living, these divine mysteries were neglected by the people who treasured the outward frame of the church and the black and white letters of the revelation concerning Christ.
Beginning in the first century, different kinds of debates over doctrines came in. Some of the debates were concerning the Person of Christ. Different teachings came in. Judaism crept in, and Gnosticism crept in. Other heresies also came in. Both the heresies and the positive doctrines put out by the early church fathers became distractions. The debates between the heresies and the proper teachings attracted and distracted the genuine believers. They kept the genuine believers away from a direct, personal contact with the genuine living Christ. These kinds of debates have continued through the centuries even until now. Today many genuine believers are distracted from Christ Himself.
Because the Christians have been distracted from Christ, organizations have come in to replace the church practice. This began from the time of Ignatius. He considered that overseers, bishops, are above the elders. He was a genuine and dear brother, but he was used by Satan to make one error—that the overseers are above the elders. That was the evil root of the bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope. This hierarchy came out of that little root by a genuine brother and fundamental teacher.
Constantine the Great realized that the Christian truth was a prevailing factor that could affect the people in his empire, so he made Christianity the state religion. At the Nicene Council in A.D. 325 he tried to force all the different teachers to be one. This was the first foundation stone of Catholicism. The Roman Church came out of that. By the end of the sixth century the papal system was fully established. After that the entire divine significance of Christ and the church was lost. The church became something in outward appearance. The inward reality was gone. Christ was just a name to them.
(Concerning the Lord's Recovery, Chapter 7, by Witness Lee)