Ancient church councils (pre-ecumenical)
Church councils are formal meetings of bishops and representatives of several churches who are brought together to regulate points of doctrine or discipline. The article on "synod", another name for such a council, gives further information about them. There are three main types of council: apostolic, local (or "particular") and ecumenical. The teachings and decrees of these councils are considered to be binding on the faithful in varying degrees by various denominations. Even the teachings of the Apostolic Council, in particular the obligation to abstain from eating blood or what has been strangled, are not universally accepted by all mainstream Christian churches.
Apostolic Council 
The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15:6-29) records the Council of Jerusalem. This is the only such council recorded in the New Testament or elsewhere. The council addressed the question of observance of biblical law in the early Christian community, which included Gentile converts. Although it conforms to later definitions of an ecumenical council, no Christian church calls it a mere ecumenical council, instead it is called the "Apostolic Council" or "Council of Jerusalem". Being a council of the Apostles, it is of a character different also from the normal "local" church councils.
Local or "particular" councils 
Prior to the Edict of Milan of 313, Christianity did not have a recognised civil, legal status within the Roman Empire. In the years immediately preceding the Edict, and in times of greater toleration in earlier centuries, Christians leaders felt sufficiently secure to hold councils governing their see or metropolitan area. None of the councils of this period gathered representatives from all the Christian churches, or even from those throughout the Roman Empire. Only of a few are the written acts preserved. Most are known only from accounts in works of church historians and other writers. The better-known local councils include the Council of Rome (155 AD), the Second Council of Rome (193 AD), the Council of Ephesus (193 AD), the Council of Carthage (251 AD), the Council of Iconium (258 AD), the Council of Antioch (264 AD), the Councils of Arabia (246-247 AD), the Council of Elvira (306 AD), the Council of Carthage (311 AD), the Synod of Neo-Caesarea (c.314 AD), the Synod of Ancyra (314 AD) and the Synod of Arles (314 AD).
Examples of early local councils 
The earliest known church councils were held in Asia Minor in the mid-2nd century. They condemned Montanism. One of these was held at Hierapolis, presided over by the local bishop, Apollinaris Claudius, and attended by 26 other bishops. Another council of 13 bishops was held at Anchialus under the presidency of Bishop Sotas.
In 193, a series of councils was held in Palestine, Pontus and Osrhoene in the east, and in Rome and Gaul in the west concerning Quartodecimanism. They all of which condemned the practice in the Roman province of Asia (Western Anatolia), where Easter was celebrated at the Passover full moon rather than on the following Sunday. Victor, Bishop of Rome, who presided over the council in Rome, communicated its decision to Polycrates of Ephesus and the churches of the Roman province of Asia, asking Polycrates to convoke a council of the bishops of the province. Accordingly Polycrates held at Ephesus within the same year the requested synod, which rejected Victor's demand that they change their paschal tradition.
The Synod of Elvira (southern Spain), laid down common rules to be observed by the all the bishops of the area, rules almost entirely concerned with the conduct of various elements of the Christian community. Sanctions include long delays before baptism, exclusion from the Eucharist for periods of months or years, or indefinitely, sometimes with an exception for the death-bed, though this is also specifically excluded in some cases. Periods of penance, often for sexual offences, extend to 5 or 10 years. Its canon 33 enjoined complete continence upon all clerics, married or not, and all who minister at the altar.
The Synod of Ancyra (modern Ankara) laid down rules about the penances to be performed by Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions (canons 1-8). It allowed marriage for deacons who before ordination had declared their inability to remain unmarried (canon 9). It forbade chorepiscopi (clergy in country parts who were of lower rank than the bishops of cities) to ordain deacons or priests.
Chorepiscopi seem to have been able to participate in councils on a par with bishops: they are mentioned in relation to the Council of Neocaesarea in 314 and even in two of the earliest ecumenical councils (325 and 431), but the office was abolished before 451, when the Council of Chalcedon was held.
From the mid-3rd century, mention is made of participation by others, at first in Africa, where Cyprian had at his councils in Carthage not only bishops but also priests and deacons and, in addition, laymen in good standing, as was expected of him also in the letters sent to him from Rome; but as he sometimes speaks of the bishops alone as participants, it is likely that the right to a deciding vote was restricted to them. Participation by clergy other than bishops is mentioned also in relation to councils held at Antioch in 264 or 265 and in 269, in two Councils of Arabia (246-247) and in the Council of Elvira (306). Sometimes priests as well as bishops signed the acts, but one such document (of 448) indicates that they signed without having had a voice in the council's decisions.
See also 
- The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article "Council"
- Joseph Wilhelm, "General Councils" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1908), retrieved 27 December 2012
- Acts 15:29
- Karl Joseph von Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church: To the close of the Council of Nicea, A.D. 325 (T. and T. Clark 1871), p. 17
- William Tabbernee, Prophets and Gravestones: An Imaginative History of Montanists and Other Early Christians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson 2009 ISBN 978-1-56563-937-9), pp. 21-23]
- Eusebius, Church History, chapters 23-24
- Charles A. Frazee, "The Origins of Clerical Celibacy in the Western Church" Church History 57 Supplement Centennial Issue (1988), pp. 108-126.
- Hefele (1871), p. 18
- Hefele (1871), pp. 18-20