As part of my Unschooled Master of Theology Program I started working through the entire corpus of the Church Fathers. All 37 volumes.
I have just finished the first letter by Ignatius, The Epistle to the Ephesians. Not quite the page turner I always hope it will be. But there are some interesting points to bring up.
In this letter he appears to be arrested by authorities and will be delivered over to the executioners. He was apparently thrown to “the wild beasts” at Rome and “rent to pieces.”
It is hard for one to imagine in the West being tortured and beaten and ultimately killed all because of your faith. How many of us could truly say we would die for our faith?
The Longer and Shorter of It
I’m not certain why the publisher decided to include the longer and shorter versions in parallel instead of in separate documents. It renders the module in Logos impossible to use with the text-to-speech feature. Unless, of course, you want to read both entries. I’ve optioned to read the longer version alone, and copy and paste the amount I desire to read into an external TTS program and that works well enough.
At the onset, in Chapter 1, Ignatius makes an interesting remark stating, “I have become acquainted with your greatly-desired name in God, which ye have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith…”
I come away with a curious question: what is the habit of righteousness? We know from the text it was their “greatly desired name” that was produced by the habit. We also know this habit was according to faith (so, does that mean it was not according to works, as in mirroring the dichotomy between Paul and James?).
I would argue for this remark to be a reference to 2 Peter 1:5-8, “add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge. To knowledge, add self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness add brotherly affection; and to brotherly affection, love. Truly, if these things are yours and overflow, they will prevent you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These are habits in which we are encouraged to preoccupy ourselves with (or, rather, we are to be in the habit of developing these traits). In fact, Peter promises us if we do so we will be neither idle nor unfruitful in Christ.
Submitting to Church Leaders or Servants?
By chapter 2, Ignatius turns toward the subject of leadership in the Church. An interesting argument he puts forward, though I initially was caught off guard by his distinction between bishop and presbytery. They, of course, originate from two Greek words (episkopos and presbyteros) and in the Bible they are used interchangeably for the leadership. In Acts 20, Paul calls for the elders and reminds them that God made them all bishops of the church. Peter refers to the “shepherds” of the flock, also describing them as elders.
In Church History a development can be seen from the second century onward of abandoning the biblical model of servant leaders for one possessing distinctive titles of authority and turning servants into leaders and leaders into rulers and rulers into oppressors. In 1 Timothy 3 we see two distinct roles in the church: elder and servant. Some would argue for Titus being an overseer in Crete, tasked with appointing elders in the Church. But, this is not seen in the actual text itself. Titus is given this task to appoint elders, but nothing in the text describes his personal position in the Church body. For all we know, Paul could have considered Titus as a Diakonos (servant).
By Chapter 4 we see the slippage even more apparent, away from servantship to idolatry, from those who serve the congregation to erecting a specialized clergy. Ignatius is steeped in the idea of submission to the bishop and elders in every thing. He comes out and says it: “Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power that Christ stands in the midst of them, how much more will the prayer of the bishop and of the whole Church, ascending up in harmony to God, prevail for the granting of all their petitions in Christ! He, therefore, that separates himself from such, and does not meet in the society where sacrifices are offered, and with “the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven,” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing”” (Chapter 5).
He continues, “be careful to be subject to the bishop, and the presbyters and the deacons. For he that is subject to these is obedient to Christ, who has appointed them; but he that is disobedient to these is disobedient to Christ Jesus.” And “he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” For he that yields not obedience to his superiors is self-confident, quarrelsome, and proud.”
So, not obeying or submitting to a bishop or elder or deacon in the Church is the same as not obeying Christ in faith and, thus, salvation is stripped from our grasp? Put aside for the moment the issue at hand of whether we should or should not blindly obey another human, but where in Scripture does it say by not doing so will bring about condemnation? When did disagreement with a Church leader equal the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? The simple answer is, it doesn’t.
Hebrews 13:17 states, “Obey your leaders and submit to them as they watch over your souls as people who will give an account. This way, they will be able to do this with joy and not with grief because that would not be profitable for you” which is often used to guilt people into blind submission to modern church leaders. I would agree. But, what becomes of the individual who is unwelcomed in the modern Church? I’ve had several “pastors” remain hesitant to accept me simply because the interpretation I held to pertaining to the church threatened their justification for financial gain. Who is in the right in such a scenario? The congregate who abstains from association with a particular “overseer” because that overseer is in the wrong or is the overseer right in defending his claim to financial gain?
Recently I proctored the comprehensive exam for my Master’s degree with a local pastor. Never once did he ask me if I was attending another church or if I was interested in joining his congregation. I have no idea why that is. There could be any number of answers. I could have rubbed him the wrong way. Maybe, because he knew I worked weekends it was useless to try. Maybe he was not an evangelist at heart. He could very well be struggling with his own vocation. They say there are more pastors leaving the pulpit than are entering in. Part of me is convinced, though, after chatting with him a little bit after finishing my exam, he did not want to introduce into his flock someone who has more education than he did. He mentioned taking graduate courses online but had dropped out because he had a wife and children. I don’t fault him for that, but it was peculiar to say the least.
Again, I inquired about becoming a member of a mega church online, had several discussions with representatives via email, and was signed up for their “introductory” training session. Not only was it horribly rudimentary, but once the live online session happened, I found myself knee deep in all kinds of Messianic Movement nonsense. Still, after the session was over I filled out the request for membership online form and subsequently…never heard from them again.
Lastly, a third group, another one online, I conversed with for weeks until my questions became so difficult they passed me up the chain to the “Lead Pastor.” He answered my questions and I responded. All was good. We were on the same page with most everything. But, of course, they have been silent ever since. I’m waiting now for the next step and it is a step I believe will never come.
I would argue the modern church we see today on every street corner and in the shopping malls (do those still exist?) is not the church Paul wrote about in the New Testament. I’ve seen glimpses of that New Testament church over the years. I’ve heard rumors about its actual existence. But it is not found in the modern evangelical denomination. It is not found in the Sunday morning “worship” service.
So, how does one submit to their elders, to their bishop, to their pastor if you can never manage to even get your foot in the door?
I submit to Christ. If he wants me to be a part of a modern church then he has a difficult task ahead of him. I would gladly submit if those same leaders truly served their flock instead of ruled over them.
Then again, maybe I’m a heretic and God is protecting those people from me rather than protecting me from them. I don’t think there’s ever been a heretic in history that thought he was actually a heretic. I guess at Judgment Day we will see. Yet, even Ignatius acknowledges later in his letter it is possible for there to be false rulers of the Church, what he coined an, “unskilled shepherd.” Not only do they exist, but he comes out and states we, as individual Christians, who have been “given from God the power of discernment” are required to exercise that discernment correctly when deciding what shepherds we should submit to.
So then, technically, I would agree I should submit to the overseers in the Church. But, in this age in which I find myself, there are no overseers that I would, by biblical discernment, be considered anything other than “unskilled shepherds.” Hence, as Ignatius puts it, it is my obligation not to place myself under such men.
So, then, if I am to submit to a shepherd to be right with God, yet there are no shepherds in this day and age that are biblically qualified (or at least, skilled as opposed to unskilled), and I am responsible to make sure I do not submit to an unskilled shepherd, how will I find a right place with God in this circumstance? If I submit to the wrong elder I am wrong. If I do not submit to any elder because (through proper discernment) I’ve discovered their are no qualified elders in my area, then I am out of the congregation and, thus, wrong. This is an interesting paradox to find myself in.
Last Times Have Come?
Its interesting to see Ignatius take on Paul’s (obviously mistaken) mantra that the sky was falling. Paul repeatedly thought the end of the world was at hand. He was convinced the return of Christ was imminent, and that we should go about our lives as if there was nothing left to live for, nothing to build – no career prospects, no relationships, no raising of a family.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually agree with Paul that these things are a waste of time, that even those who are married should act as if they are not. But, Ignatius’ claim, “the last times have come upon us,” just remind me of how wrong he truly was and how wrong we mostly likely are too.
There are many prophecies that have come true. Who would have guessed Cyrus would have taken Babylon without shedding any blood? Who would have ventured that the temple would have been destroyed in 70 A.D.? Who would have imagined Christ would fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 53 of the suffering servant? Before 1948, no one would have argued for Israel returning to the promised land. Yet, all these things happened and so much more. God seems to be really, really good at prophecy, yet we are really horrible at it.
In fact, all of our inaccuracies seem to lead us to the fulfillment of a prophecy made by Peter. For how many times has someone argued against the validity of the Bible because of this, “Where is the promise of his coming? Since the days that our forefathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”
I even find myself reminding myself of this very fact. Paul was wrong about it. The Church Fathers were wrong about it. Harold Camping wasn’t right even a single time and broken clocks are at least right twice a day! Maybe there is something to Jesus’ statement after all, that “no one knows the day nor the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [So] be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32-33).
Sufferings of Christ?
One statement made by Ignatius caught my eye, “become a partaker of the sufferings of Christ” in reference to his impending martyrdom at the hands of the Roman authorities.
This concept is of particular interest to my upcoming research in developing a theology of persecution aimed at the Western church (which has seen no persecution in its history – other than from itself). It is means by which, Ignatius continues, “[having] fellowship with [Christ] in his death, his resurrection from the dead, and his everlasting life.”
Persecution has all been forgotten in the West. Christians in the US think of suffering for Christ as a kind of social derision. They are called derogatory names, are the butt of jokes. But, there is no actual persecution of the faith. I am convinced that persecution is coming, though. It will be swift, intense, and brutal. Christians need a means by which they can prepare for that which they’ve never before experienced but only heard about happening in other countries and to other people.
No Christian in the US has lost their job or couldn’t find a job specifically because they were a Christian. No Christian in the US has been kicked out of their home because they were a Christian. No Christian in the US has been arrested or beaten specifically because they were Christian. No Christian in the US has been murdered because they were a Christian (except for a few outliers at Columbine).
Yet, it is a large part of our Christian heritage. It is expressly requested in Revelation 2:10; 12:11; Luke 14:26; Acts 21:12. Countless souls have been sacrificed through the centuries either to secure our freedom to worship or believe or to hold in our hands and read in our own native language the message God sent to man. It is all a grand benefit that none of us in the Western Church have ever paid for. There is a cost. There will be a reckoning. It is what Ignatius calls, “being initiated into the mysteries of the Gospel” along with Paul and the other Martyrs.
The Western Church will need to prepare.
Lastly, Ignatius provides practical advice for his audience, telling them to “stand fast…in the faith of Jesus Christ.” The word here for “stand fast” is actually καταξίωση and is defined as “recognize or recognition.” A better translation then would be “recognize your faith in Jesus Christ, in his love, in his passion [his death], in his resurrection. Consider it. Meditate upon it. Take it into consideration as you weigh every life choice, as you make judgments and take action. Do you truly have faith in Christ? Do you truly believe and rely upon his love for you? Do you genuinely believe his death paid the penalty for your sin? Do you truly believe God raised him from the dead?
Recognize these are important questions and should not be left unanswered.
Until my next review….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!