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Lex Rex

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Early Church: Ignatius


I have read the first two epistles of Ignatius (here and here). I found them mostly very interesting. I did have a couple of concerns that you may be able to answer. The following is a summary.

1) The first epistle is addressed to the Church at Ephesus. Presumably it dates sometime after John's letter to them (conveying our Lord's own critique) as contained in the book of Revelation. However, it must not have been too long after said divine communication, as Ignatius was discipled on some level directly by John. Interesting enough one gets a very similar picture from both letters. The Ephesians were near perfect in their labors for the Lord. Yet, Ignatius has no reference to the very significant failure that is mentioned in Revelation. The Ephesians had lost their first love and needed to repent or face the removal of their lampstand. I understand that in the gap between each letter perhaps the Ephesians had repented and cured their defect, but it seems strange that nothing is even said about it.

2) In his second epistle, Ignatius is encouraging his audience to obey their Bishop despite his apparently tender years. He uses various scriptural examples of youth being used by God. For example, he refers to Paul's admonition to Timothy not to let anyone despise his youth. Yet, it is Paul's letter to Timothy that sets forth the qualities required to be a bishop/elder and they seem to be at least partially based on successfully fulfilling some of life's experiences. The bishop/elder's responsibilities in governing the house of the Lord are linked to their proven experience in having governed their own family and household. How can this happen if the bishop is of such youth that he has not yet had a chance to prove himself?

3) In his second epistle, Ignatius gives some very interesting testimony as to the early churches practices as relate to the Sabbath (Saturday), and the Lord's Day (Sunday). I find this very intriguing and food for thought. That being said, I nearly choked as a read his reference to the Jew-Christ Killers. I sincerely hope this is a travesty of translation! One may argue that the Jews did cause Christ to be killed, but so did the Romans. And out of our sin, so did we all. Our Lord himself as he suffered and died said "forgive them for they know not what they do...." Hence, I am troubled by his statement. Too many in Church history, both East and West, have either caused or agreed with the persecution of Jews.

Here are a few other thoughts that I would like your input on. I have been thinking about your challenge as regards to Ignatius. I also want you to know that I have not dismissed Ignatius, I still consider him a valuable resource, nor have I simply looked for answers that support my position. That being said, please correct me if my assumptions or generalizations are incorrect.

It seems as though your position, on its broadest level, as to true historical Christianity is one based primarily on proximity to the Apostles. If Ignatius was discipled by the Apostle John, how could he have gotten it wrong.... etc. Yet, I am sure you would agree that many of the early, first, second and third generation disciples of the Apostles got it wrong in varying degree. Some of them even wrote heretical works. You then would say but, unlike these heretics, Ignatius was honored as a saint by the whole of the Church in his day and suffered martyrdom for our Lord. And I would generally agree that he deserves some honor and got many things right. But I still submit that being honored by your brethren in a world after the Apostles were gone does not equate in total with getting everything right.

Many with good intentions in almost every congregation, during the very time the original Apostles led the Church, got some things wrong. In other words, if you can get it wrong while the Apostles are leading you directly, you have increased temptation to get it wrong when they are no longer there to correct you. The danger then is very much like a copy machine, every copy distorts a little and the distortions are amplified over time -- If you are relying upon the copy of the thing. This is why having the original is so important, because reference back to it is the only way to be sure you can see whether the copy comports.

Now I do realize that the next problem is much like the problem presented by our emails. The written word's true intent and meaning can be mistaken if the interpreter does not have the correct perspectives. I agree with this concern. This is probably why we have the sin of denominations (division). Every man's perspective becomes the correct one without further seeking. Lord please protect me from such a prideful mistake! We must all strive for the perspective of our Lord, through His Holy Spirit!

Hence, your answer has been, at least in part, to look for the wisdom of those in closest proximity to the event for guidance. In all honesty, this seems like a generally wise method to me. However, there are some issues that need to be resolved in this method, and by itself it must too fail. What I mean is due to the problem of human weakness and error, everyone in the chain must be perfectly led by the Holy Spirit, or the line is corrupted. I understand that this may be one of the doctrines of the Orthodox (that the True Church has been perfectly led in its corporate doctrines by the Holy Spirit), but yet I do not trust this without scriptural support, in that the early church did not demonstrate this quality as is seen by the whole of the New Testament. (Let me know if I am missing a clear scriptural mandate here.)

If you are looking for those in closest proximity to the event, I believe you may have missed a couple of elements. You have only looked at the early church, in an admittedly good attempt at logically fulfilling this role. But all of the original Apostles and our Lord Himself were practicing Jews. In fact, most of the Holy Scriptures are contextually within a Hebrew/Jewish framework. It at least 'seems' obvious to me then that many gentile believers did not have the best proximity to understanding the Hebrew Traditions of the Word of God despite their historical proximity. Hence, my question to you is whether you have looked into the Messianic Jewish movement and any input it may give on this question of the true historical church?

I sincerely look forward to your thoughts.

Your Brother in Christ