Lex Rex

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Zain
Lex Rex

Monday, February 21, 2005

Early Church: Ignatius

Zain and Lex Rex:

I apologize for my tardiness in posting to this esteemed forum. In the future, please make anonymous threats, send spam or make late night phone calls to redirect my attention to my blog duties.

As I am late to this party, I will attempt some initial, brief reply to the thoughtful comments and questions of both Zain and Lex Rex. As both have obviously addressed some enormous issues, I can here do little more than summarily introduce responses to several these topics (and I encourage the further direction of the group to pursue any of these issues in greater detail, esp. those I have totally failed to address).

I do wish to initially comment that I think our posts are already deviating from the order of our Moderator’s initial approach: We are largely skipping over question 1 (what did the early Church believe) straight to question 3 (is the early church correct). I can work under these revised rules but I suggest that it will be a less efficient approach. We have only begun to address one (rule of Bishops) of easily a dozen critical differences in the early church and I suggest that these differences group together in a cohesive manner. Many of the questions asked will be answered as we study the 1st century a little further.

As an example, Zain and Lex Rex’s questions generally presume the existence of the NT scriptures and the protestant doctrines of sola scriptura. In short reply, neither of these presumptions is true. When we deal with the fact that there were no NT epistles (for decades), then no NT canon (for almost 4 centuries), then we will see that such doctrines as scripture alone or private judgment were absurd in the 1st century. There weren’t such scriptures upon which to argue for SS or private judgment. Once these 16th and 21st century doctrines are expunged, then we will begin to understand the 1st century Church as it was (and deal with the options then available). As analogy, we may just as well ask why Gen. Washington didn’t use aircraft carriers against the British. Sola scriptura was just as available to the 1st 4 centuries of the Church, as aircraft carriers to the American revolutionaries.

The rule of Bishops fits the fact that the Church preceded the New Testament (again this is critical, the CHURCH came before the NT), that the oral ministry of an apostle was not lesser than his written epistle, that the sacraments were central to God’s dispensation of His Grace (not the preached word alone), etc., etc. Thus the rule of Bishops makes much more sense (if not the only thing that makes any sense) in light of the actual history of the Church.

To Zain’s questions:

As to why St. Ignatius doesn’t address the same defects of the Ephesian church (as St. John the Apostle), I have no idea (but I will relay anything I subsequently find).

As to the age/experience requirements of the Bishops, I have little direct information on the subject (other than that that was exactly the issue addressed of Timothy as you quote, and I am ignorant as to Timothy’s age). I am not aware of a particular “age of Bishops” as we Americans require for presidents (35) or as the Catholic “age of accountability” (age seven, as I recall). I fully presume that such age varies in accord with the individual and I am not aware of any scripture that would indicate otherwise (as I would presume that your churches likely have no age requirement for elders or pastors).

In general comment, the doctrine of Apostolic Succession is broadly that the apostles established bishoprics (bishop See’s) in various parts of the Christian world, in carrying out the great commission by means of “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic” Church: meaning the visible and authoritative Church (not a Protestant concept of individuals each separately being saved by God, outside of the Church and God’s sacraments, etc.).

These Bishops were ordained (and thus empowered by a special Grace of God, a sacrament particular to the priesthood/bishop) to carry out many of the duties of the Church: including the administration of the sacraments, preaching and interpretation of the Word and the conveyance of correct Christian doctrine and practice (sometimes within and sometimes without the scriptures of the New Testament), church discipline, etc.

This is a dramatic difference between Protestant and Orthodox (or Catholic) ecclesiology and thus St. Ignatius is such a significant obstacle to the Protestant cause. In short, American Protestants act as if Jesus wrote the NT in His earthly ministry (or that God dropped it out of the sky). This is an innocent (though historically inaccurate) desire to cast back 16th century Prot sola scriptura, trumping the actual history of the Church.

What actually happened is, of course, completely different (but never recalled in evangelicalism as it does not support Prot theology). Jesus established a Church, not a Book. He (of His own perfect will) chose twelve men, tutored them for three years and sent them to build His Church (Keys to the kingdom, Upon this Rock, Feed my Sheep, Power to bind and loose, Great Commission, etc.). They were the Church, NOT the NT. Jesus didn’t write a word (of record) but writing in the dirt before the woman caught in adultery. So much for sola scriptura from the Author of Life!

How can I say this (without in the slightest regard lessening the total divine authority of the scriptures)? Because it is the simple, uniformly agreed, irrefutably assured historic account. All Prot. historians know that there were no NT books for decades after the resurrection (1 Thess likely the first NT book, likely in the early 50’s), nor was there a agreed compilation of the NT for almost four centuries (late 4th cen. for Councils of Hippo and Carthage). Even the formation of the canon was a reaction against heretics (forming a false canon) rather than an affirmative task of the Church (much more on this).

Absent the NT, what then was the doctrinal source, basis and authority of Christianity? How did the Church (when still the primitive, pre-Edict of Milan Church of the catacombs) know what the gospel was? Or the Great Commission? Or the nature of God, Man or the Incarnate God-Man? Why, the visible, hierarchical, grace-empowered, God established and sustained Church told them, that’s how (unpleasant though it may be to 21st cent Am. Evangelicals). This is not Orthodox history, nor Catholic history but uniformly accepted plain, flat unvarnished history.

It is this elementary Church history that must be understood BEFORE we seek to interpret the NT epistles, or else we completely miss the context and correct exegesis. God established His Church as the foundation of Christianity, and the scriptures were documents to be held, protected, interpreted and passed down WITHIN the Church (not as documents dropped from the sky to be used as a blueprint of a future Church).

A few scriptures of relevance include: 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Tim 2:2; Phil 4:9; 2 Thess 3:6 and 1 Tim 3:14-15.

This last passage is incredible on several points: “These things I write to you though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.” (NKJV).

Wow! First is the bombshell that the CHURCH is the “pillar and ground of truth” not (as Protestantism would allege) the scriptures. God established His Church to represent Him and to remain as the arbiter of Truth. His Church is to keep the Christian message (upholding the Word of God both written and non-written). Further important is the Pauline teaching of the Church as the Body of Christ (obv. more on this anon).

Second is the remarkable comment that the motive of the very writing of the epistle was NOT because somehow St. Paul’s written word was greater in authority than his oral ministry (sola scriptura), but rather he wrote because he was afraid he might be delayed from his personal, oral ministry. This turns the entire Prot. view of sola scriptura on its head (I hope you are sitting down): St. Paul’s oral, personal earthly ministry was as authoritative and God-inspired as his written epistles (that later became recognized as scripture). St. Paul does not believe that his written epistles are of a different type of authority than his oral/personal ministry: both are in the equally empowered in the service of God.

How’s that for a paradigm shift.

Thus, (to further push sola scriptura over the cliff) the very existence of (at least this epistle) was (per St. Paul’s own words) only because he was concerned he might not be able to satisfy his personal face-to-face meeting. God established a church, with men He divinely empowered to minister by oral ministry (99+% of the time) and written ministry (certainly less than 1% of the time). Sola scripture was a doctrine of the heretics (including Gnostics, Manicheans and Donatists) who sought to advance novel interpretations of scripture, contrary the Church’s established read of such scriptures/teachings. Today’s ever dividing, mutating, evolving denominations reveal the same approach, rule and consequence: They will not be bound by received Christianity, and seek rather to modify Christianity to better suit felt needs, changing sociology, to empower a civil government, etc., etc. (even if oft with good intentions).

Remarkably, this view of his own epistle as secondary to his personal ministry it isn’t just St. Paul’s testimony, but St. John (the beloved disciple) has the identical claim for writing two of his three epistles.

2 John 12: “Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink, but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.”

And almost identically,

3 John 13-14a: “I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink, but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face.”

So much for the apostles putting forth the Christian teachings in their epistles to be conveyed without the Church to individuals via sola scriptura; the two most important NT apostles/authors (St. John and St. Paul) both claim they would rather not be bothered writing these epistles at ALL!! And that they would relay the rest of the Christian story (which we HAVE NO RECORD OF AT ALL) when they got there, face to face!! And that they have “many things to write” that we WILL NEVER KNOW! (because they chose not to write them).

Momma Mia! Upon the Pauline epistles Luther invents scripture alone?!!

Similarly 1 Thess 4:1-9: St. Paul reminds the church to continue to obey the commandants previously given them by St. Paul, in the Lord. He then says on a particular subject that they need no additional instruction “concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you” (because they are so loving). Again, in 5:1 he writes the same: “But concerning the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.” Remarkable- do you think today’s end time’s denominations have such need that St. Paul write to them on “the times and season”? Well then, why didn’t he? Because he did not believe in sola scriptura. He had no need to attempt to put the entire Christian message in print, because that was never the goal of the scriptures.

Scripture alone is non-scriptural, non-historic and illogical.

St. Paul’s approach is one of God spreading His gospel through the Church, and it’s tools of the apostles and the word (primarily via personal ministry, the written ministry of scripture, plainly (as here) secondary). St. Paul shows no hint of needing to put all of his ministry in print for the 21st century- in fact, he teases us that he is doing the exact opposite! He can’t be bothered to write if he will pay a visit, or if the message is already being obeyed.

In a nutshell, it is indisputable that the CHURCH preceded the NT SCRIPTURES. The Protestant denominations have never come to grips with this fact, and thus (largely) avoid any discussion of the early Church (and thus their laity presume that the Scriptures precede the Church). Once this fact is recognized (and I encourage you to investigate on your own) I presume that you will have a significantly different approach to these issues (I know I did).

Not to mention the authority of the Apostles, also given the next generation. See 1 Tim 1:3 (St. Paul tells Timothy to charge others that they teach no other doctrine). By who’s authority can Timothy tell other believers what to believe? Because of course St. Paul supports the rule of bishops, the visible Church, and not to follow the heresy of private judgment/ sola scriptura.

Whew! Sorry again getting carried away.

As for the questions on “Jewishness” and the Church, I can’t really get started here (too long already). But a few words. Lex Rex what do you mean by “the early church as practiced by the Jews.” The early church was practiced by Christians, both jew and gentile. There was then no such thing as the 20th century American Protestant denomination as the “Messicanic jewish Christian” congregations. There were Christian churches of all jewish converts, Christian churches of all gentile converts, and Christian churches of mixed jew and gentile. The Jewish/evangelical denominations are a modern invention of late 20th century (to my knowledge) and certainly did not exist in the early Church.

I can (and do) learn from anyone in any group. The 21st cen. American messianic Jews can certainly teach me a thing or ten about the OT. But, why would I pick the opinion of 21st century American Jewish Christians over 1st century Palestinian Jewish Christians?
What secret knowledge do they possess?

Perhaps to combine two subjects, let us investigate the Jews and OT on the subject of sola scriptura/private judgment vs. the rule of a God ordained hierarchy. The Jews and the OT equally opposed these heresies of subjective, lawless self-interpretation of an individual against God’s ordained.

In the OT, as the NT, God established an authoritative human body, which He empowered to represent Him and to interpret His word. From Abraham, Moses, the Levites, the Judges, Kings, the Prophets to the Messiah. Where do you find God in the OT tell the laity to grab a copy of the scroll of Isaiah and come up with their own interpretation of God? Or to build their own tabernacle and bring a new type of sacrifice? Or to split from the synagogue, form a new synagogue across the street because a Levite misread a passage of the Torah or Prophets?

No, rather God condemns all of these self-initiated, private inventions of do-it-yourself religion. Cain is criticized for bringing his own sacrifice (not of blood, as God established), Korah rebels against God’s anointed leader Moses (and is destroyed, as Jude 11 recalls against rebellion in the Church), the people rebel against God’s provision of judge rule, preferring rather a King like the other nations (1 Sam 8).

Rather, in both the Old and New Covenants (and OT and NT), God made covenant with people, empowered them in particular offices, and then gave His word to them (both written and oral) for their use in authoritatively (yet not infallibly) directing the people of God (Jews=OT, Christians=NT). Where is their any hint of the 16th century invention of an individual using private judgment to personally develop their own theology?

A few salient OT examples: In the OT God first makes covenant with Adam, empowers him, gives His oral word (no written scriptures) and an oral judgment; Noah, oral warning, oral Noahide covenant; Abraham, God empowers him and gives His oral word (not written), charges him to obey God’s oral promise (no scriptures) that he would father Israel; Moses, is called via a theophany (burning bush) and God’s oral word (no scripture). Moses then empowered as the leader of Israel (spiritual and political) to lead Israel (those that oppose, as Korah, are damned, apostates) proof by signs and wonders (snake, blood, Red Sea, etc.). God gives his first written word (by His own finger) in the Decalogue, which is abandoned by the laity before they even receive it (so much for democracy). Moses’ pens the Torah prior to his death (at the end of his earthly ministry). Moses divinely inaugurates Joshua as the next leader of Israel, commanding the priests, elders and laity to obey Joshua (as apostolic succession). God then uses Judges, Prophets and Kings (alongside perpetual caste classes, Levites and elders) as hierarchical, ordained rule (no democracy here) never bothering to first put His words in print (they are almost all recorded to recall their earthly rule/ministry, not to empower it in the first place).

In fact one of the most poignant (and oft repeated) quotes of the OT is largely the equivocation of this Protestant approach with apostasy: “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Deut 12:8/ Judges 17:6/21:25). Is this not the story of Protestantism? And 21st century America?

God does not drop copies of the Torah and Prophets from the sky for the nation Israel to privately interpret their own, personal Jewish theology. God rather picks and empowers a human, hierarchy to authoritatively lead the Jewish people, and then gives to these hierarchs His Word.

Further, God almost never used written communication to relay the Word of God to his leaders or laity. Rather He uses non-scriptural communication for almost the entirety of his relationship with Israel. He speaks, forms clouds, fire, water, gives dreams, allows his representatives to work miracles, etc, etc.). The OT scriptures are almost entirely the later written record of the previous (oral) earthly ministry of divinely ordained officers of God. The scriptures are thus (overwhelmingly) the words of men that God divinely empowered and used to accomplish the creation and sustenance of His people. In other words, Isaiah’s prophecy and Jeremiah’s oral warnings were WORD OF GOD the moment they were spoken, not transformed afterwards, when they were recorded in writing for subsequent generations.

The NT Church, as the OT Jews, made use of written scriptures largely because the men were dead and could no longer testify of God personally (not because their was a higher level of authority in their written words absent their oral words). The order is generally as follows:

GOD chooses PEOPLE, communicates with them via ORAL WORD OF GOD ((& miracles, signs, wonders, etc.) empowers them as his CHURCH (or Israel in OT), continues to lead them almost exclusively by ORAL WORD OF GOD (& miracles, signs, wonders, etc.) only later are the works of God and the ministry of His Church recorded as the WRITTEN WORD OF GOD (to minister to later generations). Or to further summarize:

BGM’s Formula of Divine/Human Communication:

God----Oral Word/Signs---Israel/Church----Written Word

Please correct me if this is not the proven, repeated rule of God’s relationship with men throughout both OT and NT.

In other words, the entire Protestant concept of God’s Word, oral vs. written is corrupt and an overwhelmingly false framework designed to defend the novel teachings of the 16th century. From this false premise follows many of the errors of Protestantism.

For a very short summary against SS from Dave Armstrong (my favorite Catholic apologist) see the following.

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2004/0409fea3.asp

Lex Rex: The NT has many example of apostolic exhortation to imitate the godly leaders in the Church (even though Americans refrain from such in our error of rugged individualism and disbelief in infused righteousness). This is God’s plan. That we be transformed in the image of Christ, not that we sit back and read about how Christ legally transacted our salvation, as a historic record. As such, this living Body of Christ is to provide continual examples of transformed humanity that should be examples for our behavior. As a quick few such verses see Phil 4:9, 1Thess 2:14, or 1 Cor. 11:1: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ”. Further, you obey your teachers in dozens of topics, yet do not believe it to conflict with your duty to obey God. Obviously you can obey godly men who themselves obey God.

Finally, (as mentioned in a previous email and as far beyond this post) the Orthodox ecclesiology is substantially richer (and more complicated) than perhaps the Catholic (do whatever the Pope says). Orthodoxy understands Bishops to have been guilty of heresy and thus, the rest of the Church has an obligation to disregard their teaching. Two councils were rejected by the laity (Robbers council and 1st Florence if I recall) as deviant. Thus the whole church acts together in keeping the faith once delivered to the
saints (not merely the Bishops). Much more later.

Please forgive this unpolished draft (I am trying to touch on these many topics, without sufficient editing). I love the conversation, truly respect your inputs, comments and corrections and look forward to your thoughtful replies.

Xapis,
BGM