Saturday, June 30, 2012

1st Clement 1 - Greetings from a Brother

Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us; and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-confident persons have kindled to such a pitch of frenzy, that your venerable and illustrious  name, worthy to be universally loved, has suffered grievous injury. (1 Clement 1)

When the Corinthian church was in crisis, they reached out for help, not based on ecclesiastical structure or authority, but based on relationship. They did not look to Rome as the center of authority bur rather as the center of their relationships with those who could help. Paul was gone but his friend and disciple, Clement, was still alive and a presbyter in Rome. It was natural, based on their relationship with Paul and Clement, to reach out to Rome for help.

Unfortunately, much of what happens in the western churches today is based on programs, structure, and authority rather than on relationship. For sure, these things are easier to establish and maintain; they are not as messy as relationships; but they tend to be more sterile and hierarchical than personal. Clement was their friend and someone they knew they could count on for godly counsel. In Clement's response, he responds in kind, not as one in authority, but as a brother giving kindly and godly advice.

The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied. (1 Clement 1)

Its interesting that Clement never uses his name in this letter, nor does he assert his authority or position over the Corinthian church. He comes in the exact opposite spirit as that of Diotrephes.

"I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church." (3 John 9-10)

Clement doesn't use his name but writes as "the Church of God which sojourns at Rome", not as from a church that is superior or over "the Church of God sojourning at Corinth" but as a sister church. He saw himself, not as being over those in Corinth, but as brothers with them in their journey with Christ.

It seems to me that much is made in the western church about being leaders. Everywhere there are "leadership" conferences and books on unleashing your "inner leader. In many churches much of the effort and energy is spent of identifying and raising up "leaders" rather than "brothers". With such an emphasis, we send a signal to God's people that nothing is more important than being or becoming a "leader". However, Jesus did not see it this way. He taught us,

"But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ." (Matt 23:8-10)

Jesus taught us to neither give appellations of "leader" nor to accept it as being spoken of ourselves. Our desire should not to be Rabbi, Teacher, Father, or Leader but simply Brothers. Jesus said we, "are all brothers." Clement understood this and wrote to the Corinthians as a brother in Christ and in doing so left behind a lesson for us all. Let us cease striving to be something great, let us stop trying to climbing the "ecclesiastical ladder" of leadership, and let us learn to simply delight in being a brother. There is no greater title that can be given to each and everyone of us than that of a brother or sister.

David Robison

Friday, June 29, 2012

1st Clement - Introduction

It was about 97 AD and the church in Corinth was in crisis. Once again they were suffering through sedition and schisms. This was not the first time the church at Corinth was plagued with schisms. Years earlier, Paul wrote to the Corinthians to warn them about the dangers of schisms and to call them back to unity.
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
Once again, the peace and harmony in Corinthian was being shattered by the divisiveness of seditious men. A group of young men had risen up to challenge the authority and wisdom of the aged presbyters of the church. This new sedition was tearing the church apart and damaging its good name among the other christian churches. In their time of need they turned to Clement of Rome for counsel.

After the deaths of Peter and Paul, Clement served as a presbyter in the church at Rome with Linus and Cletus. Clement was a disciple of Paul's and wast attested to by Paul in his letter to the Philippians.
"Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4:3)
It was natural for the Corinthians church to turn to Clement, since he was a disciple of the apostle who brought the Gospel to Corinth. Also it is very likely that Clement actually visited Corinth either with Paul or in his official capacity as an officer of the Roman government. In his response to the Corinthians, you can hear the influence of Paul on Clement's life and you can feel the love, compassion, and pastoral heart of Clement towards his brethren in Corinth.

The fist epistle of Clement was read widely by the early churches along with the apostolic writings. Eusebius writes of this letter,
"There is one acknowledged Epistle of this Clement (whom he has just identified with the friend of St. Paul), great and admirable, which he wrote in the name of the Church of Rome to the Church at Corinth, sedition having then arisen in the latter Church. We are aware that this Epistle has been publicly read in very many churches both in old times, and also in our own day. "(Ecclesiastical History, iii. 16)
In fact, one of the earliest bound versions of the scriptures actually includes Clement's letter along with the other inspired writings. Over the next several posts I will be commenting on this precious little book and hope that it inspires and enlightens you.

David Robison.