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

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