Monday, July 23, 2012

1st Clement 3 - A Tail as Old as Time

The Corinthian church was what we today might describe as a "successful" church, yet that "success", their strength and power, was to become their weakness.
Every kind of honour and happiness was bestowed upon you, and then was fulfilled that which is written, “My beloved did eat and drink, and was enlarged and became fat, and kicked.” Hence flowed emulation and envy, strife and sedition, persecution and disorder, war and captivity. (1 Clement 3)
 It is a cycle that has been repeated over and over though out the scriptures and the intervening centuries. When we are small and without much power, our trust and faith is in God. We look to Him for all we need and accept each new gift from Him with gladness and humility. However, as we grow in strength and power there is the human tenancy to trust in our strength and power rather than trusting in God; we trust in our gifts more than the giver of those gifts. When we turn our eyes and our trust from God, all kinds of evil find its way in. Consider what was said of Israel. God found her and bestowed His gifts and His beauty upon her.
"'Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,' declares the Lord God. 'Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,' declares the Lord God." (Ezekiel 16:8-14)
God bestowed His beauty on His people and they delighted in it... for a while, then they turned from God and trusted in themselves. "But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing." (Ezekiel 16:15) This same tragedy was played out among the Corinthian church. The once beautiful church now trusted in themselves and their beauty was being tarnished by envy, strife, sedition, and divisions.
So the worthless rose up against the honoured, those of no reputation against such as were renowned, the foolish against the wise, the young against those advanced in years. (1 Clement 3)
One term used in this translation of Clement's letter, a term we do not use much today, a term used to describe the actions of the seditious is, "emulation." Today we tend to think of emulation in positive terms, such as when we try to pattern our lives after godly, successful, and honorable men and women. However, here Clement uses it in a negative sense. It refers to the envious and competitive behavior of those who seek to overthrow others and to gain their position, power, and honor for themselves. Its more than just saying, "I want to be like them," its saying "I want to be them" or "I want to replace them." It is like the boastful pride of Satan when he said,
"I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." (Isaiah 14:13-14)
How many times have I seen this in church after church. The rise of the proud and arrogant; the envious challenge of one asserting that the authority, position, and power of another aught to be theirs; the charge that they could do it better; and the appeal for others to join to their cause. They are not content to simply challenge others in high places but they seek to divide Christ's body into factions and parties; to try and force the attainment of that which for which they seek. In times where I've seen this, the outcome has never been good.
For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and is become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world. (1 Clement 3)
Irenaeus, in Book Five of "Against Heresy", wrote
"For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism." (Against Heresy, Book 5 33:7)
A sentiment that I believe Clement would have agreed with. All such "reformation" must be viewed in light of the carnage it leaves behind.

David Robison

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