Friday, November 30, 2012

Mathetes 2 - Idol Folly

Those who desire a knowledge of God and of the Christian faith must first put behind them their preconceived notions of what is divine and what is common, for Christianity is not like other religions and our God not like the world's gods.
"Come, then, after you have freed yourself from all prejudices possessing your mind, and laid aside what you have been accustomed to, as something apt to deceive you, and being made, as if from the beginning, a new man, inasmuch as, according to your own confession, you are to be the hearer of a new [system of] doctrine; come and contemplate, not with your eyes only, but with your  understanding, the substance and the form of those whom ye declare and deem to be gods." (Mathetes 2)
In America and much of the west, the idea of worshiping idols may see a bit strange, however, around the world gods made of wood, stone, silver, gold, and even animate objects are still enshrined and worshiped and, while we may not bow down to an idol, even in America we still serve those who are not gods at all. Paul wrote of, "immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry." (Colossians 3:5) Often our passions, desires, and greed are the very targets of our idolatry. Anything that is worshiped, feared, or severed in place of the one true God is an idol and the worshiper an idolater.

Mathetes recounts the nature of such idols,
"Is not one of them a stone similar to that on which we tread? Is not a second brass, in no way superior to those vessels which are constructed for our ordinary use? Is not a third wood, and that already rotten? Is not a fourth silver, which needs a man to watch it, lest it be stolen? Is not a fifth iron, consumed by rust? Is not a sixth earthenware, in no degree more valuable than that which is formed for the humblest purposes? Are not all these of corruptible matter?" (Mathetes 2)
Mathetes reminds us that such gods are composed of "corruptible matter." God, the true God, the creator of all things, cannot be made of "corruptible matter" for how can He be made of that which He Himself created. If God created wood, stone, silver, etc. how then could He be made of wood, stone, silver, etc.? How can we believe that anything made of created matter could actually be a god? God is completely separate from His creation; He existed before His creation began and He will exist long after it has ended. In looking for God we must look beyond this creation. We must look for the divine lying "beyond" the creation and not from within the creation. This is why God forbade His people to make any graven image of Him because they, "did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire." (Deuteronomy 4:15) God is the creator not the created and He is no to be presumed to be or worshiped in the form of any created thing. All such worship is idolatry.

Not only are idols made of "contemptable matter" but they are also changable,
"Was not every one of them, before they were formed by the arts of these [workmen] into the shape of these [gods], each in its own way subject to change? Would not those things which are now vessels, formed of the same materials, become like to such, if they met with the same artificers? Might not these, which are now worshipped by you, again be made by men vessels similar to others?" (Mathetes 2)
Idols are made, God is. Idols can change, God is unchanging. If a silver vessel can be made into an idol, and the same idol remade back into a silver vessel, then can we really consider that idol to be a god? When we worship changeable things we become like those who Isaiah addressed, "I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!" (Isaiah 44:19) All things of this creation can charge and are changed, but God never changes.

Finally, Mathetes observes that, not only are idols changeable, but they are also senseless.
"Are they not all deaf? Are they not blind? Are they not without life? Are they not destitute of feeling? Are they not incapable of motion? Are they not all liable to rot? Are they not all corruptible? These things ye call gods; these ye serve; these ye worship; and ye become altogether like to them." (Mathetes 2)
How can a god that cannot see, hear, move, or act really be God? If god is the supreme creator of the universe, how is it that he cannot see, hear, or talk? How is it that he is senseless within his own universe? These "gods" are like the idols that Habakkuk prophesied about "Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, 'Awake!' To a mute stone, 'Arise!' And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all inside it." (Habakkuk 2:19) When we worship such idols we become wholly like them; senseless!

All such idols are vain and their worship folly. If we truly desire to understand Christianity, then we must first reform our minds an realize that such idols are not gods and that there is only one true God, the creator of heaven and earth. It is this God that the Christians worship. He alone is God.

David Robison

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mathetes 1 - All things are new again

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

There was a time when, in almost every western culture, people had some knowledge of Christianity; they may not have been Christians, but they at least understood the basics of Christianity. However, increasingly, western culture has been following a trajectory towards becoming a "post-christian culture." With each new generation, fewer and fewer people are being raised with a basic understanding of Christianity. For them, Christianity has become new again; a new idea they have not previously considered or examined. With the advent of this new generation that has little or no knowledge of Christianity, we once again have the challenge and the opportunity to introduce them afresh to the christian faith. This was also the task before Mathetes.
"Since I see thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe,... I cordially welcome this thy desire, and I implore God, who enables us both to speak and to hear, to grant to me so to speak, that, above all, I may hear you have been edified, and to you so to hear, that I who speak may have no cause of regret for having done so." (Mathetes 1)
For Diognetus, Christianity was a "new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world, and not long ago." (Mathetes 1) He had heard of Christianity, but knew little of its faith or practices. All the world was a buzz about Christianity but few really understood anything about it. However, they knew that Christians were different; different from the Romans and different from the Jews; and it was this difference that made Diognetus curious. It was the fact that Christians stood out as different from the world that made people take note and made them desirous to know and learn about this "new religion."
"so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves." (Mathetes 1)
So what made the Christians so different from the world around them? First, they were people who did not cherish the things of this world nor even their own life. Their love and affection was turned else where. Something else of such great value had filled their lives such that the things of this world had become dull in comparison. They no longer lived for earthly rewards but rather pursued those things that were eternal, those things that held heavenly rewards. They were truly people that were "in this world but not of it."

Secondly, they were people who did not worship the popular gods of their culture. They did not fear the Greek gods nor held to the superstitions of the Jews. They believed in one God what was supreme over all and their religion was based on a relationship with God rather than in prescribed practices aimed at placating or propitiating god. To them, God was living and close, not a god to be feared but a God to be loved.

Lastly, they had a deep love for one another. In Christ they had been made one, regardless of their background, social status, or ethnicity; in Christ they were one. Their love for one another was a shining evident of the God who lived in them. It was as Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Everyone wants to be loved, and in the expressions of the early church, people got to see true love for one another.

So how do people today, in our post-christian culture, see the church? Do they see anything different? Do they see anything desirous? Do they see a new and living way or simply a repackaging of the same-old-same-old? Maybe the reason people are not asking or inquiring into Christianity is because they see nothing worth looking into. As Christians we were meant to be different, to be a shining light, a city on a hill; let us take courage and live up to our part.

David Robison

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mathetes - A Christian Primer

In every generation there is the challenge of introducing new people to Christianity. Such was the case with Mathetes in his letter to Diognetus.

Little is know about the exact identities of either the author or the recipient. Mathetes is not the author's real name but simply means "Disciple." Over the years many have speculated as to the author's identity. Initially, this letter was attributed to Justin martyr, later some proposed Clement or Apollos, however, there is little to no evidence supporting any of these conclusions. All we know about the author is that he claimed to have "been a disciple of the Apostles." (Mathetes 11). The writing style of Mathetes is a blend of the apostolic heart of Clement and the learned apologetics of Justin. Some have stylized Mathetes as the first of the Christian apologists, yet personally I find him closer to Clement than Justin.

Similarly, not much is known about the intended recipient of this letter, although, some have ventured to adduce that Diognetus was a tutor of Marcus Aurelius who was emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 CE. Estimated to have been written around 130 CE, this letter would have been to instruct Marcus in the ways of Christianity while he was still a boy.

This letter is a kind of Christian Primer. Intended to give Diognetus an introduction to the Christian faith and practices. As such, it gives us valuable insight into the lives and beliefs of the first and second century Christians. As you read the following posts, remember that their story is our history. The story of the primitive church is the story of our history. Regardless of our denominational affiliations, this story and this history is common to all of us. As you read along I hope you will come to love and cherish this little letter as much as I have.

David Robison

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

1st Clement 58 to 59 - A final prayer

Clement ends his letter to the Corinthian church with a prayer.
"May God, who seeth all things, and who is the Ruler of all spirits and the Lord of all flesh—who chose our Lord Jesus Christ and us through Him to be a peculiar people—grant to every soul that calleth upon His glorious and holy Name, faith, fear, peace, patience, longsuffering, self-control, purity, and sobriety, to the well-pleasing of His Name, through our High Priest and Protector, Jesus Christ, by whom be to Him glory, and majesty, and power, and honour, both now and for evermore. Amen." (1 Clement 58)
The term "peculiar" as in "peculiar people" comes from the Latin word meaning flock. To be a "peculiar people" is to be an "owned people." We are God's people, people of His flock. Clement's prayer was that we would be people made in His image and likeness; that we would be like Him. Harmony and concord mean little unless we first learn to posessess His nature and His likeness.

Similarly, Clement's prayer for the church is that they would experience peace, harmony, and order.
"Send back speedily to us in peace and with joy these our messengers to you: Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito, with Fortunatus: that they may the sooner announce to us the peace and harmony we so earnestly desire and long for [among you], and that we may the more quickly rejoice over the good order re-established among you. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, and with all everywhere that are the called of God through Him, by whom be to Him glory, honour, power, majesty, and eternal dominion, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen." (1 Clement 59)
That in everything and every way, both individually and corporately, we would render glory and honor back to God. That He alone would be magnified.

Thanks to God for this wonderful letter!

David Robison

1st Clement 57 - You could stay

 Sometimes, leaving is not an option, or at least, not an acceptable option. There are many reasons why we might choose to stay rather than leave, even if we find ourselves at odds with some of the things the church is doing, even if our own desires and visions are not in sync with that of the church and its leaders. I have also been in this place, where either I knew it was God's will for my family to stay or where I knew that leaving would present a hardship on my family. I know many families that have chosen to stay in such situations because, while they may have been dissatisfied with the church, its decisions, and its direction, their wife and children were not. They judged it better to stay for the sake of their wife and children's needs and spiritual health than to leave for the sake of what they desired.

However, in choosing to stay we are choosing limitations on our own lives and choosing to yield our own ambitions and goals to those of others.
 "Ye therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue." (1 Clement 57)
If we choose to stay, we must be willing to put the needs of others, the needs of the church, before our own needs. We must be willing to submit to the established order within the church and to curb our own pride and our self-confident talk lest we sow the seeds of sedition and schism by our words. This does not mean that we cannot share what God has put in our hearts and the vision he has given us for His church, but we must away be careful to do it in a way that does not seek to divide the church and we must always be willing to yield to the established order of the church if our thoughts and views are not readily accepted. In all we do, our thought must be for the needs and safety of others.

For some, this can be a difficult pill to swallow, especially when we feel that we are better, or even destined, for a higher place of esteem than is presently offered us. It can be difficult to accept a humble place when, in our pride, we esteem ourselves worthy of something greater. But Clement reminds us,
"For it is better for you that ye should occupy a humble but honourable place in the flock of Christ, than that, being highly exalted, ye should be cast out from the hope of His people." (1 Clement 57)
What good is a place of prominence if it is without God's blessing? What good is being exalted if it is accompanied with exile? It is far better to be humble and to have a share in God's church than to be great and an outcast. Clement closes with a stern warning for those who, in spite of the clear testament of the scriptures, persists in forcing their own way and desires out of a heart of pride and arrogance.
"For thus speaketh all-virtuous Wisdom: 'Behold, I will bring forth to you the words of My Spirit, and I will teach you My speech. Since I called, and ye did not hear; I held forth My words, and ye regarded not, but set at naught My counsels, and yielded not at My reproofs; therefore I too will laugh at your destruction ...For they hated wisdom, and did not choose the fear of the Lord; nor would they listen to My counsels, but despised My reproofs. Wherefore they shall eat the fruits of their own way, and they shall be filled with their own ungodliness.' " (1 Clement 57)
Let us learn to be humble and to  "take the lowest place." (Luke 14:10 NIV) Let our exhalation come from God and not by our own means. In doing so, our praise will be from God and not from men.

David Robison

Sunday, November 18, 2012

1st Clement 56 - Pray for the fallen

When difficulties and even division arise in the church, our first response should be to pray for all involved that they would return from their sins and be rejoined to the will of God.
"Let us then also pray for those who have fallen into any sin, that meekness and humility may be given to them, so that they may submit, not unto us, but to the will of God. For in this way they shall secure a fruitful and perfect remembrance from us, with sympathy for them, both in our prayers to God, and our mention of them to the saints." (1 Clement 56)
Our prayers should not be that they would agree with us or join us in our opinions, but that they would submit to the will of God. The labor of our prayers should not be to conform people to our will but to God's will; our will will always be earthly while God's will is always "that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2) What we think and want people to do is of little consequence. However, what is important is the will of God for their lives.

Clement also reminds us that our esteem of people should be based upon their character, their meekness, humility, and readiness to repent, rather than upon their exploits. There are many might men and women who have accomplished great things, some even in the name of the Lord, but our remembrance should be drawn to those who through humility and meekness devote themselves to the will of God. In our prayers and conversations with others, we should remember those who chose righteousness over their own selfish wants and needs. Gossip is not gossip when we use it to share and repeat the good that others have done and the righteousness they posses in their souls.

One of the tools God uses to turn us from sin and to restore us to His will is correction and admonishment.
"Let us receive correction, beloved, on account of which no one should feel displeased. Those exhortations by which we admonish one another are both good [in themselves] and highly profitable, for they tend to unite us to the will of God." (1 Clement 56)
We must remain humble enough to receive admonishment and correction, even when it is delivered though a brother or sister. Not only do our prayers have affect, but so does our admonitions. We must be willing to receive the admonitions of others, for these will protect us from falling away. Clement reminds us.
"Ye see, beloved, that protection is afforded to those that are chastened of the Lord; for since God is good, He corrects us, that we may be admonished by His holy chastisement." (1 Clement 56)
We must receive all correction as coming from the Lord, even when he chooses to use human intermediaries to deliver that correction. Solomon reminds us, "Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning." (Proverbs 9:9) We should all learn to be wise men and women and, in doing so, protect ourselves from the temptations of sin.

David Robison

Thursday, November 15, 2012

1st Clement 54 to 55 - You could leave

So what should you to do if you find yourself in a place where you are at odds with the church; at odds with the vision, direction, and leadership of the church? One option is to leave.
"Who then among you is noble-minded? who compassionate? who full of love? Let him declare, 'If on my account sedition and disagreement and schisms have arisen, I will depart, I will go away whithersoever ye desire, and I will do whatever the majority commands; only let the flock of Christ live on terms of peace with the presbyters set over it.' He that acts thus shall procure to himself great glory in the Lord; and every place will welcome him. For 'the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.' These things they who live a godly life, that is never to be repented of, both have done and always will do." (1 Clement 54)
There are many reasons people leave a church, and for many of them, their reasons are not too noble or motivated by love. Many people leave churches because of hurts, offensives, and differences of opinions; problems that could be worked out but for which leaving is easier than putting forth the effort. When we leave in this way, our focus is on ourselves; our hurts, our wounds, and our pride. Our concern is not for the body but what is best for us. When we leave in this way, we leave with the wounds intact and festering; wounds that will often resurface in whatever church we find ourselves next.

However, there are times when leaving can be the best thing for the church. When we choose to leave, not because it's what's best for us but because its what's best for the church; sacrificing ourselves for the sake of the church. Clement reminds us that such sacrifice is not uncommon, even amongst the heathen.
"To bring forward some examples from among the heathen: Many kings and princes, in times of pestilence, when they had been instructed by an oracle, have given themselves up to death, in order that by their own blood they might deliver their fellow-citizens [from destruction]. Many have gone forth from their own cities, that so sedition might be brought to an end within them. We know many among ourselves who have given themselves up to bonds, in order that they might ransom others. Many, too, have surrendered themselves to slavery, that with the price which they received for themselves, they might provide food for others." (1 Clement 55)
I have experienced this very principal in my own life. There was a time when my wife and I had been long-time members of a church and were even elders in the church. However, over time, our vision and desire for the church started to differ from that of the other leaders and especially the pastor. Over time, in regards to our vision for the church, we found ourselves facing in different directions. We loved the brethren, we respected their leaders, but we had a different hope for the church. In time it became clear that to continue at the church would invite strife and contention in regards to the vision and, because of our leadership role, could even open the door for division within the church. Most of all, we realized that to try and walk in such close concert together could even harm the friendship and love we had for one another. Because of this, we realized that it was time for us to go; not because it was what was best for us but because it was what was best for the church.

Leaving a church is never easy, but when we evaluate our decision based on what is best for the church rather than what is best for us, the decision can become clearer. In these cases we must have courage to do the right thing, even if it means leaving. Finally, as those who remain behind in the church, we must realize that not everyone will remain with us forever; from time-to-time people will leave, and we must let them leave with our blessings and without attaching any judgment to their decision.

David Robison

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

1st Clement 51 to 53 - Turning the tide of division

Clement is coming near to the end of his letter. He has chastised and exhorted the Corinthians regarding the ongoing division and sedition that was in their midst and now it's time for the Corinthians to act; now is the time for them to bring an end to this division and to restore harmony and concord in their midst. The first step in this process is to repent.
"Let us therefore implore forgiveness for all those transgressions which through any [suggestion] of the adversary we have committed." (1 Clement 51)
It does not matter to what degree we may have participated in the division, if we participated at all, then we must repent. Whether we were aligned with the loyalty party or the opposition party, if we took sides and joined one party or another, we need to repent. We must realize that a party spirit is not from God but from the enemy. If we have come into agreement with this spirit, then we have sinned and we must repent of our transgressions and implore God for forgiveness. Repentance brings forgiveness and forgiveness brings peace. "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)

Secondly, those who authored the division must acknowledge their sin. There must be confession along with repentance. When we are convicted of our sin, we have a choice to make; do we eagerly respond to God or do we harden our hearts. David said, "Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." (Psalm 95:7-8) and Clement put it this way,
"For it is better that a man should acknowledge his transgressions than that he should harden his heart, as the hearts of those were hardened who stirred up sedition against Moses the servant of God, and whose condemnation was made manifest [unto all]. For they went down alive into Hades, and death swallowed them up... for no other reason than that their foolish hearts were hardened. (1 Clement 51)
It is better for us to humble ourselves and confess our sin than to harden our hearts and reap destruction from the Lord. Such confession is pleasing to God.
"The Lord, brethren, stands in need of nothing; and He desires nothing of any one, except that confession be made to Him. For, says the elect David, 'I will confess unto the Lord; and that will please Him more than a young bullock that hath horns and hoofs.' " (1 Clement 52)
God is not interested in sacrifices, but He is looking for a "A broken and a contrite heart." (Psalm 51:17)

Finally, we must have respect for our common hope.
"And those who have been the leaders of sedition and disagreement ought to have respect to the common hope." (1 Clement 51)
Ignatius refers to Jesus as our common hope, but not only is He our common hope, but He also brings a common hope that we shall be like Him; that we shall be made into His image and His likeness. However, when division and sedition enters the church, it begins to destroy that common hope, it diverts our attention away from being conformed into His image to being on the "right" side. Strife and division are incompatible with our common hope. Further more, these divisions destroy the "commonness" we have in His body; we cease to be one Body and are merely isolated parts that once were a body.

We must once again learn to "discern the Lord's body." (1 Corinthians 11:29) We must learn to put the needs of other first, before our own needs.
"For such as live in fear and love would rather that they themselves than their neighbours should be involved in suffering. And they prefer to bear blame themselves, rather than that the concord which has been well and piously handed down to us should suffer." (1 Clement 51)
When we find our needs and want at odds with the church then we have a choice to make; will we chose our own suffering by sacrificing our needs and wants in favor of those of others, or will we insist on our needs and desires, even to the suffering of the Body? Will we inflict our own wants and desires on the church, even if it means the suffering of that concord it presently enjoys? One living in love would not do this; they would prefer their own suffering to the suffering of others.

To drive this point home, Clement relates a story from the life of Moses.
 "Ye understand, beloved, ye understand well the Sacred Scriptures, and ye have looked very earnestly into the oracles of God. Call then these things to your remembrance. When Moses went up into the mount, and abode there, with fasting and humiliation, forty days and forty nights." (1 Clement 53)
However, while Moses was on the mountain, the people reverted into idolatry and sin. God intended to destroy the whole wicked lot of them and start over with the decedents of Moses. However, Moses would not have it.
"But Moses said, 'Far be it from Thee, Lord: pardon the sin of this people; else blot me also out of the book of the living.' "(1 Clement 53)
Moses was more concerned with the lives of the people than his own life; he was more concerned with their blessing than his own blessing; he preferred the current promises of God for others than God's new promise for himself. Out of love Moses entreated God and God repented of the harm He had intended against the nation of Israel. Clement comments,
"O marvellous love! O insuperable perfection! The servant speaks freely to his Lord, and asks forgiveness for the people, or begs that he himself might perish along with them." (1 Clement 53)
Love covers a multitude of sins. Love heals division and restores unity. Love is the answer.

David Robison

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

1st Clement 50 - Being found in love

Having understood the greatness of love, Clement ask this question,
"Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring
its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so?" (1 Clement 50)
The perfection of love is beyond our abilities to perceive, define, and describe because it reaches to the very essence of who God is. John wrote, "God is love" (1 John 4:16) and to the same decree that God is infinitely beyond our finding out the very depths of His nature, so is love. Love is as deep and as wide as God is Himself; it is beyond full discovery and interpretation.

Seeing how wonderful love is, and how deep and perfect it is, Clement asks, who is fit or worthy to be found in such a love? Many people want love and some search their entire lifetime for love and yet many fail to find love in all its perfection. The question is not how can we "obtain" love, but rather how can we be found "in" love. It is not enough to have love but we must live in love; living is a way that we extend that love to others. Not just receiving the love of God but learning to love others like God loves.

The Corinthian church was full of people who had received the love of God yet they had forgotten how to love with the love of God. The love of God had become limited and no longer extended beyond their own flesh. How could they once again learn to love; to let the love of God reach out to one another? How could they again find themselves fit to be found in such love? Clement's answer was to return to the God who is love. It is God who renders us fit for love and it is to Him that we must turn to to become perfected in love.
"Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free
from all human partialities for one above another." (1 Clement 50)
We must turn to God and ask for His mercies to be made, or remade, perfect in His love. It is interesting that in Clement's opinion, at least as far as it relates to the Corinthians, to be made perfect in love means to learn to love without hypocrisy, without partiality, to learn to love everyone equally and with this Paul agrees, "Let love be without hypocrisy. " (Romans 12:9)

Finally, Clement reminds us of the great reward of Love.

"All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ. ... Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us." (1 Clement 50)
See how integral love is to the eternal purpose and plan of God! Without the perfection in love we would not be found worthy to inherit our place in heaven with God. Without love motivating us towards the commandments of God and to harmony with each other, the stain of sin would remain on our lives. Love draws us to God, empowers us to keep the commandments of God, and binds us to the brethren of God in peace and harmony. Love makes us both worthy and ready for eternity with God and with His saints. Oh how powerful is this love of God!

David Robison

Friday, November 09, 2012

1st Clement 49 - The value of love

John tells us that, "God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." (1 John 4:16) Not only is love of great value but it is also of great power; by abiding in it we also abide in God. Clement shows us both the value of love and the effects it has in and on our life.
"Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Clement 49)
Love if more than a feeling, it is both an action and a response. Love compels us to keep God's commandments. Some may, our of fear, obey a tyrant, but only while the threat of violence remains. Should one become free of his oppressor he would return to his own ways. But love compels us to obedience, not out of fear, but out of gratitude and a desire to be pleasing to the one who loves us and the one we love. In the Kingdom of God, love is the motivator, not fear.

Love also binds us to God and one another. Hosea spoke of God's love when he said, "I  led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, and I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; and I bent down and fed them." (Hosea 11:4)Paul also encourages us to, "Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." (Collosions3:14) Love binds us together, it is through love that God forgive us of our sins and that we forgive others of their sins. Love is the perfect bond of unity.

Love is not weak, it is not a fickle emotion, but it has power to change our loves. Love produces within us character and strength. Clement, speaking of the character of love says,
"Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony." (1 Clement 49)
There is nothing evil, sinful, or hurtful in love. As Paul reminds us, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10) Love is real, it is demonstrated, it is evidenced by its fruit, and it is known by its character.

In our walk with the Lord and with each other, it is Love that moves us towards our goal of god-likeness and it is love that causes our way to be well pleasing to God.
"By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls." (1 Clement 49)
Augustine of Hippo used to say, "God command what you will and give what you command." We are called to love and God has given us Himself who is love. We have been filled with the God of love. We can love because love resides in us.

David Robison

Thursday, November 08, 2012

1st Clement 48 - The gates of righteousness

Clement tells the Corinthian church that it is time for them to put away, or to remove, this sin in their midst and he identifies their first step in this process as repentance.
"Let us therefore, with all haste, put an end to this [state of things]; and let us fall down before the Lord, and beseech Him with tears, that He would mercifully be reconciled to us, and restore us to our former seemly and holy practice of brotherly love." (1 Clement 48)
Someone once asked me, "If the scriptures say there is a time for everything under heaven, when is the time for sin?" The answer is "the past." Sin must be eradicated, it cannot be allowed to grow and fester; sin is one thing we cannot afford to ignore. Sin was destroying their relationships with one another and with their Lord. They needed a reconciliation with their Lord first and also with each

Clement describes repentance as a door or gate.
For [such conduct] is the gate of righteousness, which is set open for the attainment of life, as it is written, 'Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go in by them, and will praise the Lord: this is the gate of the Lord: the righteous shall enter in by it.' Although, therefore, many gates have been set open, yet this gate of righteousness is that gate in Christ by which blessed are all they that have entered in and have directed their way in holiness and righteousness, doing all things without disorder." (1 Clement 48)
The "conduct" he is speaking of here is not "brotherly love" but repentance. There are many options available to us, many different gates open, many different ways we could go, but the gate of righteousness leads to life. The gate of  righteousness is pursued by those who desire righteousness; by those who desire what lies beyond its gates. However, it is repentance that turns us from the world towards that gate.

Repentance, among other things, is a change of mind. It is a change where we choose to prefer the things of righteousness rather than the things of sin. Where we choose to look towards Jesus rather than to ourselves. Where we prefer the fruit of the Kingdom of God rather than the fruit of this world. When we thus turn and implore Jesus for His mercy and reconciliation, we find ourselves passing through the gates of righteousness.

Clement finally offers this caution to those who believe that they stand, those who have already passed through the gates.
"Let a man be faithful: let him be powerful in the utterance of knowledge; let him be wise in judging of words; let him be pure in all his deeds; yet the more he seems to be superior to others [in these respects], the more humble-minded ought he to be, and to seek the common good of all, and not merely his own advantage." (1 Clement 48)
What keeps us inside the gates? Humbleness and a lifestyle that looks out for the needs of others before the needs of ourselves. If we remain humble as to the accomplishments and merits of our own life and rather focus ourselves on the needs and interests of others, then we will safeguard our lives inside the gate.

David Robison

Monday, November 05, 2012

1st Clement 47 - Being corrupted in the way

Clement reminds the Corinthian church of similar problems they had while Paul was still alive.
"Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you." (1 Clement 47)
Early on in the church's existence parties and factions arose. People were gravitating to one apostle or another, preferring one minister over another, and counting themselves superior because of their chosen association. Paul writes, "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.' " (1 Cor 1:11-12)  However, this present time of strife was different from the first.
"But that inclination for one above another entailed less guilt upon you, inasmuch as your partialities were then shown towards apostles, already of high reputation, and towards a man whom they had approved. But now reflect who those are that have perverted you, and lessened the renown of your far-famed brotherly love." (1 Clement 47)
Then, in their carnality they were rallying around honorable men, now they were taking up sides around me of no reputations. Then, they were taking up side for those who wished no sides be taken, for Paul, not wanting to be a part of of any faction, said, "Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:13) But now they had given themselves to those who actively sought to divide the Body of Christ, to those who sought to "pervert" them in the way. Instead of rejecting those who brought division, they rallied around them, formed their factions, and fought against one another. Clement reminds them that such behavior us unbecoming of a christian.
"It is disgraceful, beloved, yea, highly disgraceful, and unworthy of your Christian profession, that such a thing should be heard of as that the most stedfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians should, on account of one or two persons, engage in sedition against its presbyters. And this rumour has reached not only us, but those also who are unconnected with us; so that, through your infatuation, the name of the Lord is blasphemed, while danger is also brought upon yourselves." (1 Clement 47)
Their good name was being soiled, the name of the Lord was being blasphemed, and danger and destruction was being brought upon the church itself. Such is the fruit of division, strife, and sedition. You cannot eat the fruit of poison without taking its poison within yourself. You cannot side with the wicked without bringing wickedness into your midst. You cannot allow someone to pervert you without becoming perverted in your way. All these things we must guard against, we must be vigilant, we must take heed, to reject these temptations whenever and from wherever they come.

David Robison

Sunday, November 04, 2012

1st Clement 45 to 46 - Who are we emulating?

Sometimes our own zeal and conceit will lead us to justify ourselves and our behavior, but believing ourselves to be right does not make us right. Sometimes we must stop and ask ourselves, "who are we really emulating?" Clement challenges the Corinthians with this very question.
"Ye are fond of contention, brethren, and full of zeal about things which do not pertain to salvation. Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them. There you will not find that the righteous were cast off by men who themselves were holy. The righteous were indeed persecuted, but only by the wicked. They were cast into prison, but only by the unholy; they were stoned, but only by transgressors; they were slain, but only by the accursed, and such as had conceived an unrighteous envy against them." (1 Clement 45).
The Corinthians felt themselves justified in their opposition to the established order within their church, however, Clement challenges them that their behavior indicates that they are emulating the wicked and the unjust rather than the righteous and holy. The scriptural evidence is clear, those who bring strife, persecution, and innovation were the evil and the wicked, not the righteous. No matter how we try to justify our actions and behaviors, we are following in the footsteps of the condemned, not the justified.

To drive this point home, Clement sites some specific examples from the Scriptures
"For what shall we say, brethren? Was Danie cast into the den of lions by such as feared God? Were Ananias, and Azarias, and Mishaƫl shut up in a furnace of fire by those who observed the great and glorious worship of the Most High? Far from us be such a thought! Who, then, were they that did such things? The hateful, and those full of all wickedness, were roused to such a pitch of fury, that they inflicted torture on those who served God with a holy and blameless purpose [of heart], not knowing that the Most High is the Defender and Protector of all such as with a pure conscience venerate His all-excellent name." (1 Clement 45)
When we participate in envy, strife, and sedition we are participating with the evil ones. Instead of following the wicked, Clement encourages to follow the behavior and example of the righteousness.
"But they who with confidence endured [these things] are now heirs of glory and honour, and have been exalted and made illustrious by God in their memorial for ever and ever. Amen. Let us cleave to the righteous: your strife is pernicious. Such examples, therefore, brethren, it is right that we should follow; since it is written, 'Cleave to the holy, for those that cleave to them shall [themselves] be made holy.' And again, in another place, [the Scripture] saith, 'With a harmless man thou shalt prove thyself harmless, and with an elect man thou shalt be elect, and with a perverse man thou shalt show thyself perverse.' Let us cleave, therefore, to the innocent and righteous, since these are the elect of God." (1 Clement 44-45)
When we hang around wicked people we learn to be wicked, and when we hang around holy people we learn to be holy, or as Paul said, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.' " (1 Corinthians 15:33) However, its not just we who is harmed when we learn the ways of the wicked. When we practice the behaviors of evil we also harm those around us and, as Christians, especial those of the Body of Christ. Clement shows us that the source of conflicts within our churches can often be traced to our own wicked ways and selfish ambitions.
"Why are there strifes, and tumults, and divisions, and schisms, and wars among you? Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And have we not one calling in Christ? Why do we divide and tear to pieces the members of Christ, and raise up strife against our own body, and have reached such a height of madness as to forget that 'we are members one of another?' " (1 Clement 45)
It is one thing to destroy own own body with our sin, but it is another thing for our sin to destroy the body of someone else. When we tear and bite and divided the Body of Christ we are doing so to His own body and we are destroying something He cares greatly about; something He gave His own life for. Clement reminds us of Jesus' own words.
"Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He said, 'Woe to that man [by whom offences come]! It were better for him that he had never been born, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my elect.' " (1 Clement 45)
In striving for the top, those ambitious men at Corinth had greatly harmed the church at Corinth; Christ's own Body. In trying to achive for themselves, they lost site of the price that was being paid by those around them. In trying to "come out on top" and to be seen as right and justified, they did not see that many around them were "coming out on the bottom." Clement observes,
"Your schism has subverted [the faith of] many, has discouraged many, has given rise to doubt in many, and has caused grief to us all. And still your sedition continueth." (1 Clement 45)
We should care more about the welfare of those around us then we do ourselves. In caring only for ourselves we are showing forth the practices of wickedness. However, when we care more for those around us than for our own interests, we are showing forth the ways of Righteousness and even of our Lord Himself who, "did not come to be served, but to serve." (Mark 10:45)

David Robison

Saturday, November 03, 2012

1st Clement 43 to 44 - Striving for the top

Clement reminds us that there have always been those who have striven to be at the top; that where honor was assigned to one there would be others who would strive to obtain like honors. He reminds us of the case in Israel when the priesthood was allotted to the tribe of Levi. There were those in the other eleven tribes who thought themselves worthy of such honor and strove against the decision of Moses.
"For, when rivalry arose concerning the priesthood, and the tribes were contending among themselves as to which of them should be adorned with that glorious title, he commanded the twelve princes of the tribes to bring him their rods, each one being inscribed with the name of the tribe." (1 Clement 43)
These rods were placed inside the Tabernacle of Meeting and the people dismissed until morning. When they returned, the rods were retrieved and inspected.
"And when the morning was come, he assembled all Israel, six hundred thousand men, and showed the seals to the princes of the tribes, and opened the tabernacle of witness, and brought forth the rods. And the rod of Aaron was found not only to have blossomed, but to bear fruit upon it." (1 Clement 43)
This was God's proof of the election of Levi to the priesthood over the other tribes. This was not done so that Moses would know whom God had chosen, but rather to make it clear to all the people of Israel whom God had chosen.
"What think ye, beloved? Did not Moses know beforehand that this would happen? Undoubtedly he knew; but he acted thus, that there might be no sedition in Israel, and that the name of the true and only God might be glorified; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Clement 43)
Like Moses, the Apostles understood that strife would rise within the church over who should preside over her as presbyters. In order to make this selection sure and evident, the Apostles chose succession; thus letting the people know for certain whom they had chosen.
"Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry." (1 Clement 44)
And thus began Apostolic Succession. It is Clement's opinion that, honorable men who have been appointed thus and who have served honorably should not be thrust aside simply over preference for another or due to the desires and want of another.
"We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry." (1 Clement 44)
What is important to notice is the participation of the church in this process of succession: both with the consent of the church as to their qualification and appointment as well as the testimony of the church as to their honorable life and blameless service to the flock. Such men as these should not be dismissed from their place, but rather honored and obeyed.

Finally, Clement warns us what would happen if we dishonored such men and dismissed them from this honor without cause.
"For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that ye have removed some men of excellent behaviour from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour." (1 Clement 44)
We should think twice before rejecting and dismissing those who have honorably and blamelessly served the church of Christ. To treat the servants of God in such a manner will certainly be accredited to us as sin; sin against those who have thus served, sin against the church, and sin against God. Unfortunately, this is exactly what some at Corinth had done.

David Robison.

Friday, November 02, 2012

1st Clement 42 to 43 - Apostolic Succession

God is a God of order. Everything He does carries the impression of that order, even when it comes to authority in the church.
"And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, 'I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.' " (1 Clement 42)
Authority in God's church has been appointed in order; first God, then Christ, then the Apostles, then those they appointed as Bishops to watch over the church. It should be noted that, during the first century, when speaking of Bishops, Presbyters, and Elders that these terms were often used interchangeably for the same people and the same ministry. For example, most of our modern translations of the scriptures do not use the term Bishop, but we see the appointment of others to the same ministry of oversight, but only with different names.
"When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23)
"For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you." (Titus 1:5)
In these scriptures, Paul uses the Greek word "presbuteros" which is often translated as elder and from which we get our word "presbyter". Here we see the appointment of "elders" being identical to the appointment of "bishops" as mentioned in Clements letter. In my opinion, these two functions are, or at least were, identical.

Thus began the practice of "Apostolic Succession," yet Clement tells us that we need no be surprised at that.
"And what wonder is it if those in Christ who were entrusted with such a duty by God, appointed those [ministers] before mentioned, when the blessed Moses also, 'a faithful servant in all his house,' noted down in the sacred books all the injunctions which were given him, and when the other prophets also followed him, bearing witness with one consent to the ordinances which he had appointed?" (1 Clement 43)
Here Clement likens the appointment of elders to the prophets that followed Moses. Moses received the Law from God and delivered it to the people. Similarly, the Apostles received the Gospel from Jesus and preached it to the world. Afterwords, the prophets gave continual testimony and witness to the Law Moses delivered just as the elders represented the Apostles, giving testimony and confirmation to their teaching and traditions.

These elders were not Apostles, in the since that they did not received the Gospel by a direct revelation from Jesus, rather they simply taught and defended those teachings and traditions that had been handed down to them from the Apostles. Their apostolic succession was based less on their being able to trace their appointment through an unbroken line of appointments back to an Apostle and more on their holding to, teaching, and defending those teachings and traditions that had successively been handed down to them from the Apostles. As such they were the teachers of the truth and protectors of the church.

Today, most of those who oversee our churches lack the authority that comes from Apostolic Succession, either because the church has rejected succession altogether or because succession has made impersonal. In many churches leaders and/or pastors are hired and, when they are hired they can be fired. Their authority lasts only as long as those who hired them are willing to give it to them or until the church can find someone who will do a better job then them. In churches where succession still exists, this succession is often performed by those they do not know and the one chosen is often unknown to the church as well. Far different from the current overseers of a church appointing the new overseers of a church. When succession happens outside of the local church the people are stripped of their ability to confirm the appointment and their willingness to submit to the appointed overseer's authority.

I don't know if we will ever be able to return to a time of Apostolic Succession in our modern churches but, it seem to me, its loss in many of our churches has been to our determent and not our advancement.

David Robison