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.

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