Monday, December 31, 2012

Polycarp 3 - You asked for it

This is a continuation of my series on Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. If you are unfamiliar with Polycarp or his letter to the Philippians, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Polycarp acknowledges that his writing to the Philippians was not on his own accord but was in response to their request.
"These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so." (Polycarp 3)
In the first and second centuries, churches were autonomous. There was no hierarchy of churches; no one church assuming ascendancy or preeminence over the faith and lives of other believes or their churches. When help was needed, it was sought along relational lines not along lines of authority or oversight. Polycarp had no authority over the Philippian church other than grant to him by them in their request for help and encouragement.

I have been in a number of churches that believed in church planting and in the replication of the life they had into other bodies of believers. However, in most cases there was a clear line of hierarchy; there was a "mother" church and a "daughter" church, one with authority and one subservient to the other, even to the point where the "daughter" church was expected to tithe off their tithes to the "mother" church. In cases where the new church plant needed help, it was "expected" that they would seek it first, and sometimes only, from of the "mother" church. Maybe our model of church planting needs to be revised to be more apostolic; more consistent with the apostolic model that we see in the early churches.

Polycarp also refuses to assert himself to be grater than the apostles or to relate to the Pilippians in such a way as to presume to unseat the love and adoration they had for the one who had first planted and established the church.
"For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive." (Polycarp 3)
Polycarp had no "new" revelation for them other than what the Apostles had delivered to the churches. He could expound on it and exhort them to adhere to the apostolic message, but the message and revelation had already been given. Polycarp was not an apostle, but as a shepherd and teacher he could, and did, help people to understand and apply the apostolic message to their own lives.

Polycarp also reminds them of the importance of the teachings of the apostles and of the importance of reading, studying, and obeying the letters they had received from the apostles.
"And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, 'is the mother of us all.' " (Polycarp 3)
Our lives in Christ begin with love towards God, Jesus, and others. Then, as we build up our faith through the message of Christ, we move towards hope. This faith, which is built up and strengthened by the word of God, and especially by the apostolic message, is what he refers to as the "mother of us all." What joins us in commonality with other believes is the common faith we have in God, His Christ, and His message. It is only through this faith that we come to be children of God and members of the universal body of Christ.

This is what makes our devotion and obedience to the message so critical, it is what makes us "Christians." We are all Christians because we have all believed and obeyed His gospel. It is not just God who unites us, but our common faith and obedience to Him and His message. His message defines us; our calling, our nature, and our purpose.

Those who thus have believed and obeyed the message of God are those who have passed onto righteousness.
"For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin." (Polycarp 3)
A righteousness that would not have come to light apart of the message of God and the teaching of the apostles.

David Robison

No comments:

Post a Comment