Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ignatius to the Ephesians - The Bishop and Order

This is a continuation of my series on Ignatius and the seven letters he wrote while on his way to be martyred in Rome. If you are unfamiliar with Ignatius, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.

Ignatius exhorts the Ephesians to give attention to their bishop.
"Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 6)
It is obvious that the role of the bishop was different from our modern day role of pastor, so much so, that Ignatius had to remind the people that his silence was not to be taken as tasset approval for their deeds but rather forbearance for their immaturity. The bishops role was more one of oversight than it was one of being "front and center" in their meetings. The bishop's presence along was often enough to bring about a sense of decorum, obedience, order, and safety within the church.

In instructing the Ephesians to look upon their venerable bishop as they would upon Christ, he was not imply that their bishop was equal to Christ or that he was Christ's physical representation of representative on earth and within their church, rather it was to remind them that they should receive him as being sent to them by Christ and that, in receiving him, they were also receiving Him who sent him; to look upon their bishop was to also look upon the one who sent him.

Ignatius goes on to speak of the impact Onesimus had among the church at Ephesus.
"And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 6)
His command to good order in God was not a verbal command or the result of lording his position over them, but it was the force of example as he lived his life before God. The light and power of his own pious life motivated others to live such a life and to live in order and harmony with each other, he was truly a light to the Ephesians.

Finally notice that his pious life did not lead people to himself, but rather to God. It was not the bishop's voice they hearken to but rather the voice of Jesus alone, which they often heard coming from the mouth of their beloved bishop. They learned to distinguish the voice of a man and the voice of their savior, regardless of how that voice was delivered, either through flesh, word, or spirit.

David Robison


  1. Anonymous3:51 PM

    It seems that Ignatius DID have an exalted view of bishops, "We should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord himself."

    Many bishops and other church leaders (such as pastors) have the same attitude. I am supportive of church leaders--but not when they become abusive, controlling, or make serious errors.

  2. This is true. However, the Bishops we read about in Clement of Rome and Ignatius were honorable men. They were not men who abused the church or sought to impose themselves upon others. In the early church the Bishops fulfilled a significant role in representing the apostolic message and teachings. They were the means by which the messages was to be preserved in the church throughout many generations. It is my wish that God would continue to raise up such men who could represent Christ and His message in the church today.