Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ignatius to the Philadelphians - Reject the Jewish Law

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 new his own weaknesses and the areas where he needed God's grace that he might complete his appointed task and, to this end, he asks for the prayers of the saints at Philadelphia.
"My brethren, I am greatly enlarged in loving you; and rejoicing exceedingly [over you], I seek to secure your safety. Yet it is not I, but Jesus Christ, for whose sake being bound I fear the more, inasmuch as I am not yet perfect. But your prayer to God shall make me perfect, that I may attain to that portion which through mercy has been allotted me, while I flee to the Gospel as to the flesh of Jesus, and to the apostles as to the presbytery of the Church. And let us also love the prophets, because they too have proclaimed the Gospel, and placed their hope in Him, and waited for Him; in whom also believing, they were saved, through union to Jesus Christ, being holy men, worthy of love and admiration, having had witness borne to them by Jesus Christ, and being reckoned along with [us] in the Gospel of the common hope." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 5)
In his fight with weakness, he turned to the same sources of strength that we turn to today; the words of Jesus, the teachings of the Apostles, and the prophesies of the prophets. For thousands of years, these truths passed down to us have served to strengthen millions of weary sojourners.

Ignatius also encourages them to reject the Jewish law in favor of Christian doctrine.
"But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumcised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 6)
There were those who, in Ignatius' day, sought to bring Christian believers back under the yoke of Judaism;  to the obedience of the law and the observance of days and seasons. However, Ignatius understood that, through the Gospel, we were called to be "Christian" not "Jewish". Worse yet, such teaching, and pressuring people to return to Jewish traditions, could only serve to divide, not unite, the church.
"Flee therefore the wicked devices and snares of the prince of this world, lest at any time being conquered by his artifices, ye grow weak in your love. But be ye all joined together with an undivided heart. And I thank my God that I have a good conscience in respect to you, and that no one has it in his power to boast, either privately or publicly, that I have burdened any one either in much or in little. And I wish for all among whom I have spoken, that they may not possess that for a testimony against them." (Ignatius to the Philadelpihians, Chapter 6)
In previous visit to Philadelphia, not knowing the division that remained hidden beneath the surface, Ignatius exhorted them to unity, the very thing that would prove to be the remedy to their problem.
"For though some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the Spirit, as being from God, is not deceived. For it knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, and detects the secrets [of the heart]. For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice: Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons. Now, some suspected me of having spoken thus, as knowing beforehand the division caused by some among you. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in bonds, that I got no intelligence from any man. But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father." (Ignatius tom the Philadelphians, Chapter 7)
Some accused Ignatius of knowing in advance what was going on and preaching directly to the subverters, but in reality, it was just the Holy Spirit intervening to prevent harm to His church. God desires unity in His church and is grieved at our divisions. Something that must still greatly grieve His heart today.

David Robison

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ignatius to the Philadelphians - Union Christians

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.

The two things that concerned Ignatius most regarding the Philadelphian church was divisions and false doctrine.
"Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there do ye as sheep follow. For there are many wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive those that are running towards God; but in your unity they shall have no place." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 2)
"Pernicious" not only means to be harmful but carries the connotation of being subtle. Divisions and false doctrines may, on the surface, seem worthy and their motives gentle. It's not until you dig deeper that you understand their real intent and the harm they can cause both individually and corporately. In a unified church, where the people stand shoulder to-shoulder with each other, it is hard for such people to make their way in. However, in a church where division and heresy already exists, such people of dubious motives can easily move about and their "pernicious" intent can run wild. Ignatius warns the Philadelphians to avoid all such people, those who would sow division and heresy in their midst.
"Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.]." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 3)
For the early believer, there was no difference between being a Christian and being part of the church. You could not have one without the other. If you were not a believer then you were not part of the church, if you were not part of the church then you were not a believer. Those, also, who would bring harm to the church were not merely harming some human organization but were harming Jesus Himself, since the church was His body on the earth.

To this end, Ignatius once again exhorts the Philadelphians to unity.
"Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 4)
The Latin word "Eucharist" simply means "thanksgiving" and has come to represent the memorial meal where christian, in many different modes and forms, celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For many of the early churches, their meetings together were entirely set around the celebratory meal. Some also including the reading of the scriptures and corporate singing. What I find sad in our day is that the Eucharist has become something that separates us as believers instead of uniting us; many churches denying this communion of believers to those who are not members of their specific church. We no longer have "one Eucharist" but many. The very thing that was to unite us has now torn us apart. In trying to preserve what is ours we reject those for whom Christ also died and who are believers in His name, something I think that saddens the heart of God. May we today find some way to return to the unity of Christ and to the one faith and to the one will of God.

David Robison

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ignatius to the Philadelphians - Greetings

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 opens his letter to the Philadelphians by greeting them in the Lord and by introducing one of his favorite subject; unity.
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which is at Philadelphia, in Asia, which has obtained mercy, and is established in the harmony of God, and rejoiceth unceasingly in the passion of our Lord, and is filled with all mercy through his resurrection; which I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy, especially if [men] are in unity with the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Greetings)
Ignatius reminds the church at Philadelphia that those who have authority in the church are appointed by the will of God and of His Holy Spirit. The bishop, presbytery  and deacons, while appointed my men, are appointed by those who sought the wisdom, counsel, and will of God in their selection. They were not, or at least should  not have been, selected for personal or political reasons but rather only in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Such men, not only are appointed according to the mind of Christ, are also confirmed, aided, and established in their appointment by God's grace and power. Such an appointment was the bishop of Philadelphia.
"Which bishop, I know, obtained the ministry which pertains to the common [weal], not of himself, neither by men, nor through vainglory, but by the love of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ;" (Ignatius to the Philadelphians  Chapter 1)
The role of the bishop was not to do the "work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12 NKJV) but to serve for the common welfare of the church. Such was the service of the bishop of Philadelphia, but what is most interesting about him was not what he did but who he was.
"at whose meekness I am struck with admiration, and who by his silence is able to accomplish more than those who vainly talk. For he is in harmony with the commandments [of God], even as the harp is with its strings. Wherefore my soul declares his mind towards God a happy one, knowing it to be virtuous and perfect, and that his stability as well as freedom from all anger is after the example of the infinite meekness of the living God." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 1)
Ignatius knew the bishop and admired him for his character and the strength of his example. The bishops were to teach the apostolic truths, the "apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:24 NKJV), but the bishop of Philadelphia taught them, not only with words, but also by examples. His life taught the apostolic truths and the message of Christ even when his lips were silent. What most eminently qualified him for the bishopric was not how well he taught, not how well he quoted scriptures, not his personality, and not even his leadership skills, but it was his character; it was his likeness to Christ.

It is unfortunate today that we often look on the outward appearances of a man to discern his calling; his "polish", his energy for "service", his leadership skills, his personality, his ability to "get-the-job-done". However, what is of real importance is what is on the inside, their conversion to Christ and their inward "harmony with the commandments of God." These are the things we should consider first. These are the things that make a man and/or woman of God.

David Robison

Monday, March 25, 2013

Ignatius to the Romans - What Bishop?

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.

For one final time, Ignatius pleads with the Roman believers not to stand in the way of his martyrdom.
"I no longer wish to live after the manner of men, and my desire shall be fulfilled if ye consent. Be ye willing, then, that ye also may have your desires fulfilled. I entreat you in this brief letter; do ye give credit to me. Jesus Christ will reveal these things to you, [so that ye shall know] that I speak truly. He is the mouth altogether free from falsehood, by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray ye for me, that I may attain [the object of my desire]. I have not written to you according to the flesh, but according to the will of God. If I shall suffer, ye have wished [well] to me; but if I am rejected, ye have hated me." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 8)
Only one thing could stand between Ignatius and his desire, and that was the intervention of the believers in Rome. His desire to die in battle with wild beasts did not come from some death wish he secretly harbored deep inside, rather, it was from Ignatius' deeply held belief that this was his calling in God and of the priceless reward that was awaiting him after he had successfully completed his journey. He asked them to pray and was assured that Jesus would give them the same answer he had, "Leave Ignatius alone; let him die." He would know their answer based on the outcome of his life. If he died a martyr  then they "wished well," if not, then the hated him and stole from him what he desired most, his liberty and freedom.

Ignatius also ask the Roman church to pray for the church is Syria who were about to loose their Bishop.
"Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love [will also regard it]. But as for me, I am ashamed to be counted one of them; for indeed I am not worthy, as being the very last of them, and one born out of due time. But I have obtained mercy to be somebody, if I shall attain to God." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 9)
It is interesting, in light of the early church's practice of apostolic succession that Ignatius did not appoint a new Bishop before his departure. Perhaps there was no time or there was no one eminently qualified to be bishop. Either way, he seemed confident that the church would survive without one, having "God as their shepherd."

Ignatius also sends forward the greetings of the churches that had been ministering to him in his journey.
"My spirit salutes you, and the love of the Churches that have received me in the name of Jesus Christ, and not as a mere passer-by. For even those Churches which were not near to me in the way, I mean according to the flesh, have gone before me, city by city, [to meet me.]" (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 9)
Ignatius was loved by the churches and it was the custom of the churches to show their love in practical ways, regardless of the distance. Ignatius may not have been their Bishop but he was one of them, a believer in Jesus Christ and one who also hoped in the resurrection to come. There was a profound sense of unity and fraternity in the early church.

At last, Ignatius closes his letter.
"Now I write these things to you from Smyrna by the Ephesians, who are deservedly most happy. There is also with me, along with many others, Crocus, one dearly beloved by me. As to those who have gone before me from Syria to Rome for the glory of God, I believe that you are acquainted with them; to whom, [then,] do ye make known that I am at hand. For they are all worthy, both of God and of you; and it is becoming that you should refresh them in all things. I have written these things unto you, on the day before the ninth of the Kalends of September (that is, on the twenty-third day of August). Fare ye well to the end, in the patience of Jesus Christ. Amen." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 10)
This ends his letter to the Roman church.

David Robison

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ignatius to the Romans - Please be on my side

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 was old and the love of Christ filled his life. There was nothing left of this world that he desired.
"All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. 'For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?' Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 6)
Ignatius only saw the gain; the gain of leaving this earth and coming face-to-face with his Lord. When faced with difficult choices, how often is our internal conflict the result of us still finding benefit in this life? How much of our struggle is against the remaining desire to "gain the world." If we could be free from this world and the lures it has on our hearts then we would truly be free. Then, like Ignatius, we would be ready to die whenever the Lord calls us home. Not that we long for death, but that we would be ready for death and thus, ready for life.

Ignatius again pleads that the believers in Rome would not hinder his course or his calling in God.
"Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 6)
Ignatius understood that true life was in the life after this one; that life on earth was a temporary life and a life filled with death, but living was to be truly found in heaven with Christ; true life is a life of eternity. Ignatius' desire is that the brethren would let him pass over from this life unto the next and not restore him again "to the world." If they truly loved him they would rejoice with him and let him go. "If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father." (John 14:28)

Ignatius ask them to be on his side, not to do the devil's bidding of trying to dissuade him from his course.
"The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be ye on my side, that is, on the side of God. Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world. Let not envy find a dwelling-place among you; nor even should I, when present with you, exhort you to it, be ye persuaded to listen to me, but rather give credit to those things which I now write to you. For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that liveth and speaketh, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 7)
How can you threaten a man who is ready to die? How can you tempt him for whom the world had no value? How can you imprison one who is free in his Lord? Ignatius was a man who was free, secure, and full of joy. I hope that when the end of my life comes I will be as free, secure, and joyful as he was.

David Robison

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ignatius to the Romans - I am ready to die

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' trip to Rome had not been easy. There were dangers from the journey and from his captors.
"From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits, show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; 'yet am I not thereby justified.' " (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 5)
His captors were cruel to him and, even when provided with benefit for their service in the journey, they seemed to be only made worse. However, even in this, Ignatius did not fail to see the hand of God for to him the rough treatment was simply preparation for what he was to experience when he reached Rome.

Ignatius also expressed his hope that his death amongst lions would be swift and complete, that they would not tarry in his death, lest his resolve be further tested in the arena.
"May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this]: I know what is for my benefit." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 5)
His greatest fear was that he would some how fail to complete his course; that if death was not swift, that he might ideas other than the completion of his calling in God. In his mind, whatever happened from here out would be worth it so long as he could complete his course and, in the end, come to Christ.
"Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 5)
When Ignatius write of "attaining to Jesus" I believe that he is speaking of becoming a Christian or even becoming worthy of being a Christian. I believe that he is speaking of attaining Christ in two senses. First in attaining to Christ in His likeness. Ignatius refers to starting to be His disciple in that he is following the same path as his savior. "It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master." (Matthew 10:25) Secondly, I believe he is speaking of arriving into the presence of his savior, something that only death can bring. "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) Ignatius was done with this world and ready to meet his maker whom he loved dearly.

David Robison

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ignatius to the Romans - I'm done with this world

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 praises the Roman believers for their faith and strength and ask them for their prayers for himself.
"Ye have never envied any one; ye have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions ye enjoin [on others]. Only request in my behalf both inward and outward strength, that I may not only speak, but [truly] will; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one. For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful, when I shall no longer appear to the world. Nothing visible is eternal. 'For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.' For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of [manifest] greatness." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 3)
He asks for inward strength that he would continue to have the will to continue on his path towards martyrdom. He also asks for outward strength that he might confess the good confession before those who would yet try and sentence him to death. He reminds them that Christianity is not just a religion of beliefs but also one of action. It matters little what we call ourselves if our actions deny our words. In the end, we will be remembered for what we have done more than for what we thought and believed.

Ignatius understands his end and is willing to accept it. Only the believers in Rome can stand between him and his calling in God. He again pleads that they would refrain from doing so.
"I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 4)
In his heart, Ignatius has already left this earth, he has already resigned from this life. Now, he looks longingly towards the new life to come.
"Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 4)
When we have the things of this world it is hard to appreciate the blessings of our life to come, but when we are prisoners of this world's system and subject to the suffering of this world, then the world to come shines brighter in our eyes and our longing for it grows and grows. Ignatius was being called home by his Lord and he was willing and anxious to leave this place for his heavenly home; he was done with this world, he was ready for real life to begin.

David Robison

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ignatius to the Romans - I'm coming, hinder me not

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 is on his way and writes in anxious hope of seeing the believers in Rome.
"Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 1)
However, amidst his desire to see his fellow believers in Rome, he also has a fear.
"For the beginning has been well ordered, if I may obtain grace to cling to my lot without hindrance unto the end. For I am afraid of your love, lest it should do me an injury. For it is easy for you to accomplish what you please; but it is difficult for me to attain to God, if ye spare me." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 1)
Ignatius believed that his path in God was to end with the lions in Rome. He had accepted it and saw his pilgrimage to Rome, and to death, as his being discipled into the life of his savior who was also killed for the sake of the Kingdom. His journey had begun well, but now he was facing the end. His fear was that, somehow, his brethren in Rome might seek to intervene in his martyrdom and even try to secure his release. It was not uncommon for the families and loved ones of those sentenced to death to seek their release with bribes. Even Christians were know to offer bribes and payments for the release of Christians condemned to death. Ignatius knew this and wanted to avoid it, so he write to the Christians in Rome asking them to refrain from interfering with his calling in God. Ignatius knew that the believers in Rome loved him and desired him to be spared, but he was not coming to please them, but God.
"For it is not my desire to act towards you as a man-pleaser, but as pleasing God, even as also ye please Him. For neither shall I ever have such [another] opportunity of attaining to God; nor will ye, if ye shall now be silent, ever be entitled to the honour of a better work." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 2)
To die for the sake of Christ was an honor and a testimony to the world and to the church, yet he could only attain to this honor if they remained silent. Ignatius knew they loved him, but he asks them to love his spirit more than they loved his flesh.
"For if ye are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race. Pray, then, do not seek to confer any greater favour upon me than that I be sacrificed to God while the altar is still prepared; that, being gathered together in love, ye may sing praise to the Father, through Christ Jesus, that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be sent for from the east unto the west. It is good to set from the world unto God, that I may rise again to Him." (Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 2)
Ignatius was called by God to be a martyr for his faith and for the glory and honor of God; he knew this. If the Roman believers interfered, it would only delay the inevitable; he would still, at a latter time, have to face death. He was ready and willing now, but who knows what the future would bring. He wanted to accomplish his task without the burden of having to do it all over again. Instead of interfering  he ask them to come together in worship and to offer thanks to God for the grace and honor He has shown their brother from Syria and to pray for his continued strength and resolve. Him message to the Romans was, "I am coming, hinder me not!"

David Robison

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ignatius to the Romans - Greetings

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, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God." (Ignatius to the Romans, Introduction)
Ignatius greets the believers in Rome. Ignatius' letter to Rome is different from his other letters. First, his other letters are written to those he was leaving behind, but here he is writing to those whom he will soon see. Also, in this letter there is no teaching, as in his other letters, just an impassioned plea for them not to interfere with his death as a martyr.

Ignatius congratulates the Roman church for their worthy character and their adherence  to Jesus. Specifically there are some interesting things that he mentions. He says that they "preside over love." It interesting that the key characteristic of the church that Ignatius highlights is love. They were not first known as a church of authority, or of discipline, but of love. The church is a many faceted organisation, but it is love that binds us together in unity. "Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." (Colossians 3:14)

Secondly, he praises them for being "united" to everyone of God's commandments. Here not referring to the Old Testament law but to the "Law of Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:12) They not only performed outward obedience to His law but were also conformed inwardly to His will; their inward desire and their outward obedience working together to fulfill the Law of Christ.

Finally, he write to them as brothers and sisters in Christ. He, as well as all the early Christian writers, did not view Rome as superior in authority or appointment  For sure, the Church in Rome was important, not because it was divinely elevated, but because of the importance of the city it resided in. Rome was not everyone's superiors, but, more consistent with love, their brothers and sisters.

David Robison

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ignatius to the Trallians - The True Gospel

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.

In preparing to close his letter to the Trallians, Ignatius once again encourages them to remain true to the true Gospel.
"Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 9)
Ignatius' emphasis here is on both the physical reality of these events and the participation of flesh in these events. There were those in his day that denied that Jesus came in human flesh. Some taught Him as a phantom and others as having flesh of a celestial nature, but certainly not human. However, Ignatius contended for the truth that Jesus was both God and man, and as man, came in human flesh. He was physically born, lived among us, suffered and died in the flesh, and bodily rose again. His flesh was our hope of forgiveness and a resurrection of our own. It was for this hope that Ignatius was bound in chains and heading to Rome to face death for His beliefs.
"But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?" (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 10)
Those who did not believe that Jesus had come in the flesh were more than willing to deny their faith and to worship the emperor's god; anything so that they could escape the threat of death; something a true believe in Jesus would never do. Ignatius encourages the Trallians to flee such heresy and heretics as those who have only death to offer us.
"Flee, therefore, those evil offshoots [of Satan], which produce death-bearing fruit, whereof if any one tastes, he instantly dies. For these men are not the planting of the Father. For if they were, they would appear as branches of the cross, and their fruit would be incorruptible. By it He calls you through His passion, as being His members. The head, therefore, cannot be born by itself, without its members; God, who is [the Saviour] Himself, having promised their union." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 11)
We who believe are God's planting, those whom God has planted in His kingdom and will one day return to raise us up with Him to our inheritance. Jesus came, not to just die and rise for our sins, but that we too might live through a resurrection to ever be with Him. "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29)

In closing, Ignatius thanks the Trallians for refreshing his spirit and encourages them once again to remain in unity.
"I salute you from Smyrna, together with the Churches of God which are with me, who have refreshed me in all things, both in the flesh and in the spirit. My bonds, which I carry about with me for the sake of Jesus Christ (praying that I may attain to God), exhort you. Continue in harmony among yourselves, and in prayer with one another; for it becomes every one of you, and especially the presbyters, to refresh the bishop, to the honour of the Father, of Jesus Christ, and of the apostles." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 12)
He also asks them for their prayers for the church he left behind in Syria that God would strengthen and comfort them.
"The love of the Smyrnæans and Ephesians salutes you. Remember in your prayers the Church which is in Syria, from which also I am not worthy to receive my appellation, being the last of them. Fare ye well in Jesus Christ, while ye continue subject to the bishop, as to the command [of God], and in like manner to the presbytery. And do ye, every man, love one another with an undivided heart." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 12)
This ends Ignatius' letter to the Trallians.

David Robison

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ignatius to the Trallians - The interweaving of heresy

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.

Our mind, soul, and spirit are hungry for nourishment; for knowledge, understanding, information, and revelation. The question is, from where do we get our food?
"I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that ye use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those [that are given to this] mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 6)
Not all things that appear to be spiritual "meat" are healthy and fit for consumption by our souls. There are those who teach what looks like truth but it is mixed with just enough error to be deadly; mixing the things of Jesus with their own style of poison; their own false teaching. Ignatius cautions the believers in Tralles not to stray from our christian field to eat the herbage grown in other fields; in the fields of the heretics  Truth is found in the church and its teachings not from the likes of of Simon, Marcion, and Valentinus. Their teaching may look like pleasing sweet wine but the end of it is spiritual death.

One of the things that draws us to heresy is our own pride. Heresy promises the opportunity to know something others do not; it makes us feel superior in knowledge and revelation to other Christians. Heresy promises special knowledge, wisdom, and insight that the ignorant masses do not posses. Heresy draws on our pride while it fails to deliver its promises.
"Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons such a man is not pure in his conscience." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 7)
Ignatius encourages us to remain steady in our faith. Rather than pursuing heresy we should pursue relationship with Jesus, submission to His teaching, and unity with His church. Jesus came not only to bring His teaching but also to establish His church. When we venture outside of His church, outside of the order He has established, then we risk venturing into heresy.

Ignatius write to the Trallians that, while he knows that such falling away is not characteristic of them, it is always good to be reminded of the truth.
"Not that I know there is anything of this kind among you; but I put you on your guard, inasmuch as I love you greatly, and foresee the snares of the devil. Wherefore, clothing yourselves with meekness, be ye renewed in faith, that is the flesh of the Lord, and in love, that is the blood of Jesus Christ. Let no one of you cherish any grudge against his neighbour. Give no occasion to the Gentiles, lest by means of a few foolish men the whole multitude [of those that believe] in God be evil spoken of. For, 'Woe to him by whose vanity my name is blasphemed among any.' " (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 8)
Pride draws us to heresy but love draws us to Christ and His brethren. Knowledge is good but character is better. Knowledge apart from love, character, and a relationship with Christ is a recipe for disaster, but when we first pursue the love of God and the love of the brethren then the knowledge we gain will make since and will be life giving, both to us and to those around us.

David Robison

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ignatius to the Trallians - The danger of knowledge

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 never saw himself as one who was exhaled above the brethren, rather as simply one of them.
"But shall I, when permitted to write on this point, reach such a height of self-esteem, that though being a condemned man, I should issue commands to you as if I were an apostle?" (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 3)
Ignatius was an honorable man, one who commanded respect, and one who, due to his position appointed to him by God, had the right and authority to command others, yet instead he used these gifts to serve others and to relate to them as equals. Ignatius was a man who understood the position allotted to him by God and was content with that position. He was not an apostle and that was fine by him. He didn't try to be one, rather he simply tried to fulfill his calling in God to the best of his ability.

Ignatius knew the power of knowledge and its tendency to puff us up, yet he also knew that his journey towards martyrdom required humility not pride.
"I have great knowledge in God, but I restrain myself, lest, I should perish through boasting. For now it is needful for me to be the more fearful; and not give heed to those that puff me up. For they that speak to me [in the way of commendation] scourge me. For I do indeed desire to suffer, but I know not if I be worthy to do so. For this longing, though it is not manifest to many, all the more vehemently assails me. I therefore have need of meekness, by which the prince of this world is brought to nought." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 4)
This was not a time for Ignatius to impress others with his knowledge and his authority, rather it was a time for him to strive to remain humble and weak knowing that in his weakness God would prove Himself strong. There were those, however, who, though well meaning, sought to encourage Ignatius through their commendations of Him, but Ignatius did not need to be reminded of his own greatness (which in fact as too little for the task ahead of him) but rather to be reminded of the greatness of God. In difficult times we need to be reminded of God and His greatness not of ourselves and our own supposed strengths.

Finally, Ignatius reminds the Trallians that knowledge is good when used wisely and when acquired in a way that is commensurate with our growth in the Lord.
"Am I not able to write to you of heavenly things? But I fear to do so, lest I should inflict injury on you who are but babes [in Christ]. Pardon me in this respect, lest, as not being able to receive [such doctrines], ye should be strangled by them. For even I, though I am bound [for Christ], yet am not on that account able to understand heavenly things, and the places of the angels, and their gatherings under their respective princes, things visible and invisible. Without reference to such abstruse subjects, I am still but a learner [in other respects]; for many things are wanting to us, that we come not short of God." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 5)
There are many great things to know and discover, yet David said, "O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me." (Psalms 131:1) When we pursue knowledge that is beyond our present life in God we are in danger of choking on that very knowledge we had searched for. The problem is not knowledge, the problem is when we search for knowledge more than we search for the Lord; when we want knowledge without the Lord. The temptation of Adam and Eve was that, "You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5) The problem was not knowledge, but what the Devil promised was knowledge apart from God; knowing good from evil apart from receiving this knowledge from God. Ignatius knew that not all knowledge was suitable to us and our current walk with the Lord. Even Paul said, "Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature." (1 Corinthians 2:6) Some knowledge is better suited for when we are more fully matured in the things of God. However, the knowledge of God is always "in season." It is far better to pursue God and the knowledge He brings then to pursue knowledge for its sake alone.

David Robison

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Ignatius to the Trallians - Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons

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 Trallians to live in submission to those who preside over the church.
"For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 2)
Submission is not the way of the world, but it is the way of the Kingdom of God. We all have a different place and function within the Body of Christ and true submission acknowledges this and recognizes that our place and function are assigned to us by God. We are to submit to others, recognizing that their place and function within the Body has also been appointed to them by God. Ignatius' concern was that there would be those who would shun those whom God had placed over the church and would seek to establish their own order and their own church outside from this appointed order. This was, in fact, happening in many places in the time of Ignatius. Churches were being established outside of the appointed order, often due to envy and strife in the heart of the new leaders or due to some new and novel doctrine that set them at odds with the established church. Ignatius wanted to warn the Trallians of this and to encourage them to do nothing "without the bishop," that is, nothing outside of the fellowship or the oversight of the bishop; to stand with the bishop rather than in opposition to him.

Ignatius next turns to the deacons and reminds them that their conduct should be "pleasing to all."
"It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 2)
In that day, the deacons were responsible for assisting with the agape feast. They were responsible for serving during the meal and, afterwords, taking food to the poor, sick, and needy who where not attend the  feast. Deacons were first established by the Apostles early on in the church in Jerusalem. "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables." (Acts 6:1-2) As a result, the Apostles, with the advise and consent of the people, appointed seven who would be deacons and assist with the serving of food. However, Ignatius reminds them that they are not mere ministers of food but ministers of God; they not only served people in their distribution of food, they served God and His church through their appointment. No matter how menial their appointment might be, it was a divine appointment whose service reaps eternal rewards.

Therefore, in like manor, the people aught also to reverence the deacons, since their appointment is not from men but from God.
"In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. Concerning all this, I am persuaded that ye are of the same opinion. For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence, seeing they are also pleased that I do not spare myself." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 3)
Apart from God's order, there is no church. The church is not a human organization but a divine one. The church is that which has been ordained, appointed, and constructed by God. Only when the individual parts submit to their own appointments and respect and reverence the appointments of others do we have a church. Churches are not of our own making, they are made and established by God, and without this, we do not have a church.

David Robison

Friday, March 08, 2013

Ignatius to the Trallians - Greetings

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.

The church of Tralles is another church I never knew existed before but they too sent a delegation to Ignatius to encourage him on his way. On his journey to Rome to be martyred he write to them regarding their common faith.
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the holy Church which is at Tralles, in Asia, beloved of God, the Father of Jesus Christ, elect, and worthy of God, possessing peace through the flesh, and blood, and passion of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, through our rising again to Him, which also I salute in its fulness, and in the apostolical character, and wish abundance of happiness." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Introduction)
Ignatius is constant in reminding them, and us, of the realities of our Christian faith; that Jesus was born as a man, lived among us, died in our place, and rose from the dead so that we too might know the power of His resurrection. It is unclear what he means by saluting the church in its fullness; whether he means the fullness of all its members gathered together in unity or in the fullness of the blessings they posses from God. He also solutes them for their apostolic character. Apostolic succession does not always guarantee apostolic character. Just because a church was planted by an apostle or planted by another apostolic church does not guarantee that it will have apostolic character nor is one guaranteed apostolic character just because they preside as a bishop through apostolic succession. Apostolic character is defined as the degree to which we adhere to the teachings and traditions of the apostles. These truths may be handed down to us but its up to us to make them a reality in our lives and in our churches.

Ignatius continues to great the brethren in Tralles.
"I know that ye possess an unblameable and sincere mind in patience, and that not only in present practice, but according to inherent nature, as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna by the will of God and Jesus Christ, and so sympathized in the joy which I, who am bound in Christ Jesus, possess, that I beheld your whole multitude in him. Having therefore received through him the testimony of your good-will, according to God, I gloried to find you, as I knew you were, the followers of God." (Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter 1)
He congratulates them form their patience in Christ. Not only could they demonstrate patience when necessary but they were patient by nature. God not only wants us to have present patience but to be patience by nature. God not only wants us to be presently righteousness but to be righteous by nature. God not only whats us to presently love but to be loving by nature. This is the true power of the gospel. Any law can make people presently righteousness but only the grace of God can make us righteous by nature. God's grace reaches down deep inside to change not only our behavior but the very people we are; changing and confirming us to the image of Christ. Making us godly by nature. This is right and suitable for all who are "followers of God."

David Robison

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Ignatius to the Magnesians - Remain True

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 knew that repetition and reminders are useful in our walk in the Lord. In our busy days it is easy to forget God and the things of God, repetition and reminders bring those things back into the forefront of our mind.
"These things [I address to you], my beloved, not that I know any of you to be in such a state; but, as less than any of you, I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that ye attain to full assurance in regard to the birth, and passion, and resurrection which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is our hope, from which may no one of you ever be turned aside." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 11)
The Gospel is not complicated. Notice what he write them to remember: Christ's virgin birth, His physical death, and His bodily resurrection. This is the core of the Gospel.

Ignatius also knew he could write to them with joy and confidence knowing their heart in the Lord and their willingness to obey.
"May I enjoy you in all respects, if indeed I be worthy! For though I am bound, I am not worthy to be compared to any of you that are at liberty. I know that ye are not puffed up, for ye have Jesus Christ in yourselves. And all the more when I commend you, I know that ye cherish modesty of spirit; as it is written, 'The righteous man is his own accuser.' " (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 12)
It is unclear which scripture Ignatius is referring to, but it is consistent with the words of Paul, "But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged." (1 Corinthians 11:31) Ignatius further reminds them that it is one thing to know good doctrine but it's another to be established in good doctrine. One requires just knowing, the other requires handling.
"Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 13)
Study is not just for the intellectuals or the professional clergy but it is incumbent on each and everyone of us to study to know and understand the truth of God. Only by handling the word of God in study will we grow firmer in our establishment in the truth.

Ignatius also asked the Magnesians to pray for him and the church he left behind in Syria, He was facing a difficult future and knew he needed the prayers of the saints so that he might stand strong and resolute in his determination to face his martyrdom with courage and grace.
"Knowing as I do that ye are full of God, I have but briefly exhorted you. Be mindful of me in your prayers, that I may attain to God; and of the Church which is in Syria, whence I am not worthy to derive my name: for I stand in need of your united prayer in God, and your love, that the Church which is in Syria may be deemed worthy of being refreshed by your Church." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 14)
He also asked that the Magnesians would reach out to the church in Syria to refresh them. This was standard procedure for the churches in the early centuries; to support, encourage, and refresh each other.

Finally, he says his goodbyes.
"The Ephesians from Smyrna (whence I also write to you), who are here for the glory of God, as ye also are, who have in all things refreshed me, salute you, along with Polycarp, the bishop of the Smyrnæans. The rest of the Churches, in honour of Jesus Christ, also salute you. Fare ye well in the harmony of God, ye who have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 15)
This ends his letter to the church in Magnesia.

David Robison

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Ignatius to the Magnesians - Beware of Judaism

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 once again encourages them to avoid false doctrine, but here specifically he is referring to Judaism.
"Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 8)
The reference to "proceeding from the silence" could very well be in reference to the teachings of Valentinus who's Aeon Sige (or silence) brought forth their christ. He reminds us that we cannot embrace Jewish law and Christian grace at the same time. Either we embrace the law and live by the things in it or we embrace Jesus and live by His grace. It is as Paul said of those who sought to live by the law after coming to Christ, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Galatians 5:4) God has called us all to Himself and had called the Jews to leave behind the law, which no man can keep and which never made anyone righteous, and to receive His grace which is able to cleanse and heal us and to give us an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
"If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death... how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 9)
The law was for a time only, as Jesus said, "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John." (Matthew 11:13) but His grace is for all times. God gave His law for a time until something greater would come; until a time of reformation. "Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." (Hebrews 9:9-10) We are now in that time of reformation, now is the time to embrace His grace.
"Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be ye salted in Him, lest any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savour ye shall be convicted. It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believeth might be gathered together to God." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 10)
When Ignatius write of the "principles of Christianity" he is not writing of the "principles of Christians" but of the "principles of Christ." We must not see Christianity as pertaining to a group of people, where we are called to become like others in that group, but rather as being a devotion to Christ, where we are called to become like Him. The word of reconciliation that proceeds from our mouths should not be, "Come and be like us," rather it should be "Come and be like Him." This is true Christianity.

David Robison

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Ignatius to the Magnesians - The Bishop defines the Church

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 begins to define the role of the Bishop and the importance that the members of the church remain united with him in fellowship and obedience.

"It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not stedfastly gathered together according to the commandment." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 4)
The Bishops defined the church. In any given place there was only one church and it was overseen by the bishop (depending on the founding Apostle and the era of the church there may have been more than a single bishop at any given time overseeing a specific church). Any other church that was setup outside the one church, as defined by the bishop, was not part of the true church and was typically established out of envy, strife, or sedition, or was established after some specific heresy. These were those whom John wrote of, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) To be "with us" was to be in fellowship with the church as defined and overseen by the appointed bishop.

Churches being started around a grievance or a heresy were a problem for the early church, but Ignatius exhorts the believers to take on the character of Christ and to follow only Him.
"Seeing, then, all things have an end, these two things are simultaneously set before us—death and life; and every one shall go unto his own place. For as there are two kinds of coins, the one of God, the other of the world, and each of these has its special character stamped upon it, [so is it also here.] The unbelieving are of this world; but the believing have, in love, the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ, by whom, if we are not in readiness to die into His passion, His life is not in us." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 5)
We must not fashion ourselves after the coin of this world, bearing its image, but after the coin of God, bearing His image. As part of this we must give honor, reverence, and obedience to the order of authority that God has established in His church. That order being the Bishop, the Presbytery, and the Deacons.
"Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 6)
It has been said that the United States Constitution is not a Suicide Pact, meaning that strict adherence to it should never be pushed to the limits where such adherence would bring about the loss of the very things the constitution attempts to secure. In the same way, strict adherence to a bishop should never be demanded to a point where such obedience would lead us away from Christ or harm our relationships with God or others. This can be understood from the recent scandals surrounding some bishops and young boys. The same is true for a woman being abused by her husband, we would never counsel her to stay in a place of violence but rather encourage her to leave and seek a place of safety. 

However, such was not the case with Damas. Ignatius writes that he had seen in Damas' eyes the love he had for all the brethren and, on this account, encourages those in Magnesia to remain obedient and united with their bishop and to love and reverence him as they would God.

Again, it must be restated that Ignatius is not saying that the bishop is the "Vicar of God" just because he is appointed as bishop, but rather he has been appointed as bishop because his life represents the very character and nature of God. He does not take the place of God in our lives but his life reveals God through his love, obedience  and character. Once again, the key to understanding this is to see the bishop, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.
"Do ye all then, imitating the same divine conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbour after the flesh, but do ye continually love each other in Jesus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 6)
Such a perspective should not be limited solely to those who rule or govern over us, but should be extended to all in the Body of Christ. We must begin to see everyone, not as who they are in the flesh (who they have been, what they have done, their particular personality)  but who they are in the spirit (who they are in God, what special grace and gifts they have received from God, what they are called to in God). Only then can we truly secure unity and harmony and obedience in the church.
"As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 7)
"Come together in one place." This is the hope and pray of Ignatius. We have come so far from this, but perhaps, in some small ways, even in our varied and fractured churches, we can still find a way to move towards greater unity and harmony by seeing people according to the spirit.

David Robison

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Ignatius to the Magnesians - Too Familiar

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.

There was a time when those from Jesus' home town, who knew him, his father, his mother, and his brothers and sisters, were offended at him for the power he displayed.
" 'Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?' And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." ' (Matthew 13:55-57)
The church at Manganese was having a similar problem in regards to their youthful bishop.
"Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 3)
It can be difficult when someone we know well is promoted by God to a position of greater power and/or authority. Our familiarity with them can hinder us from showing them the due respect and reverence that is commiserate with their new authority and/or power. While many of us can put on a good front and fool those around us with feigned reverence, God still sees our heart.
"It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. And all such conduct has reference not to man, but to God, who knows all secrets." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 3)
The secret to overcoming the trappings of familiarity  is found in Ignatius' exhortation in a previous chapter, "I pray for a union both of the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 1) The key is to learn to see people according to the spirit and not the flesh. This is what Paul meant when he said,
"Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
There was a time when we knew Jesus according to the flesh. He was the baby that was born in Bethlehem. He was the son of Mary and Joseph. He was the man that grew up among the Jews and was know by His kinsmen. However, now we know Him according to the Spirit. He is the risen savior. He is the Son of God. He is the eternal Lord, God, and Savior. In the same way, familiarity with each other is based on knowing each other according to the flesh; we know them and their family, we know who they used to be, we know both the good and bad they have done. However, we now need to see each other according to the Spirit. We need to see them as new creatures in Christ, as those who have been born again, as those who now posses the Spirit of God. Someone once said that familiarity breads contempt. The key to overcoming the contempt of familiarity is to learn to recognize people according to the spirit and not the flesh.

David Robison

Friday, March 01, 2013

Ignatius to the Magnesians - Greetings

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, who is also called Theophorus, to the [Church] blessed in the grace of God the Father, in Jesus Christ our Saviour, in whom I salute the Church which is at Magnesia, near the Mæander, and wish it abundance of happiness in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Magnesians)
Not much is known about the church at Magnesia. About all I could find out about Magnesia is that it was an imperial city in the same region as Ephesus but smaller than Ephesus. However, while I had never heard of Magnesia before, Ignatius had.
"Having been informed of your godly love, so well-ordered, I rejoiced greatly, and determined to commune with you in the faith of Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 1)
Whether it was through letters, travelers from Magnesia, or via the delegation the church at Magnesia sent to encourage Ignatius, he had heard of their godly, and well-ordered, love for one another. He writes to them to "commune" with their faith. Notice that he doesn't write to teach them, to correct them, or to compel them to obedience to his doctrine, but rather to commune with them; to share with them his faith with a hope of encouraging and strengthening them in their faith.

He reminds them that Jesus is the source of all we need in this life and in the next. That He is to be sought before all things and preferred before all things. In this life we will face many trials and maybe even persecutions, but if we endure all these things as preferring Jesus over the things of this world, we will overcome and come to find true enjoyment in God.
"For as one who has been thought worthy of the most honourable of all names, in those bonds which I bear about, I commend the Churches, in which I pray for a union both of the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ, the constant source of our life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred, but especially of Jesus and the Father, in whom, if we endure all the assaults of the prince of this world, and escape them, we shall enjoy God." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 1)
Ignatius commends those of the delegation from Magnesia for their character and their friendship.
"Since, then, I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my ellowservant the deacon Sotio, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ, [I now write to you]." (Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 2)
It is interesting that, in an age when it would be far easier and, certainly safer, to just send a letter, the church chooses to send people to encourage Ignatius  In our age of e-mails, instant messenger, facebook, and other forms of electronic communications it is easy to loose the personal one-on-one connection with each other. Sometimes a letter or e-mail will not do; sometimes we must make the effort to make personal contact, face-to-face; sometimes what people need is not our notes or messages but our face. We must always be willing to make time for people, personal time to meet with them personally, that we might encourage and strengthen one another.

David Robison