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

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:54 AM

    I agree very much on the issue of communion. I beleive all churches should have 'open' communion; it is a way of recognizing the unity of believers beyond a partiular denomination.

    Throughout my life, I have taken communion in other denominations with open communion. I do not sneak in to take communion in 'closed communion' churches without an invitation, but it is amazing how many times I have been invited to participate in such situations.