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

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