Monday, April 08, 2013

Ignatius to the Philadelphians - How to understand the scriptures

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 describes himself as a man dedicated and devoted to unity. Where ever he sees the seeds of discord and division, he is not afraid to speak truth and to call the offenders back to repentance.
"I therefore did what belonged to me, as a man devoted to unity. For where there is division and wrath, God doth not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop" (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 8)
Ignatius also addresses those who where sowing strife based on the Old Testament writings.
"And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 8)
Some were challenging Ignatius' teachings as not being scriptural which, in their time, meant that they did not conform to the teachings and prophesies of what we call the Old Testament. Specifically, they were challenging his teachings of the Christ. However, Ignatius believed that everywhere in the scriptures (or Old    Testament) Christ is preached.
"But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 8)
Ignatius teaches them that to properly understand the ancient scriptures you need first to understand Christ. He is the center figure in all of history and very little makes since without Him. However, once you've come to know Him, then things become clearer and the ancient scriptures begin to pour forth their light and the message of the redemptive heart of God is made known. It is truly the case that the old is best understood by the new.
"The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest is better; to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been trusted with the secrets of God. He is the door of the Father, by which enter in Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the Church. All these have for their object the attaining to the unity of God. But the Gospel possesses something transcendent [above the former dispensation], viz., the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, His passion and resurrection. For the beloved prophets announced Him, but the Gospel is the perfection of immortality. All these things are good together, if ye believe in love." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 9)
In closing, Ignatius reminds them that the church in Antioch recently enjoyed peace, presumably from the persecution they had previously experienced. Ignatius encourages the Philadelphians to send forth a delegation to congratulate them and to celebrate with them in thanksgiving towards God.
"Since, according to your prayers, and the compassion which ye feel in Christ Jesus, it is reported to me that the Church which is at Antioch in Syria possesses peace, it will become you, as a Church of God, to elect a deacon to act as the ambassador of God [for you] to [the brethren there], that he may rejoice along with them when they are met together, and glorify the name [of God]. Blessed is he in Jesus Christ, who shall be deemed worthy of such a ministry; and ye too shall be glorified. And if ye are willing, it is not beyond your power to do this, for the sake of God; as also the nearest Churches have sent, in some cases bishops, and in others presbyters and deacons." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 10)
Today, our churches are so disjointed and we often find ourselves competing with each other as to who will be the largest, have the best worship  the best teaching, and have "first place" in the eyes of the community around us. We have become so disconnected that we have no idea of the trails and tribulations nor the blessings and joys that our brethren in other churches are experiencing. How might things be different if we took a concern for our brethren in different churches; to take the example from Ignatius and actually sent delegations to churches experiencing difficultly to let them know that we were standing with them, or to send delegations to those who have received some special grace from God to celebrate and give thanks with them? How might this change how we see each other and even ourselves? How might it bring joy to God's heart to see such unity being expressed among His people?

Ignatius finally concludes his letter and commends the Philadelphians to their common hope.
"Now, as to Philo the deacon, of Cilicia, a man of reputation, who still ministers to me in the word of God, along with Rheus Agathopus, an elect man, who has followed me from Syria, not regarding his life,—these bear witness in your behalf; and I myself give thanks to God for you, that ye have received them, even as the Lord you. But may those that dishonoured them be forgiven through the grace of Jesus Christ! The love of the brethren at Troas salutes you; whence also I write to you by Burrhus, who was sent along with me by the Ephesians and Smyrn├Žans, to show their respect. May the Lord Jesus Christ honour them, in whom they hope, in flesh, and soul, and faith, and love, and concord! Fare ye well in Christ Jesus, our common hope." (Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 11)
This concludes his letter to the Philadelphians.

David Robison

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