Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ignatius to Polycarp - Marriage and Engagement

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.

It is interesting that the only command that Ignatius asked Polycarp to directly communicate to the church, other than being committed to unity and orthodoxy, relates to marriage.
"Flee evil arts; but all the more discourse in public regarding them. Speak to my sisters, that they love the Lord, and be satisfied with their husbands both in the flesh and spirit. In like manner also, exhort my brethren, in the name of Jesus Christ, that they love their wives, even as the Lord the Church. If any one can continue in a state of purity, to the honour of Him who is Lord of the flesh, let him so remain without boasting. If he begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckon himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 5)
It is unclear exactly what those "evil arts" were and whether Polycarp was to discourse against then in public or if such things were disgraceful even to mention in public, but it is reasonable to assume that they were in reference to illicit relationships, especially sexual relationships. The Roman world, in that day, was quite liberal and "modern" in their views on sex and marriage and the church stood in stark contrast to the prevailing cultural norms. Polycarp was to encourage those in the church hold tight to their scriptural and apostolic teachings in regard to marriage and sex rather than being influenced by the culture around them. For many of them, this would involve re-teaching their soul and their perception of the world to confirm to that of Christ and not of Rome. Ignatius wanted them to come and learn what it meant when it was said, "Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge." ("Hebrews 13:4)

Furthermore, it is my opinion that Ignatius was not introducing a new rule that all marriages had to be approved by the Bishop, rather, that all marriages should be approved by God. Some people live a separated life; their spiritual life and their natural life, and each side has little to do with the other. The are concerned about what God says about how to worship Him but think little of whom He wants them to marry. So how are we to know if God approves of our marriage? I have seen those who have sought marriage secretly because they know what other believers around them would think while others sought it publicly knowing that the church would rejoice with them in their choice. If the church cannot rejoice with you in your planned marriage then maybe it's worth some consideration to determine if its just them or if God himself is also not rejoicing with you. Again, this is not a hard-fast rule, but if your brothers and sisters have reservations, then maybe you should pause and give it some thought.

Finally, Ignatius gives some charges directly to the people whom Polycarp was shepherding.
"Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 6)
First he encourages them to unity and to sharing a common life. The church is not just a social club but is, in reality, a family. They were to see each other as brothers and sisters with God as their one Father. As such, they were to share life together, the good and the bad, and to be committed to each other and to the building up of the "family" in love.
"Please ye Him under whom ye fight, and from whom ye receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that ye may receive a worthy recompense." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 6)
Secondly, they were to fight the good fight, to stand strong against the influences of the world and of the devil. They were to persist to the end and not to be found deserters according to the faith.
"Be long-suffering, therefore, with one another, in meekness, as God is towards you. May I have joy of you for ever!" (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 6)
Finally, they were to be patient with one another, forgiving one another, even as Christ was patient and forgiving with them. A church that does these three things will certainly be a church where God's blessings reign over His people.

David Robison

1 comment:

  1. The evil arts would have been the pagan practices in use at that time. They include invocation to the gods, divining of spirits, sorcery, sacrifice, casting of spells, etc.