Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ignatius to Polycarp - Nothing without thy consent

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 continues to exhort Polycarp to the work he was called to do.
"Let not widows be neglected. Be thou, after the Lord, their protector and friend." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 4)
We are all called to defend and protect those who are weak and lowly in the Body of Christ. James reports that, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27) We are called to be fathers to the fatherless, friends to the friendless, and supporters of those who have no one else to support them. Authority is of little use in the Kingdom unless someone other than ourselves benefits from our authority. Jesus said, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you." (Luke 22:25-26) In the world, those with authority are the same that benefit from it. However, in God's Kingdom, we are to use our authority to benefit others, even at our own expense. It is a true statement that the higher we climb, the greater our call is to serve.
"Let nothing be done without thy consent; neither do thou anything without the approval of God, which indeed thou dost not, inasmuch as thou art stedfast." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 4)
At first glance it seems that Ignatius is attributing almost unlimited authority and discretion to the bishops of the church. However, he qualifies their authority by requiring them to only give their consent to what God has already approved. Leaders do not have carte-blanche to do or demand what every they will, but they are to represent the authority of God; requiring and consenting to only those things He requires and consents. Leaders, and all of us really, are required to continually judge our interests and judgments by the mind and will of Christ.

More specifically, Ignatius knew that there were those in the church that were teaching things contrary to the apostolic message they had received. Ignatius was encouraging Polycarp to "stand firm" and to "draw a line in the sand" when it came to the faith that had been handed down by the apostles. Those teachings, doctrines, and traditions that he approved of, having already been approved of by God and taught by the apostles, were those that the church should follow. Anyone advocating anything else was "outside" the church, its teachings, its traditions, and its communion.
"Let your assembling together be of frequent occurrence: seek after all by name. Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better liberty. Let them not long to be set free [from slavery] at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires." (Ignatius to Polycarp, Chapter 4)
It is unclear whether Ignatius is saying that they should meet more often or in greater numbers. Either way, Ignatius was encouraging Polycarp to ensure that the church meet regularly and together as one body. We need each other; we both need to encourage and to be encouraged by the faith of others. We were never meant to go this Christian life alone. Along with the Holy Spirit, God has given us each other to help us in our times of need. As Paul said, "let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Every member is needed, even the lowliest among us. Even the slaves were not to be despised by treated as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is as Paul said, "it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary." (1 Corinthians 12:22) It is unfortunate that many of us have been conditioned to look only to the strong and prominent for our encouragement and guidance. However, it is often true that God has chosen to place his gifts in those whom we would not naturally esteem. God often chooses the weak and lowly to be rich in faith and gifts. When we seek only the strong, then we tend to miss many of the blessings God has placed in his body. As Paul tells us, "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

David Robison

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