I’ve been a low church evangelical for many years now. I entered Christianity through a sectarian Pentecostal group (some doubted we should celebrate Christmas because it was of “pagan origin”, so you imagine the type of ecumenism I was taught). I have thought about the teachings of Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism/Episcopalianism and there are times when I find these groups quite attractive and other times when I find these groups to be concerning. Currently, I worship with a (modern, not Amish-like) Mennonite church, which I like because of their commitment to serious discipleship, and their emphasis on the Kingdom of God and the reconciling hope of their eschatology. Yet I worry at times that Mennonites are similar in some ways to my Pentecostal friends in that there is a lack of catholicity with little emphasis on the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist tradition that has enriched the church for hundreds of years.
As I have mentioned (see here) I have decided to participate in a group called “Read the Fathers”. One figure whose writings are listed early is Ignatius of Antioch (CE 35/50-98/117), a Bishop in the early church who is said to have been one of the more immediate successors of the Apostle Peter and a student of the Apostle John. I haven’t studied this figure enough to have an opinion on such claims, but that he was writing not too long after documents like the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation were composed demands attention.
There have been several statements made in his epistle that seem to foreshadow the teachings of the more developed church, the ecclesiology to which aforementioned groups like Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans appeal. As someone who is worshipping with Mennonites, who has been educated by Baptists and Reformed thinkers, who has taught in churches with roots in Lutheranism and Pentecostalism, and who (admittedly) prefers “low church” Christianity (though I have grown fond of some form of liturgy and practices such as following a form of the liturgical calendar), I thought I’d post some excerpts here for conversation.
The first to grab my attention is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians (V) where he writes:
“Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resists the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.”
This seems Eucharistic (though I am trying to avoid anachronism). The Bishop performs the rite at the alter providing the bread to the people, and to deny the assembly is of grave concern. He writes later (XIII):
“For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.”
And then (XX):
“…breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.”
What we have in this epistle is the need to gather with the church, the importance of the Bishop, and the centrality of the Eucharist in worship. I struggled even more with a statement he made in his Epistle to the Magnesians (II):
“Since therefore I have been permitted to see you in the person of Damas, your godly bishop, and the worthy presbyters, Bassus and Apollonius, and my fellow-servant, the deacon Zotion, of whom may I have joy, because he is subject unto the bishop as unto the grace of God, and to the presbytery as unto the law of Jesus Christ.”
The Bishop of one church represents the whole local church to the other church through that local church’s Bishop. Later in the epistle he writes (XII):
“…that in everything which you do, you may be prospered in flesh and spirit, by faith and love, in the Son and Father and in the Spirit, in the beginning and in the end, along with your bishop who is worthy of all honor, and the fitly-woven spiritual coronal of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to the mind of God. Submit yourselves to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ [was subject] to the Father [after the flesh], and the Apostles to Christ and the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and spirit.”
Submitting to the Bishop brings unity, and it models Jesus’ submission to the Father, and the Apostles to Christ and the Father. He writes in his Epistle to the Trallians (II), “For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you 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, you may escape from death.”
Subject to the Bishop as to Jesus Christ?
Now, as I said, I want to avoid anachronism. I realize that a “Bishop” doesn’t seem to be as authoritative as it might come to be later. There doesn’t seem to be Archbishops. It could be argued that at this stage in the history of the church a Bishop was like the “Sr. Pastor” over the church in a city. There was no acknowledgement of anything like denominations, so you wouldn’t have a Lutheran pastor, a Presbyterian pastor, and so forth and so on. You’d have one, single pastor (Bishop) who oversees other leaders (Presbyters and Deacons). We know from the emergence of groups like the various gnostic sects that this idea is challenged, and that catholicity is “in flux” for the perspective of historicism, but for those of us who affirm that Spirit’s guidance in developing the church to become what most of us would consider “orthodox” (e.g., Trinity, deity of Christ, nature of Christology, function of canonical books) what do we say to this (and other statements by Ignatius in other epistles)?
Also, for pragmatic purposes, in light of Ignatius’ words, what do you think he would have said if someone said, “My ‘Bishop’ is John Shelby Spong! Should I remain under his authority?” How would Ignatius have advised people under the episcopal rule of Spong? or Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori? or an Arian Bishop or a gnostic Bishop?
Your thoughts on this subject are welcome, whether you be of a tradition with Bishops or without Bishops. What do you think of the need for Bishops today? What do we do if we think Bishop lead churches have strayed from the Gospel?
Tough questions! I was also surprised by the statements regarding unity with the Bishops, and the apparent ‘power’ as stated. From another perspective though, think of the place they were in (this is purely me thinking on the fly…)
Christianity was new. Not only ‘new’, but also under some level of persecution, and not yet accepted by society as at least a ‘religion’ that should have a place. There would not have yet been much in the way of formal training. At that time also there was no new testament canon, though the books were certainly circulating.
Also, reading the context in the Magnesian\Trallian epistle, obviously there was a Bishop for each town – and they travelled to see one another at times.
So rather than an pure authoritative position, it was more of a guiding position possibly? There will always be those who will pervert authority, but many do not. There had to be a way at those times to ensure ‘consistent doctrine and practice’ – and this would have come through these Bishops in each city. So as less people were educated, and they had significantly less resources than we have had for the last 500 years, not to mention they were under persecution and many were martyred, this system could well be optimal.
I guess that is also how we got to a single Biship (rome) which became pre-eminent in later years – for someone had to have the final say amongst the bishops of each region when there was significant dispute. And whilst it might have worked to start with, we know where that went wrong! But that should also have been the counterpoint for those that may have been under a Bishop going wrong – the church as a whole would act to remove them. This is possibly something that happened if we look at the references of 1 Clement? They had division, even to leadership division, and Clement called them to repent and show unity.
I’ll step out on a limb here – and say that we still need some level of accountability in our churches, as still not many are educated enough to determine doctrine from heresy. And yet I will also say as one who currently attends a more liturgical church for the moment (with a history from everything from pentecostal, baptist, anglican and even catholic as a child), that the bishop system does not seem to do anything certainly in the group I am in. We don’t see the higher leaders – we might ‘hear’ their dictates in the latest newsletter, but I would bet a tithe they have no idea what my pastor preaches on week to week, and whether it is relevent, orthodox or what….
So, we come in the end to the thought that it is again each induvidual before God, with the responsibility to learn, pray and discern also on our own, that we might be sure we are right before God.
And I have rambled. My apologies, but I answered on the fly!
No worries, my question was “on the fly”, so answers like this one are perfect. If I understand you correctly you see the office of Bishop as (1) temporary (maybe like Apostles?); (2) contextual for a certain age of the church; (3) necessary due to lack of education available to the common Christian; and (4) replaceable now that we have something like a NT canon. Does that summarize it?
Brian – I think you summarized my stance well – and I will respond with ‘mostly’. My thought here is incomplete (admittedly).
My concerns would be that we still need education, we still need some guide to orthodoxy (other than democracy), and even pastors need some accountability (in those churches where the pastor is not subject to the elders, or else the elders are ineffective at ensuring orthodoxy). See where my thought is incomplete? Even the word ‘orthodoxy’ is worrying sometimes, as everyone sees that as different (for example, some would consider being ‘orthodox’ wrong, but ‘normative’ right).
So I am left with a strange mix of ‘individuality before God’ and ‘community’, with a small measure of ‘authority to ensure orthodoxy’. Most would suggest counselling, but I know the answer is there somewhere!
Back to Ignatius however, my take (based on very limited knowledge) is that at that time in history, it was an essential office….
I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you are seriously telling me you earned advanced degrees spending tens of thousands of dollars after almost a decade in school and this is the first time you’ve analyzed this these texts in detail? After 35 years as a Christian in almost exactly the same traditions you mentioned as your background (though with a Baptist bias) I will bet that this is true because if it weren’t for some fairly insurgent reading over the last few years I would be in exactly the same boat. The lack of understanding of Ante-Nicene writings in the Protestant churches is tragic, if not nearly a crime. Thanks for the article.
I would like to notice that it seems that for Ignatius the office of bishop is not just a pragmatic way to solve administrative or doctrinal problems, it rather appears as something essential to the nature of the Church tightly linked to the eternal relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Of course it’s not just the bishop that is essential – the bishop is a part of the whole assembly consisting of the faithful, deacons and the presbytery. This whole order is envisioned by Ignatius as an icon of the Trinity, as an image of the ongoing mission of the Son of God (the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Apostles) which continues in the Church. It is spiritual in nature. The proper question here is how Ignatius came up with this vision, it is improbable that he is its direct author, because then he wouldn’t be so fast to invest it with such a load of sanctity and authority. He must have already received it from the source he deemed orthodox.
Taking it all into an account I don’t think that Ignatius would expect anyone to subject to the authority of an unorthodox bishop or the bishop whose authority does not originate from the Filial and Apostolic mission mentioned earlier (“self-made” bishop). Especially if we think of the bishops in Ignatius’ time as of senior presbyters (though I don’t think it’s entirely correct), we have the witness of Polycarp (a friend of Ignatius and bishop of Smyrna) about the presbyter in Philippi who had fallen away. It is obvious to everyone that he has therefore lost his position and there is no question of his authority in the Church, rather the Church prays for his repentance. How would be the bishop deposed? – to this answers later history after Ignatius.
Indeed, there are many challenges, especially as I ask how this relates to the apostolic era (of which Ignatius emerges to the end). How creative was he and how much is he reflecting accurately the ideals of the early church which we may not see spelled out in our canonical books?
To be fair, it isn’t the first time I have read through the Apostolic Fathers, but it may be the first time in my life where I was in a place where I could read them as anything other than a curious observer. In other words, coming from “biblicist” traditions I would read the Apostolic Fathers to see what some people thought about this or that, but not with the intent of reflecting upon whether or not their words should strongly impact how I think about matters. Also, where I studied did offer a class in the Apostolic Fathers, but due to scheduling conflicts I have took it, so I joined this group as an effort to return to their writings with some seriousness.
You are correct that Ignatius grounds his view of the Bishop in something far more theological than pragmatism. It seems as if “Apostles” are no longer mentioned, save as a memory, and so maybe Bishops are the new “Apostles”, or new highest office in the church as the successor of the Apostles. If this is something we should envision as a permanent characteristic of the church then do we look at modern episcopal governments as evolving in the right trajectory, or churches with more independence giving a “Sr. Pastor” the nod?
Brian – an afternoon of reflection has led me to this thought. His Bishops are not much more than ‘senior pastors’. Considering what may be the size of these churches (some of these ‘cities’ had 10,000 people in total), and that they often gathered as a ‘city wide’ church, then really they were the senior pastor. That is just the feeling I get from his descriptions, and the evidence I have. So their role is basically the same as Elder in the canon as we have it now – if not a little less developed than by the time of Constantine…
So to answer your original question – do you need a bishop – then the answer may indeed be ‘yes’, as the bishop is really a simple elder\leadership role in the physical local body – it is just our language (and possibly translation) that has lead us to read into the text our understanding of bishop, more than Ignatius’.
And, I could also be off the tracks, as I am really fleshing out my thoughts in discussion, so over to everyone else…
I’m following you on this one, though I do hope to hear from people who are advocates of an episcopal ecclesiology. I want to know how to interpret trajectories. Did the early church have a trajectory that went from Apostles to Bishops who were to be no more than something like the pastor of the local assembly or does the trajectory where a Bishop becomes someone who oversees even more (like a Diocese) the correct one. If (1) then we who are part of the “low church” need to ask what this means when we think of the authority of our local leaders (and especially for us Protestants who can move comfortably from one church to another with ease, sometimes across former denominational lines). If (2) then we who are part of the “low church” need to think deeply about whether we have forsaken something meaningful, even essential.
Brian, basically I write as a person, who is heading now to the Orthodox Church, so you can expect what I have to say.
I wouldn’t say that Ignatius presents bishops as some new generation of apostles – they’re rather exactly what their name means, overseers of the People of God entrusted to their care by the Apostles. However they’re not just officers, they are seen in a charismatic way (here of note are prophetic exclamations of Ignatius in one of his letters), although not in the terms of the present charismatic movement. There is a great book in my native language (Polish) “Charism – Office – Hierarchy” published few years ago by a Pentecostal pastor in a Catholic publishing house which is a historical study of the notions of charism and office in the Early Christianity and of the emergence of monarchic episcopate. And it evidences that the line between special charism and established office was much more blurred than it has been thought for a long time. The Bishops are not the Apostles, but they have some special grace essential to the existence of the local asembly (in some sense it parallels to the grace that the Apostles had that was essential to the existence of the whole Church). That’s why Ignatius urges the churches to be of one mind with their bishops – in barely administrative understanding it would sufficed to tell them to be of one mind in general, but here the Bishop becomes a charismatic locus of unity and spiritual health. Evangelical pastor who would claim such things for himself would be quickly judged as a founder of a cult.
It’s interesting also how this understanding of pastoral office is not particularly Christian, even not particularly Jewish. In the Ancient Near East rulers where often depicted as shepherds led by divine providence and grace. Of course it is applied primarily to Christ in NT, but in extension to Apostles and Presbyters/Bishops. Rulership in the Church is a God given dispensation.
Those are helpful insights. One could say the same concept of “office” = “gift” can be found in Ephesians 4:10-13, which I assume is a Scriptural argument used by episcopal churches. With all this in mind would you be willing to share why your views moved you toward Orthodoxy rather than Catholicism?
I just finalized a seminar paper on ecclesial roles and authority in the early Apostolic Fathers where I dealt with Ignatian ecclesiology specifically and came some of the same conclusions. (As a caveat, I am working from a free church perspective)
It seems that, for Ignatius and others, the development of the three-fold offices (bishop-presbyter-deacon) was in response to a) the closure of the apostolic & prophetic offices (which were present in the Didache) and b) a need to create a residential clergy to whom these churches would be accountable. There is also, though not a prevalent as in, say, Irenaeus and Tertullian, the need to confine doctrinal authority into a principal office in these congregations. The bishop is the best office whereby that is accomplished.
The trouble for us twenty-first century westerners is that bishop means something to us that is entirely unrelated to Igantius’ understanding. I my opinion (which means little) it might be best to translate the term “bishop” either as episcopus, overseer, or, even, pastor. Just as you mentioned, the bishops of these churches do not have authority in the same way that bishops in the Catholic Churches do today. The Ignatian (and frankly carrying through to Cyprian) Bishop handles the doctrinal teaching component, the administration of the sacraments, and discipline/ministry with the people. There is no authority to control, oversee, or even preside over other congregations for the Ignatian bishop. It is a much more confined role that some would have us believe.
Nevertheless, I think Roger Haight has some good thoughts on all of this in the first volume of his historical ecclesiology. The challenge of the early ecclesiology (of which I’m considering in my dissertation) is that it looks almost nothing like the monolithic Catholic Church following Gregory the Great. Instead it looks much more like free churches with increased autonomy. The bishop is more of a pastor than multi-congregational leader.
Thanks for the good piece. (Apologies for any typos)
I appreciate hearing from someone who has done an in-depth study on this topic. I haven’t, and I know that leaves me with a lot of blind spots, but it does seem that you have reached a similar conclusion: namely, the “Bishop” was more like the local pastor than a governing authority over a region (at this juncture). That doesn’t rebute the argument of episcopal churches that the office as it evolved is important to the church today, but it does remove it from the immediacy of the era of Ignatius, if we are interpreting this correctly.
I feel the same tension–in a low church tradition, but regularly realize the ecclesiastical weaknesses of it. Churches, at least, need some sort of accountability outside themselves. My recent post on the right approach to theology exposes one of the problems of democratization in the church: http://wp.me/p2IjlZ-8G. What to do about it?
I think one of the dangers of the democratizing of theological study is that there is a loss of respect for those who have given more time and effort, prayer and meditation to the study of theology than others. In this iTunes generation some think a class or two is all that is needed. People who give their lives to study are not respected for it. This is something that should concern us.
I’ve discussed this statement on my blog as well: http://nearemmaus.com/2010/02/26/the-discussion-of-theology-is-not-for-everyone/
I placed this comment on the HBU blog too.
I feel Ignatius and others of the time were stepping up and providing leadership because the Holy Spirit was no longer gifting and freely working in the church body as before. He is the first to claim to be “the Pastor” / Bishop. It was the downfall of the multiplicity of elders. The church needed leaders and he stepped up – a sad necessity from my somewhat understanding of the church operation as outlined in the Scriptures. Otherwise one could think that either God had no plan for the church, refused to reveal it in his Word, or left it up to people to figure out relative their culture and time.
There does seem to be quite a few of us pondering whether we should speak of the office of Bishop as (1) both positive and (2) contextual. The Pentecostal ecclesiology within which I was raised (which has positives and negatives) would emphasize the priesthood of believers and the prophethood of the new covenant (ala Joel 2). The Corinthian church might be an example of how a more democratized church should (a) seek to exists but also (b) be willing to submit to leadership in case the church strays away from truth. The “already, but not yet” of the New Covenant seems to bleed into the discussion of ecclesiology here. We are “already” in Joel 2, but not quite yet.
In some traditions the office Bishop is more than an ultimate authority but has a sacramental function. Bishops are required for ordination of priests and only a priest can administer the eucharist. This reminds me of an old joke. An Episcopalian and a Lutheran were talking. The Lutheran said we have bishops. We find them useful but not necessary. The Episcopalian said, we have bishops also and find them to be necessary but not useful.
What does an Episcopalian do with bishops like Spong and Schori ? They are leaving in droves. Many are forming new churches with Anglican style worship but if they are free to choose a new bishop are they not Congregational in reality. Of course they can’t remain in a church that is no longer Christian. I think this is where the Episcopal system breaks down.
One last thought that covers something you commented on Brian, Ignatius seems very firm on the concept of the divide between clergy and laity – he speaks of authority of the Bishop, unity with the Bishop, and even participation in the sacraments through the church, as administered by the Bishop. It ties in with Thomas’s comment above. I guess from here it is easy to see the trajectory from a ‘congregational’ based church to a ‘clergy’ run church, and how that grew.
An example. I work for a company that when I started was essentially a large family business run by 2 families. The two heads of the families ran the business, most of their kids worked there, and it was a very ‘flat’ structure – no one had any hesitation grabbing one of the owners for a chat. Now? We are owned by Private equity, one of the family managers is still there in the place of the CEO, the rest have basically moved on, and we now as we have grown have more layers of ‘management’ in all areas to accompany that people growth, along with authority.
Quite possibly, as the church grew, they felt the ‘need’ for more authority and accountability, and hence the ecclesiastical structure, Bishops, Arch-Bishops, councils, etc, grew out of that growth…. Certainly Ignatius points us to the start of that process as I see it.
I have considered attending one of those newer Anglican churches here in the United States on a couple of occasions, but that very oddity–Bishops are important, but let’s reject the Bishop to choose our own Bishop–weirded me out a bit. I like the Lutheran-Episcopalian joke!
Agreed, there does seem to be something analogous in the development of the church. We could say it was the right decision for the moment. It could be a Catch-22, where the churches needed more authority from chosen Bishops, although this fails to capture to vision of Joel 2. The big question for me is whether it is universally necessary for there to be a Bishop-like leader in a church. If a church is healthy through a more “congregational” format, and if it seems to be functioning as a thriving community without the episcopate, should this be preferred?
As far as following a “Bishop” like Spong, or other aberrant “Bishops,” I would say that said Bishop’s authority is relative; relative to that Bishop’s ability to accurately proclaim the Gospel. And so I obviously see the Bishop as someone who is a witness bearer to the One they portend to bear witness; if they fail to bear witness to this external reality (to them/us), Jesus Christ, then they lose their authority as a Bishop.
My thinking presupposes that God in Christ and the Triune life is the concrete ‘essence’ of the Church; and that the vicar of God is Christ Himself. We only participate in this reality by the Spirit–even Bishops. So we walk by faith,not sight. The unity of the church therefore cannot be understood as grounded in an ecclesiastical body, but again, in the unity of the Faith which is guaranteed not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord—whom we have as a gift through the givenness of the broken body and humanity of Christ for us.
We are both “children of the Reformation”, so in some sense we have seen how the church can react to aberrant Bishops, especially when it appears that the office has failed to proclaim and live the Gospel in the Spirit as intended. I think both of us are part of churches that don’t have a “Bishop” in the modern sense, but maybe “pastors” (which, as we’ve discussed in this thread, may satisfy Ignatius’ requirement). Even if the unity of the church cannot be grounded in an ecclesiastical body as you’ve said, should there be people who have a function like an Apostle or Bishop in order to prevent the crazy, Book of Judges-like ecclesiology we see in evangelical circles? Thoughts?
Drewe and Brian (et al),
I think a lot of us are heading towards the same place. As I study Ignatian to Cyprianic ecclesiology, particularly about the role of the bishop, there is a noted emphasis on the bishop as authorizing the eucharistic elements. However, the bishop (even as early as Ignatius) isn’t required to be the administrator. Instead, it is through the authorization of the bishop’s office that this happens whereby his presbyters (its often not deacons though) can officiate the elements. (for baptism see Ferguson’s “Baptism in the Early Church” where he mentions this too)
I think Drewe’s comment about the ‘need’ for authority and accountability is likely the primary reason the role of bishop continued to see expansion from Ignatius’ conception through to Cyprian and even then to Gregory (to use a rough estimate of its finality.) Even the Cyprianic bishop was limited in scope and authority. However, in all of these the controversies and quest for doctrinal purity seems to drive the Church(es) to invest more authority and oversight into the bishop. For Ignatius it is the false teachers/prophets, Irenaeus the heretics, Tertullian the Valentinians, and Cyprian the rebaptism controversy and arguments with Roman Bishop Stephen. (Even more issues abound at a closer investigation.) For some reason, in the early church, controversies and heresies drive the Church(es) towards this ecclesial confinement and investiture.
Great thoughts all around. If anyone is in Houston and wants to talk more just let me know.
I’m in San Antonio, and I have plans to visit Houston sooner than later, so we should try to connect if that visit happens. I think you are correct as to the reasons for investment in the office of the Bishop. What is interesting is where the Bishop does not have authority, as you mentioned in the necessity of administrating sacraments. This seems to allow for more of a “priesthood of all believers” concept, with the Bishop providing accountability, but not outright authority.
Brian, as for my choice of Orthodoxy rather than Catholicism there are numerous reasons, some historical in nature (e.g. who is eventually to be blamed for the West-East split), some dogmatic (Filioque) or theological (understanding of the Church, of salvation, of sin). I’ve found Orthodoxy to be deeply evangelical, really undertanding the primacy of the Spirit over the letter and sturcture although not neglecting them. Besides as I discover more of the Second Temple Judaism I realize that it is the Orthodox tradition that resembles and expresses faithfully that ancient worldview transformed in Christ with all its richness. As for Catholicism I see it also as being presently in some terrible crisis, it doesn’t look like a firm Boat of Christ. I could say much more, but it would take decidedly too much time and space!
I remember when my co-blogger JohnDave Medina was reevaluating his understanding of Christianity he visited an Orthodox assembly on several occasions, but he chose to return to the Roman Catholicism of his youth. One thing he mentioned about Orthodox worship that impressed me had to do with the “extra bread” available to non-Orthodox worshippers. So like Catholics there are limitations on who can participate in the sacrament itself (because of loyalty to Bishops), but the “ecumenism” of the extra bread impressed me and showed a desire for a greater catholicity that is available at this point.
Brian, extra-bread is not an ecumenical device. It is a blessed bread for the whole assembly whether they took Communion or not, a remain of bigger meal (agape?). Just because only recently visitors appeared in Orthodox churches, they also may partake of this bread because – I think – everyone can. Earlier it was just the regular part of the Liturgy of the Faithful.
So the bread lacks sacramental significance of any sort?
Reblogged this on TheoNerd and commented:
Brian LePort asks some great questions regarding bishops after reading Ignatius of Antioch. Head over an check out his post!
Brian, I would’t let the ambiguity about bishops keep you from considering an Anglican church if you are interested in a more liturgical worship. One thing to consider is the idea of Apostolic succession. A valid bishop is part of a line that goes back to an Apostle. For high church anglo-catholics this is the mark of a true church. For the low churchman it’s not so important. This is sometimes call the difference between esse and bene esse. The trouble with esse is that you unchurch those without Apostolic succession but with bene esse you are seen as just another protestant sect with no history before the reformation. Anyway I think there are newer Anglican churches that have a lower view the office of bishop and thus would not be concerned about the conflict.
I think there are people in the body who have the gift or vocation of teacher/discernment; associated with this, I think these types of people can help stand as a vanguard against heresy, heterodoxy etc. The source of unity for the church, I think, must be Word & Sacrament, neither of which are absolutized things in themselves, but which point beyond to the source of the unity of our faith in Christ. So no, I don’t think the unity is secured by one person, like a senior pastor, for the local or even regional church.
In a sense everything in the Orthodoxy is sacramental… but no, this bread isn’t sacramental meaning it’s not consecrated, only blessed. More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antidoron
I have thought about the Anglican church for some time now, going back to my first introduction to C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright, later reading of Alister McGrath, and recently hearing that Scot McKnight has joined the Anglican ranks (he said this at AAR/SBL). I like that the church shares a history with Roman Catholics and Orthodox of bishops, but I appreciate that unlike those two movements it has Protestant/Evangelical sensibilities as well. We’ll see!
Thanks! So preaching/teaching Scripture, baptism, and communion?
Thank you for the clarification!
FYI, interesting statement in his Epistle to the Romans IX where he says now that he goes to die that church there will have to be shepherded by God, through Christ, directly ( http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.v.ix.html ).
Considering that the Apostle John ca. 95-100 AD it actually make sense to “Submit yourselves to the Bishop.” The Bishop (overseer, pastor, elder are one here) was important for several reasons.
1. The issue of Doctrine. The direct link to the “witness(es) to the truth of the Gospel.” This is what Tertullian meant by “apostolic succession” NOT how it was misused by the Bishop of Rome!
2. The issue of Authority. The Apostles could always be appealed to settle a dispute between bishops, pastors, elders, deacons, or any member of a congregation. Once the Apostles were dead, then the authority passed down to the Bishop. This was big issue with the Montanist Movement. The issue of “the gifts of the Holy Spirit” i.e. prophecy, etc. was a smoke screen.
3. The issue of Responsibility. I Peter 5:1-8 is quite clear the responsibilities of the Shepherd; cf. also I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
There are probably other reasons, but those, I think, are the big ones.
Each Church in each town is to have a group of elders. Elders/Bishops/ Pastors/ Presbyters/Overseers are all exactly the same thing. The concept of the solo bishop, or senior pastor, etc; is pagan. This is part of the falling away which prophecy said would come.
Do you think things change now that Bishops/Pastors do not have close proximity to apostolic teaching (save in the documents, i.e., canon, we have from them)?
Yes. The Apostles were ALL eyewitnesses (legal term of MARTYR).The death of the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of the 500 mentioned in I Cor 15 would further limit the number who controlled the “paradosis” of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” The problem as I see it is that the Church was pretty unified even certain groups, i.e. Gnostics; hermetic/monasticism causing some problems with doctrine (dualism, platonic allegorical interpretation) and practice (asceticism and anti-nomianism), until Constantine and Constantius especially Constantius with the marriage of Church and State. This led to even unbelievers becoming members of the church which was contrary to previous practice before Constantius (some would say Constantine).
Although there is Athanasius’ Festal Letter of 367 AD which lists the 27 books of the NT Canon as being used, the canon was fairly understood by the Origen’s time (cf. http://www.michaeljkruger.com …”we have a list by Origen more than a century earlier (c.250), that seems to include all 27 books. Origen, in his Homilies on Joshua, writes:
So too our Lord Jesus Christ…sent his apostles as priests carrying well-wrought trumpets. First Matthew sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel, Mark also, and Luke, and John, each gave forth a strain on their priestly trumpets. Peter moreover sounds with the two trumpets of his Epistles; James also and Jude. Still the number is incomplete, and John gives forth the trumpet sound through his Epistles [and Apocalypse]; and Luke while describing the deeds of the apostles. Latest of all, moreover, that one comes who said, “I think that God has set us forth as the apostles last of all” (1 Cor 4:9), and thundering on the fourteen trumpets of his Epistles he threw down, even to their very foundations, the wall of Jericho, that is to say, all the instruments of idolatry and the dogmas of the philosophers.)”
The history of the gradual consolidation of power to certain bishops, i.e. Bishop of Constantinople and Bishop of Rome, has led to a hierarchal type of ecclessiology that is foreign to what is found in the NT. The use of “allegorical” interpretation especially by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine did not help any. The division between the clergy and laity over against the “priesthood” of all believers led to even a greater distance of bishops/pastors from apostolic teaching. Then the issue of the “sacraments,” the institution of the mass, etc. made things worse.
If I may offer to say, the true paradosis is totally controled by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The true revelation of the Word from God can only be granted and given by God to any individual. He so controls the paradosis that He also limits or even completly withholds it from some.
However, God wills that all people be saved. The reason that some people are not saved is because they choose darkness rather than light, thus they refuse to obey God and submit to His will, thus they are condemned.
So anyone today can be saved if they are willing to follow Christ. Even those who have not seen Christ with their eyes can live by faith and even recieve the paradosis.
I have seen Jesus Christ with my eyes and have beheld His glory and have heard Him speak. Now before someone yells out, “the reading of many books has made you mad”, or “quick, call the phyciatrist and get some drugs in this poor man”, at least hear me out. This one called Christ whom I have seen with my eyes and have heard with my ears, shall suddenly appear in the sky one day and will be seen by all people. The lost will be merely eating and drinking, etc., and unconcerned until they see Jesus in the sky. Then it will be too late for them. I want every person to hear the gospel and know that Jesus is the Truth. Even in the Church, who will believe my report? I am very concerned for the Church and for the evangelizing of the gospel to the lost.
Even though I am an eyewitness of the Resurrection, it hardly seems that I currently control the paradosis to the point of being an effective teacher and herold of the Truth. If the congregation addressed in Hebrews had become dull of hearing, we might agree that many today are also dull of hearing. What would be your advice to an eyewitness of Jesus Christ living in the world today? I’m not suggesting that you must validate my claim, but at least if there were an eyewitness of the Messiah in the world today, how should he approach the Church?
One caution I’d give is to not assume that some one is right and authoritative just because they are an early church father. Keep in mind the totality of rebukes and correction that filled the epistles to the churches in the New Testament. Also remember Paul’s prophesy to the Ephesians (in Acts) that some would come and lead people astray relatively soon to the time Paul would leave them. Even godly men in the early church fall into an unbiblical ecclesiology very quickly and those errors led to the massive corruption eventually developed in Roman Catholicism. Jesus told the disciples that those who would lead the church would be as servants. And that they should not Lord it over them as the gentiles do.
We should revile any symbols of authority that don’t correlate with the scripture. To see the pastor as typifying the Father is a direct violation of Christ’s command. The reason Ignatius may have placed such an emphasis is that he seemed to already be falling into the error of apostolic succession through ordination which is what lead to the priesthood as a separate designation from the laity. One church he was writing(Philadelphia) responded to Ignatius by saying they did not see his teaching in the scripture. They asked him to point them to that text and he refused. Acts commended the Bereans for holding Paul’s teaching up to the OT and yet Ignatius refuses to point them to the true Apostolic teaching (the NT)?
This being said I don’t mean we have to throw Ignatius out with the bath water. Augustine had both amazing soteriology and some of the most ungodly ecclesiology ever written. They were so contradictory that many historians believe the reformation was merely a war between Augustine’s view of salvation (Protestants) and Augustine’s view of the church (Roman Catholics).
Read the early church writers with scripture in mind. They will give insight to some of our modernistic blindspots but also have many errors of their own. Always hold all teaching up to the true teaching of the Apostles that was inspired by the Spirit of God; the Scripture.
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