Theology Thursday - Advice from a Dead Man Walking

Ignatius was the pastor of the congregation in Antioch, Syria. He was arrested for his faith by the Roman authorities, and taken under guard to Rome, where he is believed to have died as a martyr. Along his journey to certain death, Ignatius wrote seven letters to different Christian churches. One of these was written to the congregation at Philadelphia.

These letters are generally dated sometime during the first decade of the 2nd century. Along with 1 and 2 Clement, and the Didache, Ignatius’ letters are the very earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament. Read the letter, and consider the pastoral advice this man had for fellow Christians, as he went to his own death.1

Ignatius, ⌊who is also called “God-bearer,”⌋ to the church of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is in Philadelphia in Asia, which has obtained mercy and is established in harmony of God and which rejoices greatly in the suffering of our Lord without wavering, and is fully convinced by all mercy in his resurrection, whom I greet in the blood of Jesus Christ, which is eternal and abiding joy, especially if they are in unity with the bishop and with the presbyters and deacons with him, who have been appointed in the purpose of Jesus Christ, who, according to his own will ⌊he securely established⌋ by his Holy Spirit.

Example of the Bishop

I know that your bishop, neither from himself nor through people, but by the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, acquired a ministry which pertains to the common good and not to delusion. I was amazed at his gentleness, who, by keeping silent, is able to do more than those who speak empty words. For he is attuned to the commandments as a lyre to its strings. Therefore my soul blesses his ⌊godly⌋ mind (recognizing it is virtuous and perfect), ⌊his solid and angerless character⌋, living in all ⌊godly⌋ gentleness.

Flee From Division

Therefore, children of the light of truth, flee from division and evil teaching. And where the shepherd is, there follow like sheep. For many seemingly trustworthy wolves take God’s runners captive by evil pleasure, but they will not have a place in your unity.

Live in Accordance with Jesus Christ

Refrain from the evil plants which Jesus Christ does not cultivate because they are not a planting of the Father. Not that I have found division among you, but a filtering out. For as many as belong to God and Jesus Christ, these are with the bishop. And as many who repent and come to the unity of the church, these will belong to God, so that they may be living in accordance with Jesus Christ. Do not be deceived my brothers, if anyone follows a schism-maker he does not inherit the kingdom of God. If anyone walks in a strange mindset, this one ⌊has no part⌋ in the Passion. 

Unity

Therefore be eager to use one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for unity through his blood; there is one altar as there is one bishop together with the council of elders and the deacons, my fellow slaves) in order that whatever you do, do it in accordance with God.

Apostles and Prophets

My brothers, ⌊I am overflowing⌋ with love to you and rejoice greatly as I ensure your safety; and not me but Jesus Christ, in whom being imprisoned I am all the more fearful as I am still imperfect, but your prayer to God will complete me, so that I may reach the portion in which I have found mercy, having fled for refuge to the gospel as to the flesh of Jesus and to the apostles as the council of elders of the church. And we also love the prophets because ⌊their proclamation also anticipated the gospel⌋, and set their hope on him and awaited him, in whom also by believing they were saved being in the unity of Jesus Christ, holy ones worthy of love and worthy of admiration, being well spoken of by Jesus Christ and numbered together in the gospel of the common hope. 

Only Jesus Christ

But if anyone should interpret Judaism to you, do not hear him. For it is better to hear Christianity from a man who is circumcised than Judaism from ⌊someone who is uncircumcised⌋. But if ⌊neither of them speak⌋ about Jesus Christ, these ones represent to me tombstones and graves of the dead, upon which are written only the names of people. Therefore flee from the evil designs and snares of the ruler of this age, lest being afflicted by his mind-set you grow weak in love. But all of you come ⌊together⌋ with an undivided heart. But I give thanks to my God that I have a good conscience among you and ⌊no one can boast⌋, either privately or publicly, that I was a burden to anyone in small things or in great things. But I pray also for everyone among whom I spoke that they may not bring it upon themselves as a witness.

Be Imitators of Jesus Christ

For even if some desired to deceive me according to the flesh, the spirit is not deceived, being from God. For it knows from where it came and where it is going and it exposes the hidden things. I shouted out, being in your midst; I spoke with a loud voice, the voice of God: “Pay attention to the bishop and to the council of elders and deacons.” But those who suspected me of saying this because I knew beforehand of the division of some. But my witness, in whom I am a prisoner, that I have not known from ⌊any human being⌋, but the Spirit was preaching, saying this: “Do nothing without the bishop. Keep your body as the temple of God. Love unity. Flee from divisions. Be imitators of Jesus Christ, as also he is of his Father.”

Jesus Christ is the Archive

Therefore I was doing ⌊my part⌋ as someone who was set on unity. But where there is division and anger God does not dwell. Therefore the Lord forgives everyone who repents if they turn in repentance to the unity of God and the council of the bishop. I believe in the grace of Jesus Christ who will loose every bond from you. But I urge you to do nothing according to selfish ambition but according to the teaching of Christ. For I heard some saying that “Unless I find it in the archives, I do not believe it in the gospel.” And when I said to them that “It is written,” they answered me “That ⌊is exactly the question⌋.” But to me the archives are Jesus Christ, the sacred archives his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith which is through him; in these things I desire through your prayer to be justified.

Jesus Christ Our Savior

And the priests were good, but the high priest is even better: he has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies, who alone has been entrusted with the hidden things of God, he is the door of the Father through which Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets and apostles and the church enter. All of these are brought into the unity of God. But the gospel has something distinctive: the coming of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering and resurrection. For the beloved prophets preached with reference to him, but the gospel is the consummation of immortality. All things together are good if you believe in love.

Antioch at Peace

Since, according to your prayers and according to the compassion which you have in Christ Jesus, it has been reported to me the church which is in Antioch of Syria is at peace, it is fitting for you as a church of God to appoint a deacon ⌊to go on a mission there as God’s ambassador⌋ to rejoice with those gathered ⌊together⌋ and to glorify the name. Blessed in Jesus Christ is he who will be considered worthy of such a ministry and you yourselves will be glorified. And ⌊if you have the will⌋ it is not impossible for you to do this on behalf of the name of God as also the churches nearby have sent bishops, and others have sent presbyters and deacons.

Greetings and Farewell

Now concerning Philo, the deacon from Cilicia, a man well-spoken of, who also now serves me in the word of God, together with Rheus Agathopous, an elect man who is following me from Syria, having renounced this life; they also speak well of you. And I give thanks to God on your behalf, that you received them as also the Lord received you. But may those who shamed them be redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. The love of the brothers who are in Troas greets you; from there also I write to you through Burrhus, who was sent together with me from the Ephesians and Smyrnaeans as ⌊a mark of honor⌋. The Lord Jesus Christ will honor them; on him they hope in flesh, in soul, in spirit, in faith, in love and in harmony. Farewell in Christ Jesus, our common hope.

Notes

1 This excerpt is from Ignatius, “Letter to the Philadelphians,” in The Apostolic Fathers in English, translated by Rick Brannen (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

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