Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Personalities of Church History: Clement of Rome

I would like to begin here a series of posts about the key people in church history.

Clement of Rome is an individual we know only a little about. He was a leader (Irenaeus claims he was the bishop) in the Christian church at Rome. He may be the one mentioned in passing in Philippians 4:3. He wrote a letter to the church of Corinth, which was suffering from problems of division similar to those it struggled with at the time of Paul. (The second letter of Clement is generally agreed not to be his.) There were quarrels, and they had evidently removed some or their leaders from office. Clement writes to encourage the Corinthians to humility and avoidance of envy and dissension. He  uses examples from the Old and New Testaments and exhorts the Corinthians to repent.

Clement is significant in being close to the time of the apostles. He writes an epistle following the same pattern found in the New Testament. He mentions the idea of justification by faith, apart from works, based on Christ's death and resurrection. He also affirms Christ's coming again as judge and our own resurrection resulting from it. While he does not say in so many words that Jesus is God, it is clear that He is more than a mere man. He quotes from the Old Testament more than the New, and many of his quotes are fairly paraphrastic, but he does clearly allude to New Testament books. He also specifically mentions Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and calls it inspired. While he does not go into detail, he describes the lives and deaths of  Peter and Paul. He basically takes up where the New Testament leaves off, reaffirming its themes and context.

It has been argued that he overemphasized subjection to leaders. But he was dealing with people who, in his perspective, were arbitrarily removing worthy people from leadership. (I do not claim to know who was right here, but I see every reason to believe Clement was sincere.) Given the situation as he saw it, it is not clear that Clement was out of line. Further, I see nothing to indicate that Clement (though bishop of Rome) saw himself as an authority. Rather, he took his stand based on Scripture.

Clement bears witness to the fact that the New Testament was what it said it was at the time it said it was. This letter is the logical continuation of the apostles' teachings and ministry. But the very ordinariness of the letter and his situation tells against it being something concocted. He does not have any particular axe to grind; he is an ordinary pastor doing his job. What I see in Clement is exactly what I would expect to find if the apostles were real people who did what they were said to do and wrote what they were said to write. I do not want to make too big a deal of this, but it is worth noting.

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