Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ignatius - The Martyr

Ignatius was a contemporary of Polycarp, and his great desire was to die for his faith. If anything, he seemed a bit over-eager. He wrote a letter to the Romans, asking them not to intervene and prevent him from being martyred. It is clear that, whatever else, he believed strongly in what he believed. He was from Antioch in Syria, and on his way to Rome he wrote letters to various churches along the way, encouraging them to remain firm in the faith.

He emphasized that Jesus was God, who became a human being to die and be resurrected to save us from sin. He did so against two opponents. There were those advocated keeping the Jewish law as the way of salvation and saw Jesus merely as a man who was God's spokesman. These seem to be the descendents of the Judaizers Paul faced (Acts 15:1-21; Galatians 5:1-12; Philippians 3:1-3). They seem to have ultimately died out, probably due to many more Gentiles than Jews becoming Christians. They were replaced by the new threat of Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that God could not really have become flesh, and therefore Jesus only appeared to be human. There was also the idea that Jesus was just a man who God spoke through. The idea was that the material world is evil, so God could not have become something physical. And therefore all physical things are by nature bad. We see the first hints of this in the New Testament itself (1 John 4:1-3; Colossians 2:16-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-5). Ignatius forms the bridge between the writers of the New Testament and Irenaeus, who deals with the various organized forms of these beliefs.

But Ignatius  also made the first step down the wrong path for dealing with this problem. He was probably also trying to deal with the types of dissensions Clement was dealing with among the Corinthians. His answer was, "Do not question your bishop." Now the New Testament does command unity (Philippians 2:1-4; Ephesians 4:1-6; Colossians 3:10-14) and respect for leaders (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17). But it also calls us to test what they say and, if necessary, bring them to account (Acts 17:11; Galatians 2:11-16; 1:8,9). Ignatius, in my opinion, goes too far in the direction of advocating unquestioning obedience and therefore laid the foundation for later errors. Ignatius was a zealous follower of Christ who stood firm for God's truth. But I am convinced he took a too-simple solution for the problems he saw in the Christian church of his day. It was the kind of error that looked reasonable at the time, but others took it and ran with it.


1 comment:

  1. "it also calls us to test what they say and, if necessary, bring them to account "

    I wish that more embraced this message.