House Church Talk - First century power grab.

Dan Beaty dlbeaty at
Tue Mar 16 11:19:48 EST 2004

David M.

This is the first time I have read this particular perspective on Ignatius.
The second generation of Christians has always interested me. While some see
progress there, others see decline. But in any case, they were closer to the
time of the apostles, and one would expect that the apostles labored to see
their heritage passed on through them.

Did the apostles fail? Or was the gradual decline towards a more worldly
government in the church inevitable?

Your suggestion that Ignatius was attempting to correct an imbalance is
feasible, in light of what I have seen in my own day. Many are fleeing the
controling influences of men in organised Christianity today. But instead of
running towards submission to Christ and His Kingship, some are being
tempted by a form of anarchy (The Spirit told me to divorce my husband/wife
etc.), and are fearful of anyone's counsel.

A few are even trying to cast doubt on the NT writings which urge us to
submit to one another, and especially those who have been tested and proven

It would be good to learn that Ignatius' intentions were more wise and noble
than previously understood. Who could judge too harshly this man who made
the ultimate sacrifice anyway?

But consider Augustine of Hippo, who so eloquently wrote of God's amazing
grace, and yet later advocated the use of force as a "means of Grace" to
bring people to Christ! Could it be possible that the same pragmatic
thinking that Augustine used "for the greater good," was influencing
Ignatius on his way to his martyrdom?

Dan Beaty
Columbus, Ohio

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "David Miller" <David at>
To: "'House Church Talk'" <House Church Talk  at>
Sent: Thursday, March 11, 2004 12:32 PM
Subject: RE: House Church Talk -  First century power grab.

> David Anderson wrote:
> > Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, CHAPTER 8
> > Let no man do aught of things pertaining to
> > the Church apart from the bishop. Let that be
> > held a valid Eucharist which is under the bishop
> > or one to whom he shall have committed it.
> > ...
> > We, of course, do not dismiss everything from
> > Ignatius as he did fulfill important roles in
> > other areas. Here, I believe he went slightly
> > over the line.
> > ...
> > Meaning well is what these "protections" were all
> > about, no doubt. Still, this is a specimen of misplaced
> > zeal resulting in lost liberties and clergy dependence.
> Hi David.  I wish I had more time right now to elaborate on the thoughts
> you share with us here.  Please at least consider just a few short
> remarks, and forgive my lack of looking up exact references to help in
> what I am about to say.  My time is extremely limited right now.
> I think the letters of Ignatius are very important for the home church
> community.  If we had some kind of "university of home church" (an
> oxymoron, I know), I would think these letters should be required
> reading.  While certain statements challenge some of our thinking about
> hierarchy and leadership, a more thorough study actually supports much
> of us who favor the home church model of meeting together.
> Your post indicated that he was born around the year 50, but I think
> that year is very much conjecture.  We really do not know when he was
> born.  My secular dictionary (Microsoft Encarta World Dictionary) has
> 35? as his date of birth.  Church tradition says that Ignatius was the
> child in Mark 9 that Jesus took into his arms and used as an
> illustration in his message that when we receive such a child in his
> name, we receive him.
> What we do know about Ignatius is that he was appointed as an overseer
> of the Antioch church around 68 A.D.  I doubt he was 18 then, so I favor
> a birth date back to the time of Christ and have no problem thinking
> that he may indeed have been that child mentioned in Mark 9.  Ignatius
> was in leadership in Antioch for a whole generation, about 40 years,
> until about 107 A.D. when he was brought to Rome and died a martyr's
> death.  This places him very close to the time of ministry of Paul and
> Barnabas in that church, and to the time of Peter's ministry there.  It
> also establishes him as someone who had a much longer tenure of ministry
> there than either Paul or Peter.  As such, his letters give us a lot of
> insight into the second generation of believers in these Christian
> communities.
> The history of the ministry of the founding apostles for Ignatius when
> he first began in Antioch as its overseer was as fresh as talking about
> events of the 1980's and 1990's for us.  At the time these letters were
> actually written, his experience with the former apostles would be like
> an older man today talking about church issues when he knew the founding
> apostles in the 1950's and 1960's.  That is very fresh and personal in
> my way of thinking.
> Ok, with that background, I have a couple of points about your comment
> that Ignatius crossed the line with his emphasis on the bishop, which
> led to lost liberties and clergy dependence.  First, I hope to be clear
> that I do not believe it good to designate a bishop as being over the
> elders (presbyters), as this is following the world system of government
> and opens the door to abuse and problems.  Ignatius clearly did think
> such appointments were helpful, and in that I agree with you that he
> crossed the line, but there is more to the story that I think makes it
> worthwhile to study.
> 1.  We need to understand that Jesus introduced a novel thing by
> appointing authority that ministered as a plurality of servants rather
> than as a single person in hierarchy over others.  When such
> introductions happen, it is natural to assume that the pendulum of
> understanding for this might eventually swing too far in the opposite
> direction.  For example, some people might begin to think that anarchy,
> or no government at all, is the Biblical model, and many might make
> arguments for not having any authority whatsoever.  We know that this
> happened in the second generation of believers because of Clement's
> letter to the Corinthians (about 95 A.D.) where he rebukes those among
> them who had moved to remove their elders from their place of authority.
> Clement argued that it was Paul himself and other apostles who
> established elders among them in the first place.  So if the pendulum
> did swing to error in the opposite direction, we might expect some Godly
> men helping to bring it back to center by emphasizing the Godly virtue
> of submitting to Godly authority.
> 2.  If we look at Ignatius's letters closely, we find him not just
> affirming the bishop, but the entire ecclesiastical order that existed
> among them of bishop, elders, and deacons.  I believe it is in his
> letter to the Trallians where he says that without "these," there is not
> the name of "church" (ekklesia).  It might be argued that he meant
> without elders there is no church, but some try and say all three are
> needed: bishop, elders, and deacons.  I think his real point is that
> without submission unto the mature and favored by God among us, the
> elders, they cannot be called a church.  I would agree with this latter
> position along the same lines of, if we do not love our brother whom we
> have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen.  The mature in
> Christ among us ought to be the ones we submit to very easily, or there
> is some defect within us that causes us to deceive ourselves into
> thinking that we submit unto Christ but not unto those who are true
> disciples of Christ.
> 3.  We need to note that in this letter to the Smyrnaeans that you
> quote, while he uses the word "bishop," he knows intimately the person
> he is speaking about.  This bishop is Polycarp, a very close friend of
> Ignatius.  So while we read his letter thousands of years later and want
> to make some universal general application of it, I think Ignatius had a
> specific situation in mind.  He knew of people in the congregation who
> were anarchists and wanted to usurp the place of respect that Polycarp
> had, and he knew of Polycarp's true converted and holy nature.  So his
> instruction was to help guide people to order and submission unto Christ
> through one of Christ's trusted disciples, Polycarp.  In such a
> situation, he would actually use the word "bishop" instead of the man's
> name, "Polycarp," in order to help keep those to whom he speaks from
> giving undue adulation to a man.  He is trying to focus on the man's
> function instead of his person or position.  When we think about how the
> Caesars were doing just the opposite, this makes a lot of sense.
> 4.  As we study the other letters of Ignatius, we see that many churches
> had the same trouble.  We further come to understand that the abuse of
> authority with which our generation is all too familiar really was
> almost non-existent at that time.  In Polycarp's letter to the
> Philippians, written decades later, Polycarp mentions a man named
> Valens, and his wife, who was apparently removed from his position as an
> elder because of misdealing with money.  His grief and instruction about
> that situation is very suggestive that this was an unusual situation.
> Therefore, in the context in which Ignatius instructs submission unto
> the bishop, he very well might bear good fruit by it.  In other words,
> if there were some very wicked men in the church who were gaining
> advantage by disrespecting those within the assembly whom God respected,
> much like Korah disrespected Moses, then the words of Ignatius may have
> actually born good fruit and not led to the abuses of authority that we
> have witnessed through history since that time.  Indeed, if Ignatius
> lived in our day and age, I think we would find him teaching something
> very different.  I think he would be in agreement with many of us who
> enjoy the home church model.  We have to look at his statements in the
> context that he makes them, and interpret them appropriately, and when
> we do so, the disparity between Igantius and those of us who shy away
> from episcopate forms of government is not really that great.  We
> probably can come to agreement on this in the same way as Paul and James
> had agreement about the role of faith and works in justification.
> 5.  It is noteworthy that in Ignatius' letter to the Romans, he
> indicates that he left NO BISHOP to succeed him in the Antioch church.
> That is very significant.  Antioch was the third largest city in the
> world, coming right behind Rome and Alexandria with about half a million
> people.  Some might argue that God was using the Roman persecution to
> get rid of presiding bishops in that age.  Whatever the case, it is very
> clear that Ignatius was not insistent upon an episcopate government of
> the church or he would not have left Antioch without one!  Instead, he
> wrote letters to the bishop in Smyrna, Polycarp, and other churches,
> urging them to remember Antioch and to send ministers there to help the
> church.  This proves to me that the real thrust of the message of
> Ignatius was not to establish a bishop over a church, but rather his
> message was to the unsubmissive in the body of Christ, to the anarchists
> within the church, to recognize Godly authority and to submit unto it.
> In that vein, I find myself in agreement with Ignatius.
> Anyway, I have taken way too much time.  I hope what I have shared helps
> stimulate your thinking.  You have certainly stimulated mine.  :-)
> Peace be with you.
> David Miller, Beverly Hills, Florida.
>     --- Info and subscription management at ---

House Church Talk is sponsored by the House Church Network.

House Church Talk has been renamed. These discussions, via the web, now occur at the Radically Christian Cafe.