Christianity According To A Student Of John And Anointed Teacher

One of the most re-known of early Church writers is Ignatius (30-107 AD) a disciple of the apostle John. Born around 30 to 35 AD, Ignatius had a pagan background and was given the name “Theophorus” meaning “bearer of God” or “born of God”. After his conversion to Christianity Ignatius displayed such zeal and passion for the faith combined with his sound doctrinal knowledge and being clearly full of the Holy Spirit, he became the Bishop of the Church of Antioch after the apostle Peter and Evodius.

On one occasion, the Lord granted Ignatius a vision of the angels singing the “Trisagion”, the hymn sung by the Seraphim that constantly praise God in heaven as we read in the following words of the prophet Isaiah.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” Isaiah 6:1-3

After conveying his vision to the Church of Antioch, the “Trisagion” was included as part of the worship during the service. All the Churches, also wishing to praise the Lord in unity with the heavenly host, soon followed this practice, which has continued to this day by all those Churches originally founded by the apostles.

“We speak of the Seraphim that Isaiah saw in the Holy Spirit, surrounding the throne of God and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord, God of hosts.” This is why we recite this theological hymn that is transmitted to us by the Seraphim, so that we may take part in the hymn of praise with the hosts above the cosmos.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem

“Man is as though transferred to heaven itself, he stands near the throne of Glory. He flies with the Seraphim, and he sings the holiest hymn.” St. John Chrysostom

Like many before him, Ignatius had become a threat to the pagan beliefs of the time as many converted to Christianity through his preaching. This resulted in his being arrested and sent to Rome where he was to be fed to the lions.

Considering it to be a great honor to be martyred in the name of Jesus Christ, Ignatius is quoted as saying,

“Lord, I thank You because You granted to honor me with the abundance of Your love; You allowed that I be chained with metal chains like Your Apostle Paul.”

After he had said this, he kissed his chains and began praying for the Church. Under guard, Ignatius was then transported with two other Christians also under sentence of death, Zosimus and a man called Rufus of whom the scriptures state,

“Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.” Mark 15:21

“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” Romans 16:13

When they arrived at Smyrna, Ignatius was met by its Bishop Polycarp, along with the Bishops of Magnesia, Ephesus and Tralles and a number of representatives of the Churches of Asia Minor. Through them, Ignatius sent a number of letters to their Churches with the main theme being to submit to Jesus Christ through His anointed agents being the true Church, built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles and to be aware and avoid those who teach heresies and gather to themselves false gatherings.

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” Ephesians 2:19

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” Luke 11:23

In a further letter written to the Church of Rome who had heard that the believers their had been trying to save him, Ignatius wrote,

“I shall never have a better chance than this of getting to God… This favor only I beg of you: suffer me to be a libation poured to God, while there is still an altar ready for me. Then you may form a loving choir around it and sing hymns of praise in Jesus Christ to the Father, for permitting Syria’s bishop, summoned from the realms of the morning, to have reach the land of the setting sun.”

Upon arriving at Rome, Ignatius was taken to the arena where he received his martyrdom in 108 AD, when two lions devoured his flesh leaving only a few bones.

Of the letters of Ignatius, there are seven that can be confirmed as authentic and of these, six are addressed to the Churches of Smyrna, Rome, Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Philadelphia and there is one to Polycarp himself. There are also a number of other letters addressed to the Virgin Mary, Mary of Cassabola, John the Apostle, Heron (a deacon of Antioch) and to the Churches of Antioch, Philippi and Tarsus however as these cannot be authenticated as genuine works of Ignatius they must be considered spurious and best to avoid.

Two final points concerning the genuine letters is that others such as Polycarp and Eusebius have left us written testimony concerning there authenticity and Polycarp found them so inspired that he forwarded copies with his own letters to the Philippians. Also, it was in Ignatius letter to Rome we see the first use of the phrase “Catholic Church”, meaning “universal”, as it referred to the entire Body of Christ being all those baptized into the Churches founded by the apostles.

Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood and many believe the term refers to what we today call the “Roman Catholics”. However, this is incorrect other than in the sense that at the time the letter was written the Roman Church was one part of the Catholic Church, but at no time did Ignatius suggest the term referred to Rome exclusively.

This first quote from Ignatius' epistle to the Smyrnaeans gives us a clear answer to one of the greatest differences between the faith held by the original apostolic Churches that still remain today and the vast majority of what are known as “Protestants”, those born out of the Church of Rome during the reformation period.

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.”

These comments, written in reference to heretics of the time, identifies them as being so because they deny that the “Eucharist” (Communion) is the “flesh” of Jesus Christ as is maintained by today’s apostolic Churches. By this, we can establish that according to the faith of Ignatius, those gatherings that reject the words of Jesus when He stated the bread He broke and shared amongst His apostles was literally His Body will “incur death” and they should not speak against this “gift of God” that they might “rise again”.

“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Luke 22:19

Elsewhere in the same epistle we find the following quotes that also reveal to us much of how the original Church interpreted the teachings of Jesus Christ through the inspiration they received from the Holy Spirit. All of these, like any belief universally held by the early Christians, are of great importance to any who seeks only Truth when we consider that if we are inspired by the same Holy Spirit as the scriptures testify they were, then we would also hold to that same unity of faith. Not the many variations we witness today.

These writings then become an excellent source by which we can test our interpretation of scripture to determine is it from our own carnal minds and desires, or from false teachings we have received and whether it is truly an understanding granted us from God.

The next two quotes demonstrate some of the original teachings of the apostles universally accepted by the early Church. However, this understanding is often unknown, rejected or abused for personal gain in many of today’s Christian gatherings.

“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it…..”

In this first of the two quotes, we clearly read that Ignatius, a man who we know must have been full of the Holy Spirit as he was appointed a bishop taught that the congregations should follow their Bishop “even as Jesus Christ does the Father” and the “Presbytery (Priests) as ye would the apostles”. Through these words, we can establish some of the reasons why writings such as these are often conveniently forgotten by any modern churches.

One obvious example is most do not have Bishops and of those that do, very few can legitimately establish their authority came from an unbroken succession originating with the apostles.

The quote then states that this is an “institution of God”, that no man should engage in Church matters “without the Bishop” and that for the Eucharist to be deemed “proper”, then it must be administered either by the Bishop, or from whom “he has entrusted it”.

This then leaves us with further reasons why those gatherings that do have valid Bishops cannot accept all the beliefs of the Apostolic Church for if they did they would be in direct violation of an “institution of God” and thus in rebellion against the Lord and their version of Communion could not be considered “proper”.

Simply put these gatherings would be outside the authority structure Christ appointed through His apostles and not a true part of the Church that the scriptures call the “Body of Christ”.

The question then becomes are these simply the teachings of the carnal mind of Ignatius or do the scriptures support his words. The following verses from Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews may guide us in determining if this truly is an “institution of God”.

“And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek”; Hebrews 5:4

This scripture refers to how Jesus did not take this honor to Himself, but rather He was “called by God, just as Aaron was”. If we then examine how Aaron was called to be the High Priest of the Levitical priesthood we read,

“Therefore you shall consecrate him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I the LORD who sanctify you, am holy.” Leviticus 21:8

When we read these verses together to place them in their full context as it says “just as Aaron was” we see clearly that to be “called” to this honor a man must be consecrated “for he offers the bread” of God, not just anyone, and that “He shall be Holy to you”. Thus, the scriptures do support Ignatius claims that only through the anointed office of Bishop can any offer the Eucharist and those whom God has chosen to hold this position should be held in the highest regard, under Christ Himself.

The final point in regards to the Lord’s direction to hold those whom have been consecrated as “Holy” is whether this means they hold authority or is this simply an instruction concerning our attitude towards them. The following verses from 2 Thessalonians answers this question.

It begins with “But we command you”, indicating that the apostle Paul was confident that he had the authority to make such a command, then later in verse 9 he states that what they do is done to give an example, not because they do not have authority.

If we then accept that the scriptures are truly inspired by God and not simply the carnal thoughts and desires of men such as Paul, then when Paul refers to this authority he is correct and any who call themselves Christian are subject to that authority.

“But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, 9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.” 2 Thessalonians 3:6

In reference to this point, perhaps we should consider the following words of Jesus Christ after He washed the feet of His apostles on the night of His last supper. Here we read that what Christ did, He did as an example and that a servant, or any who is sent, is not greater than his master or he who sent him. As the Father sent Christ, Christ sent the Apostles. As Christ sent His Apostles, the Apostles sent Bishops. As the Apostles sent Bishops, these Bishops then sent more Bishops and so the Church grew.

However, he that is sent is never greater then he who sent them, in this teaching Christ instituted the continuation for all time the instructions He had given to His Apostles for if none that are sent are greater, then by what authority can they institute change?

“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:15

The following quote from Ignatius reiterates this principle and speaks of the order of how things should be done in Christ’s name, beginning with God, the Father down to the laity.

“For if he that rises up against kings is justly held worthy of punishment, inasmuch as he dissolves public order, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who presumes to do anything without the bishop, thus both destroying the [Church’s] unity, and throwing its order into confusion? For the priesthood is the very highest point of all good things among men, against which whosoever is mad enough to strive, dishonors not man, but God, and Christ Jesus, the First-born, and the only High Priest, by nature, of the Father. Let all things therefore be done by you with good order in Christ. Let the laity be subject to the deacons; the deacons to the presbyters; the presbyters to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as He is to the Father.”

If we now move on to Ignatius’ epistle to the Church of Ephesus we read similar comments but placing a great emphasis on the importance of holding firm to the unity of faith as it was first introduced. This next example compares being in one accord in faith to a choir singing in harmony which is achieved by the laity being in unity with the presbytery (priests), the presbytery being in unity with the bishops, the bishops being in unity with the apostles, the apostles with Christ as Christ is with the Father. It is in this unity we are in true communion with God.

“Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, ye may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that ye are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus ye may always enjoy communion with God.”

In this next quote Ignatius, who we know from the scriptures was full of the Holy Spirit for if he was not then he would not have been appointed a bishop, states that those that rebel against the duly appointed priesthood authority structure of Christ “shall not see life” as by doing so they disobey the Lord Himself.

“Do ye, beloved, be careful to be subject to the bishop, and the presbyters and the deacons. For he that is subject to these is obedient to Christ, who has appointed them; but he that is disobedient to these is disobedient to Christ Jesus. And “he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” For he that yields not obedience to his superiors is self-confident, quarrelsome, and proud. But “God,” says [the Scripture] “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble;” and, “The proud have greatly transgressed.” The Lord also says to the priests, “He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that heareth Me, heareth the Father that sent Me. He that despiseth you, despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me.”

The following words of Ignatius demonstrate the early Church teaching of the importance of gathering together as one, that one being the Church. Bear in mind, this refers to the Church subject to the bishops appointed by the apostles through the authority they received from Jesus Christ, not some other gathering, claiming to be a Christian Church, but with no such authority.

“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 resisteth 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.”

If we compare these comments of Ignatius to the following by the apostles Paul and James, we can easily discern how the three were similarly inspired in their writings.

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

In Hebrews 10:24-25, Paul instructs Christians not to forsake gathering together just as Ignatius wrote against it as he himself had been instructed by the apostle John and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Next in James 4:7, the apostle tells us to submit to God and resist the devil. As it would only be an enemy of God that would inspire us not to come together with the Church that Jesus Christ founded upon His apostles. Then if we are to truly abide in Christ we must submit to the authority structure Christ appointed and gather to it, not to another or not to none at all. As it is only through the Church built upon the apostles and prophets that has Christ as its “cornerstone”, and only through it can any be reborn and cleansed through baptism. It is only through that same Church can any partake of the Eucharist, and all must be done in unity of faith and true humility.

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:7

To conclude I offer two further quotes from Ignatius, the first being from his epistle to the Magnesians, and the second to the Trallians, both reinforcing the importance of all Christianity remaining with the authority structure as instituted by Jesus Christ through His anointed apostles. That structure being the original Church under the duly appointed Bishops.

“As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.” The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians.

“Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.” The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians.

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