ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians

This continues my sporadic yet methodical plowing through of the Ante-Nicene Fathers – the writings of the churchmen beyond the Apostles but before the Council of Nicaea that have been preserved through history.  You can search on this site for ANF to look at previous entries.  As you’ll see, while I may be methodical, I certainly have been sporadic!

Next up are a series of letters preserved from Ignatius of Antioch – also known as Theophorous, to various churches.  We don’t have much information on Ignatius beyond the account of his martyrdom.  There is a tradition that Ignatius is the young child that Jesus uses as an object lesson in Matthew 18:2, but this is a tradition without any firmer footing.  He lived from AD 30-107.  While on his way to Rome for martyrdom, he wrote a series of letters to various churches and some of these letters have been transcribed and survived in history.  Some of those transcriptions are believed by scholars to be later innovations and not to be credited to Ignatius, but several other letters attributed to him are believed to be more or less authentic.

The only problem is that there exist two forms of his letters – a shorter and a longer form.  Traditionally, the shorter form has been treated as more authentic than the longer version.  I tend to agree with this simply on a basic reading level – the longer versions are heavier with Scriptural referents and other more heavy-handed aspects to them than the shorter form.  While some feel that even the shorter form may have been tampered with at some point historically, we can’t seem to prove this one way or the other.

In this first letter, Ignatius stresses repeatedly the importance of unity in the community of faith, anchored in obedience to their bishop.  He goes so far as to assert  He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself.   In our day when church attendance is viewed oftentimes as a light and optional thing, what a refreshing reminder of how dearly our predecessors in the faith valued their time together!  Take heed,then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise.  For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

I also appreciated Ignatius’ reminder to Christians not to remove themselves from the general society and culture even though their beliefs had to limit their involvement at times.  Such interactions were seen as another means of testifying to the faith.  See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.  This is not the same as the misquote widely attributed to Francis of Assisi – preach the Gospel always and sometimes use words.   Rather, I think Ignatius is getting at the reality that people watch other people, and as they watch Christians they will notice that we live differently and this may lead to questions and conversations where the Gospel can be shared.  This requires care, Ignatius understands.  While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness.  Separating ourselves from those who do not share our faith is not a healthy option, either for Christians of for our neighbors whom we are to be concerned for.

There is also an admonition against what I interpret to be a bumper-sticker religion – a shallowness of faith demonstrated by a quick tongue and actions that don’t back it up.  It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian] than to talk and not to be one.  There are also copious and repeated warnings against false teachers and false doctrine.  We have to understand that not everyone who uses Jesus’ name is doing so for purely altruistic and Biblically consistent reasons.

 

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