Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Four Witnesses

As I begin to wrap up Rod Bennett’s historical work on our early Church Fathers, I have to admit how amazing it is to read through the writings and experiences of these four courageous men. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyon, also referred to as the, “Four Witnesses” enlightened me with knowledge and truth that I have been searching for in my studies of the early church.

When I speak of the early church, I’m going beyond the 15th century (where most people believe is a good place to start), I’m talking about the 1st and 2nd century early church. These Four Witnesses do not have a single word in their writings later than A.D. 200. They fill ‘the gap’ between apostolic and post apostolic Christianity. For example, Bennett’s work provides five certified epistles of Ignatius, all of them composed in or about A.D 107, which date them to within a decade of the close of the Apostolic age.

Their writings are clear, plain, and substantive instruction about what the early Church actually believed, and much of it on major topics that have become hopelessly controversial in our time. These four witnesses were not a bit shy about interpreting the Holy Scriptures written so recently by the Apostles in whose steps they followed. They interpreted them vigorously, boldly, and with authority!

We have to ask those who want to interpret scripture on their own, what are you to do when you get into a theological disagreement with the four men who got their bible training more or less directly from the Apostles? Turn to those writers in the 15th century, because their knowledge is much more advanced than those in the 1st century? Or turn to the 20th century, where you have hundreds of different yet ‘validated’ sources of information from the Internet or other modern day theological writers, including yourself?

I guess what it comes down to is, Who’s to say? Is there ever going to be any certainty anywhere in matters of faith? Is there any evidence that such an answer was given? Well, the early Christians believed there was. Cyprian of Carthage A.D. 251, a bishop and martyr in Africa, summarizes the ancient understanding of the Church in a few elegant words:

The Lord says to Peter: “I say to you,” He says, “that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven” [Mt16:18 – 19]. And again he says to him after His resurrection: “Feed my sheep” [Jn 21:17]. On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also what Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds that faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?

There are many others writings of these four witnesses that I would love to have shared with you. I can only recommend that you pick up a copy of Bennet’s, Four Witnesses, so that you can experience and live for a while, in the Church’s holiest and most Spirit-filled age.

[1] Four Witnesses. Rod Bennett. Publisher: Ignatius

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Pope is Coming to New York!

The Holy Father is coming to the United States!

[1] Taylor Marshall. Cantebury Tales

Justin Martyr: A Letter of Defense

A.D. 153, Justin Martyr, often referred to as our first Christian Apologist, believed that it was time for him to prepare a letter for the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. Of course, an interview would be his death sentence, so Justin decided to pick up his pen, and prepare one of his greatest works for the emperor. His letter would set the record straight about Christians, and refute all the slanders and lies of Christianity. This letter would assure the emperor that he had nothing to fear from the followers of Jesus and appealing for peace. Of course, Justin knew it was a long shot, he didn’t really imagine that anything might actually change in response. But of course, that’s our flesh that speaks that way, not the Spirit. Is not our God still the God of miracles, who holds the hearts of kings in His hand?

And so, sometime in A.D. 153, Justin Martyr composed the work that is known to us today as his Apologia – his First Apology. Now, I’m not going to share the entire letter with you, but I want to share Justin’s account on the ordinary weekly meetings among Christians. So enjoy his letter, and don’t be surprised if some of you find it very, very familiar. :)

Justin Martyr to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. A.D. 153

“And on the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. .

Then when the reader has finished, the Ruler (of the Brethren) in a discourse instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. .

Then there is brought to the Ruler of the Brethren bread and a cup of water and (a cup of) wine mixed with water, and he taking them sends up praise and glory to the Father of the Universe through the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length for our being accounted worthy to receive these things for Him.”

How familiar is this to some of us! Notice that the Gospels are still new enough to be referred to, rather charmingly, as “the memoirs of the Apostles,” and that even the Old Testament books are still a loose collection of sacred scrolls. Even though, the final authoritative Christian Bible will not before formed for nearly 250 more years. (remember this is A.D. 153). Nevertheless, the Scriptures still play a vital part here in Justin’s Church, and of course, ours.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Christ Yes, Church Yes!"

The last few months I've run into a lot of people who are focused on the idea that going to church is unnecessary. Asserting that each time the word ‘church’ is mentioned in the Gospels and the New Testament it refers to a ‘spiritual church,’ rather than an actual ‘church’ or a gathering of Christian members in worship. Well I want to try and explain how unbiblical and unhistorical this claim of ‘no church’ really is.

First of all, In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, He presents the Church to us as a structure, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornertstone.”[1] Paul literally founded many Churches in the various cities where he went as an evangelizer. In fact, we can see in most of Paul’s Letters how the Church is so present in his thoughts, heart and activity. Lets try and look why this might be.

Having met the new group of believers, the Christian community, Paul immediately became a fierce persecutor of it. Paul acknowledged at least three times in as many of his Letters: “I persecuted the Church of God,”[2] as if to describe his behavior as the worst possible crime. What brought Paul into the Church was a direct intervention of Christ, who in revealing himself on the road to Damascus identified himself with the Church and made Paul realize that
persecution of the Church as persecution of himself, the Lord. We find in Acts Chapter 9, Our Lord said to Paul, persecutor of the Church: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”[3] In persecuting the Church, he was persecuting Christ. Paul, therefore, was at the same time converted to Christ and to the Church.

As Paul explains how the Church is, “built upon the foundation of the apostles. . ,” we should understand that the Twelve Apostles are the most evident sign of Jesus’ will regarding the existence and mission of his Church. There is no opposition between Christ and the Church, Christ and the Church are inseparable. How can we be loyal to the King, and not His Kingdom? A slogan that was popular some years back and again rising today, “Jesus yes, Church no,” is totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ. This individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus.

Jesus is always present with us, he is always present with the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles and alive in the succession of the Apostles. His very presence in the community, in which he himself is always with us, is the reason for our joy.

[1] Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 2:20
[2] Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15:9, Gal 1:13, Phil 3:6
[3] Book of Acts, Chapter 9:4
[4] The Apostles. Pope Benedict XVI