An Evangelical Introduction to Church History (Part 2)

 

In Modern Day “Konya”, known as “Iconium” in Acts 14 – 
” The Tomb of the Sufi Mystic known as “Mowlana” (Persian) or “Mevlana” (Turkish) 
The Tomb of “Mevlana” (Turkish) or “Mowlana” ( مولانا – Farsi), the Sufi mystic, Jallal al din e Rumi, in the city of Konya, Turkey. (1207 – 1247) Konya is the ancient city of Iconium, one of the cities of Biblical Southern Galatia. (Acts 14, book of Galatians) Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe are 3 of the major cities of the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey. These, along with Pisidian Antioch, probably are the main churches Paul wrote to in his letter to the Galatians. “to the churches of Galatia” (plural, Gal. 1:2)
What happened to the once biblical churches? The historical reality is that individual churches can die and be removed. Islam came later as a judgment on the churches that had drifted from the Bible and left their first love. ( Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 2:4-5)
Today, there is no known Turkish or Kurdish Christians in Konya, and no official Christian churches in any of these areas. Konya today is one of the most Islamic religious cities in all of Turkey. Mowlana or Rumi, was a Persian, who was born in Balkh, (today in Afghanistan near Muzhar Sharif), whose poetry is some of the most famous Sufi mystic poetry of Islamic history. Many Muslims visit his grave and pray to him, asking for his intercession, and for him, and leave money on his shrine. Mowlana is called “Rumi” because he fled the Mongolian invasions and settled in “Rum” (what the Iranians and Turks called all of Byzantine/Greek/Roman civilization. The Seljuk Turks had conquered this area from the Byzantines at this time.
Earlier, in “An Evangelical Intro to church history”, (part 1) we saw that some very important early church fathers give indications that they held to some views and doctrines that are closer to Protestant Christianity in general. We are not claiming that these early writers/leaders are Protestants, as that would be anachronistic. They are not Roman Catholic either. They are catholic, meaning “universal”. (from the Greek word, made up of two words, “kata” (according to) and “holicos” (the whole). Ignatius first uses this term, and Protestants have historically also claimed that they are catholic also, in the early usage of this term. The true catholic church are the true believers, the elect of God from all nations, spreading all over the world. ( Revelation 5:9) And the gates of hades, meaning death, does not overcome true believers. (Matthew 16:18) “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” (see I John 5:4-5) The promise of Matthew 16:18 does not mean a particular church in a particular city, much less the church in the city of Rome, would continue. There is absolutely nothing in the text about Rome or a pope or infallibility or apostolic succession. The blessing of Christ to Peter is about Peter’s faith confession and that God revealed the truth to Him, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Revelation chapters 2-3 proves this, that local churches can drift away from the truth and disappear from history; as does Colossae, as there is no known Colossian church anymore at that site, which is today in Turkey. I have been there and there is nothing left except a few stones. The same thing happened for the area of Galatia, (today modern Central Turkey) and other places.
In Part 2, here, we will expand upon I Clement and explore some of Ignatius’ writings.
One of the most important things that modern Evangelicals lack and neglect is good teaching on the subject of church history. One of the things that shock many Evangelicals is when they start reading church history and the actual writings of the early church fathers. Some read Roman Catholic apologetic works and when they run into “catholic sounding” words like “Eucharist” and “penance” and “bishops” and “the chair of Peter”, “tradition” and even the word, “catholic”; they are taken aback and not prepared to deal with these things. The lack of appreciation for both the good things in Church history, and a sound theological and biblical explanation of the unbiblical traditions have created this vacuum in some thinking and sensitive modern Protestants.
When modern Evangelicals don’t show both the good and the bad in church history and expose the bad traditions and practices; and hold up Scripture as the umpire and final infallible authority, then there is this vacuum and shock that some want to fill it with a sense of history and longing for those nostalgic feelings of “coming home”.  John Bugay wrote a very good article on this issue, here.
This search for certainty and connection to history and seeing some words that occur in the early writings that have a different Roman/papal meaning later in history, can deceptively trick people into accepting the un-biblical Roman Catholic additions and corruptions of later centuries.
Jude 3 teaches us that the original deposit, the faith of the apostles, was “once for all delivered to the saints”. The early church also called this “the tradition”, “the faith”, “the tradition of the apostles”, but they did not mean what modern Roman Catholicism means by “tradition”. The Roman church has taken man made traditions and added them to the rule of faith and original deposit, the same problem that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for in Matthew 15 and Mark 7 and what Paul told the Colossians to beware of. (Colossians 2:8)
Properly understanding the context of these letters will show that Protestant Evangelicals can be deeper in understanding church history properly and more Biblical and stand against the false claim of John Henry Newman, that “to be deep history is to cease to be Protestant”, that has been attracting so many to Rome in recent years.
Now to focus on Ignatius and Clement. Clement is older than Ignatius by a few years, so the issue of the presbyters and overseers/bishops as one office is an earlier and therefore “deeper in history” truth. But even though Ignatius starts the custom of “mono-episcopate” (one bishop over the college of Presbyters), he is a far cry from any kind of papal doctrine or idea. He is the bishop of Antioch, so even he would disagree with the later claims of some bishops of Rome. But he writes some early words like “catholic” and “eucharist” that many Protestants are unprepared to deal with when they first read them from someone who wrote around 107-117 AD.
Just because Ignatius, around 107-117 AD writes about “the catholic church” (kata – holicos = “according to the whole”; to the Smyneans 8:2.) and the Lord’s supper as the “eucharist” (eucharisto – thanksgiving; To the Smyreans) – does not mean that the early church was “Roman Catholic”. Protestants agree that Jesus was really, physically crucified, that He had a physical body, so we are not docetics who abstained from the Lord’s supper, because they denied Jesus had a physical body. Ignatius’ main argument was against Docetics and their reason for abstaining from the Lord’s supper was because they denied the humanity and physicality of Jesus. Protestants agree with the Bible and Ignatius that Jesus was really crucified and buried and rose physically from the dead. Just because Ignatius uses these words does not mean that the early church was the same church as the modern Roman Catholic of today. He is not teaching any kind of “transubstantiation” doctrine. This came much later, under Radbertus, in the 800s and was developed up until Aquinas and then it was declared dogma in 1215.
For more details on the history of Transubstantiation, see Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, by Harold O. J. Brown. Hendrickson, 1984, 1988; pp. 228-233.
and
Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, by Keith Matthison. Presbyterian and Reformed. 2002. (pp. 346-348)
We have no problem with calling the Lord’s Supper the celebration of “thanksgiving” (Eucharist) for what Christ has done for us in His once for all substitutionary atonement. So, Biblical and believing Protestants are also “catholic” in the early church sense that Ignatius writes of. Ignatius is taken by Roman Catholic apologists to call the eucharist “the flesh Christ”, but his point is “the flesh of Christ”, really existed and suffered in time and space, “which suffered for our sins and which the Father by His goodness raised up.” (To the Smyneans, 6:2) He seems to mean that the Eucharist “represents” or “signifies” the real body and blood of Christ, which suffered. (see To the Smyrneans, 6:2, also 1:1-2 and the context of referring back to the real physical history of Christ and the Docetists denial of the flesh of Christ. “. . . totally convinced with regard to our Lord that He is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin, baptized by john, . . . truly nailed in the flesh under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch . . . “. Ignatius is writing in the context of the Docetics denial of Jesus’ humanity and that he had a real physical body and blood. Jesus was not a ghost or phantom. The reason the Docetics, Ignatius explains, abstain from the eucharist, is that that don’t believe Jesus was physical at all in history. Protestants cannot be accused of that, for we believe the flesh of Christ was truly nailed and suffered physically, so we celebrate the bread and wine (or grape juice) as symbols of the historical reality. “The Word became flesh”.
“For He suffered all these things for our sakes, in order that we might be saved; and He truly suffered just as He truly raised Himself – not as certain unbelievers say, that He suffered in appearance only (It is they who exist in appearance only!)” (To the Smyrneans, 2:1) (see also Trallians, 9)
Because of the context of the words of Ignatius, there is nothing inherently contradictory to a protestant understanding of the Lord’s supper here; whereas it is further away from transubstantiation and the superstition of thinking that a Roman Catholic priest can say Latin words and it changes it into Christ’s body and blood, and the blasphemy of actually worshiping the consecrated host.
Ignatius has some other very great and meaningful statements on the Deity of Christ. Ignatius of Antioch, on the Deity of Christ, calls Jesus God 9 times (2 of them are less clear) in 7 letters (ca. 110 AD)
“Jesus Christ our God” Ephesians , Preface – “suffering by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God . . . “Ephesians 15:3, Ephesians 18:2, Romans Preface- 2 times, Romans 3:3, Trallians 7, and Smyrneans 10:1 are less clear. (because of textual variants). Ignatius speaks of Christ’s blood as “God’s blood” Ephesians 1:1. He calls Jesus “God incarnate” Ephesians 7:2. In Jesus “God appeared in human form” Ephesians 19:3. Believing Protestants can appreciate these statements and see that the early church was firm in its belief in the Deity of Christ and the Trinity, and the evidence from Ignatius here around 110 AD, shows that the Deity of Christ and the Trinity did not suddenly appear in 325 AD, as many enemies of the faith claim, like Muslims and modern skeptics and cults and others who write popular books, such as the Divinci Code.
Ignatius was an early martyr of the Christian faith, so that is a great positive thing that Protestants can learn from early church history. The records say he was fed to wild beasts, something the pagan Romans are famous for, and known to have done to Christians in the early centuries and enjoyed as a “spectator sport”!
Another positive thing from Ignatius is that at least 3 times, he says things like, “I am not commanding you as though I were somebody.” and “I am not an apostle” and “I do not give you orders like an apostle” ( Ephesians 3, To the Trallians 3:3; To the Romans 4:3). This shows that even though Ignatius seems to have exalted the office of the bishop above the presbyters and violated Scripture, and he does say “obey the bishop as Jesus obeyed the Father” (Smyrneans 8.) and “do nothing without the bishop” (Philadelphians 7; Trallians 2:2); and he calls for respecting the bishop and being subject to the presbyters “as to the apostles of Jesus Christ” (Trallians 2:2, 3); in spite of all that; this is balanced out by “I do not claim to give commands as an apostle”, so he still does not see his authority as the same as the apostles or Scripture. He does not claim apostolic authority, and so does not exalt the church or traditions above Scripture, as the later Roman Catholic Church did. He does not seem to have the same view of some kind of “apostolic succession” that the Romanist/papists do.
Clement of Rome ( 96 AD) – Presbyters and Bishops are the same office – I Clement 44, confirming Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; I Peter 5:1-4. Clement, with the Biblical passages, along with Philippians 1:1 (bishops and deacons), along with the Didache (15) (bishops and deacons), and with Jerome’s statement that a “A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop” and that the bishops being appointed above the presbyters was “a custom, not by divine appointment” (Commentary on Titus, PL 26:562-563, cited by James White in Perspectives on Church Government, Five Views of Church Polity, Broadman and Holman, 2004, p. 251-252) shows that the deepest and oldest history is that local churches had two offices 1. elders (overseers, who teach and shepherd the flock or do the work of pastors) and 2. deacons (servants, ministers); and that it was later that the office of bishop (episcopos/overseer) was separated out from and made above the college of plurality of elders for each church.
The evidence in I Clement is that Clement himself is not a “pope”, as the Roman Catholics claim, but the moderator or secretary spokesman or “president”, in the words of Justin Martyr for the college of elders from the church at Rome. This is one church writing to another church.
“The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied.” ( I Clement preface before paragraph 1)
I Clement rebukes the Corinthian church for deposing the elders there who have served faithfully. (42-44, 47, 54) He calls what the Corinthians have done, by getting rid of the presbyters, “a detestable and unholy schism, so alien and strange to those chosen by God” (paragraph 1) The Corinthians got rid of their elders out of jealousy and arrogance, as the rebuke of jealousy and pride is a major theme of this letter: (paragraphs 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 9; 16; 43-44; 46; 54 ) He exhorts the Corinthians to humility and repentance. (1: 7-8 and 1:13; 48, 57)
“Therefore it is right and holy, brothers, that we should be obedient to God rather than follow those who in arrogance and unruliness have set themselves up as leaders in abominable jealousy.” (1:14 – Michael Holmes’ translation. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their writings. Second Edition. J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, editors and translators. Micheal Holmes, editor and reviser. Baker Books, 1992, p. 43.)
Clement also exhorted the church of the Corinthians to go back to the Scriptures:
“Let us study the records of the things that have happened from the beginning. Why was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he attained righteousness and truth through faith?” (I Clement, 31)
He quotes from the epistle to the Hebrews in I Clement 36, several times, which shows the early church affirmed it as Scripture very early on; even though some others in other places struggled with accepting it as canonical.
In I Clement 42, he shows that there are only 2 church offices, bishops (elders) and deacons. In I Clement 44, he clearly shows that the bishop/overseer/episcopos is the same office as elder/presbyter.
In I Clement 45, he gives a good description of inspiration and inerrancy – “You have searched the Scriptures, which are true, which were given by the Holy Spirit; you know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them. You will not find that righteous people have ever been thrust out by holy men.”
In I Clement 47, he again points them back to the Scriptures and says, “Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle. What did he write to you in the beginning of the gospel? Truly he wrote to you in the Spirit about himself and Cephas and Apollos, because even then you had split into factions.”
When we read the Scriptures on this issue and indeed, take up the letter of I Corinthians, we find the solution to the problem there. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 4:6, in the same context of the divisions and disunity and factions (1:10-11; 3:1-10; 4:1-6), “Do not go beyond what is written.” Paul gives them the Scriptural solution and Clement points them back to the bible. No papal encyclical here. Here Paul actually uses a general principle of a kind of early form of Sola Scriptura, even though all the Scriptures have not been written yet. “Do not go beyond what is written” surely refers to his exhortations and instructions in the letter itself, in dealing with the factions in the church, since he says, “I have applied these things figuratively to Apollos and myself.” It shows that the final authority is Scripture, not what a bishop or future pope or council says.
“It is disgraceful, dear friends, yes, utterly disgraceful and unworthy of your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the well-established and ancient church of the Corinthians, because of one or two persons, is rebelling against its presbyters.” (I Clement 47:6)
“Only let the flock of Christ be at peace with its duly appointed presbyters.” ( I Clement 54)
Clement also has an early statement on justification by faith apart from good works wrought by us within us. Mediate on these beautiful biblically based words, a truly valuable commentary:
“All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” I Clement 32
For another good example of a very early expression of justification by faith alone, see also Mathetes, Epistle to Diognetes, 9.
For more excellent information on the early church and the issue of justification by faith alone, see also:
Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, edited by Bruce L. McCormack (Baker Academic, 2006).
and also see here for a compilation of early church quotes on justification by faith alone by C. Matthew McMahon:
When he says in I Clement 30, “being justified by works and not by words”, he is not teaching justification by the merit of good works as the Roman Catholic apologist claims, for that would also contradict what he wrote in paragraph 31, and 32 and 10, quoting Genesis 15:6, that Abraham was justified by faith, and not good works. Rather, he is teaching the same thing that James taught in James chapter 2, verses 14-26, that good works are the result and vindicate and prove that someone has true faith. Just words are not enough that real faith is there. Real faith is living and active and results in good works. Here, Clement uses the meaning of “justify” as in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:35 – in the sense of “prove” or “vindicate” or “show to be true”. The context makes it clear. At the beginning of I Clement 30, he writes, “Seeing then that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all the things that pertain to holiness, forsaking slander, disgusting and impure embraces, drunkenness and rioting, and detestable lusts, abominable adultery, detestable pride.” We are the portion of the Holy One, we have the reality; God’s grace has first changed us, by grace alone, through faith alone; therefore, we can now do good works. This is similar to Colossians 3:12, “Since, as those who have been chosen, holy, beloved, put on a heart of compassion, patience, humility, . . . “ This is fully compatible with good protestant teaching, that calls for holiness from those who have made a profession of faith and claim to be believers.
So, in summary from I Clement:
1. Elders/overseers should not be deposed because some “younger men” want the leadership of the church out of pride and jealousy.
2. Jealousy and pride are terrible sins that cause schisms and church splits and should be repented of.
3. A local church can and should rebuke another church if they have done something sinful or immoral or clearly un-biblical. (as was the case here.)
4. Elders and bishops are the same office. I Clement 44
5. Clement puts the word of God, the Scriptures as the ultimately authority and does not say, “obey me, as a bishop of bishops or pope”; no, he says “look to the Scriptures and repent of sins of arrogance and jealousy, because the Scriptures say.
6. Clement teaches an early form of justification by faith apart from the merit of works in the person. This is the same thing as what the Reformers would put into a terse phrase, “Sola Fide”, or “faith alone”, meaning apart from the condition of good works or obedience to the law. (I Clement 32)
7. The phrase of “being justified by works, not by words” (30) is the same teaching as the protestant understanding of James 2:14-26, that good works are the necessary and inevitable fruit and result of real faith; not just saying “I have faith”, but actually possessing real justifying faith in Christ alone for salvation.
8. I Clement 44 also says that the elders are appointed “with the consent of the whole church”, which is a far cry from any kind of papal authoritarian command.
No, friends, the early church was not Roman Catholic. It was catholic (Universal, “according to the whole”); and we can “let the early church be the early church” (Dr. White has said this many times on his Dividing Line program when addressing these issues) without trying to make it identical with 16 Century Protestantism. To be deep in history is to see and expose Newman’s saying as flawed and not fall for the deception of anachronistically reading church history, and not falling for the radical skepticism of “how do you know for sure” that you have the right church or the right interpretation or “how do you know for sure that the early church got the canon of Scripture right?”

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