Ignatius To The Ephesians Pt 3
Last time we talked about the text of chapter 1 of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. Now we’ll talk about the ideas. To stir up your memory, here is the text:
0:1 Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church who is blessed in greatness in the fullness of God the Father, who was predestined before the ages for an enduring and unchangeable glory through all things, united and elect in true suffering by the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God, to the church, who is worthy of blessing, in Ephesus of Asia, many blessings in Jesus Christ and in blameless joy.
1:1 Having welcomed in God your much-beloved name, which you obtained by your righteous nature, (which is) according to faith and love in Christ Jesus our savior, being imitators of God, being renewed by the blood of God, you completed perfectly the work that is perfectly suited for you. 1:2 For having heard --being bound from Syria on behalf of the common name and hope, hoping by your prayer to obtain in Rome to the beastfight, in order that through the obtaining I might be able to be a disciple -- you hurried to see me. 1:3 Therefore since I received your congregation in the name of God in Onesimus, indescribable in love, indeed your bishop in the flesh, about whom I pray that you love (him) according to Jesus Christ and you all would be in agreement with him. For blessed is the one who has graciously given to you (who are worthy) to obtain such a bishop.
"...renewed by the blood of God." You can’t get a higher Christology than that, folks. That is rich. This makes me recall the discussion in Hebrews on the difference between the effectiveness of the sacrifice of Jesus versus the sacrifice of bulls and goats. The blood of beasts may be better than nothing under an old covenant regime, but can they compete with the blood of God? How effectual would the blood of God be? When God atones for someone, that atonement does not fail. Indeed, because of the effectualness of the blood of God, the believers in Ephesus were able to do "the work that is perfectly suited for" them. And, I repeat the implied point for emphasis, do realize that the blood of Christ brings more than just a judicial decision in a person’s favor; it is transformative to all who are affected by it. For all of you who don’t see a necessary link between salvation and sanctification in the Christian life, Ignatius is smarter than you. Stop being stupid.
"...hoping by your prayer to obtain in Rome to the beastfight..." Ignatius considered dying for his faith an honor. Indeed, that’s how he saw himself becoming a true disciple. On the one hand, that is admirable faith. On the other hand, it does seem a little overboard. Is it better to rush headlong into martyrdom or live longer in service? The latter may be the norm, but the former is the will of God at times. I can’t say that we should really try to be like Ignatius on this point; if martyrdom were for everyone the church would not last very long. But to Ignatius that was the end goal.
"...I received your congragation...in Onesimus..." Remember Onesimus? If not, re-read Philemon. Onesimus went from slave to bishop. Apparently Philemon took Paul’s exhortation to heart after all.
"...be in agreement with him." Here marks the beginning of a very important theme in the epistle: the importance of the bishop. In the early church, post-apostle, you could not get higher in the church than the position of bishop. They were the primary protectors and teachers of the faith and played a vital role in its defense against early heresies. Some denominations these days do not have bishops (Baptists, Bible church folk, et al.), while some do (Anglicans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox et al.). The language in this letter will talk of bishops in a very exalted manner; more so than they probably talk of bishops in some traditions, like Anglicanism (though I am not Anglican, so I cannot be sure; it is just my hunch). The exhortation above is quite mild compared to what we will see later.
The idea of bishops is a little much for many low-church denominations, like mine (baptist). Bishops probably make them very uncomfortable. I think that is unnecessary, but I’ll have to unpack those ideas at a later time. Tune in next time for more exciting Ignatius.