The Ignatius Syndrome
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching...” (I Timothy 4:16a)
From an historical perspective, Ignatius is generally considered to be one of the church fathers worthy of apostolic stature. He was born in Syria and had been educated within the realm of Greek philosophy and related mysticism, influences which arguably played a part in his future doctrinal beliefs. There is even evidence to suggest that he may have been personally discipled by the apostle John. In the very least, he was discipled by those who were. His significance and profound influence upon the early church and the legacy which he left for future generations is without question. There is every indication to suggest that he was a man full of faith accompanied by an intense love for Christ and a zeal for His church to match. He was a man who, at the end of his life when faced with imminent martyrdom, literally had to beg wealthy and influential friends in Rome not to intercede on his behalf in attempting to have his life spared. The grace and nobility Igantius exhibited leading up to his being fed to the lions in the arena has served as an example to Christians ever since.
But, within this notable church leader was a flaw which gave way to humanity, a common malady within the best of men, especially those who call upon the Name of the Lord. It is the fleshly, religious drive of wanting to help God coupled with allowing personal bias and prejudice to influence belief, rather than the other way around. We see examples of this time and time again throughout the pages of the Bible and church history, and into our present day. Though its roots may be subtle, the tainted fruits which are produced are not. It is a drive which, left unchecked by the Holy Spirit, compels well-intended men to extrapolate and stretch scriptural meaning beyond the original parameters and impose extra biblical exegesis to support personal bias in both thought and practice. If taking the law into one’s own hands is considered an enemy of social order, then the ecclesiastical application of such is certainly no better.
In Ignatius’ day, he saw the Christian church at large fragmenting over heresy and lack of strong leadership and purposed in his heart to do something about it. With all of the good he may have done during his life and ministry, he also left us with a legacy from which the church, as a whole, has yet to recover. Here is a man who may very well have sat at the feet of the one who laid his head on the very breast of Jesus, and yet, reflected things in his writings which were contrary to what John himself taught and believed, as well as the other apostles, including Paul. From his book, The Torch of the Testimony, John W. Kennedy offers this observation, “There can be no doubt that in Ignatius’ desire to see a clerical system firmly established his motive was pure. He was concerned, above all, to protect the church from the prevalent heresies of the day. But however worthy his aim, the method he employed to assure its success was mistaken, and played right into the hands of the forces he was seeking to counteract.”
Three areas in particular which Ignatius promulgated are examples of this “syndrome” which he planted and set in motion in the early days of the church. They are Communion, church leadership, and anti-Jewish/Old Testament sentiment, and Ignatius’ thumb print is quite conspicuous. In each case, it is worth noting how quickly and radically Ignatius departed from the original apostolic fathers’ teachings, supported by Jesus’ words as recorded in the Gospels.
As to the concept of Communion, he wrote, “Make certain, therefore, that you observe one common Eucharist for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single alter of sacrifice... But, look at those men who have those perverted notions about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which has come down to us, and see how contrary to the mind of God they are... They even abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which (flesh) suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again. “Share in one common breaking of bread-the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Christ for evermore.” This was at the root of the belief which eventually came to be known as Transubstantiation. But, such a view would have been foreign to the church Paul knew. For Jews it would have been contrary to the Law for which Jesus came not to abolish. For the Gentiles it would have been a perpetuation of paganism.
As to church leadership, he wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give Communion without the consent of the bishop...” This view runs contrary to all that Jesus (“Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of them”), Paul, and Peter taught and wrote concerning church leadership and “the priesthood” of every believer. Moreover, until Ignatius’ martyrdom, there is no record that there was anything but a plurality of elders at the church in Rome. In fact, the only person described in the New Testament as functioning as a one-man leader in a local church is a man named, Diotrophes. And, it should not be lost that, of all people, it is the apostle John who doles out a severe rebuke towards this man and his ways.
And, as to anti-Jewish/Old Testament sentiment, he wrote, “Be not seduced by strange doctrines nor by antiquated fables, which are profitless. For even unto this day we live after the manner of Judaism, we avow that we have not received grace... If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s Day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny...how shall we be able to live apart from Him?... It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity." It is no wonder that based upon such notions, doctrines such as “Spiritual Israel” along with the further spiritualization of other related biblical passages would encourage the move towards the eradication of biblically-based feasts and the embracing of those rooted in paganism.
The “Ignatius Syndrome” lies within each one of us. “It is crouching at the door, but we must master it.” It is a part of our flesh which must be subjected to the Cross, repeatedly. The result can often mean the difference in producing an Isaac as opposed to an Ishmael. God instructed the Children of Israel, “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.” Proverbs teaches, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” In that day, what will Ignatius say to these things? What will many of us say? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time?
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