“Glorious is God with His saints and angels: Oh, come let us worship Him.”
Almighty God, we praise Your Name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr. He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
About Ignatius: He was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the supreme authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)
The Apostle Paul was probably martyred between A.D. 64-67. Ignatius became the 2nd Bishop of Antioch in A.D. 69. Antioch was the city from which Paul and Barnabas began their great missionary journey as recorded in Acts 13-14. Ignatius is a direct link to the apostles and the apostolic doctrine. (information from The Apostolic Fathers, edited by Jack Sparks)
Some have written that Christian doctrine evolved from the original sayings of Jesus into the Christianity we have today. But given the chronological proximity of Ignatius to the Apostolic era, this can not be so and especially when we read his letters. In them, it is clear that Ignatius and the earlier Church were continuing the apostolic doctrine as taught verbatim by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, as the continuation and fulfilment of the Old Testament.
One of first great crises of the earlier Church was when the last of the 12 Apostles died. Who could ever replace them? Already the Lord provided the answer: bishops. When I hear the word “bishop”, visions of churchly finery come to mind: croziers, mitres, elaborate vestments and the like. Not in the 1st century nor for next 2-3 centuries! Bishop is the word used to translate the New Testament Greek: episcopos which means “overseer”, one who provides oversight to the doctrine and faith of the congregation. An “episcopos” preached and administered the Sacraments which means a bishop is a pastor. He presided at the Table of the Lord.
In the Roman Empire, there were many gods and goddesses and their temples and shrines were massive and impressive and they held elaborate and overwhelming services in them. A Christian episcopos presided over a simple meal of bread and wine, announcing this is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. He preached the Word of Law and Gospel to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. Nothing outwardly impressive, yet by such the Lord spread His Word as He had promised He would “to the ends of the earth”. The Word of Jesus Christ was so spread against overwhelming odds without gimmicks, strategies, mission models, massive denomination budgets, etc. (insight courtesy of Rev. Prof. Hermann Sasse)
For Ignatius the central aspect of the Church was unity with the bishop, the pastor in the preaching and teaching of the Scripture and administration of the Sacraments, according to the Apostolic Doctrine set forth in the Holy Scriptures.:
“…it is fitting for you run your race together with the bishop’s purpose–as you do. For your presbytery–worthy of fame, worthy of God–is attuned to the bishop like strings to a lyre. Therefore by your unity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.”
The episcopos was to give oversight but not to overlook false doctrine. Case in point: Ignatius warns the Church in Smyrna about the docetists. ‘Docetist’ means ‘appearance’ and they said that Jesus only appeared to be a man but was only God and so they changed the clear meaning of Scripture and they denied the Body and the Blood. And so Ignatius warns the Smyrnaens about them and their teaching on Holy Communion:
“They abstain from Eucharist and prayer because they do not acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised by his goodness. Those who deny God’s gift are dying in their squabbles; it would be better for them to love so that they may rise. It is fitting to keep away from such men and not to speak about them either privately or publicly, but to pay attention to the prophets and especially to the Gospel, in which the passion has been explained to us and the resurrection has been accomplished. Flee from divisions as the beginning of evils.”
What is the Biblical and evangelical understanding of the Lord’s Supper in relation to our lives and souls in His Church?
“Be eager, therefore, to use one Eucharist–for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for union with the blood (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 16), one sanctuary, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow slaves–so that whatever you do, you do in relation to God (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 31; Col. 3: 17)
Furthermore, the docetists believed Jesus was purely “spiritual” and He could not give us His Body and Blood. Using an oft-used phrase in our day, they were not religious but ‘spiritual’. Sound familiar? Maybe Ignatius was too negative? Maybe he should have ‘dialogued’ with them and formed a Bishop’s Study Task Force of Ecumenical Dialogue with Docetism? Of course not. Ignatius did a pastor’s work. The heretics are actually the ones who want Christian doctrine to ‘evolve’, actually devolve into something totally different and more to their liking and their flesh and so it is no longer saving doctrine. It is as old as Israel finding more suitable deities in the Baals. This is the devil’s work. The only conversation is to warn and the call to repentance and the true Faith, clinging to Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father in His Church. As Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians:
As, then, the Lord did nothing apart from the Father [cf. John 5:19; 8:28], either by himself or through the apostles, since he was united with him [cf. John 10:30; 17:11,21,22], so you must do nothing apart from the bishop and the presbyters. Do not try to make anything appear praiseworthy by yourselves, but let there be in common one prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope in love, in blameless joy—which is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better [cf. John 10:16; Eph. 4:3-6]. 2. All of you must run together as to one temple of God, as to one sanctuary, to one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from the one Father and is with the one and departed to the one [cf. John 8:42;14:12,28; 16:10,17