Church Order From God

Today’s poast about the patristics is about 1 Clement 4o-45.

photo-1462747772350-460bb4aad7f4_optOur series uses for its text Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers.

1 Clement is from Rome and in chps 40-44 he addresses church order, a topic that makes folks today nervous. In the age of authenticity conformity, tradition, structure, etc are problematic in new ways. But, perhaps a pause with 1 Clement is in order (no pun intended). The word here is taxis, order or structured living or orderliness.

He begins with OT priestly order.

1Clem. 40:1    Since, therefore, these things are now clear to us and we have searched into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do, in order, everything that the Master has commanded us to perform at the appointed times.  2 Now he commanded the offerings and services to be performed diligently, and not to be done carelessly or in disorder, but at designated times and occasions.  3 Both where and by whom he wants them to be performed, he himself has determined by his supreme will, so that all things, being done devoutly according to his good pleasure, may be acceptable to his will.  4 Those, therefore, who make their offerings at the appointed times are acceptable and blessed, for those who follow the instructions of the Master cannot go wrong.  5 For to the high priest the proper services have been given, and to the priests the proper office has been assigned, and upon the Levites the proper ministries have been imposed. The layman is bound by the layman’s rules.

What is good, as he ends up, is that the lay person understands divine order through the priests. Each person needs to comprehend where he or she is in this orderly arrangement in the temple’s ministries.

1Clem. 41:1    Let each of you, brothers, give thanks to God with your own group, maintaining a good conscience, not overstepping the designated rule of his ministry, but acting with reverence.  2 Not just anywhere, brothers, are the continual daily sacrifices offered, or the freewill offerings, or the offerings for sin and trespasses, but only in Jerusalem. And even there the offering is not made in any place, but in front of the sanctuary at the altar, the offering having been first inspected for blemishes by the high priest and the previously mentioned ministers.  3 Those, therefore, who do any thing contrary to the duty imposed by his will receive death as the penalty.  4 You see, brothers, as we have been considered worthy of greater knowledge, so much the more are we exposed to danger.

Again, he hints are that order as indicative for his church orders. He moves now to the apostolic order: God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostles. Their apostolic ministry/order is defined in v. 3: “Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come.”

1Clem. 42:1    The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God.  2 So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order.  3 Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come. 

The apostles appoint bishops: God, Christ, apostles, bishops, deacons.

Late first century.

4 So, preaching both in the country and in the towns, they appointed their first fruits, when they had tested them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons for the future believers.  5 And this was no new thing they did, for indeed something had been written about bishops and deacons many years ago; for somewhere thus says the scripture: “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.” [A mistranslation, however, in the LXX of the Hebrew text of Isa 60:17: “I will appoint Peace as your overseer and Righteousness as your taskmaster.”]

He turns now to logic: is it not fitting that God would have an order for the apostles in light of God’s orderliness in Israel’s story? His example is Moses and the prophets who followed Moses. Tribal debates about power follow and Aaron’s bud arises.

1Clem. 43:1    And is it any wonder that those who in Christ were entrusted by God with such a work appointed the leaders just mentioned? After all, the blessed Moses, who was a faithful servant in all his house, recorded in the sacred books all the injunctions given to him, and the rest of the prophets followed him, bearing witness with him to the laws that he enacted.  2 For when jealousy arose concerning the priesthood, and the tribes were quarreling about which of them was to be decorated with the glorious title, he commanded the leaders of the twelve tribes to bring him rods inscribed with the name of each tribe. And taking them he tied and sealed them with the signet rings of the leaders of the tribes, and deposited them on the table of God in the tent of the testimony.  3 Then, having shut the tent, he sealed the keys as well as the doors 4 and said to them, “Brothers, the tribe whose rod blossoms is the one God has chosen to be priests and to minister to him.”  5 Now when morning came, he called all Israel together, all six hundred thousand men, showed the seals to the leaders of the tribes, opened the tent of testimony, and brought out the rods. And the rod of Aaron was found not only to have blossomed but also to be bearing fruit.  6 What do you think, dear friends? Did not Moses know beforehand that this would happen? Of course he knew. But in order that disorder might not arise in Israel, he did it anyway, so that the name of the true and only God might be glorified, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

From Moses and Aaron and their order back to the apostles. The Lord knew there would be strife over the bishop’s office…

1Clem. 44:1    Our apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office. 

So, orderliness in succession is promoted in this way. They would be permanent offices:

2 For this reason, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the leaders mentioned earlier [bishops and deacons] and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. 

There are two elements: bishop appointments along with “consent of the whole church.”

3 These, therefore, who were appointed by them or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church …

With the following qualifications, an adaptation of the Pastoral Epistles, with a curious turn toward illegitimate removal of a bishop;

and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well-spoken of by all—these we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry.  4 For it will be no small sin for us if we depose from the bishop’s office those who have offered the gifts blamelessly and in holiness. 

Clement blesses those elders/presbyters who serve faithfully.

5 Blessed are those presbyters who have gone on ahead, who took their departure at a mature and fruitful age, for they need no longer fear that someone may remove them from their established place. 

What was curious becomes less curious now:

6 For we see that you have removed certain people, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the ministry that had been held in honor by them blamelessly.

A very smooth transition is created by Clement to a pressing problem: the illegitimate removal of bishops or elders. Clement then presses hard by saying if the Corinthians carefully examine Scripture they will see that opposition of holy leaders is a sign of wickedness and they are standing with the unholy:

1Clem. 45:1    Be competitive and zealous, brothers, but about the things that relate to salvation.  2 You have searched the holy scriptures, which are true, which were given by the Holy Spirit;  3 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.  4 The righteous were persecuted, but it was by the lawless; they were imprisoned, but it was by the unholy. They were stoned by transgressors; they were killed by those who had conceived a detestable and unrighteous jealousy.  5 Despite suffering these things, they endured nobly.  6 For what shall we say, brothers? Was Daniel cast into the lions’ den by those who feared God?  7 Or were Ananias, Azarias, and Mishael shut up in the fiery furnace by those devoted to the magnificent and glorious worship of the Most High? Of course not! Who, then, were the people who did these things? Abominable people, full of all wickedness, who were stirred up to such a pitch of wrath that they tortured cruelly those who served God with a holy and blameless resolve; they did not realize that the Most High is the champion and protector of those who with a pure conscience worship his excellent name. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.  8 But those who patiently endured with confidence inherited glory and honor; they were exalted and had their names recorded by God as their memorial for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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