The Apostolic Fathers 2



The so called Didache (or Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles) was discovered around 1870 and is the oldest surviving manual of church order. It is thought to come from Syria during the late first century. The Didache provides insight into how the church operated through its transition from an itinerant ministry to assemblies of churches established in particular locations. Here is a little taste:

15:1 Appoint bishops for yourselves, as well as deacons, worthy of the Lord, of meek disposition, unattached to money, truthful and proven; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers.

This post also wants to highlight Polycarp, who served as Bishop of Smyrna. Shortly before his death, Polycarp uttered these inspiring words:

“Eighty and six years have I served him, and he hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?

You threaten me with the fire that burns for an hour and in a little while is quenched; for you know not of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of the eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Bring what you will.”

A more idiomized translation of Polycarp’s final sentence might render it, “Bring it on!” Although, that may be closer to Clint Eastwood than the Bishop of Smyrna.

Polycarp studied under the Apostle John, and, with Ignatius of Antioch, was one of the vital links between the apostolic and patristic periods. A strong defender of orthodoxy, he opposed such heretical groups as the Marcionites and the Valentinians. When Ignatius was being taken to Rome to be put to death, he wrote of Polycarp being clothed “with the garment of grace.” Polycarp was himself arrested by Roman officials in Smyrna soon after returning from a trip to Rome to discuss the date for Easter and was martyred.

His defense against the Roman proconsul contained a clear and courageous witness to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of fearing “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Polycarp feared God “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28 ). Polycarp’s gospel courage sprang from his gospel clarity.

Our next post will consider Justin Martyr.

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