Nov 17, 2023

Ignatius of Antioch


The following quote is worthy of serious reflection, “It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one.” Ignatius of Antioch (35-110) wrote these words in a letter addressed to fellow believers on the way to his execution. Ignatius was a prominent leader of the early church in the period following the 12 Apostles. He was a second-generation disciple likely taught by John the Apostle. During the tyrannical reign of Trajan, Christians were required to pay homage to the emperor as deity. Any who refused were thrown to the lions. Why Ignatius was transported to Rome is unclear since most Christians were punished locally. Perhaps Trajan wanted Ignatius’ death to serve as a warning to Christians. Ignatius was escorted in chains to Rome accompanied by ten soldiers. He wrote seven letters during his journey: five to various churches, one to a fellow bishop named Polycarp who was later martyred and one to Christians in Rome not to interfere with his execution. Three impressions stand out to me from his seven letters. First, his stress on Jesus’ humanity counteracts factions like the Docetists, who accepted Jesus’ divinity but rejected his humanity. One reason why Ignatius stressed the importance of the Eucharist was to remind Christians that Jesus appeared in the flesh and not merely in spirit form. Second, his stress in honoring those in authority, namely local bishops. Ignatius was troubled by the rise in splinter groups who espoused autonomy and resisted spiritual oversight. Third, his courage in facing death. Ignatius acknowledged in his letters that he would likely be thrown to the beasts. His goal was to emulate “our God Jesus Christ” in death. I would be hard pressed to say the same. My life is far too important to me. The following request for prayer was included in Ignatius’ letter to believers in Rome:

In your prayers, ask only this for me,that the Lord may give me strength
that I may not only be called but proved to be a Christian.
Then I will be seen as faithful when the world no longer sees me
for nothing that is seen is eternal.
The things perceived are temporal,
but the things not seen are eternal.
I write to the churches and charge you all
that I die willingly for Christ,
if only you do not prevent me.
I ask that your love for me be at the right time.
Allow me to be devoured by wild beasts,
through whom I may rise to God.
I am the grain of God ground between the teeth of wild beasts,
that I may be found to be the pure bread of Christ.
Then indeed I will be the true disciple of Christ
when the world will no longer see my body.

Not as Peter and Paul do I command you.
They were apostles,
I am the least of them.
they were free,
but I am a slave even to this day,
but if you wish,
I will be the freedman of Jesus Christ,
and in him I will rise again and be free.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.