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BRIEF NOTES ON VARIOUS EPISTLES AND RECAPITULATION.
Directions for public prayer in 1 Timothy.
RETURNING for a moment to chap. ii., from the continuation of which in chap. iii. we have already learned so much, we come in its opening verses to the first part of the charge which St Paul was specially desirous to give now to Timothy for his guidance. For the worship of the Ecclesia this charge of intercession (ii. 1-4) takes precedence of all others. These various forms of prayer and thanksgivings are to be offered up by its members, and there is to be no exclusiveness in the subject of them. Christians are to pray not only for Christians and Christian communities, but for all mankind; then he adds (you will remember that Nero was reigning) “for kings and all that are in high places.” The order of society, and those who had (as our Lord told Pilate) received 219authority over it from above, were not to be foreign to Christians’ goodwill and prayers, much less to be hated and prayed against. This last monition repeats in another shape what had been written by St Paul to the Romans, the echo of which in few but forcible words is to be heard from St Peter. It inspires one of the most striking parts of the magnificent prayer contained in the newly recovered portion of Clement’s Epistle, and the same strain sounds repeatedly in the Second Century. But that former monition about prayer for all mankind, with the reason given for it in vv. 3, 4, is even more characteristic of St Paul’s conception of the function of the Ecclesia in the world. The prominence of the words meaning ‘saving’ in the Pastoral Epistles has often been noticed, and assuredly it is not accidental. Doubtless the various thoughts relating to Christ’s relation to the universe, to humanity, and to the Ecclesia which found expression in Ephesians, indeed to a certain extent some years before in Rom. xi., were in themselves likely to deepen and expand St Paul’s sense of saving as the comprehensive term to describe the Divine action upon and for mankind. But at the time when he wrote the Pastorals he was further, if I mistake not, under a peculiarly strong sense of the evil likely to penetrate into the Christians of Crete and Ephesus from Rabbinism, not from the old mistaken zeal for Law and Circumcision, but from the new casuistry and fabling of the Jewish doctors. This is I believe the key to various peculiarities of 220these Epistles, and not least to their frequent insistence on what was healthful (“sound”) as opposed to a morbid occupation with unprofitable trifles (1 Tim. vi. 4, νοσῶν περὶ ζητήσεις, etc.). Now one marked characteristic of the rabbinical spirit was its bitter exclusiveness, the exclusiveness of men who, as St Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thess. ii. 15 f.) were “contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved.” And so St Paul teaches the new Ecclesiae of God that He whom they worship is emphatically the Saviour God, who willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, and thus leads them to feel that the work of an Ecclesia of His as towards the world is likewise to save; even as the Gospel which he was himself commissioned to preach to the Gentiles had for its subject Him who had given Himself a ransom not for His chosen people only but for all. This topic may seem not a little remote from the obviously ecclesiastical questions about Elders and Deacons; but it bears very closely on St Paul’s conception of a Christian Ecclesia.
Various evidence of James, 1 Peter, Hebrews, Apocalypse.
St James’s Epistle will not detain us long. To him the ideal twelve tribes of the ancient Israel, whether in Palestine or in the Dispersion, were still a reality though doubtless he reckoned none but Christians as 221rightly representing them. To the yet wider Christian Ecclesia he makes no reference. But he shews a true sense of what was meant by membership of an Ecclesia in the narrower sense. It is latent in his rebuke of the old misuse of the poor by the rich in the congregation for worship, still called ‘synagogue’ (chap. ii.). It comes out more clearly in the last chapter, where the fellowship of the whole body in one of its members who is sick and thus cut off from the rest, is expressed and made active by the intercessions of those who are expressly called not simply ‘the Elders’ but ‘the Elders of the Ecclesia,’ in this as in other ways the vehicles of the sympathy of the whole brotherhood; and where again the reality of this fraternal relation is at once tested and strengthened not only by mutual intercession but by mutual confession of sins.
St Peter can hardly be said to add any distinctly new element to what we have already found in St Paul, unless it be the bold but luminous comparison by which in ii. 4, 5, instead of filling out the image of a body with thoughts connected with building, he boldly substitutes the building as the primary image, shaping it to his purpose by adding the thought of living stones “coming to” a living corner-stone. But he sets forth with special vividness the prerogatives of God’s new or Christian Ecclesia as having now succeeded to the ancient titles of Israel (ii. 4-10; see especially his use of the ancient designation of Israel 222as a kingly priesthood); and again the conception of various χαρίσματα (iv. 9 f.) to be ministered to all by the several members of the community as stewards of a manifold grace of God. The first four verses of chap. v. must be addressed to ‘Elders’ in the usual official sense, for they speak of “the flock of God” and of “the chief shepherd,” and lay down instructions for the right tending of the flock. But St Peter seems to join with this the original or etymological sense when he calls himself a fellow-elder, apparently as one who could bear personal testimony to the Christ’s sufferings, and when (v. 5) he bids the younger be subject to the elder. (For a similar combination see Polycarp 5, 6, where νεώτερος comes between deacons and elders.)
Hebrews I shall venture to pass over. The relations of its teaching to our primary subject are complicated by the peculiarity of the position of the Christians of Palestine at the time. No one can miss the indications of a spirit of brotherhood in chap. xiii., or its allusions to rulers of the Ecclesia vaguely called οἱ ἡγούμενοι.
The Apocalypse I must still more reluctantly pass over, or nearly so, from sheer want of time. In i. 6; v. 10, we have the Hebrew form of that phrase of Exodus which St Peter repeated from the LXX. The seven Ecclesiae of Asia met us once before; and 223we must leave them now without remark. Perhaps the most interesting point in relation to our subject is the vividness and elaboration with which the representation of the new Ecclesia as the true Israel is worked out, especially in chapters vii., xxi. It is especially noteworthy that in chap. vii., if I mistake not, the twelve thousand from every tribe, described as spoken of by the angel, not as seen by John, are identical with the great multitude which his eyes beheld, the actual multitude out of every nation and tribe etc., the members of a now universal Ecclesia.
On St James’s last days I should like to have said a little more: but the most essential points respecting him had to be examined in connexion with the Jerusalem conference; and what remains, though it belongs to the Apostolic age, belongs also to literature outside the New Testament, and so may fitly find a place elsewhere if I should be permitted to lecture on the remaining part of our subject another time.
As regards St John’s later writings it must suffice to remind you once more of chapters xiii.-xvii. of the Gospel as on the whole the weightiest and most pregnant body of teaching on the Ecclesia to be found anywhere in the Bible.224
Problems of the Second Century and later.
Here I fear we must break off the examination of the several Epistles, this being the last lecture of the course. At the outset I had hoped at least to be able to deal with the chief ecclesiastical problems of the Second Century, with the material of this kind supplied by Clement of Rome and Hernias, the Didache of the Apostles, Ignatius and Polycarp, Justin Martyr and Irenæus (to name only the chief names). I wished especially to shew how much of the controversial differences of later ages on this subject had their root in the actual necessary experience of those early days, and in the natural falling apart of ideas which in the Apostolic writings are combined and complementary to each other. Without some clear thoughts on these matters it is impossible to understand the real significance of the enormous changes which had begun indeed before the end of the Second Century, but which for the most part belong to a later time (for the West the names of Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine will be sufficiently representative). I can do no more now than ask you to think of the different lights in which Church membership might naturally present itself, first when Christians were only scattered sojourners in the midst of a suspicious and often hostile population; next, when they had become, though a minority, yet an important and a tolerated minority; then 225when they were set on a place of vantage by the civil power, and so were increased by hosts of mere timeservers; and lastly when they had come to constitute practically the whole population, and a Christian world had come into existence. The fundamental perplexing fact throughout was the paradox of a holy Ecclesia consisting in part of men very unholy. In at least three great sectarian movements of the early ages this is an important element, in Montanism, Novatianism, Donatism: but the fundamental thoughts which in this respect governed these movements are to be found in the writings of justly venerated Fathers.
This is all that I can attempt to say now. If I am permitted to lecture in the Michaelmas Term of next year, and no strong reason for preferring another subject intervenes, I shall hope to carry forward the beginning made this term.
In the few remaining minutes I should be glad to gather up with extreme brevity some of the leading results at which we seem to have arrived thus far. The greater part of our time has been taken up with what belongs to the early history rather than the early conceptions of the Christian Ecclesia, but, as was to be expected, what the Gospels offered us belongs almost wholly to the region of conceptions.226
The one single saying in which our Lord names the new or Christian Ecclesia marks at once its continuity with the Ecclesia of Israel and its newness as His own, the Messiah’s, Ecclesia. It marks also its unity. Lastly it marks its being built on Peter and the other eleven, now ascertained to be fit for this function of foundations by the faith in which they had recognised His Messiahship. We saw how the last evening before the Passion, the evening on which began the transition, so to speak, from the Ministry of Christ to the Ministry of His Ecclesia, was one long unfolding of the inner nature of the Ecclesia, by the feast of Holy Communion (as in Matthew, Mark, Luke), and (as in St John) by the symbolic feetwashing, the conversations and discourses which followed (especially the New Commandment, the Vine and the Branches, and the promise of the other Paraclete), and lastly the prayer that the disciples themselves, the representatives of the future Ecclesia of disciples, and all who should believe on Him through their word, may be One; with the assurance that as the Father sent Him into the world, so He Himself sent them into the world; so that their work was not for themselves, but for the saving of mankind. So too for the new members of the Ecclesia of whom we read in the early chapters of Acts the condition of entrance is the same, personal faith leading to personal discipleship, discipleship to a now ascended Lord. And again the life lived is essentially a life of community, in which 227each felt himself to hold a trust for the good of all. At first the oneness of the Ecclesia is a visible fact due simply to its limitation to the one city of Jerusalem. Presently it enlarges and includes all the Holy Land, becoming ideally conterminous with the Jewish Ecclesia. But at length discipleship on a large scale springs up at Antioch, and so we have a new Ecclesia. By various words and acts the community of purpose and interests between the two Ecclesiae is maintained: but they remain two. Presently the Ecclesia of Antioch, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking through one or more prophets, sets apart Barnabas and Paul and sends them forth beyond Taurus to preach the Gospel. They go first to the Jews of the Dispersion but have at last to turn to the Gentiles. On their way home they recognise or constitute Ecclesiae of their converts in the several cities and choose for them Elders. Thus there is a multiplication of single Ecclesiae. We need not trace the process further. We find St Paul cultivating the friendliest relations between these different bodies, and sometimes in language grouping together those of a single region: but we do not find him establishing or noticing any formal connexion between those of one region or between all generally. He does however work sedulously to counteract the imminent danger of a specially deadly schism, viz. between the Ecclesiae of Judea (as he calls them) and the Ecclesiae of the Gentile world. When the danger of that schism has 228been averted, he is able to feel that the Ecclesia is indeed One. Finally in Ephesians, and partly Colossians, he does from his Roman habitation not only set forth emphatically the unity of the whole body, but expatiate in mystic language on its spiritual relation to its unseen Head, catching up and carrying on the language of prophets about the ancient Israel as the bride of Jehovah, and suggest that this one Ecclesia, now sealed as one by the creating of the two peoples into one, is God’s primary agent in His ever expanding counsels towards mankind.
As regards the mutual relations between its members, these are set forth in many passages which are apt to be read only as belonging to ethics or to individual religion. We are apt to forget (1) that according to the New Testament (and especially Ephesians) the Christian life is the true human life, and that Christians become true men in proportion as they live up to it, (2) that the right relations between the members of the Christian Society or Ecclesia are simply the normal relations which should subsist between members of the human race, and therefore (3) that all the relations of life, being baptised into Christ, become parts and particular modes of Christian membership, and can be rightly acted out only under its conditions, while Christian fellowship further creates a bond, independent of the ordinary family and other such relations, which has a sacredness of its own. Hence the true life of the Ecclesia consists for the most 229part in the hourly and daily converse and behaviour of all its members, in just that element .of human existence, in short, which rarely crystallizes into what we call events, notable incidents such as find a place in histories. The Ecclesia as clothed with those high attributes set forth by St Paul is realised, as it were, in those monotonous homelinesses of daily living rather than in administration or business, though it were business of the highest kind, the formulation of creeds, or laws, or policies.
While therefore matters belonging to what is called the organisation of the Ecclesia are undoubtedly an important part of the subject, it would be a serious mistake to treat them as the whole. There is indeed a certain ambiguity in the word ‘organisation’ as thus used. Nothing perhaps has been more prominent in our examination of the Ecclesiae of the Apostolic age than the fact that the Ecclesia itself, i.e. apparently the sum of all its male adult members, is the primary body, and, it would seem, even the primary authority. It may be that this state of things was in some ways a mark of immaturity; and that a better and riper organisation must of necessity involve the creation of more special organs of the community. Still the very origin and fundamental nature of the Ecclesia as a community of disciples renders it impossible that the principle should rightly become obsolete. In a word we cannot properly speak of an organisation of a community 230from which the greater part of its members are excluded. The true way, the Apostolic way, of regarding offices or officers in the Ecclesia is to regard them as organs of its corporate life for special purposes: so that the offices of an Ecclesia at any period are only a part of its organisation, unless indeed it unhappily has no other element of organisation.
In the Apostolic age we have seen that the offices instituted in the Ecclesia were the creation of successive experiences and changes of circumstance, involving at the same time a partial adoption first of Jewish precedents by the Ecclesia of Judea, and then apparently of Judean Christian precedents by the Ecclesiae of the Dispersion and the Gentiles. There is no trace in the New Testament that any ordinances on this subject were prescribed by the Lord, or that any such ordinances were set up as permanently binding by the Twelve or by St Paul or by the Ecclesia at large. Their faith in the Holy Spirit and His perpetual guidance was too much of a reality to make that possible.
The Apostles, we have seen, were essentially personal witnesses of the Lord and His Resurrection, bearing witness by acts of beneficent power and by word, the preaching of the kingdom. Round this, their definite function, grew up in process of time an indefinite authority, the natural and right and necessary consequence of their unique position. It 231is difficult to think how the early Ecclesia of Judea could possibly have staggered on without that apostolic authority; but it came to the Apostles by the ordinary action of Divine Providence, not (so far as we can see) by any formal Divine Command. The government which they thus exercised was a genuine government, all the more genuine and effectual because it was in modern phrase constitutional: it did not supersede the responsibility and action of the Elders or the Ecclesia at large, but called them out. About the exceptional position of James there will be a word to say just now.
The Apostles were not in any proper sense officers of the Ecclesia. The first officers who are definitely mentioned are the Seven. I need not repeat the precise purpose of their appointment. It was for a strictly subordinate and external function, though men of wisdom and a holy spirit were needed for it. Of officers in some respects analogous under the name διάκονοι, ministrants, deacons, we have been hearing at Ephesus in 1 Tim., and at least in some sense at Philippi.
But though the Seven of Jerusalem are the first officers mentioned, we found reason to suspect that of still earlier date (certainly not much later) were the Elders. This apparently universal institution, for administration and in part for teaching, was adopted by Christians apparently universally. We have distinct evidence for it in the New Testament at Jerusalem, 232in Lycaonia, at Ephesus, in Crete, and probably at Thessalonica: it is mentioned in the Epistles of St James addressed to Jewish Christians of the whole Dispersion, and of St Peter addressed to the Christians of Asia Minor. Of officers higher than Elders we find nothing that points to an institution or system, nothing like the episcopal system of later times. In the New Testament the word ἐπίσκοπος as applied to men, mainly, if not always, is not a title, but a description of the Elder’s function. On the other hand the monarchical principle, which is the essence of episcopacy receives in the Apostolic age a practical though a limited recognition, not so much in the absolutely exceptional position of St Peter in the early days at Jerusalem, or the equally exceptional position of St Paul throughout the Ecclesiae of his own foundation, as in the position ultimately held by St James at Jerusalem, and also to a limited extent in the temporary functions entrusted by St Paul to Timothy and Titus when he left them behind for a little while to complete arrangements begun by himself at Ephesus and in Crete respectively.
In this as in so many other things is seen the futility of endeavouring to make the Apostolic history into a set of authoritative precedents, to be rigorously copied without regard to time and place, thus turning the Gospel into a second Levitical Code. The Apostolic age is full of embodiments of purposes and 233principles of the most instructive kind: but the responsibility of choosing the means was left for ever to the Ecclesia itself, and to each Ecclesia, guided by ancient precedent on the one hand and adaptation to present and future needs on the other. The lesson-book of the Ecclesia, and of every Ecclesia, is not a law but a history.234
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