Friday, November 5, 2010

Worship as a Cosmic Victory

Are we standing on the edge of the end? 
In Christian speak, are we living in the last days? 

Ignatius thought so. After encouraging the Ephesian Christians to follow Jesus' example of rejection and pray for those who oppose them, he writes, "These are the end times" ἒσχατοι καιροί (Ign. Eph. 11.1). The proper response these end times is either fear of wrath or love of the grace that has already come. This grace is from Jesus for "only in Christ Jesus is to be found true life." For Ignatius, as with the rest of the NT, the "end times" are inaugurated in the Christ-event. Ignatius frames up the present situation as either imminent judgment or present grace anticipating vindication.

Ignatius encourages the Ephesians as a well-established church "secure" (12.1) affiliated with Paul whose martyrdom proved him worthy (12.2). As a church firmly established in Apostolic tradition, Ignatius encourages them to gather as much as possible, "For when you frequently gather as a congregation, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and his destructive force is vanquished by the harmony of your faith" (13.1). Ignatius invests cosmic significance in the unity of the church. It is not unlike Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he describes the church as the "manifold wisdom of God" giving notice to the "rulers and authorities in heavenly places" (Eph 3.10). The victory was won by Christ, for in the incarnation, "All magic was vanquished and every bondage of evil came to naught. Ignorance was destroyed and the ancient reign was brought to ruin, when God became manifest in a human way, for the newness of eternal life" (19.3). The cosmic victory of the incarnation is embodied in the faithful church. Incredibly, Ignatius teaches that the church participates in Christ's cosmic victory over Satan as it gathers in worship!

Ignatius also warns that disobedience leads to death. His chief concern is to guard against false teaching. From what we gather from the NT, the Ephesians were vigilantly opposed to false teaching (Rev 2.2, 6; cf. Acts 20.29-31). Not only will those who corrupt their homes not inherit the kingdom of God (Ign. Eph 16.1; cf. 1 Cor 3.16), but even more significant those who corrupt the faith "for which Jesus was crucified" will face fiery judgment (Ign. Eph. 16.2). Ignatius is deeply concerned to keep the teaching of the church pure and so warns strongly against any sort of false teaching.

How different was Ignatius' eschatology from many contemporary Christians?

What would he have thought of "the rapture"? What would he say to someone that told him he would be ripped out of the world to avoid suffering before Jesus' return?

I imagine he would tell them they were corrupting the faith for which Jesus died.

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