Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ignatius and the Appointment of High Priests

Many Evangelical Christians criticize the LDS Church for it's appointing clergy to the office of High Priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Even David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, criticized Joseph Smith for naming Elders in the Melchizedek or High Priesthood to the office of High Priest in a pamphlet entitled; "An Address to All Believers in Christ" (1887).

What is the basis for their argument again appointing high priest's? Paul explains in his masterful espistle to the Hebrews that just as the Jews had a high priest who offered a yearly sacrifice for sin, Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest whose infinite and last sacrifice is the only high priest one can turn to for salvation and eternal life.

Heb 5:5-10 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

Because the law of sacrifice is ended with the last and infinite sacrifice of Christ, some argue that there can not rightly be anyone in Christ's church appointed to the office of a high priest except Christ himself. And according to a narrow interpretation of priesthood, they claim that the New Testament never demonstrates the operation of the priesthood in the church in that there was never anyone given the authority to make sacrifice for the remission of sins.

However, Ignatius a Bishop and 1st-Century Christian suggests otherwise in Chapter IX of his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans:

And [the Scripture saith], "My son, honour thou God and the king." And say I, Honour thou God indeed, as the Author and Lord of all things, but the bishop as the high-priest, who bears the image of God-of God. inasmuch as he is a ruler, and of Christ, in his capacity of a priest. After Him, we must also honour the king. For there is no one superior to God, or even like to Him, among all the beings that exist. Nor is there any one in the Church greater than the bishop, who ministers as a priest to God for the salvation of the whole world. Nor, again, is there any one among rulers to be compared with the king, who secures peace and good order to those over whom he rules. He who honours the bishop shall be honoured by God, even as he that dishonours him shall be punished by God. For if he that rises up against kings is justly held worthy of punishment, inasmuch as he dissolves public order, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who presumes to do anything without the bishop, thus both destroying the [Church's] unity, and throwing its order into confusion? For the priesthood is the very highest point of all good things among men, against which whosoever is mad enough to strive, dishonours not man, but God, and Christ Jesus, the First-born, and the only High Priest, by nature, of the Father. Let all things therefore be done by you with good order in Christ. Let the laity be subject to the deacons; the deacons to the presbyters; the presbyters to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as He is to the Father. As ye, brethren, have refreshed me, so will Jesus Christ refresh you. Ye have loved me when absent, as well as when present. God will recompense you, for whose sake ye have shown such kindness towards His prisoner. For even if I am not worthy of it, yet your zeal [to help me] is an admirable thing. For "he who honours a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward." It is manifest also, that he who honours a prisoner of Jesus Christ shall receive the reward of the martyrs.

Epistle to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch Chapter 3 “Honour widows that are widows indeed.”Be the friend of orphans; for God is “the Father of the fatherless, and the Judge of the widows.”Do nothing without the bishops; for they are priests, and thou a servant of the priests. They baptize, offer sacrifice (ἱερουργέω = to act as a priest), ordain, and lay on hands; but thou ministerest to them, as the holy Stephen did at Jerusalem to James and the presbyters. Do not neglect the sacred meetings Specifically, assemblies for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. [of the saints]; inquire after every one by name. “Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example to the believers, both in word and conduct.”

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians Chapter V.--The praise of unity. "For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power that Christ stands in the midst of them, how much more will the prayer of the bishop and of the whole Church, ascending up in harmony to God, prevail for the granting of all their petitions in Christ! He, therefore, that separates himself from such, and does not meet in the society where sacrifices are offered, and with "the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven," is a wolf in sheep's clothing,

Here Ignatius is calling the church to honor their Bishop as is he were Christ himself because the office of the Bishop as Shepherd over the congregation is a type of Christ. And the Bishop, having the keys and authority of the priesthood, does not offer his own sacrifice, but is blessed to represent Christ and administer the flesh and blood of His great and last sacrifice to the church. So, while in reality, Christ is the Great and Only High Priest, and the only one to whom man can look for a remission of sin and for a hope of salvation, the naming of a Bishop as a high priest is not disrespectful to God but honors God because the office of Bishop is representative of Christ himself over the church.

Of course, the Bishop doesn't forgive sin any more than the Jewish High Priest did. The Bishop represents Christ and is ordained to not administer his own sacrifice but offer the flesh and blood, figuratively speaking, of Christ. Some have claimed, this doesn't count as an actual sin offering because the Bishop doesn't actually kill anything. The Lord's Supper is more a commemoration or memorial. But what this line of reasoning fails to recognize is that the Jewish High Priest's sacrifice, although literal, didn't actually forgive sin either. That sacrifice like the Lord's Supper was entirely representative and foreshadowed the infinite and eternal sacrifice of Christ which is the only sacrifice that works to forgive sin.

Accordingly, in the LDS church, with in the High or Melchizedek Priesthood which comprises the Elders, or Presbyters, there is a designation of high priest. And, all those who have served as a Bishop or in a bishopric are ordained to this office. When Christ organized his church there would have been very few men who would ever have the calling of Bishop and therefore have been considered a high priest because the church quickly went into apostasy and Bishops according to Clement were to serve for life (once a bishop always a bishop). However, today in the LDS church, Bishops are more routinely appointed for a period of 5-10 years. The LDS has a lay clergy, and the calling and releasing of bishops and bishoprics every 5-10 years gives more members the blessings of serving in this capacity. Accordingly, there are more in the LDS church who have had significant leadership experience and those with that experience are given the designation of high priests. However, we don't refer to those in this quorum by any special title.

When Joseph Smith was inspired to call and appoint Elders in the High Priesthood to the office of high priest, he didn't make these calls to suggest that anyone other than Christ could save. It was only out of respect and honor to God in the same spirit as Ignatius is explaining that Bishops were given this designation. Ignatius instructs the Saints to honor their Bishop because the office that the Bishop holds is holy and representative of Jesus Christ who is the Great Judge, Bishop, Shepherd, Apostle, and High Priest. Therefore, giving Bishops this designation helps us remember that Christ is King of kings, Lord of lords, the Most High God and the Most High Priest.

see Ps. 82, Heb. 3: 1, 1 Pet. 2: 25, Dan. 2: 47, Josh. 22: 22, Deut. 10: 17, Rev. 17: 14, Rev. 19: 16


T. Greer said...

I have greatly enjoyed reading your posts concerning the Bishops of the primitive church.

I am curious though as to what resources you use to find their letters, histories, and epistles. Perhaps you can provide some links (or books)?

~T. Greer, saying thanks.

BRoz said...

Links to the Early Church Fathers are in the right column.

New Advent/ECFathers/Wesley etc.