Ignatius – Bishop of Antioch

Antioch in Syria is the first place where believers were called “Christians” and it was the home church for Paul and Barnabas, from which Paul launched his missionary journeys. Other early church writers identify Peter as the first bishop of Antioch, even though the New Testament bases him in Jerusalem.

Following Peter, the next bishop was Euodius, of whom we know next to nothing, and then Ignatius.

His Life

Dates for Ignatius’ life suggest he was born in 35AD and died as a martyr in Rome in 107AD. Some historians believe that the Apostle John survived until as late as 110AD and so Ignatius most likely met John. It is also possible that he met Paul, even though there is no account of it.

Some historians believe that Ignatius was martyred as late as 115AD.

Ignatius was not highly educated but he was a much loved bishop. While little is known of his early life and even of his work as a bishop, we have a richer resource from the time of his death. En route to Rome, where he was to be executed, Ignatius wrote seven letters, mostly to churches. These letters, along with records of his death from others, provide our understanding of this man of God.

Ignatius is revealed as a man who communicates simply and directly and who draws much on Biblical language and idioms. He displays a passionate devotion to His Lord, calling himself ‘Theophorus’, meaning the God Carrier. He is regarded as “one of the most attractive of the early church fathers”.

Martyrdom

Roman Emperor Trajan was not particularly aggressive in his persecution of Christians, but if one was brought to trial the only possibility was a death sentence. When Ignatius was arrested by the Imperial authorities it was decided that he should be executed in Rome, as a warning to the growing number of Christians, since he was a high profile Christian leader.

Guarded by ten Roman soldiers, Ignatius was first taken to Smyrna, where he would most certainly have met with Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. While there he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome.

When he reached Troas, Ignatius wrote a further three letters, to the Christians at Smyrna and Philadelphia and also to Polycarp. It is understood that the local churches welcomed Ignatius as he made his long overland journey to Rome. They held him in great honour.

Ignatius was finally fed to the beasts in the Colosseum “for the gratification of the people” (as Trajan put it).

Theophorus

In his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius refers to himself as theophorus, the God bearer. He also uses this term to identify himself before Emperor Trajan.

Ignatius explained that Theophorus referred to one who “has Christ within his breast”. Trajan asked, “Do you mean Him who was crucified under Pontius Pilate?” “Do you then carry within you Him that was crucified?” Ignatius answered, “Truly so”.

We see in these comments a very real grasp of Paul’s repeated theme of Christ in us (2Corinthians 13:5, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 3:17, Colossians 1:27). How wonderful if all Christians could live with this reality as a daily awareness.

The Pre-eminence of Bishops

One of the controversial issues springing from Ignatius’ letters is his emphasis on a single bishop who must be obeyed by the church. The notions of apostolic succession and church hierarchy find strength in the early development of leading Bishops.

Ignatius refers to a single bishop and a presbytery, suggesting a pastoral group under the direction of a single leader, with an office superior to them. Note these quotes from his letters….

“You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father. Follow, too, the presbytery as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as you would God’s law. Nobody must do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop’s approval.”

“For there is one flesh of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and one cup of his blood that makes us one, and one altar just as there is one bishop along with the presbytery and the deacons”

Raising Doubts

Back in the fifteen and sixteenth centuries scholars raised doubts about the authenticity of the letters which promoted the role of the bishop. Their authenticity has been supported by scholarship since then, but as recently as the 1980’s it has been suggested by Rius-Camps that a forger concocted some of the letters, using genuine material mixed with additions, to promote the concepts of church unity and the absolute authority of the bishop.

Main Themes

The main themes which spring from his letters are: Christian unity; authority of the clergy; and the glorious privilege of Christian martyrdom. He warns against the development of factions and against the heresy of Docetism, which denied the material existence of Christ.

Of his own sentencing to martyrdom he said, “I am God’s wheat, ground fine by the lion’s teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.” “I thank You, O Lord, that You have chosen to honour me with a perfect love towards You, and have made me to be bound with iron chains, like Your Apostle Paul.”

John Williams Transforms Polynesia

On November 20 John Williams was clubbed to death and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromanga in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). It was 1839 – and he was 43 years of age.

Born in London 27 June, 1796 at Tottenham High Cross, he came from evangelical stock, his father a Baptist and his mother influenced by the Calvinistic Methodist movement. At age 14 John was apprenticed to an ironmonger and was soon managing the business.

At age 19 he was converted to Christianity and joined the Calvinistic Methodist Tabernacle Church, where Rev Wilks taught him grammar and exegesis.

At the age of 20 he offered himself to the London Missionary Society.

He married Mary Chauner and together they set sail for the Society Islands of the Pacific in December, 1816, sent out by the London Missionary Society. The mission team collected another member at Rio de Janeiro then travelled on to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). There in March 1817 Williams preached the first evangelical service on that soil, defying official church opposition by preaching in the open air. In May they arrived in Sydney and established good relations with Governor Lachlan Macquarie, on the promise of good trading prospects from the Pacific Islands.

On November 17, 1817 John and Mary arrived in Tahiti. John mastered the language in 10 months and was ready to preach! Williams was one of those unstoppable missionaries who seemed to take every obstacle in his stride. He was regarded as the most enterprising missionary in the islands.

He set to work building a boat – the first of five – which would enable him to sail to the other islands. But such a course of action did not meet with the approval of the mission directors back in England.

It was the old, old question, oft to be repeated: Who knows best – the man on the field where the action is, or the administrators in their office back home?

“The years that followed were tainted by conflict – sometimes heated and bitter – as Williams in flagrant violation of the directors’ mandate continued his nautical activity” (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth Tucker).

In December 1821 Williams and his wife visited Sydney for three months, where he preached and addressed public meetings. He also bought a ship with Rev Samuel Marsden’s reluctant approval, to trade between Raiatea and Sydney; and he engaged Thomas Scott to teach cultivation of sugar-cane and tobacco to the people of Raiatea. Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane was so impressed by Williams that he supplied stock to the mission and gave him magisterial authority for the islands.

In 1823 Williams travelled from the Society Group to the Hervey Group of islands and discovered Rarotonga where most of the inhabitants were soon converted. Williams later translated parts of the Bible and other books into Rarotongan and the Rarotongan’s asked him to create a civil and legal code for them, based on Christianity.

In 1838, when Williams had become a public figure, he returned to Sydney in the newly outfitted mission ship Camden, and drew considerable crowds to his meetings. He was returning form London (1834-1838) where he had given evidence before the committee of the House of Commons on Aborigines, and so was influential in the establishment of the local Aborigines Protection Society. In 1837 he published “Narrative of Missionary Enterprise in the South Sea Islands” throwing valuable light on Polynesia.

It is recorded that during his 22 years of ministry, this Apostle to Polynesia saw 300,000 natives brought to Christ. He taught them to build houses and furniture, churches and schools, and raise sugar cane. Natives were trained as teachers and as missionaries to other islands. The Rarotongan translation of the New Testament was printed during his lifetime.

“In 1823,” Williams wrote, “I found them (the Raratongans) all heathens; in 1834 they were all professing Christians. At the former period I found them with idols … in 1834 congregations amounting to 6000 persons assembled every Sabbath day; I found them without a written language, and left them reading in their own tongue the wonderful works of God” (Epoch Makers of Modern Missions, page 127).

Williams believed that Australia had a divine responsibility to take the gospel to the Pacific.

On 20 November, 1839, at the age of 43, he visited the isle of Erromanga, and was clubbed to death by hostile cannibals. His is one of the great stories of missionary endeavour with which every Christian should be acquainted.

Another famous missionary, John Coleridge Patteson, was martyred in the New Hebrides in 1871. That account can be found posted for September 20, 2008.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Bishop James Hannington the First Martyr in Uganda

This is the day that Bishop James Hannington was martyred. It was 1885 and the place was Uganda, Africa.

Of all the nations in Africa, Uganda was the most responsive to the gospel in the early missionary days. In the 1870’s mission work began in Uganda with the favour of King Mutesa, who died in 1884. Mutesa’s son and successor, King Mwanga, opposed all foreign presence, including the missions. He was suspicious of the Germans who were grabbing territory.

Hannington was to become the first martyr in Uganda. Adventurous from his youth, young James blew off his thumb while experimenting with black powder. In time he became an Anglican clergyman and was successful in his parish work.

He had already been ordained to the Anglican clergy when he read Grace and Truth. And it was this, he tells us, that caused him to “spring out of bed and leap about the room rejoicing that Jesus died for me!” (Crusaders for Christ, by A. Borland, page 46).

In 1882 he left England to carry the Gospel to Uganda. He failed to reach the African nation, due to fevers which left him unable to walk. When he walked, he tied his hands around his neck to relieve the agony in his arms. Yet he made humorous sketches of his plight and recounted the story of his adventures for his young relatives.

Recounting his own misadventures and the deaths of other missionaries claimed by illness Hannington told his readers, “What your uncle under went is only what many out there are going through, and must continue to go through, before a native ministry can be raised up to carry on the grand work of evangelising Africa.” He did not know then just how much he would have to undergo.

Following his recuperation in England Hannington made a second attempt to reach Uganda. En route he is credited with starting the first mission station in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. “First mission station in the area [of current Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro] opened at Moshi, on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, by Bishop James Hannington, just a few weeks before he was martyred by the Kabaka of Buganda.”

Hannington decided to approach Uganda from the north, but was suspected of being in league with the land hungry Germans. A huge war party of 1,000 Ugandan soldiers was sent to intercept him. They took him prisoner on October 21, but showed some leniency. They allowed him to view the Nile.

During the next week Hannington kept a diary of his tortuous ordeal. He was cruelly treated, bound, dragged along the ground, starved and shut up in a native hut without ventilation.

“In spite of all, and feeling I was being dragged away to be murdered at a distance, I sang ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’ and laughed at the very agony of my situation.”

Eight days later “a gunshot was heard and Bishop Hannington fell, his body speared by the two natives who stood at his side …” He was 38 years of age.

We know most of this tragic detail because one of the Ugandans kept Hannington’s journal and sold it to a later expedition.

Hannington was not the only one killed, as others in his travelling party suffered the same fate. Hannington’s last words are recorded as: “Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”

But Hannington’s blood was not the last to flow in Uganda. The first native martyr was the Roman Catholic Joseph Mkasa Balikuddembe, beheaded for rebuking the king for his debauchery and for Bishop Hannington’s murder. Then in 1886 32 men and boys were burned at the stake, including many from King Mwanga’s household.

In recent history, the tyrant Idi Amin killed Christians in Uganda. In 1977 the Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum and many other Christians suffered death for their faith under Idi Amin’s rule.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

George Blaurock Initiates Re-Baptism

This is the day that … George Blaurock was burned to death, in 1529.

Blaurock was born Jörg vom Hause Jakob, in 1492 in Bonaduz, a village in Grisons, Switzerland.

An ex-Roman Catholic priest, he had been converted to Protestantism when he was about 34 years of age.

That same year Conrad Grebel debated Ulrich Zwingli on the issue of infant baptism. Both were Protestant, but Grebel had become convinced that baptism was for believers only. Zwingli held to the belief that children of Christians were to be baptised as infants, on the same basis that the Old Testament required circumcision. Nothing was resolved by the debate.

Blaurock (so named because of a blue coat he wore on one occasion) went to Zurich to consult with Zwingli, but was disappointed in him. He then met with Grebel and Felix Manz and resonated with their commitment to Biblical truth.

Blaurock was already married at this time, so it appears that he had already abandoned the non-biblical practices of the Catholic church.

In a meeting in which the small group discoursed on their commitment to Biblical practice, rather than church tradition, they were deeply moved by this new conviction and Blaurock asked to be baptised as a believer, as the New Testament recorded. Once George was baptised the others asked him to baptize them.

Thus George Blaurock not only became an associate of Grebel but instigated the practice of re-baptism, becoming a vigorous preacher in the newly formed Anabaptist movement. At the time this rebaptism was performed by pouring, rather than total immersion.

There followed “tireless evangelism” around Switzerland, and clashes with the followers of Zwingli. Eventually Blaurock was arrested (on 8 October, 1525), escaped (on 21 March, 1526), re-arrested (in December, 1526) and sentenced to death (on 5 January, 1527). This sentence was, however, altered to a public flogging and exile from Zurich.

He maintained most of his ministry by dodging those who opposed him, preaching in a variety of places and using remote locations. His itinerant preaching ministry continued until he was arrested again in August, 1529. Death came at the age of 38.

A German historian identified Blaurock’s ideals as “freedom of religion, liberty of conscience, (and) the equality of all citizens before the law”. He also composed hymns which have endured in German worship to this day.

Georg Blaurock was one of the noblest martyrs of the Christian Church. For the brotherhood he helped to found he cheerfully sacrificed everything, honor and respect, freedom and comfort, property and goods, wife and child, body and life for the sake of his Lord and Saviour. Under the sign of adult baptism he gave the brotherhood its actual reason for existence in the world.

It was Blaurock’s falling away from the Catholic priesthood and from the Catholic Church, with his repudiation of the Mass, the confessional, and the adoration of Mary that marked him as a criminal worthy of death.

His biographer writes: “George Blaurock was a pioneer evangelist. His methods were sometimes crude and his remarks impolite. But he was sincere, untiring and courageous in spreading the gospel as he understood it. He was the apostle of the Anabaptists to the common people.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Anne Askew Burned at the Stake

This is the day that … Anne Askew was burned at the stake, in 1546.

Although reared in the Roman Catholic faith, and married to Thomas Kyne, a devout Roman Catholic, Anne read the chained Bible that Henry VIII had caused to be placed in Lincoln Cathedral. The truth of the gospel dawned upon her and she became a Protestant.

In March, 1545, she was arrested and accused of heretical beliefs – even of “tainting the Queen with heresy,” for she had once been employed as maid of honour to one of Henry’s many wives.

During her examination – or ‘inquisition’ might be a better word – before Bishop Bouner – she was required to sign a document declaring her allegiance to the ‘doctrine’ of transubstantiation.

And this she refused to do. “Concerning your Mass,” she told her judges, “I do say and believe it to be the most abominable idol that is in the world. For my God will not be eaten by teeth, neither yet dieth He again …”

Her fate was sealed. With three other ‘heretics’, she was martyred at Smithfield, London, at the age of 24 or 25.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.