Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ANF 5: Cyprian Epistles II-VI

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistles II-VI

In the second Epistle, the Roman elders write to Cyprian's church (giving him the title "pope," interestingly enough) that just because their pastor has gone into hiding (from the persecution), they were still required to pursue the Scriptural business of the church. However frightening it may be, we still are obligated to obey God rather than man and stand in the faith. In this case, it means sorting through the question of what to do with those who give in to persecution, but then repent. We are to remind them of the truth, and encourage them to repent, and then receive them back in on their repentance. Of course, the other business of the church ought to go on as well--care for the poor, catechizing the new believers, and so on.

Epistle III is a brief and friendly reply to Epistle II, and just asking for confirmation that the letter Cyprian received was the one that was indeed sent.

Epistle IV is Cyprian's encouragement to the church leadership that even though he is in hiding, they need to continue doing the work of the church--caring for those in prison for the faith, caring for poor believers, and maintaining a Gospel peace among believers. Epistle V expands this charge and again emphasizes that even in persecution, and even in the absence of the church's pastor, the life and business of the church must go on. This includes not only care for the poor, but the pursuit of holiness and obedience within the church body by individual members of the congregation.

Epistle VI is Cyprian's letter encouraging an elder and "other confessors" to cling to the practice of the faith, even in persecution and trials in the world. Christians are not Christians if they believe and then fall away, but rather when we preserve to the end we give true evidence of our faith. "faith itself and saving birth makes alive, not by being received, but by being preserved."  This means both our public confession to the world and to each other, and our holy practice.

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