Friday, February 20, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Epistle LXVIII

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Epistle LXVIII

In this longish Epistle, Cyprian responds to several charges made against him that one of his former congregants has apparently started believing. Again, we see this tied into Cyprian's view of polity. His problem is not so much that bad things are being said about him (though no doubt that is also troubling), as it is that his office is being called into question. And so Cyprian highlights that an unjust accusation against a pastor or elder is functionally an attack on the Divinely established church order. Again, I'm going to agree and disagree with Cyprian at the same time. Cyprian writes:
You ought to know that the bishop [pastor] is in the church, and the church in the bishop; and if anyone be not with the bishop, that he is not in the church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God's priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the church, which is catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests [pastors/elders] who cohere with one another. 
What's important to remember here is that at this point, Cyprian is geographically separated from his flock. In that sense, his call to unity is an absolutely true one. However much the world persecutes us, they cannot dissolve the unity of the church. What's more, Cyprian is right than an unjustified attack on the leadership of the church is an attack on the organic body of believers established by God.
Here's the thing, so long as he's willing to turn this around and say that an unjustified attack on a member/congregant of the church is also an attack on the organic body of believers, I'm on board with him. But to hold up the leadership as if it were central while the congregation is somehow unnecessary (if nothing else, where does the leadership get drawn from?), well that's just unbiblical. The body of the church is the gather of members and leaders together, not one without the other.

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