Ignatius of Antioch was sent to Rome to be killed sometime around 110 AD. During his trip to Rome, he wrote at least seven letters to churches and individuals. A letter to Polycarp as well as letters to the churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, Trallia, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna exist today. If you are interested in Ignatius, I’ve written about him in several posts: “Singing a Song of Unity“, “Gospel and Monoepiscopacy in Ignatius“, and “Ignatius, the church, and others“.
For Ignatius, unity was very important. Unity begins with One God, One Lord, and One faith. This also means that there must therefore be one gospel and one bishop. So, for Ignatius, unity with the Lord, the bishop, and one another will be very important when he discusses the meeting of the church:
Therefore, make every effort to come together frequently for gratitude and praise of God. For whenever you are together frequently, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and his destructive plan is ruined by your unity of faith. (Ign. Eph. 13:1)
[I will do this] especially if the Lord makes known to me that you all – man to man – come together in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality – that is, the antidote so that we would not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ. (Ign. Eph. 20:2)
Let your assemblies be more frequent. Seek all by name. (Ign. Pol. 4:2)
In the first passage, Ignatius focuses on the purpose of gathering together and the results of gathering together. In Ign. Eph. 13:1, he says that we should come together to proclaim both our gratitude for God and to proclaim God’s glory. The result of our meeting together is the destruction of Satan’s powers and his destructive plans. Ignatius does not fully explain what he means by this. However, in the next verse he writes, “Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.” In this context, it seems that Ignatius is saying that war is the work of Satan and that Christians defeat Satan by remaining in peace.
In the second passage (Ign. Eph. 20:2), the bishop focuses on coming together in unity. He emphasizes unity with one another due to our common grace and faith and the Lord Jesus. Primarily, this unity will be displayed in our mutual submission to leaders (the bishop and the presbyters) and in our partaking of a common meal (which would probably include the Lord’s Supper). It is very interesting that Ignatius associated the breaking of bread together with eternal life in Christ.
In the last passage, Ignatius only focuses on meeting together frequently. We don’t learn much more about his understanding of the church meeting from this.
As we can see, both the frequency of meetings and the unity of those involved is extremely important to Ignatius. Ignatius places much emphasis – both in the second passage and in other parts of his letters – on remaining in unity with the bishop. If you read through his letters, you will see that besides meeting together, Ignatius does not think that believers should do anything without the consent of the bishop. I believe this arises from his concern for unity among followers of Jesus Christ.