In the last few years, as I’ve been studying the history of the church, I have become very interested in the writings of the apostolic fathers – those Christians who lived and wrote soon after the death of the apostles. When they wrote about the church, they often diverged in their opinions – especially when it comes to church leadership.
Sometime around 110 AD, Ignatius was being taken from Antioch to Rome to be executed. On the way, he wrote seven letters – six letters to churches and one to Polycarp, who he addressed as the bishop of the church in Antioch. A few years later, Polycarp wrote a letter to the church in Phillipi.
In his letters, Ignatius focused on the authority of the bishops and the presbyters. But, Polycarp focused on another aspect of the life of Christian leaders. This is what he wrote to the Christians in Phillipi:
And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those who have been misled, being concerned about all the sick, and not neglecting a widow, an orphan, or a poor person, but always “providing for that which is good in the sight of God and man;” abstaining from all anger, partiality, and unrighteous judgment; staying far away from all covetousness, not hastily believing anything against anyone, not being abrupt in judgment, knowing that we are all debtors to sin. (Pol., Phil., 6.1)
As an elder, I think it is interesting to see this exhortation from Polycarp. Of course, this is powerful because it aligns with what Scripture says about elders, as well as all followers of Jesus Christ. May we all take Polycarps exhortation seriously, and exhort one another to live in a way (like this) that brings glory to God.