I first learned about Ignatius during my second stint at Bible college. I also learned that there are two prominent Ignatius’s in Church history. The better known was Ignatius of Loyola. He was a Spanish priest in Catholicism during the sixteen century who helped found the missionary effort known as the Society of Jesus, or The Jesuits (En.4). The lesser known was Ignatius of Antioch. He was an early Church Father, Christian writer, and Patriarch of Antioch late in the first century, at a time when some of the original Apostles would have still been alive (En.5).
What was the Patriarch of Antioch? The Patriarch of Antioch was a title given to the Bishop of Antioch. What was the Bishop of Antioch? The word “bishop” was simply another translation of the word scripture uses for elder, which is also sometimes translated overseer, presbyter, minister, or priest. All these words are more familiar to us. To us, these aren’t just words. They’re titles. They’re official positions of authority. They’re official positions of authority in a local church. But it wasn’t always that way. And, it wasn’t that way in the time of Ignatius. It wasn’t that way in the time of Ignatius, because Ignatius was partly responsible for that change.
One thing about history; it’s usually written and rewritten after the fact, through the lens and perspective of a different time. Did Ignatius of Antioch consider himself the Patriarch of Antioch? Was he The Bishop of the Church in Antioch? Was he the supreme and pre-emanate Elder in the Antioch Church, over and above all the other Elders and Deacons in that church? Or was he thus honored and titled after the fact by those who saw him that way?
It’s hard to say, because that is not explicitly written down. What we can say is that a different kind of Church, at a different time, viewed him that way because of the way it viewed itself. That Church was the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was more vested in local churches with One Leader, instead of a multiplicity of spiritually mature leaders. That was part of Satan’s counter Plan to infiltrate and attack the Church from within. Part of that Plan had to do with Ignatius.
During the first and second centuries, Christians experienced periods of intense persecution. One such period was during the time of Ignatius. As a result, he was put on trial and condemned to execution in the games at Rome. While he was being transported to Rome for execution, a series of interesting events took place.
First, his route to Rome went the long way. For some reason, the Roman cohort taking him to his death didn’t go straight there. They wound around and through many different cities on their way. Many of those cities also had early, fledgling churches.
The second interesting occurrence was that Ignatius was allowed to meet with those churches, to speak and encourage them on his way. It was unusual for a Roman prisoner on his way to execution to be allowed such liberty. But sometimes, Roman soldiers would allow for a prisoner to be fed and housed by friends, instead of having to pay the cost themselves.
The third strange occurrence was that Ignatius was also allowed to write seven letters to seven different churches in other cities, to teach and encourage them in the same manner. It is because of those letters that we know anything about Ignatius at all.
One of the things gleaned from those letters was that Ignatius was the first Christian writer to call for a single Bishop over each local church body. He was also the first known person to reference the idea of a universal Church. The word “universal” is also translated “catholic”. This is the first time the idea of a more institutional Church was put forth (En.5).
Why did Ignatius call for organizing local church bodies under a single bishop? Was this something that was already beginning to form organically in local churches? Was this a new idea presented by Ignatius himself? It’s hard to say.
One thing is certain, the Church was under severe persecution, and Ignatius was seeking to protect it from that persecution. He was also seeking to shore up and protect it from false teaching. To do both, he thought it best to appoint a single Bishop over every church. Ignatius was reacting to severe circumstances. But was his reaction a fearful overreaction?
It's hard to say what was really going on. We can only guess. What we can say is that the idea of a single Bishop that was forming in the Church at the beginning of the second century was in contradiction to the way Jesus and Paul set out to organize the Church. Whatever his reasons for adapting the second century church away from the organizational model of Jesus and Paul, Ignatius unknowingly played into the hands of Satan.
Satan’s ultimate Plan was to Prostitute the Church to his form of power. What is his form of power? His form of power is a top down, authoritarian control. It can be pictured like a pyramid, with him at the top, and everyone below feeding power to him, and getting power from him. This form of power is most easily visible in the nation-states of the world. Scripture is clear that the order and organization of nation-states is empowered and patterned after Satan, and the way he desires to rule.
It’s no coincidence that Satan offered this very form of power to Jesus right before he began his ministry. Jesus was the Descendant spoken about by God in the Garden in His judgement of Satan. When Jesus showed up to kick-start God’s counter Plan, Satan was ready and waiting. This moment is called the “Three Temptations of Christ”.
Satan’s first temptation was directed at Jesus himself. Satan told Jesus something like, “if you’re really this Descendant come to thwart my Plan to keep humanity disconnected from God, prove it by turning stones into bread” (my wording of Matthew 4:3).
Jesus was the Bread of Heaven. Jesus was bread and wine, food and drink. Jesus was offering himself as communion. Jesus was the power of God available to all who would partake. Jesus came to reconnect humanity back to the Father. That’s why his answer to Satan’s first challenge was, “it is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
The first temptation wasn’t about bread. It was about our source of provision in God. Satan was tempting Jesus to move without the Father. As Jesus said later, “my food is to do the will of the Father” (John 4:34). He was saying the same thing here to Satan. What we need most is God Himself, not the lessor, material things God can give. Satan was trying to get Jesus focused on the wrong source. But Jesus wasn’t fooled. Jesus knew that he needed to be completely dependent on the Father, and that through Jesus, we would too. Satan got his first of three strikes.
Satan’s next attack was against the Holy Spirit. Satan took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and quoted the promises in Psalm 91, telling Jesus that he should jump and God would catch him (Matthew 4:5-6).
Jesus had already told Satan that his marching orders came from God, not him. But Satan was persistent. The manifest and miraculous aspect of God is the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself needed to be baptized by the Holy Spirit in order to start and fulfill his earthly ministry (Matthew 3:13-17). Here Satan wasn’t just challenging Jesus to jump and see if the Spirit would catch him, he was challenging Jesus to lead the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ response was, “it is written ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the Test’” (Matthew 4:7). Later Jesus put it another way, saying that a wicked and evil generation seeks a sign (Matthew 16:4).
Satan was challenging Jesus to seek a sign, to put God to the test, by attempting to lead and force the Holy Spirit’s hand. But Jesus wasn’t fooled. He knew how the Spirit works. The Spirit is like the wind. No one can tell where the Spirit comes from, or where the Spirit is going (John 3:8). We don’t direct the Spirit. The Spirit directs us. Jesus didn’t take the bait. He rejected Satan’s offer to test and grieve the Holy Spirit. Satan got his second of three strikes.
Satan’s next and final attack was against God the Father. He took Jesus up to a high mountain, showed him the kingdoms of the world, and offered them to Jesus if he’d bow down and worship Satan (Matthew 4:8-9). Satan got the most direct with Jesus in this third temptation. He offered Jesus the entirety of his power, the control of all the nations on the earth. These nations were the manifest representation of Satan’s kingdom. Getting Jesus to use Satan’s power would contradict God’s entire Plan to call humanity back into God’s kingdom. You can’t use Satan’s kingdom to accomplish God’s will. God’s power and God’s kingdom are intrinsically linked. So are Satan’s. Using Satan’s power would only bolster our separation from God. Jesus understood that. That’s why he told Satan directly, “Go away Satan! For it is written: ‘you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’” (Matthew 4:10). Satan got his third and final strike.
At that point Satan gave up and left, but only for the moment. In his Gospel Luke added this detail, that Satan left Jesus “until a more opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Satan lost that day with Jesus. But the fight wasn’t over. Satan’s Plan was to supplant the Trinity at the center of the Church. He laid out that Plan in those three temptations. Jesus didn’t fall for it. As a result, Jesus was able to successfully establish the Church in the power and presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
Then, along came Paul. Paul was commissioned by Jesus to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. In the process, Paul took a lot of missionary trips, and planted a lot of churches. He also visited and wrote to a lot of those churches in order to help organize them. He organized them according to Jesus’ model. Paul understood the need for a group of mature, Spirit-filled leaders at the head of every local church, in order to keep Jesus’ discipleship process going, in order to keep everyone growing into a connection with God through the Holy Spirit.
Then, along came Ignatius. Ignatius decided to make a slight alteration to the organization of the Church. He decided there should be one main Bishop over every church. That didn’t mean that other mature Elders and Deacons weren’t still fulfilling Jesus’ mission to continue making disciples, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It did mean that one person suddenly had more power than every other person in each local body. That small change may not have made a big difference in the second century, to the overall health and function of the Church. But eventually, it would become much more significant, because it opened up the possibility for Satan to move forward with his Plan.
The first step of Satan’s Plan was; One Leader.
The second step of Satan’s Plan was; One Church.
A crack in the door of Church had finally opened for Satan. He was going to take full advantage of that opportunity.