Lamb’s Harbinger on Clement I

Clement (I) of Rome is regarded by scholars of early Christianity as one of the earliest post-Apostolic Christian leaders, being supposed to have received appointment as an elder/overseer of the church at Rome by the Apostle Peter. Clement’s only letter (1 Clement), composed (logically speaking) sometime during his service to the Church of God at Rome, is dated from 88 A.D. to the mid-90s or late 90s A.D.. The letter provides insights into the practices (good and bad) of at least a couple of the earliest post-Apostolic churches, namely in ancient Rome and Corinth.

Unfortunately, for all the insights Clement’s letter provides, its contents and purposes are often twisted, in order to serve the ends of those who advocate a hierarchical, institutionalized Christianity that works by organizational offices and lordly “authority,” instead of the servanthood of equipping/restoring/edifying in a communal, egalitarian organism of Faith.

Clement certainly writes concerning bishops (i.e. overseers, a.k.a. “Pastors”), presbyters (i.e. elders) and deacons.

1Clem. 44:1 Our apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office. 2 For this reason, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the leaders mentioned earlier [bishops and deacons] and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. 3 These, therefore, who were appointed by them or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church… (bold mine, for emphasis)

Provision for Perpetual Supply of Care-givers, Not Legitimacy of Authority

However, Clement never comes near describing Apostolic Succession, which is—at its essence—an institutional means of claiming legitimate “spiritual authority,” based on traceable lineage of hierarchy by ecclesiastical Christendom (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican Communion, Lutheran).

Approval by the Whole (Local) Church

As Scot McKnight aptly recognizes, Clement most definitely was speaking of Church Order from God (“God, Christ, apostles, bishops, deacons”), which is God’s design for steadily supplying care-givers to the Body of Christ from within itself, while IT (the Church, not they: the “clergy”) stewards the Kingdom of Christ and God in the world. In other words, Clement never substantiates a hierarchical system of organizational (lordly) authority, such as an order or diocese or denomination or modern presbytery (much more cardinals and papacy). But, if we must put the matter in ecclesiastical terminology, Clement speaks only of that which correlates to a modern parish, particularly what takes place when a pastor/overseer (bishop)/elder or deacon of that parish dies (or is removed justly). Clement does not so much as mention the word successor, only that approved men would take the place of the deceased; and that approval was made by the whole church, which admittedly can happen only if the church in reference is localized—again, a parish.

Strife from Bereavement, not Throne Squabbling

Clement does write that the Apostles foreknew “strife” would occur over the office of Bishop, and were it not for Clement’s continued description of the Apostles’ reasons for establishing the offices of bishop and deacon, one would be severely tempted to think said strife should refer to arguments over who is the legitimate successor, the “rightful heir to the bishopric and title” [insert sarcastic tone for rhetorical effect]. Nothing could be further from the context of what Clement writes! What is more, such a proud and arrogant view of “the greatest among you” certainly negates the mandate and example of our Lord, “must be servant of all” (Matthew 20:28, 23:11; Mark 10:45; Luke 9:46, 22:26; John 13:1-17), and the charge of Peter for all overseers/elders to be subjected to each other as unto the Lord (1 Peter 5:1-5).

Rather than a hierarchical struggle to determine who is a maverick bastard rogue versus who has a pedigree throne claim, the letter of Clement reads on, “[the Apostles] gave the offices [bishop and deacon] a “permanent character; that is, IF THEY SHOULD DIE…” Undisputedly, Clement writes in the context of believers bereft of a beloved spiritual caregiver. What is to be done in such a case? Let an approved person take his place… an instruction that corroborates the Scriptural data of a multiplicity of elders/overseers and deacons in one local congregation.

The Apostles were informed by our Lord Jesus to make sure that explicit instructions were given to those they discipled (ex. Timothy, Titus) regarding the perpetual role of bishops and deacons. The Apostles themselves would die out. But, before their extinction, Christ issued a memorandum through His Apostles that established the specified roles of overseer and deacon as forever the Christ-authorized roles/callings by which to serve the Body as spiritual caregivers. Even though the role of Apostles was to die out, the roles of elder/overseer and deacon would not…. and, that very point is verifiable by the further context (44:4-6) of 1 Clement.

**[Note: the Apostles did not establish any other perpetual role: not Trustee, not Senior Pastor or Executive Pastor, not Archbishop, not Board Member, not chair of the board, not CEO, not president, not Cardinal, and not Pope].**

To Put Down the Spirit of Diotrephes

The alternate purpose for Clement 40-45 is confrontation and rebuttal of the unjustified removal of worthy bishops and presbyters by those apparently afflicted with the spirit of Diotrephes, Ignatius of Antioch, for example.

Evidently, Clement had heard report from Corinth that some believers there would not recognize the perpetual legitimacy of the role of overseers and presbyters (elders). I emphasize again, Clement was not substantiating hierarchical authoritarianism, as witnessed by today’s institutional, organizational “Church.” Rather, he addresses the causal problem. Some wanted to oust good and worthy elders; and for what other reason, besides the need to feel bigger themselves.

1Clem. 44:4,6 For it will be no small sin for us if we depose from the bishop’s office those who have offered the gifts blamelessly and in holiness. …6 For we see that you have removed certain people, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the ministry that had been held in honor by them blamelessly.

Think about the context. Here is a man, trained by the Apostle Peter for all we know. He is an overseer, a spiritual caregiver, among other overseers at the Church of God in Rome (hence, “we see…” (v. 6). Some concerned Corinthian believers write him a letter in much distress, because some in their parish reject the legitimacy of the role of elders and the work they do in forming Presbyteries here and there—every once in a while as the Spirit directs—to recognize what God is doing among the Body to supply future overseers and deacons. These dissenters try to oust the elders/presbyters, claiming they themselves (just like Diotrephes) are the only ones who have legitimacy. Sound familiar?

What does Clement reply? He essentially says,

Hey look, don’t let those power-hungry renegades concern you. The Apostles—through Jesus—were the ones who said overseers and deacons are legitimate roles in the Church forever. If an overseer dies, let one of the other church-wide approved men take his place…. and if people question the legitimacy of that process (whether because it seems too far removed from the Apostles or because they want the preeminence), then they’re the ones who are wicked & wrong.”

1 Clement: Still Not Scripture

1 Clement provides great material for a textual appendices to the inspired Scriptures. It helps the contemporary reader understand how the earliest, post-Apostolic churches functioned. Local congregations approved new overseers in a church-wide fashion, when one among the elders/overseers died. The presbyters (a local group of elders and other overseers) helped in that process. Some didn’t like that much. They wanted to bring down the worthy and legitimate elders, either out of ignorant doubt or out of the sheer domineering ambition to be legitimate and solely authoritative themselves, like Ignatius of Antioch, who taught that the loyalty of the congregants should be given to only one bishop—himself.

Still, 1 Clement is not Scripture. The Council of Nicaea and subsequent counsels determined that readily.



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