Spiritual Leadership Benchmarks from Polycarp


polycarp

Consider the quote from St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (Chapter 6):

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man; abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself. Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offense, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

St. Polycarp (69-156AD), the bishop/pastor of the church of Smyrna, describes qualities that are to be expected of spiritual leaders within the church.

It is curious that in Evangelical churches I have attended, the qualifications for pastors has always been brought from the pastoral epistles of Paul, or some very recent books on church governance. While these are critical for guidance, these books are not the only insight that the church has given us. In Evangelical churches “soli scriptura” is supposed to mean that it is only the Holy Bible that is fully reliable for our faith and practice. Unfortunately, some have misunderstood the doctrine to mean that we ignore wisdom from 2 millenia of church history. It is strange that only the Holy Bible, and books written in the last 30 years, are taken seriously. St. Polycarp, for example, is one of the early church fathers that we should take seriously as one who was both an early protector of the faith, and a fine example of a faithful church leader. What does he have to say?

Spiritual leaders are to be compassionate and merciful to all, just, good and faithful servants, holding onto what is true.

Compassionate and merciful to all.

  • Seeking to restore those who have fallen away doctrinally or morally
  • Visiting all the sick
  • Caring for those in need, such as widows, orphans, and the poor.
  • Being merciful in judging or making decisions
  • Being quick to forgive others.
  • Maintaining control of one’s anger

Just.

  • Not showing favoritism to certain people because of, for example, their wealth or status
  • Avoiding the temptation of dishonest or self-serving judgments/decisions
  • Not being greedy or motivated by desire for others wealth or status.
  • Not quick to believe bad things about other people (even if it is tempting to think so)
  • Recognizing that we all are guilty of sin at times

Be a good and faithful servant

  • Serving God with fear and reverence,
  • Obedient to the commands of Christ, the words of the apostles, and the Old Testament Prophets.
  • Pursuing zealously that which is good.

Holding onto what is true.

  • Not actively or passively causing offense or confusion in the church
  • Avoiding apostasy and those who confuse people in the church with false doctrines.

These seem like good benchmarks for spiritual leaderhip both in of the church and out.

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