Early Church History, Part 3 - Living Gospel Daily


Early Church History, Part 3

THE MAN, CLEMENT OF ROME We left off, in Part 2 of our Early Church History Series, learning a little bit about Paul’s role in the church. Not only was he a missionary, evangelist, writer and


We left off, in Part 2 of our Early Church History Series, learning a little bit about Paul’s role in the church. Not only was he a missionary, evangelist, writer and encourager of the brethren, but he was a church planter as well. Even in disputes that arose, as they surely did in that time, he managed to weigh everything against the things that Jesus taught Himself, and hammered out the details in the light of the Truth.

We move on now to the one of the first of the early preachers that picked up and carried Paul’s mission of spreading the original gospel. While we don’t have a great deal in the way of writings from Clement of Rome, we do have a few, along with some oral traditions, which were common in that day.

First Apostolic Father of the Church

Clement is probably best known in the Catholic church, but he is also considered the very first Apostolic Father of the church. There is very little that is known about his life. Tradition states that Peter consecrated him, and he was a key member of the church that was in Rome in the latter part of the first century. This ordination by Peter, however, is disputed, as there is no concrete evidence that points to such a thing, other than traditions spoken by some who supposed it to be true.

It is also thought by some that Clement was the leader of the church in Rome, however this is unsubstantiated as well, as far as we know. He was, more than likely, one of the great numbers of men and women who assisted Paul in his work and journeys. As much work as Paul did in Rome, one would think that if Clement were as high as that, that Paul would have written more about him in his letters to the other churches.

In fact, it is this Clement, we believe, that Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:3 when he says, “And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.”

It is the only time in Scripture that Clement is mentioned, and from just this small piece, we see that Paul esteems him very highly. He is said to have died during the third year of the reign of Emperor Trajan, in Greece, between 99 and 101 AD.

Clement Writes the Corinthians

The only writing that is genuinely regarded as his is a letter that he wrote to the Corinthian Church, which is also known as 1 Clement. The letter was to be included in the Bible itself, according to some traditions, but there were violent disputes about this and it was forbidden by Bishops of the Nicene Council during Constantine’s reign.

This letter was written as a response to disputes that were going on in the Corinthian church about the leaders. Clement wrote that the church leaders truly had authority there, because the disciples and apostles had ordained it. This letter was often read in the church, along with other letters and epistles that came to be included in the Bible, and was regarded very highly because of the author.

Of course, Paul had written to the Corinthian church previously himself, as there were problems that threatened to tear the church apart there amidst the carnality of the city of Corinth. Clement had written to, in addition to other things, renew their peace and faith and continue to proclaim the gospel that had converted him when he received it from the apostles.

From Clement’s Letter

Clement begins his letter to the Corinthians… “The Church of God which is at Rome, to the Church of God which is at Corinth, elect, sanctified by the will of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord: Christ, be multiplied unto you.

Brethren, the sudden and unexpected dangers and calamities that have fallen upon us, have, we fear, made us the more slow in our consideration of those things which you inquired of us: As also that wicked and detestable sedition, so unbecoming the elect of God, which a few headstrong and self-willed men have fomented to such a degree of madness, that your venerable and renowned name, so worthy of all men to be beloved, is greatly blasphemed thereby.

For who that has ever been among you has not experienced the firmness of your faith, and its fruitfulness in all good works; and admired the temper and moderation of your religion in Christ; and published abroad the magnificence of your hospitality; and thought you happy in your perfect and certain knowledge of the Gospel.” (1 Clement 1:1-4)

Throughout his letter, Clement went on to warn that strife inside the church was almost always due to envy. He goes on to say that it was envy that made Cain kill Abel, made Joseph’s brothers sell his as a slave, and caused Saul to relentlessly pursue David to kill him. He also said that envy alienated wives from their husbands, and has overthrown great cities and rooted up mighty armies.

Along with this speech, he went on to say that Scripture had, in time past, shown that the Lord is ever willing to give repentance to those who turn back to Him. Take Jonah and Noah, for instance. They both preached repentance as necessary.

Clement Continues To Reason

Clement continued to reason with the Corinthians, from a place of compassion, asking them to have a humble mind, to lay aside haughtiness, pride, anger and foolishness. He was especially concerned with, and taught, the things that Jesus Himself had taught about long-suffering and meekness.

He argued that no thought of our own is hidden from God, and our obedience should be solely to Him and to no human leader of any kind. He said that we should remember that we are not justified through our own understanding, through our works, or our perceived godliness. He said that we are only justified “by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men.”

Clement said, “let us hurry with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work.” In other words, there was never a reason for self-promotion, self-vindication or any other kind of selfishness. Rather Christians should always seek to work together, in peace and harmony.

He encouraged them greatly, telling the younger men to repent of the things that had been such a discouragement to the church. With a true heart, he said, “Pray for those who have fallen into sin, that meekness and humility may be given to them, so that they may submit, not unto us, but to the will of God.”

The Early Church Was Not Perfect

It is easy for us to think that the early church was pure and free from troubles. However, reading, especially through Paul’s letter, we find that he often had to write to churches in order to help them get back on the path to Truth. Where flesh begins to lead, people tend to stray away from the things and ways of God, into their own desire for how things should be. Moreover, that is just what had happened in the Corinthian church, on more than one occasion.

Clement even goes so far as to blame the deaths of Peter and Paul on the same kind of envy and jealousy that was going on in the Corinthian church: “Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars (speaking of Peter and Paul) were persecuted and contended unto death.”

Tacticus, the historian, said that many times, it was information from Christians themselves that led to the arrest and execution of other Christians.

The letter that Clement had written to the Corinthian church was to be read there for a great many years. Not only that, but it was read in other churches throughout Rome as well. Having been written by one such as Clement, who knew Peter and Paul personally, it was considered of great worth. Clement not only had the heart of a pastor for all the Christians, but he was an invaluable guide for the churches in that first century, especially after Peter and Paul had died.

No Apologies Made

As it was common in those days, there was no apology whatsoever for what might have been considered a private affair for the Corinthian church alone. Instead, Clement apologizes in his letter for delaying his writing, as if they were expecting him to do so sooner.

For them to be expecting his intervention they would have to have either already conceded that their congregation was under the jurisdiction of the Roman church, or that they had agreed, as a congregation unto themselves, that they would accept the arbitration of another church, or a single arbitrator such as Clement himself.

More of Clement’s Letter on How Divisions Arose

“All honour and enlargement was given unto you; and so was fulfilled that which is written, my beloved did eat and drink, he was enlarged and waxed fat, and he kicked. From hence came emulation, and envy, and strife, and sedition; persecution and disorder, war and captivity.

So they who were of no renown, lifted up themselves against the honourable; those of no reputation against those who were in respect; the foolish against the wise; the young men against the aged. Therefore righteousness and peace are departed from you, because every one hath forsaken the fear of God; and is grown blind in his faith; nor walketh by the rule of God’s commandments nor liveth as is fitting of Christ.

But every on follows his own wicked lusts: having taken up an unjust and wicked envy, by which death first entered into the world.”

To hear Clement speak in such a way to the Corinthians sounds much like Paul’s own exhortations to the many churches he advised. Keeping oneself focused on the teachings of Jesus, and thus the teachings of God, would be the only way in which this church could continue without being completely torn apart. Both Paul and Clement knew that, and it is clear from each of their writings, that they plainly stayed within the realm of the teachings of Jesus and Him alone.

Clement Speaks of Peter and Paul

From 1 Clement 3:12 and on, we read, “Let us set before our eyes, the holy Apostles; Peter by unjust envy underwent not one or two, but many sufferings; till at last being martyred, he went to the place of glory that was due unto him. For the same cause did Paul in like manner receive the reward of his patience. Seven times he was in bonds; he was whipped, was stoned; he preached both in the East and in the West; leaving behind him the glorious report of his faith;

And so having taught the whole world righteousness, and for that end traveled even to the utmost bounds of the West; he at last suffered martyrdom by the command of the governors, and departed out of the world, and went unto his holy place; having become a most eminent pattern of patience unto all ages.

To these Holy Apostles were joined a very great number of others, who having through envy undergone in like manner many pains and torments, have left a glorious example to us. For this, not only men but women have been persecuted; and having suffered very grievous and cruel punishments, have finished the course of their faith with firmness; and though weak in body, yet received a glorious reward.

This has alienated the minds even of women from their husbands; and changed what was once said by our father Adam; This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. In a word, envy and strife, have overturned whole cities, and rooted out great nations from off the earth.”

Catholic Claims About Clement

According to Catholic tradition, Clement was one of the first that Peter baptized. It is also said that Clement introduced the use of the word “Amen”, and appointed seven notaries to edit and file news and information about those martyred for Christ.

However, it does not seem possible that Clement could have appointed anyone. At that time, during the first century, the church at Rome at which he was in attendance was neither large, nor did it have a great deal of staff. Additionally, no historical writings, including the Bible, say anything at all about Peter having baptized Clement. It appears to have been a complete fabrication, in fact. Even in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic scholars admit to the fact that some believe Clement had succeeded Peter, but many did not. Still, no proof was shown.

Catholics also believe that since Clement sent his letter, 1 Clement, to the church at Corinth, signifies that he had some type of authority over all the other churches. It is their basis in the earliest proof that the cathedra went to Rome’s bishops and, according to this reasoning, is why it remains there to this day.

However, the problem with this line of thought is that no individual is ever listed within the letter itself relating to authorship. If it was from Clement, and everyone agrees that it was, he obviously never believed that he had the authority, or the ecclesiastical chair, to have said so, leaving the letter unsigned.

The second reason this does not make sense is that there was no sign that the Corinthians wrote to Clement themselves. And finally, there is an admission from Catholic scholarship that admits 1 Clement, the letter, does not support the idea that prior to the death of the apostles, specifically Peter and Paul, that they appointed a single man as bishop over all the many churches they had planted.

A Roman Catholic book, written by Stephen K. Ray in 1999, entitled, Upon This Rock, St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, seeks to claim that letters to the Romans from Ignatius, and Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, proves the very primacy of the church of Rome. However, the author himself states, “There is no clear statement in either Clement or Ignatius, in the form of a dogmatic pronouncement of Rome’s primacy” (page 141).

Facts That We Know For Sure

So what of actual, Biblical fact concerning Clement? There are a few things that we know for sure. One is that there was, indeed, a Christian man who was well acquainted with the apostle Paul. However, there is no historical proof to Clement being an apostle, nor a pope, nor a bishop.

With no real historical information concerning facts about his life, teaching, or his death, we cannot agree that there is any regency in his being a successor of Peter. In fact, many of what has been taken as proof by oral tradition have been called errors by Roman Catholic scholars themselves, as they have no historical, documented evidence or proof of such statements.

History records nothing important about the man, other than Paul’s mention of him in the Bible and a brief listing of him as a man by Irenaeus, some six hundred years after Clement’s death.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name be the glory
Because of Your love and your faithfulness!

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