By Not Known

Over the last few weeks we have met some Christian heroes of the second century: Polycarp, Felicitas and Justin. These all bore outward testimony to Jesus and were all martyred for his sake.

Meanwhile the church grew in numbers and in its geographical spread. This was a church like any other in history: an imperfect company of imperfect saints. Problems soon arose within local churches and required help.

The Corinthian church needed attention from the Apostle Paul for its problems in New Testament times. Further problems arose later in the first century. The ‘fitting and orderly way’ that Paul had commended to Corinth (1 Cor 14:50)fell apart. Some senior church leaders were summarily deposed and disorder threatened.

News of this reached Rome where Clement was the key leader. He is called ‘bishop’. This means that he was a senior local church leader rather than a modern-day regional bishop. This Clement may be the person mentioned in Philippians 4:3 and almost certainly knew the apostles Peter and Paul at Rome as a young man. He was born in the modern Ukraine and lived AD40-99.

Clement wrote to the troubled church in Corinth. ‘The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians’ was probably written in AD96 and is the first surviving Christian writing after the New Testament. It was read alongside Paul’s letters at Corinth as late as AD170.

Clement’s letter is warmly pastoral and has wise words for the church of any age as it faces disagreements and conflicts. Notice how he commends gentleness towards fellow-believers and points us towards Christ:

Let us cleave, therefore, to those who cultivate peace with godliness. … For Christ is of those who are humble-minded and not of those who exalt themselves over the flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the sceptre of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance … but in a lowly condition.

…. Let our whole body then be preserved in Christ Jesus and let everyone be subject to his neighbour.

It is inevitable that problems arise within churches. What matters is how we resolve them. Clement sets an example of decisive action, rather than dithering. He shows us the way of peacemaking that looks to Christ and bids us look not to our own interests but to that of the whole church.

David Burke