Is going to church really that important?

Let no man deceive himself: if anyone be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Matt. 18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. (Ignatius, To the Ephesians 5)

For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. (Ignatius, To the Philadelphians 3)

And as in the sea there are islands, some of them habitable, and well-watered, and fruitful, with havens and harbors in which the storm-tossed may find refuge,—so God has given to the world which is driven and tempest-tossed by sins, assemblies—we mean holy churches—in which survive the doctrines of the truth, as in the island-harbors of good anchorage; and into these run those who desire to be saved, being lovers of the truth, and wishing to escape the wrath and judgment of God. And as, again, there are other islands, rocky and without water, and barren, and infested by wild beasts, and uninhabitable, and serving only to injure navigators and the storm-tossed, on which ships are wrecked, and those driven among them perish,—so there are doctrines of error—I mean heresies—which destroy those who approach them. For they are not guided by the word of truth; but as pirates, when they have filled their vessels, drive them on the fore-mentioned places, that they may spoil them: so also it happens in the case of those who err from the truth, that they are all totally ruined by their error. (Theophilus, To Autolycus II, 14)

The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If anyone could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. (Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church 6)

But, moreover, the very interrogation which is put in baptism is a witness of the truth. For when we say, “Dost thou believe in eternal life and remission of sins through the holy Church?” we mean that remission of sins is not granted except in the Church, and that among heretics, where there is no Church, sins cannot be put away. (Cyprian, Epistle 69.2)

Moreover, all other heretics, if they have separated themselves from the Church of God, can have nothing of power or of grace, since all power and grace are established in the Church where the elders453 preside, who possess the power both of baptizing, and of imposition of hands, and of ordaining. (Cyprian, Epistle 74.7)

But what is the greatness of his error, and what the depth of his blindness, who says that remission of sins can be granted in the synagogues of heretics, and does not abide on the foundation of the one Church which was once based by Christ upon the rock, may be perceived from this, that Christ said to Peter alone, “Whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19) (Cyprian, Epistle 74.16)

Obviously, the fathers have quite a bit more in mind than simply “going to church.” But none of what they have in mind happens without a person first going to church…faithfully.

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Polycarp and Aleyna

Late I gained first-hand acquaintance with the Church fathers. Their writings breathe Scripture. Their lives shine forth the Spirit. I try to be reading from them or of them constantly. And when I for some reason spend extended times apart from their company, I always return in shame: wondering why I ever left. But, as I said, I am late. Soon enough to profit, but not soon enough to be truly rich. Alas, God knows.

So, like all frustrated parents, I seek to live my life over through my children. At least one of them is a joyful recipient of my endeavors. I recently acquired the first three books in Sinclair Ferguson’s Heroes of the Faith Series. They cover the lives of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus. Today I finished reading Polycarp of Smyrna: The Man Whose Faith Lasted. At the end of the book, Ferguson informs the reader of the literal meaning of Polycarp’s name: much fruit. Ferguson writes, “Polycarp was a Christian who had ‘much fruit’. His Christian friends became stronger because of him. They loved Jesus more because of him. And they learned this from Polycarp. . . Jesus is worth living for and he is worth dying for.”

I am grateful that it is true of Polycarp, “though he died, he still speaks.” I am thankful that he is still teaching his friends that Jesus is worth living for and worth dying for. I pray that my daughter Aleyna falls in love with her fathers and is able to mine the treasures I will never be able to. She may be on her way. She is already choosing Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus over Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter (i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia.)

If you know nothing of Polycarp, here is a portion of the work The Martyrdom of Polycarp:

Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!” No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

Now go and read the whole thing here.