Individuality in the Church
It was a custom of the Apostles to send their Christian salutations to individual believers in the churches to which their epistles were written, but in no other epistle is it done so largely as in that to the Church at Rome.
In the last chapter there are not fewer than twenty-eight persons mentioned by name, besides two families, the heads of which are named, and other little circles of friends, called “the Church that is in their house,” or, “the brethren which are with them,” or “all the saints which are with them.” Of the number distinctly designated, seventeen or eighteen were men and ten were women.
The epithets, or descriptive expressions, applied to many of the individuals, are not without interest, as well as meaning. One is called “out sister, who is a servant of the Church ... a succourer of many and of myself also.” Others are named “my helpers in Christ Jesus,” “my work-fellow,” “well-beloved,” “beloved in the Lord,” “approved in Christ,” “in Christ before me,” “who bestowed much labour on us,” “my fellow-prisoners,” “who labour in the Lord,” “salute Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.”
It is further to be noticed that other Christians joined the Apostle in these particular messages. Eight persons, including the amanuensis, are named as taking the opportunity of sending their Christian greeting; most probably from their residence in Corinth to their friends in Rome.
The object of these apostolic messages was principally that of friendly remembrance of Christians, whom Paul had found to be distinguished by their piety and zeal in the little Church at Rome, who had given him their assistance in promoting his Gospel errand, or who were remembered from some other interesting association with his evangelical visits. Some of them had been ready to lay down their own necks to protect the Apostle from persecutors. Some were, in his mind, as “the first fruits of Achaia;” and one purpose was to commend to their attention a member of the Cenchrean Church, then about to go among them, probably the bearer of this introduction, on some concern of religious benevolence.
The chapter into which these paragraphs are thrown, furnishes traits of the early Church that may suggest some useful patterns for the imitation of our own day.
- One of these traits is the social fellowship of these primitive believers. They were duly organized churches with their officers, ordinances, and discipline; they had ministers of apostolic dugnity to serve them, and to be over them in the Lord. But the community was more than that of a corporate body, or an ecclesiastical estate, or a hierarchy. The mode of address used by this Apostle is more like that of an absent member of a family writing home, than that of a dignitary issuing an authoritative document. Yet it was more than an ordinary domestic letter he had been dictating. It was as a postscript to one of the most important theological and church papers ever transmitted through the instrumentality of man, that these holy greetings were inserted. But when the doctrines had been fully recorded, when the messages of the Holy Ghost had been first reduced to manuscript, with what honest simplicity does the pen of the writer set forth, in the incidental forms of the last page of a letter, the brotherly intimacy and affection that subsisted between himself and his correspondents. He calls them by name. He knows their families. He does not forget what individual members of the Church had done, nor their several characteristics.
This very mention of names shows that these disciples were on terms of intimate fellowship among themselves; otherwise, they could not comply with the writer’s request to communicate his messages one to another. And they were not only the twenty-eight individuals named that were thus known as one circle or class out of the whole Church; but such expressions are used as show the mutual acquaintance and fellowship to have been as wide as “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” Naming five persons, he adds, “and the brethren that are with them.” Naming five others, he adds, “and all the saints who are with them.” “Salute one another,” he says again. Paul himself must have felt this interest in them individually, and when he says, “without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Rom. i), it is most probable that he prayed not only distinctly for the Church at Rome, as he did also for that at Corinth, and that at Galatia (1 Cor. I, Gal. i), and for others (Eph. I, Phil, i, Col. I, 1 Thess i, 2 Thess. i), but that he prayed for them by name as individuals. The frequent messages and references to particular persons indicate this specific knowledge and regard on the part of the Apostle. He would not only say “greet them that love us in the faith,” “grace be with you all,” “salute every saint in Christ Jesus,” but, as John did, “greet the friends by name.” It is likely, therefore, that he prayed for them by name, and the more so, as he so often wrote “pray for me.” He remembered that Marcus was sister’s son to Barnabas; that Andronicus and Junias were converts before himself; that he had baptized Crispus and Gaius, and the household of Stephanas. In Rome, he remmeber that Euodias and Syntyche, of Philippi, were not of the same mind in the Lord. He did not forget that Onesiphorus visited him in prison; he prescribed for the ailments of Timothy; he provided for the personal comforts of Zenas and Apollos on their journey; he exerted himself for the slave Onesimus. He knew that the churches felt an interest in him personally, and could refer to such as Tychicus “that ye may know my affairs and who I do.” He thought that the Church of Philippi would be pleased to hear that Epaphroditus was recovering from illness, and he was glad at the arrival of Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus. What fervent fellowship must have prevailed in the Church.
- Another fact is evident from this chapter, and others like it; it was common to see active co-operation in the whole body of believers.
To be continued...