Early Christian Quotes on Ministry
Didache (1st Century) 11:4-6:
Welcome every apostle on arriving, as if he were the Lord. But he must not stay beyond one day. In case of necessity, however, the next day too. If he stays three days, he is a false prophet. On departing, an apostle must not accept anything save sufficient food to carry him till his next lodging. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.
Didache (1st Century) 11:12:
But if someone says in the Spirit, "Give me money, or something else," you must not heed him. However, if he tells you to give for others in need, no one must condemn him.
Didache (1st Century) 13:1-7:
Every genuine prophet who wants to settle with you "has a right to his support." Similarly, a genuine teacher himself, just like a "workman, has a right to his support." Hence take all the first fruits of vintage and harvest, and of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets. For they are your high priests. If, however, you have no prophet, give them to the poor. If you make bread, take the first fruits and give in accordance with the precept. Similarly, when you open a jar of wine or oil, take the first fruits and give them to the prophets. Indeed, of money, clothes, and of all your possessions, take such first fruits as you think right, and give in accordance with the precept.
Didache (1st Century) 15:1-2:
You must, then, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons who are a credit to the Lord, men who are gentle, generous, faithful, and well tried. For their ministry to you is identical with that of the prophets and teachers. You must not, therefore, despise them, for along with the prophets and teachers they enjoy a place of honor among you.
Epistle of Barnabas (1st Century) Chapter 19:
Thou shalt love, as the apple of thine eye, every one that speaketh to thee the word of the Lord.
The Shepherd of Hermas (1st or 2nd Century), Vision 3, Chapter 9:
Wherefore I now say to you who preside over the Church and love the first seats, “Be not like to drug-mixers. For the drug-mixers carry their drugs in boxes, but ye carry your drug and poison in your heart. Ye are hardened, and do not wish to cleanse your hearts, and to add unity of aim to purity of heart, that you may have mercy from the great King. Take heed, therefore, children, that these dissensions of yours do not deprive you of your life.
Odes of Solomon (1st or 2nd Century) 6:
As the wind glides through the harp and the strings speak,
So the Spirit of the Lord speaks through my members, and I speak through His love.
For He destroys whatever is alien, and everything is of the Lord.
For thus it was from the beginning, and will be until the end.
So that nothing shall be contrary, and nothing shall rise up against Him.
The Lord has multiplied his knowledge, and He was zealous that those things should be known which through His grace have been given to us.
And His praise He gave us on account of His name, our spirits praise His Holy Spirit.
For there went forth a stream, and it became a river great and broad; indeed it carried away everything, and it shattered and brought it to the Temple.
And the barriers which were built by men were not able to restrain it, nor even the arts of them who habitually restrain water.
For it spread over the surface of all the earth, and it filled everything.
Then all the thirsty upon the earth drank, and thirst was relieved and quenched;
For from the Most High the drink was given.
Blessed, therefore, are the ministers of that drink, who have been entrusted with His water.
They have refreshed the parched lips, and have aroused the paralyzed will.
Even living persons who were about to expire, they have held back from death.
And limbs which have collapsed, they have restored and set up.
They gave strength for their coming, and light for their eyes.
Because everyone recognized them as the Lord's, and lived by the living water of eternity. Hallelujah.
Ignatius’ Letter to Polycarp (Late 1st or Early 2nd Century) 4:1:
Let nothing be done without thy consent; neither do thou anything without the consentof God
Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrneans (Late 1st or Early 2nd Century) Chapter 8:
See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is[administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude[of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.
Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrneans (Late 1st or Early 2nd Century) Chapter 9:
Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness[of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does[in reality] serve the devil. Let all things, then, abound to you through grace, for ye are worthy. Ye have refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ[shall refresh] you. Ye have loved me when absent as well as when present. May God recompense you, for whose sake, while ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him.
Ignatius’ Letter to the Trallians (Late 1st or Early 2nd Century) Chapters 2-3, 7:
It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire.
In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church…
…he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.
Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians (Late 1st or Early 2nd Century) Chapter 3:
Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence,
Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians (Late 1st or Early 2nd Century) Chapter 7:
As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.
Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians (Late 1st or Early 2nd Century) Chapter 6:
Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.
Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians (Early 2nd Century) Chapter 11:
I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the Church]. I exhort you, therefore, that ye abstain from covetousness, and that ye be chaste and truthful. "Abstain from every form of evil." For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others ? … I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be ye then moderate in regard to this matter, and "do not count such as enemies," but call them back as suffering and straying members, that ye may save your whole body. For by so acting ye shall edify yourselves.
Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles (Late 2nd Century to Early 3rd Century):
[Jesus speaking] “Heal the bodies first, therefore, so that through the real powers of healing for their bodies, without medicine of the world, they may believe in you, that you have power to heal the illnesses of the heart also.”
Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book 4 (Late 2nd Century), Chapter 26, Paragraphs 2-3:
…it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church,-those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory…
Those, however, who are believed to be presbyters by many, but serve their own lusts, and, do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt towards others, and are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat, and work evil deeds in secret, saying, "No man sees us," shall be convicted by the Word, who does not judge after outward appearance (secundum gloriam), nor looks upon the countenance, but the heart; and they shall hear those words, to be found in Daniel the prophet: "O thou seed of Canaan, and not of Judah, beauty hath deceived thee, and lust perverted thy heart. Thou that art waxen old in wicked days, now thy sins which thou hast committed aforetime are come to light; for thou hast pronounced false judgments, and hast been accustomed to condemn the innocent, and to let the guilty go free, albeit the Lord saith, The innocent and the righteous shalt thou not slay." Of whom also did the Lord say: "But if the evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to smite the man-servants and maidens, and to eat and drink and be drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day that he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers."
Origen’s Against Celsus (Early to Mid-3rd Century) Book 8, Chapter 75:
Celsus also urges us to "take office in the government of the country, if that is required for the maintenance of the laws and the support of religion." But we recognise in each state the existence of another national organization founded by the Word of God, and we exhort those who are mighty in word and of blameless life to rule over Churches. Those who are ambitious of ruling we reject; but we constrain those who, through excess of modesty, are not easily induced to take a public charge in the Church of God. And those who rule over us well are under the constraining influence of the great King, whom we believe to be the Son of God, God the Word. And if those who govern in the Church, and are called rulers of the divine nation--that is, the Church--rule well, they rule in accordance with the divine commands, and never suffer themselves to be led astray by worldly policy. And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a diviner and more necessary service in the Church of God--for the salvation of men. And this service is at once necessary and right. They take charge of all--of those that are within, that they may day by day lead better lives, and of those that are without, that they may come to abound in holy words and in deeds of piety; and that, while thus worshipping God truly, and training up as many as they can in the same way, they may be filled with the word of God and the law of God, and thus be united with the Supreme God through His Son the Word, Wisdom, Truth, and Righteousness, who unites to God all who are resolved to conform their lives in all things to the law of God.
Cyprian’s Letter to the People (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraph 2:
I hear that certain of the presbyters, neither mindful of the Gospel nor considering what the martyrs have written to me, nor reserving to the bishop the honour of his priesthood and of his dignity, have already begun to communicate with the lapsed, and to offer on their behalf, and to give them the eucharist, when it was fitting that they should attain to these things in due course. For, as in smaller sins which are not committed against God, penitence may be fulfilled in a set time, and confession may be made with investigation of the life of him who fulfils the penitence, and no one can come to communion unless the hands of the bishop and clergy be first imposed upon him; how much more ought all such matters as these to be observed with caution and moderation, according to the discipline of the Lord, in these gravest and extremest sins!
Cyprian’s Letter to the Clergy (Mid-3rd Century):
Know, then, that I have made Saturus a reader, and Optatus, the confessor, a sub-deacon; whom already, by the general advice, we had made next to the clergy, in having entrusted to Saturus on Easter-day, once and again, the reading; and when with the teacher-presbyters we were carefully trying readers—in appointing Optatus from among the readers to be a teacher of the hearers;—examining, first of all, whether all things were found fitting in them, which ought to be found in such as were in preparation for the clerical office.
Cyprian’s Letter to the Lapsed (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraph 1:
Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop2310 and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: “I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”2311 Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers.
Cyprian’s Letter to the Clergy and the People (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraph 5:
Know, then, that these for the present are appointed readers…But know that I have already purposed the honour of the presbytery for them, that so they may be honoured with the same presents as the presbyters, and may share the monthly divisions in equalled quantities, to sit with us hereafter in their advanced and strengthened years; although in nothing can he seem to be inferior in the qualities of age who has consummated his age by the dignity of his glory.
Cyprian’s Letter Concerning Schismatic Presbyters (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraphs 5 and 7:
There is one God, and Christ is one, and there is one Church, and one chair [of authority] founded upon the rock by the word of the Lord. Another altar cannot be constituted nor a new priesthood be made, except the one altar and the one priesthood. Whosoever gathereth elsewhere, scattereth. Whatsoever is appointed by human madness, so that the divine disposition is violated, is adulterous, is impious, is sacrilegious. Depart far from the contagion of men of this kind, and flee from their words, avoiding them as a cancer and a plague, as the Lord warns you and says, “They are blind leaders of the blind. But if the blind lead the blind, they shall both fall into the ditch.”
But if anybody, refusing to repent and to make satisfaction to God, shall yield to the party of Felicissimus and his satellites, and shall join himself to the heretical faction, let him know that he cannot afterwards return to the Church and communicate with the bishops and the people of Christ.
Cyprian’s Letter to the People of Furni (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraph 1:
…it was decreed, in a council of the bishops, that no one should appoint any of the clergy and the ministers of God executor or guardian2736 by his will, since every one honoured by the divine priesthood, and ordained in the clerical service, ought to serve only the altar and sacrifices, and to have leisure for prayers and supplications...they who are promoted by clerical ordination in the Church of the Lord may be called off in no respect from the divine administration, nor be tied down by worldly anxieties and matters; but in the honour of the brethren who contribute, receiving as it were tenths of the fruits, they may not withdraw from the altars and sacrifices, but may serve day and night in heavenly and spiritual things.
Cyprian’s Letter to the Clergy and People in Spain (Mid-3rd Century) Paragraph 5:
…for the proper celebration of ordinations all the neighbouring bishops of the same province should assemble with that people for which a prelate is ordained. And the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct.
Find more of what the early Christians thought on my Christian History page!