Faith of Our Fathers
The Character of Polycarp: Second Century
Written by Bill Burkett
The last half of the second century was a time of tremendous crisis for the church. Two heresies (departures from truth) became a serious threat to apostolic teaching. They were gnosticism and Montanism.
One went so far as to deny that Christ even appeared on earth. Ridiculous humanist concepts of Christ were springing up everywhere. One group of gnostics taught that Christ was seen and observed but was a mirage and not in the flesh.
These teachings were blatant contradictions of the apostles writings. These evil men simply did not respect the writings of the apostles and became authority unto themselves.
Montanism taught that the Holy Spirit did not come on the day of Pentecost as scripture records, but that the Holy Spirit was now (AD 180) to be given and that the end of the world was at hand. The church was being inundated with many new and false teachings. (Does that sound familiar?)
Constantinople in that time was a very rich shipping port. A man by the name of Marcion was among those who made a fortune in that enterprise. Marcion became a Christian and fell in among the gnostics who held many teachings that were contrary to scripture.
As time went on, Marcion sold his shipping business in Constantinople and moved to Rome becoming one of the leading teachers of gnostic ideas in the church there with many followers. He made large gifts of money to the needy and became a leading figure in the false teachings of gnosticism.
In every age of the church, God has chosen men and movements to stand up against devilish heresies that threaten to corrupt the church. The character of these men who stood for the truth of scripture in the church’s early history was of a very special caliber.
Christianity was in it’s small beginning and growing fast but not liked by powerful elements within the government and the popular religious power structures. Philosophers, heretics and heathen apologists came against the church with fury and persecution.
It was about this time that the great converted philosopher, Justin, was martyred at Rome. This served notice on the church that it was living in peril by holding to the teachings of the Nazarene. The Apostolic Fathers stood firm.
The church was being dangerously threatened by enemies within and without.
About this time, Polycarp had moved from the region of Constantinople to Smyrna where he became the bishop (senior pastor) of the church. Polycarp was a staunch champion of the faith, fully embracing the teaching of scriptures. Before moving to Smyrna from the East, he knew Marcian there and probably his Father also.
But these two men, Polycarp and Marcian, took two very different courses in their faith. Polycarp, a Father of the faith; Marcian a spoiler and heretic though rich and influential.
Polycarp, while living in Smyrna, paid a visit to Rome. Marcion and Polycarp met during that visit. Several of Marcion’s men were with him. Marcion knew that if the godly Polycarp would approve him, it would give him more power and influence over the church.
Marcion kept urging Polycarp to be more tolerant and fellowship with their people, Polycarp would not submit. There was only silence from him.
Finally Marcion cried out to Polycarp, “Recognize us Polycarp, recognize us!”
Polycarp said, “I recognize you, you are the firstborn of Satan.”
If it were not for the firm character of our church Fathers, what would have happened to the early church being overridden with powerful and persuasive teachers of false doctrine? The answer is, the same thing that will happen today if the Polycarps do not return!