Clement wrote an important letter around the year 95 to the church at Corinth, which was having troubles with its leadership. Some refused to follow church leaders. “The office of bishop gives rise to intrigues,” Clement says.
The change from apostles like Paul and charismatic preachers like Apollo to bishops was not an easy one for early communities like the Corinthians. There was no blueprint mapping new church structures after the death of the apostles. New structures had to evolve. Clement appealed to the Corinthians to do what Jesus told his followers to do: follow him as a flock follows its shepherd. They must walk together.
“We see ourselves reflected in him,” Clement reminds the Corinthians.Then, using the the Roman legions as an analogy, he urges them to be like soldiers who depend on one another. They must be a community to be the church of Jesus Christ.
“Think of the soldiers who serve under our generals, and with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. Not all are prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.
“Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head. The very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. All work harmoniously together and they are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.
In Christ Jesus let our whole body be preserved intact. Let every one of us be subject to his neighbor, according to the special gift bestowed upon him.
Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor bless God, who has given them what they need. Let the wise display their wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to themselves, but leave witness to be borne to them by others. Let those who are pure in the flesh not grow proud of it and boast, knowing another has bestowed the gift of continence on them.
Let us consider, then, brothers and sisters, of what matter we were made. Let us consider how we came into this world, as it were out of a grave, and from utter darkness: who and what manner of beings we were. God who made us and fashioned us, having prepared bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into this world.
Since we receive all these things from God, we ought for everything to give God thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Evidently, the problem Clement addressed was not limited to Corinth. His letter was read in a number of other Christian communities at the time. The transition from apostles to bishops was not an easy one.
The problem Clement addressed is not limited to early times. We face It today.