Polycarp: Any relevance? What did Herbert W. Armstrong teach about him?

“Martyrdom of Polycarp” from Ceiling of the Church of St. Polycarp, Smyrna (now called Izmir, Turkey)


February 23rd is considered the “Feast of Polycarp” by the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholics. Some believe that he was martyred on that date (though an early Spring martyrdom seems to have been more likely; see Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter), and thus some read parts or all of a second century account called The Martyrdom of Polycarp.

While the day supposedly in his honor appears to be a Church of Rome, and not Church of God, day, were his beliefs more like the latter than the former?


Was Polycarp Protestant or Eastern Orthodox?

No. (For more on Protestant vs. COG views, check out the free online book (which has statues of Polycarp and Martin Luther shown on the front cover): Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God Differs from Protestantism.

Who was Polycarp?

Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. In the late 1st century (or the early second century) he was put in charge of the Church of God in Smyrna. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox revere him as a saint (as do some Protestants). We in the Continuing Church of God primarily trace our early history from Peter, Paul, and John through Polycarp (we also trace our history through other areas that had faithful Christians for a while, such as Jerusalem).

Almost everyone associated with Christendom considers that Polycarp was a true and faithful Christian leader.

In the late second century, the Catholic and Orthodox saint Irenaeus wrote:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).

So if Polycarp was a faithful saint who was appointed by the apostles, then perhaps real Christians would follow his practices as he followed the Bible?

In the famous account of his martyrdom, he made some statements that even under the face of death suggested that he had a sense of humor:

9:1 But as Polycarp entered into the stadium, a voice came to him from heaven; ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.’ And no one saw the speaker, but those of our people who were present heard the voice. And at length, when he was brought up, there was a great tumult, for they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended.

9:2 When then he was brought before him, the proconsul enquired whether he were the man. And on his confessing that he was, he tried to persuade him to a denial saying, ‘Have respect to thine age,’ and other things in accordance therewith, as it is their wont to say; ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent and say, Away with the atheists.’

Then Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, ‘Away with the atheists.’

9:3 But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, ‘Swear the oath, and I will release You; revile the Christ,’ Polycarp said, ‘Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’

Perhaps it should be mentioned that some have interpreted the above account as proof that Polycarp died at age 86 and hence was baptized as an infant, yet another ancient document (known as the Harris Fragments) records that he lived until age 104. This is supportive that Polycarp was baptized at age 18 (see also Baptism and the Early Church) and NOT as an infant.

And even though many Greco-Romans observe the presumed date of his martyrdom as a feast, it is not likely that many of those who do so realize that he held many (though not all) views that sometimes conflict with those now held by the Greco-Roman churches.

Actually, Polycarp was a heretic fighter and even tried to get Anicetus, Bishop of Rome to change and keep Passover on the same date that we in the Continuing Church of God do. Instead the Church of Rome, the Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestants keep the wrong day and observe that day differently than Polycarp did.

Here is a summary of some of Polycarp’s doctrinal beliefs and practices:

A Binitarian view, that acknowledged the Holy Spirit, was held by the apostolic and post-apostolic true Christian leaders, like Polycarp.
Hierarchical church governance was advocated by Polycarp.
The canon of the New Testament was known by Polycarp as he seemed to refer to all the books it in the famous Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians.
Christmas was not observed by Polycarp nor any professing Christ prior to the third century, or ever by those holding to early teachings.
Deification of Christians after the resurrection was taught by the early leaders of the Church, including Polycarp.
Easter per se was not observed by the apostolic church, and Polycarp fought against it.
The Fall Holy Days were observed by true early Christians, including Polycarp.
The Father was considered to be God by all early professing Christians, including Polycarp.
Polycarp taught against idols (and that would include icons).
Polycarp taught against the immortality of the soul.
Jesus was considered to be God by the true Christians, including Polycarp.
The Kingdom of God was taught by Polycarp.
Leavened Bread was removed from the homes of early Christians like Polycarp.
Lent was not observed by Polycarp.
Limbo was not taught by Polycarp.
Military Service was not allowed for true early Christians like Polycarp.
Millenarianism (a literal thousand year reign of Christ on Earth, often called the millennium) was taught by the early Christians who succeeded Polycarp.
Passover was kept on the 14th of Nisan Polycarp.
Purgatory was not taught by Polycarp.
The Resurrection of the dead was taught Polycarp.
The Sabbath was observed on Saturday by Polycarp.
The Ten Commandments were observed by the apostolic and true post-apostolic Christians, including Polycarp–and in the order that the Continuing Church of God claims they are in.

The Continuing Church of God has all of the same beliefs and practices as Polycarp (although we observe no particular day in his honor).

Herbert W. Armstrong personally wrote:

But Christ said to His Philadelphia era Church, that because we have but little strength, He would OPEN THOSE DOORS TO US (Rev. 3:8)” (Letter 11/19/76).

The PURPOSE for which Christ built the Church exemplifies its WORK … 1) To ANNOUNCE to the world for its witness the coming Kingdom of God…2) To prepare the people to whom God adds to the Church…God has always worked with humans. He has worked with O N E M A N at a time … The WORK consists of proclaiming the Gospel, by radio, by television, in print (Armstrong HW. JUST WHAT IS THE WORK? PASTOR GENERAL’S REPORT – VOL.3, NO.6 February 6, 1981)

God has always, in dealing with humans, worked through ONE MAN at a time — one who believed God! Some in ancient Israel challenged this one-man leadership. Some, like-wise, have challenged it today! … In founding God’s Church, Jesus worked primarily through one man, Peter, even though He originally chose His 12 disciples. Few have ever noticed how Peter was the real leader. Jesus had told His disciples to go NOT to the gentiles, but to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel.” … Notice now PETER’S preeminence. Few have ever put all these scriptures together as I shall now do. This shows PETER was leader. … And, though there were other apostles, God worked primarily through ONE man –PETER! Has God changed? Or is He the SAME still today? … The Jerusalem conference (Acts 15) showed that PETER was predominant over even Paul, although Paul was the ONE MAN God worked through primarily in the ministry to gentiles. The CHURCH is GOD’S Church. (Armstrong, Herbert W. And NOW Christ Sets Church Back On Track Doctrinally. Good News, April 1979).

Notice that Herbert Armstrong believed that God mainly worked through the leadership of one man at a time to lead various phases of the work. Scripture, shows for example, that the mantle passed from Elijah to Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-15). The ‘mantle’ would currently be with the person/group that truly functioned as the ‘pillar and ground of truth’ (1 Timothy 3:15).

For fifty years in the second century, according to Herbert W. Armstrong, that man was Polycarp:

It is significant that after his release John trained Polycarp elder of Smyrna, a city near Ephesus in the province of Asia. … At neighboring Smyrna, Polycarp presided over the Church of God for half a century after John’s death. Polycarp stood up boldly for the truth while many fell away and began having fellowship with the Catholic bishops of Rome. History relates that following the example of Peter, Paul and John, Polycarp wrote many letters to congregations and individuals, though all these have perished, save one in an edited version. (Armstrong HW. The Church They Couldn’t Destroy. Good News, December 1981)

For over 50 years in the 20th century, it was Herbert W. Armstrong. And in the 21st century, such a leader would be directing the Final Phase of the Work.

If Polycarp really was a saint that was placed in charge by Christ’s apostles–which he was–shouldn’t you have the same beliefs and practices?

A statue of Polycarp is featured on the front cover of our book HHope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God Differs from Protestantism:

That book also has the following chart showing how Polycarp differed from the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (who the other statue on the cover represents):

Polycarp Martin Luther
Trained by the original apostles. Trained by the Church of Rome.
Ordained by the original apostles. Ordained by the Church of Rome.
Related all things in accordance with scripture. Relied on tradition if he did not care for the scriptural position.
Taught the word of God. Felt he could change parts of the word of God.
Taught the importance of all the scriptures. Diminished the importance of many books of the Bible.
Had a binitarian view of the Godhead. Taught a trinitarian view of the Godhead.
Only baptized adults. Promoted infant baptism and condemned those that did not accept it.
Did not eat unclean meat. Ate biblically unclean meat.
Taught the Ten Commandments. Taught a version of the Ten Commandments.
Kept the Sabbath. Promoted Sunday.
Observed biblical holy days. Observed non-biblical holidays.
Kept Passover on the 14th. Kept Easter Sunday.
Had no idols or icons. Had crosses and Christmas trees.
Warned that a Latin man would be 666. Taught that the Pope was the Antichrist.
Believed in ‘soul sleep.’ Taught soul sleep.
Understood that God would offer salvation to all and that most would be saved. Taught that most would be lost and that most would not get a real offer of salvation.
Taught the Kingdom of God was the reward. Taught that heaven was the reward.
Endorsed the millennial doctrine. Condemned the millennial doctrine.
Taught against Christian military involvement. Condemned those that did not endorse Protestant military involvement.
Warned about the “vanity of many.” Warned against select Roman Catholic positions.
Died as a martyr. Had ill health for many years and died shortly after having a stroke.

Polycarp stood for and taught the original apostolic Christian faith (additional details on Polycarp’s specific teachings can be found at https://www.cogwriter.com/polycarp.htm), while Martin Luther often did not.

The Continuing Church of God is put together the following sermon on its ContinuingCOG channel:


What Type of Catholic was Polycarp of Smyrna?

The ‘Martyrdom of Polycarp states, “The church of God which sojourns at Smyrna to the Church of God which sojourns in Philomelium and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place … the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna.” What type of Catholic was Polycarp: Roman, Eastern Orthodox, or Church of God? Did he have apostolic succession from the Apostle John or Paul? How long did he live? What did he teach? What his associates like Papias or successors like Melito and Polycrates? Did he keep Passover or Easter? Did he keep the Sabbath and biblical holy days or Christmas? Was he trinitarian or binitarian? Did he endorse the Ten Commandments? Did he denounce anti-millennialists like Marcion of Pontus and trinitarians like Valentinus? Did Polycarp know the books of the New Testament? Did he teach in accordance with scripture? Did he not heed the changes from Roman Bishop Anicetus (now known as Pope Anicetus I). Did Polycarp teach doctrines that were later condemned by the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholic churches? Was there succession from the See of Ephesus which might also be called the See of Smyrna? Is there a church today with the same basic teachings and commitments to scripture that Polycarp of Smyrna held to? Dr. Thiel address these issues and more.

Here is a link to the sermon: What Type of Catholic was Polycarp of Smyrna?

Polycarp was a faithful Church of God Christian. Hopefully, you are as well.

Several items of possibly related interest may include:

Beliefs of the Original Catholic Church Did the original “catholic church” have doctrines held by the Continuing Church of God? Did Church of God leaders uses the term “catholic church” to ever describe the church they were part of? Here are links to related sermons: Original Catholic Church of God? and What Type of Catholic was Polycarp of Smyrna?
The Smyrna Church Era was predominant circa 135 A.D. to circa 450 A.D. The Church led by Polycarp, Melito, Polycrates, etc.Here is a link to a related video sermon: The Smyrna Church Era.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Polycarp of Smyrna: Why Christians should know more about him The Church of Rome, Eastern Orthodox, Continuing Church of God, and various Protestants consider that Polycarp of Smyrna was a saint and a significant Christian leader in Asia Minor in the second century. What is unique about Polycarp? Was he really a successor to the apostles? What did he teach? Does he prove infant baptism? How old was he when he was martyred? Did he and his successors hold Church of God or Church of Rome doctrines? This is a YouTube video sermon.
Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians Did Polycarp refer to all the books in the New Testament? This is Roberts and Donaldson’s translation, corrected by me in one place, where they made a small error in translating Latin by omitting one word. It is also annotated with scriptures to demonstrate that Polycarp did have the New Testament canon.
Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter Polycarp was the successor of the Apostle John and a major leader in Asia Minor. Do you know much about what he taught? Does the Continuing Church of God or the Church of Rome more faithfully follow his teachings and practices?
The Martyrdom of Polycarp This was written shortly after Polycarp died; likely involving Papirius. A mistranslation is corrected in this version.
Polycarp, Fragments from Victor of Capua This may have been written by Polycarp or “pseudo-Polycarp”.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
Why Should American Catholics Should Fear Unity with the Orthodox? Are the current ecumenical meetings a good thing or will they result in disaster? Is doctrinal compromise good?
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Continuing Church of God Both groups claim to be the original church, but both groups have differing ways to claim it. Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are? Here is a link to a related sermon: Eastern Orthodox 40+ Similar Beliefs to the CCOG.
Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God Differs from Protestantism The CCOG is NOT Protestant. This free online book explains how the real Church of God differs from mainstream/traditional Protestants. Several sermons related to the free book are also available: Protestant, Baptist, and CCOG History; The First Protestant, God’s Command, Grace, & Character; The New Testament, Martin Luther, and the Canon; Eucharist, Passover, and Easter; Views of Jews, Lost Tribes, Warfare, & Baptism; Scripture vs. Tradition, Sabbath vs. Sunday; Church Services, Sunday, Heaven, and God’s Plan; Seventh Day Baptists/Adventists/Messianics: Protestant or COG?; Millennial Kingdom of God and God’s Plan of Salvation; Crosses, Trees, Tithes, and Unclean Meats; The Godhead and the Trinity; Fleeing or Rapture?; and Ecumenism, Rome, and CCOG Differences.
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries and Continuing History of the Church of God: 17th-20th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, French: L’Histoire Continue de l’Église de Dieu and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.
CCOG.ORG Continuing Church of God The group striving to be most faithful amongst all real Christian groups to the word of God.

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