Why I Read the Early Church Fathers and You Should Too!

“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Or so the saying goes.  In essence it means that those who don’t consider the past, when making choices in the present, will likely arrive at similarly bad conclusions.   This phrase strikes a chord with many.  Perhaps it is because we tend to always look forward, seldom pausing to consider the past.  Part of our DNA seems to include the belief that the next best thing is just up on the horizon.  Who can blame us?  Isn’t it often true?  At least with technology it is.  The next generation computer, or Iphone or IPad is going to be better than the previous one.  Things we build seem to improve over time, as we discover new ways of making them faster, smaller, bigger, cheaper, and more reliable.

Many within the evangelical Christian community seem to adopt this same belief when it comes to understanding Christianity and how that applies to our corporate lives.  We are often looking for the next thing, God’s next move, a “new and improved, better than the old” way of doing things.  It is here that the saying about history applies.  However, I would like to modify it to say this:  “Those who fail to understand where they have come from are likely to get off track and lose their way”.   This is what causes so many of the problems for the modern church.  We only look at the present to guide us as we move into the future.

This is one of the reasons I love reading the Early Church Fathers.  Specifically those who wrote prior to the Council of Nicaea: Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, The Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the Epistle of Barnabas among others.  They give us a view of how the earliest Christians understood the New Testament writings and more importantly how they lived their faith out.   Every time I sit down and read through one of the letters, I am richly rewarded.  Not because these guys wrote scripture.  Rather, it is because I feel a connection to them, as brothers who went before me.  As believers who followed Christ, I get to learn from them.

Many of us have no problem reading books by the heavy hitters of our own time.  These guys were the heavy hitters of their time.  Their writings, though not scripture, read like scripture.  You will find reading them very similar to reading the New Testament.

Many of these works you can get for free on the internet.  You can also buy them in book form.  My favorite one is The Apostolic Fathers, Greek Texts and English Translations, by Michael W. Holmes.  He also has one that contains only the english translation.  It is the newest, most up-to-date and hippest version out there.  Seriously, read the early church Fathers.  You will be glad you did.

About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on September 20, 2011, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Early Church History, The Christian Life, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I love the Early Church Fathers. In the Young Adult group I lead we periodically work through some of the documents from the Early Church.

    You usually talk about worship and music on this blog. How’s *this* for a bit of music-making?

    “It is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, and
    this you do. Your renowned presbytery is fitted to the bishop as strings are to a harp.
    This is why, in the symphony of your harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. The rest of
    you should also form a choir, so that, joining in the song, taking your key note from
    God, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may
    both hear you, and recognize in you the melodies of His Son.” – Ignatius to the Ephesians

    I put together what I think are accessible translations of Ignatius and Polycarp here: http://restlesspilgrim.net/blog/notes/patristics/


  2. Great advice as always Jim. My wife recently purchased me a NOOK, and at first, I was disappointed to find these old texts unavailable for purchase (I also enjoy them much). Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I searched the word “free,” to find someone is out there copying these writings and Barnes and Noble is letting NOOK owners download them free. Sometimes, they are difficult to read, (minor errors of letters here and there), but you can muddle through them and have a field day. By the way, I nominated you for Most Versatile Blogger. Thanks friend and God bless.


  3. Church History is very important to understand what the Bible is all about. If you didn’t read about Church History then you wouldn’t know that Paul was beheaded for his faith and that it didn’t end the way it did in ACTS unless I am mistaken. It can also clear up a lot of confusion about doctrines and theology, but what’s most important is what the Spirit reveals to you, at least that’s what I think.

    I enjoy your writing at times so this is why I say:

    Congratulations you have been nominated for THE MOST VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD – what do you need to do – check it out at my blog:


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