Warning: Reading the Early Church Writings May Challenge Your Faith (So don’t it!)

“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.

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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 October 6, 2016, in Christianity, Early Church History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. At church a few weeks ago, we had a discussion of the history of the church and how we have gotten to where we are today. It was very interesting and I wanted to learn more. I’m glad to have found these posts of yours, and I’ll be reading through them. I have the feeling that we have gotten a bit off course! Just looking at the two sacraments of baptism and communion…how many differences are there?!? Anyway, looking forward to reading more! Thanks for posting these!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp,

    Out of curiosity, do you know of any secular historical evidence/references for these characters, especially Ignatius.

    Just asking …after all he was supposed to have lived to a ripe old age and had a career that supposedly spanned decades, yes?

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    • Ark, are saying that you don’t think these guys ever existed? We have their writings, or at least writings claimed to be written by then. That should count as some type of evidence.

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      • …or at least writings claimed to be written by then.

        I think you might just be on to something there …
        I take it you are not aware of any secular references?

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        • I am not aware, but that doesn’t mean there are not any. But If I had to guess, I would say there are not any. But why would you expect there to be? These guy were obscure people in the secular world.

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        • Ignatius was sentenced to death and hauled off to Rome. He supposedly had a career as a Top Nob in the church that spanned decades and there is not a single piece of contemporary or secular writing about him. Not a scrap!
          Come on. You sound like an intelligent bloke. Surely you have done some research and have not simply accepted this stuff from your old pastor or Sunday school teacher?

          Would you accept the statement from a fanatical AC/DC fan that Angus Young was the greatest guitarist to have ever lived?
          Well, would you?

          And as for Ignatius’ martyrdom …
          What were the charges, do you know?
          Why would Trajan spend all that effort dragging Ignatius’ arse to Rome to be executed when he could have done the job at his spot? And from his letters he seemed to have taken the scenic route. Oh yeah? As a prisoner?
          And Trajan had far bigger fish to fry, surely- he was fighting a war, was he not?
          Are you telling me you find nothing of this even remotely suspicious?

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        • Blasphemy! Angus is one of the greatest rock guitarists ever.

          I have not found any of that other stuff suspicious, until now. Thanks Ark!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Well now you have something to think about … and research. Maybe you can then update this post about recommending this book you are on about.

          I think Angus has a unique, if limited style, even as a Rock guitarist. But he is good at what he does,no doubting this.

          Liked by 1 person

        • It’s a great book! But I can’t independently verify that 🙂

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        • The cover in your post looks nice.
          Is Holmes a Christian?

          Liked by 1 person

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