Category Archives: Early Church History

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 Read the rest of this entry

Bible Study Resource Alert: Verse by Verse Commentary on the Gospels by The Early Church!


The Golden ChainThe Catena Aurea (also called The Golden Chain) is a tremendous resource for any pastor or believer who desires to know how the early church understood scripture.  It is a verse by verse commentary on the four Gospels by the church fathers that was compiled by Thomas Aquinas.

For each of the four Gospel writers, the Catena Aurea starts by indicating the verses to be analyzed, then phrase-by-phrase, provides the early Fathers’ insights into the passage. It includes the work of over eighty Church Fathers.

The four volume set will cost you about $150, but thanks to Catechetics online, you can read these works for FREE!

Here is a sample of their commentary on John 3:16-19

16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  18. He that believes in him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Read the rest of this entry

Great Resource Alert: The Writings of the Early Church All In One Place and FREE!


The Writings of the Early ChurchIntroducing a GREAT resource:  Early Christian Writings

Early Christian Writings is the most complete collection of Christian texts before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The site provides translations and commentary for these sources, including the New Testament, Apocrypha, Gnostics, Church Fathers, and some non-Christian references

If you want to read ANY work from the first 325 years of church history, you will find it at this site.  Free.

 

The Early Church Teaches Us…How To Pray! Instructions on the Lord’s Prayer from the 300’s


not for itching ears It's Old but it still goodIt’s old….But it is still GOOD!

Quite good as a matter of fact.

Recently I read through perhaps the earliest Catechism of the church, St Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechism c. 350ad. The only possible earlier one still in existence today is the Didache, though some people dispute that being a Catechism.

Reading through that was simply amazing. I will be sharing a lot on this in upcoming posts. Today, I wanted to give you a taste. Enjoy Cyril’s instruction on what the Lord’s Prayer means. You might be a little surprised! Read the rest of this entry

Are the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Views on How One is Saved Actually That Different?


What-must-I-do-to-be-saved Not for itching ears

Not Really!

I am beginning to think that there is less disagreement between the Protestant view and the Catholic / Orthodox view on salvation than we realize.

The misunderstanding is a result of how each part of the church defines “salvation.”

When a Protestant talks about “being saved”, “getting saved”, “accepting Christ” or any other number of terms we use for this, we are primarily referring to the idea of forgiveness of sins. Our sins are forgiven when we “come to Christ”. We have been ‘saved” from sins eternal penalty.  We can not earn this forgiveness of sins, it is a merciful free gift from God and we resist anything that makes it look like it must be earned.

In this sense Salvation IS an event, we have been forgiven of our sins!  However, Read the rest of this entry

Questioning Our Protestant Tradition of Sola Scriptura


Not for itching ears Sola ScripturaNothing but Scripture?

It is becoming apparent to me that no church, no theologian, no follower of Christ actually lives out their faith based on the idea of Sola Scriptura.

Sola scriptura as a principle states that Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian.   The Protestants among us recognize this and embrace it wholeheartedly.  It sounds good on paper.  It really does.  Why do we need anything but the Scriptures to help us form the doctrinal positions that shape our faith?  “WE DON’T” shout the reformers among us!

The problem with their answer is it is demonstrably not true.   I’ve never met anyone who actually practices this idea and neither have you. The New Testament church certainly did not.  Read the rest of this entry

Inspiring Lives From Church History: Perpetua, Felicitas and Their Companions a MUST Read account!


perpetuas victoryPeople have been living and dying for Christ for over 2000 years and history is full of wonderful examples of men and women who followed Christ faithfully. We can learn a lot from studying their lives. Yet, there is something truly compelling about those who suffer for Him and pay the ultimate price for their faith.

When I read the historical record of what some of these ancient brothers and sisters went through, it challenges me deeply. I often wonder how I would respond in such situations. I guess we won’t ever know unless and until we find ourselves in the same place. The one thing I can say with certainty is Read the rest of this entry

Why God Might Not Be Concerned About Our Doctrinal Differences


blog-oh-my-god“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

I asked, as my friend looked on in utter disbelief at what had just been said. We had been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I have lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)

“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!

I can’t argue with that!

What perplexes me though, is that there are so many different types of churches. Clearly a lack of unity within THE church has eluded us. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That is a pretty significant difference. We can’t all agree on how many books are actually in God’s Holy Word! That also seems significant. Some of the churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with one’s salvation, while others teach that it has a lot to do with it, still others are somewhere in-between. Maybe it is just how I think about things, but I would have to say this one is a critical difference of doctrine. We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.

Then we have us Protestants who agree to disagree!

We agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t agree on who is included in “our”. We believe there is such an important and critical thing as the Atonement, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe that people worked miracles, but can’t seem to agree on when or IF that has stopped. We can’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship. We can’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ. We can’t agree on what it means to follow Christ. We don’t agree on a host of important issues.

The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects that argue amongst themselves and who can’t seem to agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is foolish and wishful thinking.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion.   It would seem the Father didn’t answer that one in the affirmative. Or am I missing something?

Why would God have allowed that to happen?

Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost.

If the church is so important to Him, and if the purity of the Gospel and the doctrinal teachings that stem from understanding it correctly matter so much, why didn’t he step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Church? Why would God allow the church to embrace a false gospel that would consign its followers to hell? Why didn’t he intervene? Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.

Of Course Catholics believe that the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church had existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther and the young punk come along and want to change the whole thing. It is understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.

Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. Make no mistake about it; God knew what the result would be of doing nothing to stop these movements. Because of the omniscient nature of God, combined with His foreknowledge, the ensuing doctrinal mess would not have surprised him. He knew it would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!

We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.

But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split. It is not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. In all three cases, God allowed it to stand. In all three instances, The Father had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to. Even when, in the case of the Reformers, God knew that a Pandora’s Box of doctrinal disunity would surely result if He did not act. Still, he refrained.

This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Most assuredly, the doctrinal differences we have killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal. But do they matter to God?

Before you get the kindling and light the match to burn me alive at the stake for the heretic that I am, realize that I am not saying that God does not care about the Gospel or the church. That is not what I am saying at all. Actually, I don’t know what to think about all this. This is a conversation I have been having, largely in my own mind, for quite some time. I thought I would put it out there for others to interact with and see how you might approach the topic.

Why do you think God did nothing to stop any of these movements?

Read another thought provoking post on worship:  God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!

Two Different Views of Salvation: Protestant vs Orthodox – Which Makes More Sense to You?


If you are like me, you might not even know what the Orthodox Church is!

The Orthodox view salvation and the purpose of mankind through a different lens than most Protestants do. In this short video, you will see a very accurate portrayal of mainstream protestant soteriology which you will recognize immediately. You will also be introduced to the Orthodox view.

After you watch it, come back and share your thoughts about the video. Which view best represents the Gospel in your opinion?

Discover The Early Church – “We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them!


JustinEasy to read.

Hard to put down.

Inspiring.

Informative.

Effortless introduction into the writings of the early church.

Download it and start reading it today for less than  $6 on Amazon

“We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them”  is a must read book for every Christian.  It contains two early church writings:  Justin Martyrs First Apology and Octavius, written by Mark Felix.

If you want an introduction into how the early church thought about Jesus, Salvation, predestination, communion and life after death, and how they lived out the faith, this is the easiest introduction I know.  Thanks to the modern translation, the works practically read themselves.

Next to the Bible, the early Christian writings are the most valuable documents of Christianity.  They teach us what the church was like immediately after the events recorded in the New Testament. What a rich resource they are. Yet, for many followers of Christ , they remain a mystery.  You know all about the history of the United States and how it started.  You probably know a lot about how your own denomination began or at least how the Reformation started. Shouldn’t we all be familiar with how Christianity grew in the first and second century?

Don’t stay in the dark.  Read this book:  “We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them” 

When a second-century pagan ridiculed Christians for their lack of education, one Christian replied, “We don’t speak great things we live them!” That was the essence of early Christianity. It was not a Christianity of words, but rather of holy, obedient living.

This book contains two second-century Christian works, translated into readable contemporary English: Mark Felix’s Octavius and Justin Martyr’s First Apology. They describe the dynamic, living church of the second century and discuss what Christians of that age believed.

The First Apology of Justin Martyr is the oldest Christian apology still in existence in its entirety. Justin penned this work at the risk of his own life. Apart from the inspired New Testament writings, this apology is perhaps the single most valuable work of early Christianity. Through it, we can take a peek through time to see what Christianity was like at the close of the apostolic age. For example, Justin takes us on a tour of a Christian baptism and a typical Sunday morning church service. He lets us know what Christians in his age believed about Jesus, salvation, predestination, communion, and life after death.

Octavius, written by a Christian lawyer named Mark Felix, takes a look at Christianity from both the pagan and Christian view points. It’s not only one of the most readable early Christian works, but it’s also a true work of literature. Felix writes in a graceful style that rivals that of Cicero, and his defense of Christianity is truly inspiring. In the end, Octavius is more than a challenge to the pagan Romans it’s a challenge to the twentieth century church as well.

“We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them” Justin Martyr and Mark Felix

 

How The Early Church Spotted a False Prophet…Your Answer to Our Poll


Not For Itching Ears-false-prophetHow is your Early Church History?

Last week we posted a poll called “Do You Know How The Early Church (pre 150AD) Spotted A False Prophet” (Take the poll!)  In it, we gave respondents 5 answers to choose from and only one choice was correct.  It is important to note that this poll did not include all the ways the early church spotted a false prophet.  Also, the one correct choice was taken from the Didache, a respected early church document written sometime between 50AD and 150AD.  Do you know the right answer?  Let us look at them one at a time:

5.  They Believed The Gifts of The Spirit Had Not Ceased.  FALSE! 6% of respondents identified this as the correct answer.

 4.  They Taught That There Were Two Ways Only: The Way of Life or The Way of Death:  FALSE, and almost 13% of respondents chose this as the answer,

3.  They Taught that People had Free Will and Could Choose to Follow Christ. FALSE!  13% of those polled chose this as the correct answer which would be a popular answer for followers of Calvin.

2.  They Taught that Water Baptism Could be Done Without Immersion, FALSE!  It is not surprising that this answer was chosen by 19% of those who took the poll.  However, the early church did not make as big a deal about this as modern day Protestants.  They preferred immersion in running water, but allowed pouring water over the head if running water was not available.

Fifty percent of respondents chose the correct answer.    So,  how did the church spot a false prophet?  Drum roll pleeeeeease!

1.  They Asked For Money!

“Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel.  Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord.  But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another.  But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet.  And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next nights lodging.  But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. Didache 11:3-6

Think about this.  If they asked for money, they were to be considered false prophets.  Why do you think the early church used this as part of the criteria?  Just as importantly, why do we not use this criteria today and if we did, how would things change?

BONUS:  Here’s another way the Didache instructed believers to recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing:  They did not practice what they preached!

“If any prophet teaches the truth, yet does not practice what he teaches, he is a false prophet.”  Didache 11:10

Justin Martyr on Man’s Ability to Obey or Disobey God


3d choice, on white backgroundJustin writing around 160 AD describes the early church’s view on free will  in his First Apology chapter 43 and 44.  It seems to be diametrically opposed to what Calvin taught on the subject.  Hmmm, could Calvin be wrong?

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. …

But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.

Breaking:  Church Service in 2nd Century Revealed

Do You Know How The Early Church (Pre-150AD) Spotted a False Prophet?


Not For Itching Ears-false-prophetTest your knowledge of early church history in our latest poll.

There are 5 answers to choose from.  Only one is correct, based on the “Teaching of the Lord to the Gentles by the  Twelve Apostles” or what is more commonly called the “Didache” and other early church writings.  The Didache is a well received document from the early church.  The date of its writing is hard to determine, but most scholars put it somewhere between 50 AD and 150 AD, very close to the time of the Apostles. It is not part of the Bible, but it is a very good document to read if you want to learn how the early church understood the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.

Can you identify the correct answer?  There is only one correct answer in our poll, but that does not mean there were not other indicators.  There is only one correct answer in this poll.

So, how did the church identify a false prophet in the 2nd century?

 

Take the poll and then go here for the answer

It’s Official: People Don’t Want To Sing So Much On Sundays.

Inspiring Lives From Church History: James, the Great Martyr of Persia


martyrs for ChristPeople have been living and dying for Christ for over 2000 years and history is full of wonderful examples of men and women who followed Christ faithfully. We can learn a lot from studying their lives. Yet, there is something truly compelling about those who suffer for Him and pay the ultimate price for their faith.

When I read the historical record of what some of these ancient brothers and sisters went through, it challenges me deeply. I often wonder how I would respond in such situations. I guess we won’t ever know unless and until we find ourselves in the same place. The one thing I can say with certainty is Read the rest of this entry

The Church…Who Is Closer To The Truth?


PollToday’s poll is at once both easy and difficult. There are only three real answers. That’s the easy part. The hard part? Choosing the right answer. In our opinion, that takes a little thinking. Here’s what we are asking you: Which church tradition, in your opinion, (Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant) is most faithful to the historic Christian faith of the early church (the first 300 years)?

Easy now my fellow Protestants! Don’t jump to what may appear to be an obvious answer. Why, you ask? because we have lumped all protestant groups into one answer. This group included Baptists, Reformed, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Lutherans, non-denominational, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, The Faith movements, Nazarene, COGIC etc. Even though the Anglicans are not really part of the official Protestant movement, we have included them here as well. So, it is not simply whatever protestant group you are a part of, which of course is the MOST faithful, that’s why you are a part of it. It’s the whole thing.

Further, we are not asking which tradition is most faithful to Luther or Calvin or the other Protestant trailblazers. The criterion is which group is more faithful to the version of Christianity that the early church embraced and took all over the world in the first 300 years of church history? Another way of looking at is to ask Which church tradition would the Apostles and the early church Fathers recognize as being most representative of the church they gave their lives to lead and strengthen?

So who has remained most faithful to the Early Church: The Protestants as a group, The Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church?

Take our other polls: What Do You Like MOST about the Church Service and What Do You Like LEAST about The Church Service? and too really make your opinion count for an upcoming post tell us Do You Think We spend Too Much Time Singing in Church?

Inspiring Lives From Church History: Hesychius 300AD


The_Christian_Martyrs_Last_Prayer_by_leon_geromePeople have been living and dying for Christ for over 2000 years and history is full of wonderful examples of men and women who followed Christ faithfully. We can learn a lot from studying their lives. Yet, there is something truly compelling about those who suffer for Him and pay the ultimate price for their faith.

When I read the historical record of what some of these ancient brothers and sisters went through, it challenges me deeply. I often wonder how I would respond in such situations. I guess we won’t ever know unless and until we find ourselves in the same place. The one thing I can say with certainty is that Read the rest of this entry

Inspiring Lives From Church History


The_Christian_Martyrs_Last_Prayer_by_leon_geromePeople have been living and dying for Christ for over 2000 years and history is full of wonderful examples of men and women who followed Christ faithfully.  We can learn a lot from studying their lives.  Yet, there is something truly compelling about those who suffer for Him and pay the ultimate price for their faith.

When I read the historical record of what some of these ancient brothers and sisters went through, it challenges me deeply.   I often wonder how I would respond in such situations.  I guess we won’t ever know unless and until we find ourselves in the same place.   The one thing I can say with certainty is that these accounts inspire me to live for Christ.  That is why today, we are beginning a new series.  In it, we will highlight men and women who suffered for Christ, because of their faith.  They won’t be long posts, so you should be able to read them in less than 5 minutes.  My Prayer is that they will cause you to reflect on your own life and faith, inspiring you follow Him more deeply.

Today, we will read about Mark, the Bishop of Arethusa  (361 AD)

Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, suffered for his faith in Christ under the emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363). By order of the emperor Constantine, St Mark had once destroyed a pagan temple and built a Christian church.

When Julian came to the throne, he persecuted Christians and tried to Read the rest of this entry

Dead People Speak To Me


Dead people speak to me. It’s true, they really do!

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that the dead visit me in my sleep, or that I hear voices in my head. I am talking about the writings of the early church leaders, those great men of God who passed from this earth 1700-1900 years ago. Their writings speak volumes to me about what it means to Read the rest of this entry

“Teach Us How to…Live”, An Early Church Fathers Take on “The Lord’s Prayer III


“Lord, teach us to pray…”

You would have reacted the same way, I suppose. The disciples had seen Jesus do incredible miracles. They also watched him pray a lot. They put two and two together and surmised that Jesus’ power was a result of his prayer. Now, every first century Jew knew how to pray. But nobody could do the miracles that Jesus was doing. The disciples wanted to know how to do that!

So they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. That inquiry resulted in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” A short lesson on how to pray that the church has held dear ever since.

But is it a lesson on how one should pray?

“Yes, but”, is how I think I would answer that.

Yes, Jesus taught the disciples how to pray here. But if you look closer at what Jesus taught, I think He was actually Read the rest of this entry

Teach Us How to…Live? The Early Churches Take on “The Lord’s Prayer” Part 2


“Lord, teach us to pray…”

You would have reacted the same way, I suppose. The disciples had seen Jesus do incredible miracles. They also watched him pray a lot. They put two and two together and surmised that Jesus’ power was a result of his prayer. Now, every first century Jew knew how to pray. But nobody could do the miracles that Jesus was doing. The disciples wanted to know how to do that!

So they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. That inquiry resulted in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” A short lesson on how to pray that the church has held dear ever since.

But is it a lesson on how one should pray?

“Yes, but”, is how I think I would answer that.

Yes, Jesus taught the disciples how to pray here. But if you look closer at what Jesus taught, I think He was actually Read the rest of this entry