the tracing of Doctrine through history

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ModernPuritan?

Puritan Board Freshman
This is likely to take on a longer forum- so get ready! (course Im open to ideas about how better to post it all ) We all know the scriptures on each side of these issues that we could use. SO, Im dealing with the historical interpretations.

Im wanting to cover many areas- basically roman Catholicism, church history up to NICEA and or Augustine.

a) Mary
b) intercession of saints
c) primacy of Peter
d) apostolic succession
e) purgatory
f) Justification by faith and works, neither separated from the other.

Im sure ive still got plenty of reading to do, but I was told that reformed Christianity is historical Christianity of the early church.

please take no offense, but do consider something. I have read a few things against Rome, and to be honest it appears that the authors are looking at a particular sect or fringe group to condemn the whole yet the fringe groups beliefs are vastly different from the whole. (Like condemning all Christians because of Westboro baptist or disproving something because of westboro). Im only interested in contra works that cite the Nihil Obistat/Impirituir type deal- Catechism, Papal bulls, etc that way, we are not looking at a small sect, but the official whole.

Ive read a read one paper that asserted and attempted to prove that the Early church fahters beileved in Sola Fide. Id like to paste a different paper that attempts to prove the opposite.

Salvation from the Perspective

of the Early Church Fathers

By Chris Erickson
The disputes between Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as amidst the various Protestant traditions themselves, should, if nothing else, cause one to wonder what the earliest Christian communities thought on any subject being contested. What did those who learned their faith directly from the preaching of the Apostles themselves say regarding man's salvation? For this, of course, we turn to the writings of these Early Church Fathers.

The writings of the Church Fathers respected Christian teachers of the early centuries recognized as special witnesses of the Christian Faith because of their antiquity, orthodoxy and personal sanctity allow us a glimpse into that early window of Christian life and thought.

The earliest Fathers were conversant with the apostles themselves, and therefore were unparalleled in their position to receive extensively accurate instruction in Christian Faith. One such person was an Eastern (Greek) Father, Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 69-156). Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130-200) had this to say about Polycarp: "But Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also by the apostles in Asia appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried on earth a very long time…having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down…" (Against Heresies 3:3; AD 191).

What exactly did these first Christians believe and teach with regard to salvation? It is important to note that these Christian teachers of antiquity were not attempting to define precise theological points of doctrine; they were more concerned with general concepts, instructions, and admonitions for living the Christian faith in a time of often intense persecution. Therefore we won't find the early Fathers engaged in dissecting a particular Pauline phrase in order to understand the Christian concept of justification. Moreover, such an approach would be foreign to the early Church since it can lead to misconceptions: "Those who are particular about words, and devote their time to them, miss the point of the whole picture" (Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Bk. II, Ch. 1, AD 150-215).

Nonetheless, the Fathers of the Church had written on related matters concerning salvation, such as the role of faith and grace, the role of obedience, righteousness, baptism, etc. From these we can ascertain the mind and thought of the early Christian communities concerning salvation.

A common mistake often made is to misrepresent the Fathers by choosing selective quotations that bolster one's own personal beliefs, discarding those that do not. It will hopefully be obvious to the reader that this study has avoided that error.

Clement of Rome (AD 96)

The earliest Christian document outside the New Testament writings comes to us from Clement of Rome: The Letter of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth (commonly known as Clement's First Letter). It was so highly esteemed in Christian antiquity that for a while it was even accepted as part of the canon of Scripture in Egypt and Syria. Many scholars believe Clement is identified as the Clement mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3. Regardless, Clement was the bishop of Rome at the close of the first century. He was familiar with St. Paul's Epistles, and he certainly believed and taught that we are justified by faith:

And we, therefore…are not justified of ourselves or by our wisdom or insight or religious devotion or the holy deeds we have done from the heart, but by that faith by which almighty God has justified all men from the very beginning (ch. 32:4).

One might determine that Clement held a Reformed view of justification; however, Clement had more to say on the subject. In fact, it would lead future critics to say that Clement moved away from Pauline teaching toward ethical interests. Actually, Paul and Clement were saying the exact same thing. They both spoke of salvation in terms of requiring a comprehensive response on the part of the Christian: believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and living a life of holiness. Hence Clement would not only write of being justified by faith, but he would also say:

We should clothe ourselves with concord, being humble, self-controlled, far removed from all gossiping and slandering, and justified by our deeds, not by words (ch. 30:3).

Is the reader led to conclude that there exists an inherent self-contradiction in Clement's letter? Or was Clement promulgating the essential truth of the Gospel notwithstanding Paul's teaching on the necessity of faith for salvation? Clement did not understand Paul to be offering an either/or proposition, but rather both/and. According to Paul sin and grace are entirely opposed. "For what participation has justice with injustice? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14).

It was an entirely new way of life that was required of the Christian to inherit God's promises: faith and an inner conversion of the heart that would naturally show itself in good works of holiness. Clement believed that both Christ's and Paul's teaching held that if the latter is missing, the former is barren (cf. Mt. 7:21; Lk. 13:24; 1 Cor. 13:2; 15:1, 2; James 2:14ff).

Clement taught that the Christian moral life is imperative for salvation, that faith and obedience is what God considers righteousness. Clement points out that our actions—our good deeds prompted by faith—is what God reckons as righteousness: "Why was our father Abraham blessed?

Was it not because he acted in righteousness and truth, prompted by faith?" (ch.31:2-3). Clement further instructed the Church of Corinth that Abraham inherited God's promises because of his (1) faith, (2) obedience and (3) hospitality:

It was obedience which led [Abraham] to quit his country, his kindred, and his father's house, so that, by leaving a paltry country, a mean kindred, and an insignificant house, he might inherit God's promises (ch. 10:2).

Because of [Abraham's] faith and hospitality a son was granted to him in his old age (ch. 10:7).

Paul tells us that justification requires faith. Clement affirms that. But what does faith require? Paul says that faith requires (1) believing (cf. 1 Thes. 2:13; 2 Cor. 5:7), (2) obedience (cf. Rom. 1:5; 6:16), and (3) love [hospitality] (cf. Gal. 5:6), exactly what Clement said in Chapter 10 quoted above.

Paul and Clement accentuated the necessity of faith, that our salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, and nothing we can do of our own accord (including holy deeds of the heart) apart from that faith will gain us our salvation. But they both taught that faith requires conversion that proves itself in Christian moral living, works of grace—fruits of the Holy Spirit working in us. St. Augustine would later remark that

Without love faith can indeed exist, but can be of no avail (De Trin. XV 18, 32).

Clement refers to several scriptural passages (Isa. 40:10; 62:11; Prov. 24:12; Rev. 22:12) to augment his plea to the Corinthians to persevere in doing good, which will eventually pay a reward:

We must, then, be eager to do good; for everything comes from Him. For he warns us: ..See, the Lord is coming. He is bringing his reward with him, to pay each one according to his work' (ch. 34:2, 3).

What is this reward we are to receive, this pay according to our work? Eternal salvation. For what are we being paid—our works? Partially, yes, but correctly understood! It is "our" work only insofar as it is our cooperation with God's grace as opposed to "the works of the Law." Hence it is God's work in us manifesting itself in the fruits of the Holy Spirit that lead us to salvation, beginning with faith, supported by faith, and persevering in faith. (Matt 10:22; Trent, sess. 6, ch. 8;).

Protestant traditions have generally objected to that on the principle that it would result in God paying us the reward of salvation for something we do. It would therefore cease to be gratuitous.

However, Paul condemns those who make salvation a wage or salary as if we can buy our salvation through our own works or deeds apart from faith and God's grace. Paul doesn't condemn receiving a payment/reward as a filial inheritance from God for those who have faith working in love (cf. Gal. 5:6), for those who do God's commands. This type of labor can only boast in God. Thus St. Augustine's famous adage: "When God rewards my labors, He only crowns His own works in me."

Ignatius of Antioch (AD 35-107)

The writings of another Apostolic Father from the East, Ignatius of Antioch, are further testimony of how truly far back this teaching reaches. Ignatius tells us that along with baptism, faith and charity, our works will be our deposits to receive what is our due:

Let your baptism be ever your shield, your faith a helmet, your charity a spear, your patience a panoply. Let your works be deposits, so that you may receive the sum that is due you" (Letter to St. Polycarp, 6).

Is Ignatius telling us that we are due something from God? Our due is death as a result of sin. But what is our due after baptism, faith, charity and obedience to God's will? Then, we are due God's promises according to the conditions God set forth.

God did not have to offer us any conditional element. He did not have to offer us anything. It's entirely gratuitous from beginning to end. His infinite love drove Him to put Himself in a position of "owing" something to man, if man would only love and obey Him. If we are to love Him, we must first believe in him (faith). And John 14:15 tells us that if we truly love Him, we will obey him (conversion, holiness, right living, good deeds, righteousness).

Ignatius was quoted above as saying, "let your works be deposits, so that you may receive the sum that is due you." He would also say:

Therefore, let us not be ungrateful for His kindness. For if He were to reward us according to our works, we would cease to be (Epistle to the Magnesians, Ch. 5).

Again, do we conclude that another Church Father is self-contradictory? Or do we acknowledge a distinction present in the early Christian communities between our own works (works of the Law) that lead us to boast in ourselves, and the works of God in us built upon an interior conversion that can only lead to our boasting in God alone. To abandon that truth leads every early Christian writer to appear self-contradictory, it poses an apparent disharmony between Paul and James, and consequently leads to a Reformed view of justification.

Ignatius' letters were written while on his way to martyrdom, and he recognized the importance of our actions "motivated by faith, " as opposed to a "momentary act of professing" that faith:

Those who profess to be Christ's will be recognized by their actions. For what matters is not a momentary act of professing, but being persistently motivated by faith (The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians, ch. 14:2).

This is a corollary to our Lord's warning in Matthew 10:22: "But he who endures to the end will be saved."

Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 69-156)

Polycarp of Smyrna was an Eastern Father acquainted with Ignatius and well versed in Paul's Epistles. In Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, he says: "…knowing that ..you are saved by grace, not because of works' (Eph. 2:5, 9, 9), namely, by the will of God through Jesus Christ" (ch. 1:3).

Polycarp affirms Pauline teaching, as did Clement and Ignatius. But he also affirmed the necessity of love, obedience and living a life of holiness. This is seen when Polycarp quotes St. Paul and then adds his own admonition, drawing from 1 John: "For ..he who raised him from the dead will raise us also' (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Cor. 6:14; Rom 8:11), if we do his will and follow his commandments, and love what he loved (1 John 4:11, 12), refraining from all wrongdoing" (ch. 2:2, 3).

Let us remember that Polycarp conversed with the apostles, sat at the feet of St. John as Irenaeus tells us, and that the apostles obviously thought him to be a man of outstanding repute since they did appoint him Bishop of Smyrna. It would, then, be safe to say that Polycarp did not depart from Pauline thought, but instead felt quite comfortable to quote Paul and add his own qualifier "if we do…" Polycarp must have believed this was harmonious with the full corpus of Paul's teaching and that of the other apostles.

Polycarp taught that there were a number of moral commands to which the Christian must adhere in order to inherit the Kingdom. Faith without meeting these moral demands will not be enough. Polycarp argued that anyone occupied in these three things: growing in the faith, accompanied by hope, and led by love, has fulfilled the commandment of righteousness (ch. 3:2-3). Drawing from the Scriptures he would also say: "..Whenever you are able to do a kindness, do not put it off' (Prov.3:28), because ..almsgiving frees from death' [Tobit 4:10ff]" (ch. 10:2).

Justin Martyr (AD 100-165)

The Eastern Father Justin Martyr echoes the teaching of Ignatius insofar as he makes it clear that it is not those who "merely profess" Christ, but those who "do the works" the Saviour commanded that will be saved:

Those who are found not living as he taught should know that they are not really Christians, even if his teachings are on their lips, for he said that not those who merely profess but those who also do the works will be saved (cf. Matt. 13:42, 43; 7:15, 16, 19)" (The First Apology of Justin, ch.16).

Justin would also say that "Each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions" (The First Apology of Justin, ch. 7). "The matters of our religion lie in works, not in words" (Hortatory Address to the Greeks, ch. 35).

Yet Justin also proves himself consistent with the other Fathers in affirming the necessity of faith: "For Abraham was declared by God to be righteous, not on account of circumcision, but on account of faith" (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. XCII).

Athenagoras (2nd Century AD)

Athenagoras, an Eastern Father, argues that Christians must live in a strict moral manner, because they must give an appropriate account of all their life in order to receive the reward of salvation:

But since we are persuaded that we must give an account of all our life here to God who made us and the world, we adopt a temperate, generous, despised way of life. For we think that, even if we lose our lives, we shall suffer here no evil to be compared with the reward we shall receive from the great Judge for a gentle, generous, and modest life (A Plea Regarding Christians by Athenagoras, ch.12).

Irenaeus (AD 130-200)

Irenaeus, a Western Father, in his writings, Against Heresies, Book I, confirms the necessity of a life of love and holiness, as well as keeping our Lord's commandments in order to receive eternal life:

But to the righteous and holy, and those who have kept his commandments and have remained in his love…he will by his grace give life incorrupt, and will clothe them with eternal glory (ch.10:1).

It is the entire gamut of the Christian moral life, according to Irenaeus, that brings salvation.

Irenaeus criticized the Gnostics of being "devoid of sense" because "they keep silent with regard to His judgments and all those things which will come upon those who heard His words, but have not done them. For it would better for them if they had not been born" (Against Heresies, Bk. IV, ch. XXVIII).

Irenaeus believed that conversion was dependent upon Christ's grace, and apart from that grace, man has no power to procure salvation. The more we receive that grace, the more we are obligated to love Christ:

No one, indeed while placed out of reach of our Lord's benefits, has power to procure for himself the means of salvation. So the more we receive His grace, the more we should love Him (Against Heresies, Bk. IV, ch. XIII).

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)

Clement of Alexandria, an Eastern Father, will also speak of the necessity of believing and obeying if grace is to abound: "Rightly, then, to those who have believed and obey, grace will abound beyond measure" (Exhortation to the Heathen, ch. 5).

He presents "faith" as the first movement in a process that leads to salvation. That means more is required if we are to reach the goal of salvation:

We have discovered faith to be the first movement towards salvation. After faith, fear, hope, and repentance (accompanied by temperance and patience) lead us to love and knowledge (The Stromata, Bk. II, ch. VI).

Clement echoes the earlier Fathers, and we see a familiar teaching being handed down from the early Christians: 1) "..For by grace we are saved---but not, indeed, without good works…For this, we have the greatest need of divine grace…" (The Stromata, Bk. II, ch. I); and 2) "The same from the foundation of the world is each one who at different periods is saved, and will be saved by faith" (The Stromata, Bk. VI, ch, VI).

Clement is simply teaching what he received from the earlier Christians, that salvation will require faith and conversion. Inner conversion will show itself externally in a life of holiness; without that, faith is barren. All is necessary and all is only made possible through Christ's grace.

A Cloud of Early Witnesses (AD 160-320)

Tertullian (AD 160-223), a Western Father, recognized the necessity of both faith and doing God's will in order to be saved. He exhorts "those who are justified by faith in Christ, and not by the Law, to have peace with God" (Against Marcion, Bk. V, ch. XIII). And he also writes:

We make petition, then, that He supply us with the substance of His will and the capacity to do it--so that we may be saved both in the heaven and on earth (On Prayer, part III, ch. IV).

Theophilus (approx. AD 180), an Eastern Father, spoke of a life of doing well and obeying God's command to procure salvation:

To those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek immortality, He will give eternal life everlasting life" (Theophilus to Autolycus, Bk. I, ch. XIII). "For man drew death upon himself by disobeying. So, by obeying the will of God, he who wants to can procure for himself life everlasting (Bk. II, ch. XXVII).

Origin (AD 184-254), another Easter Father, would speak about having communion and friendship with God only if, along with faith, we lived our life according to the teaching of Jesus: "It is those who not only believe, but also enter upon the life that Jesus taught" (Against Celcus, Bk. III, ch. XXVIII).

Cyprian (d. 258), a Western Father, did not think it was possible to have faith in Christ if you did not do what He commanded:

How can a man say that he believes in Christ, if he does not do what Christ commanded him to do? From where will he attain the reward of faith, if he will not keep the faith of the commandment? … He will make no advancement in his walk toward salvation, for he does not keep the truth of the way of salvation" (The Treatises of Cyprian, Treatise I, ch. II).

Cyprian believed that the righteous man is not only he who believes in God but he who lives in faith: "Assuredly, then, whoever believes in God and lives in faith is found righteous and is already blessed in faithful Abraham" (The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle LXII, ch. IV). "Living in faith" to Cyprian was simply keeping the faith of the commandments, doing what Christ commanded.

Lactantius (AD 240-320), a Western Father, continues this same thought:

Labors that are endured and overcome all the way up until death, cannot fail to obtain a reward….And this reward can be nothing else but immortality (The Divine Institutes, Bk. III, ch. XII).

And again: "The spirit must earn immortality by the works of righteousness" (Bk. IV, ch. XXV).

Basil the Great (AD 329-379) Basil the Great, an Eastern Father, tells us of being "acceptable to God" through obeying the gospel, purging sins, and being active in good works:

He who would obey the gospel must first be purged of all defilement of the flesh and the spirit that so he may be acceptable to God in the good works of holiness (The Morals, 2, 1).

Speaking on penance, Basil believed that simply renouncing sins was not enough for salvation; rather, an act of penance was necessary as well:

Mere renouncement of sin is not sufficient for the salvation of penitents, but fruits worthy of penance are also required of them (The Morals, 1, 3).

Ambrose (AD 340-397) The writings of St. Ambrose, a Latin Father, would be very much akin to St. Paul. Ambrose taught that faith—not works that would lead one to boast—is necessary for salvation:

God chose that man should seek salvation by faith rather than by works, lest anyone should glory in his deeds and thereby incur sin (In Ps. 43 Enarr. 14).

Ambrose would also say: "Without the support of faith good works cannot stand" (On the Duties of the Clergy, 2, 7). That means that with the support of faith, good works can stand. If they can stand, then they certainly do not lead one to boast in himself, they do not lead one to sin. Ambrose has in mind a distinction here between "works" leading us to boast in God and "works" leading us to boast in ourselves. These latter works can never stand, with or without the support of faith.

Ambrose would also confirm the sentiments of Clement of Alexandria insofar as faith is the first movement in a process when Ambrose said: "Faith is the beginning of a Christian man" (Explanation of Psalm 118: 20, 56, 57). This implies that there is more to follow, since faith is not said to be the beginning, the middle and the end of the Christian man, as if there were no other obligations. Furthermore, the whole chapter of Psalm 118, which is what Ambrose is commenting on, is a treatise on faith, obedience and love.

John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) John Chrysostom, an Eastern Father, was very familiar with Pauline thought. In Chrysostom's sermon on Ephesians 1:4-5, he asked why God chose us:

And why did [God] choose us? ..That we should be holy and blameless before him.' So that you may not suppose, when you hear that he chose us, that faith alone is sufficient, he goes on to refer to manner of life. This, he says, is the reason and the purpose of his choice—that we should be holy and blameless… Being holy is a matter of sharing in faith; being blameless is a matter of living an irreproachable life (Homilies on Ephesians, 1, 1-2).

Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) St. Augustine, a Latin Father, taught that righteousness consists of doing good works:

How speedily are the prayers of people who do good works heard! For it is precisely in fasting, alms, deeds and prayer that our righteousness in this life consists (In Ps. 42 Enarr. I, 8).

But Augustine made the critical distinction that Paul made, that Luther refused to make:

We do the works, but God works in us the doing of the works (De Dono Perseverentiae, 13, 33).

Conclusion

What we find in the writings of the early Fathers is a consistent voice in early Christian life and thought affirming the indissoluble necessity of faith in our Lord and interior conversion that must show itself in a life of holiness. The only boasting that can be done is boasting in God's work, "for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Catholic teaching is not only clearly present in early Christian life and thought, but it has remained remarkably consistent throughout twenty long centuries, faithfully handing down what it had received.
 

ModernPuritan?

Puritan Board Freshman
I guess, what im seeking to do is to prove that our interpretations are also consistent with the early churches interpretations..

Was it RC sproul who said that if your reading, come up with a interpretation that isnt found throughout history(that has conveniently skipped 2000 years) - you should probably reconsider.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
Jeff,

Can you identify the source of this article, and the particular background of its author? It sounds like he's writing against a "Reformed" point of view, but I can't tell whether he's coming from a Catholic, Orthodox, or possibly even some non-reformed branch of Protestantism.

It appears from a bit of my own reading that the early church spoke of "salvation" as an entire process, beginning with rebirth (usually tied to baptism) and ending with complete holiness. Like this article said, they weren't hammering out precise definitions of particular terms or words. That being said, I don't see anything in any of his quotations that conflicts with Reformed soteriology--it may not be as precisely defined, but I do not see it conflicting. And, salvation is a process, as it doesn't end with justification, but rather begins there. We are called to cooperate with God's grace, we are called to become holy, we are sanctified through the means of grace, and we do ultimately become holy and unable to sin (glorification). And many Reformed do believe the Bible teaches that there are real rewards for works done on earth, according to the grace given to us by God. What I don't see in these quotations is any indication that any work we do has any merit before God in terms of being able to stand in his presence and be counted righteous.

So it bothers me a bit when he says "Or do we acknowledge a distinction present in the early Christian communities between our own works (works of the Law) that lead us to boast in ourselves, and the works of God in us built upon an interior conversion that can only lead to our boasting in God alone. To abandon that truth leads every early Christian writer to appear self-contradictory, it poses an apparent disharmony between Paul and James, and consequently leads to a Reformed view of justification."

This writer's understanding of the Reformed view of justification is sorely misguided--what he just described in the words leading up to what I underlined, and which he identifies as the position of the early church, is the Reformed view of Justification.

Thoughts?
 

JohnOwen007

Puritan Board Sophomore
Im sure ive still got plenty of reading to do, but I was told that reformed Christianity is historical Christianity of the early church.

That's a bit like saying modern science is to be found in Aristotle. It just simply isn't true. The great problem was the obliteration of the Jewish Christians around AD70. Hence the church was predominantly Gentile from a Graeco-Roman background that didn't know Hebrew and thus wrestled to come to grips with how to understand Scripture. They brought their Graeo-Roman cultural presuppositions to Scripture, and little by little Scripture broke through. The last 2000 years of church history has seen the church hammer out it's beliefs little by little as she has come to grips with Scripture and put off alien cultural assumptions. We are the beneficiaries of 2000 years of thinking by some of the greatest minds God has given the church (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, etc.). Doctrine, whether we like it or not, has developed throughout church history.

Blessings MP.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
Hence the church was predominantly Gentile from a Graeco-Roman background that didn't know Hebrew and thus wrestled to come to grips with how to understand Scripture. They brought their Graeco-Roman cultural presuppositions to Scripture, and little by little Scripture broke through.

I think this is an excellent point, and one that must be kept in mind as we look at any doctrine historically. I think anyone who reads Scripture will bring their cultural presuppositions to the interpretation, and usually without ever realizing it. The loss of a Jewish-Christian influence on interpretation, and very early in history, must have had enormous consequences--if nothing else, it was the loss of a viewpoint that may have reined in the Greek way of thinking, or balanced it.

I read somewhere recently (an Orthodox website, I think) that when we look at a doctrine or an interpretation, we must ask ourselves, "Does this align with what the church has believed for 2,000 years?" I think we need to ask, "Does this align with what the church has believed for 5,000 years?" The church, as God's people, began with Adam, not Clement of Rome. When we look at some of the doctrines that became accepted in Christian history that we as Reformed reject, like prayer to saints, Marian dogmas, etc., I think we see that they represent an enormous departure from the stream of Biblical doctrine that runs throughout the entire O.T. and is unchanged in the N.T.

One of the reasons I've pitched my tent in the Reformed camp is the study of Biblical Theology. It finds the contours of belief that run throughout the entirety of Scripture--God's sovereignty over all things, man's responsibility to obey God with real reward and consequence, and of course the covenants. I have found nothing else, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Arminian, etc. that simply makes so much sense and jives so well with what we read in Scripture.

So I wonder how much of a unifying view the Fathers themselves had when they wrote epistles and books, and created theology in the early church?

I'm looking forward to this whole subject being discussed more, probably as a collection of threads. Time to find the "subscribe" button! :popcorn:
 
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CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
That's a bit like saying modern science is to be found in Aristotle. It just simply isn't true. The great problem was the obliteration of the Jewish Christians around AD70. Hence the church was predominantly Gentile from a Graeco-Roman background that didn't know Hebrew and thus wrestled to come to grips with how to understand Scripture. They brought their Graeo-Roman cultural presuppositions to Scripture, and little by little Scripture broke through.

That's interesting. This is the exact same line of logic I've heard used to support Dispensationalism. The idea being that, first, the Jews of the early church era were believers in a future millennial kingdom, and second, that Augustine messed everything up with his Greek philosophy.

This idea is pushed heavily by a lot of Jewish evangelism groups (Friends of Israel, Shalom Ministries) and by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, author of Israelology.

It's interesting how we can acknowledge the same statement and get to completely different conclusions. Is it also possible that the church needed to shed some Jewish baggage as well?
 

sotzo

Puritan Board Sophomore
That's interesting. This is the exact same line of logic I've heard used to support Dispensationalism. The idea being that, first, the Jews of the early church era were believers in a future millennial kingdom, and second, that Augustine messed everything up with his Greek philosophy.

This idea is pushed heavily by a lot of Jewish evangelism groups (Friends of Israel, Shalom Ministries) and by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, author of Israelology.

It's interesting how we can acknowledge the same statement and get to completely different conclusions. Is it also possible that the church needed to shed some Jewish baggage as well?

Hard to see how anyone can reasonably come away from that observation with dispensationalism. There is a worlds apart difference in saying God is working with the church on separate tracks (Jews / Gentiles) versus the simple observation that presuppositions influence scripture. To be fair, I haven't read him, but it seems all that Fruchtenbaum is doing is putting another presupposition onto scripture thus proving the point that we all have them.

I think your point about shedding Jewish baggage is interesting. Paul certainly aimed to shed Jewish baggage in Galatia and elsewhere. The early church diaspora also caused this bit of Jewish "shedding". But I think that is different from the need to shed all other cultural points of view (such as Greco Roman) because the NT writings "grew up" doing this shedding and we can see the inspired writers doing so. It is much more difficult, in my opinion, to know where systems such as Platonism self-distruct as systems of biblical interpretation. The reason this is difficult is we have few biblical examples of how the inspired writers dealt with such presuppositions, whereas per above we have many for the Jewish presupps. This is not to say we are dead in the water, because we still have church history to glean from on how these non-Jewish presupps were handled...just not as good as having a biblical model.

As a side note, I guess that's why some feel safety in Rome...because parts of church history are on par with scripture and therefore, we have more infallible sources to glean from.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Something along this line has been said already by JohnOwen007, but it seems to me that going into this study, one should possess a rational historiography.

And I really liked the statement by wturri78 that spoke of a "church history that goes back 5,000 years" as opposed to a mere 2,000.

We need to comprehend the biblical religion as it sits in the midst of history, understanding that the church being the historical "face" of that religion, it has got the weatherbeaten look to go with it. Once situated, and once one realizes that the DNA of the church is written in the Bible (and is not, indeed cannot be found in the historical process), one is then in a good position to start evaluating church history.

The study of our doctrine is like the study of one man's intellectual development. When he's 1.5 yrs old, he likely to think a great many true things, mixed with a lot of false ideas. He thinks much clearer when he's 15. And hopefully clearer still at 51. But the issues he's dealing with at 51 are not the same as that which was vital to his survival at age 15.

With those things in mind, why not take advantage of the efforts of many people who have made these studies in the past. Use a work like William Cunningham's Historical Theology to read how the church in the NT age, in her moments of learning and crisis, gets to grips with what the Bible has to teach about vital religion. See then how she contended for the truth in the various ages. See her at her best and worst.

But don't be romantic about her past; be realistic.
 

Jimmy the Greek

Puritan Board Senior
See also, Reinhold Seeberg, Text-book of the History of Doctrines, Transl. by C. E. Hay (Baker Book House, 2nd printing 1978) ISBN 0801081068.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
But "where are the controversies?"

First, thanks to all for the book recommendations. I've been grinding my way through J.N.D. Kelly's "Early Christian Doctrine" for about two years, on and off. Great book.

I was recently asked by a Greek Orthodox priest, "Where are the controversies in early church history?" His point was, if things like prayer to saints, Eucharist as a sacrifice, use of images in worship, etc. arose over time and were in conflict with what was taught by the apostles and earliest fathers, where were the dissenters? Where were the voices of reason who cried foul and raised the alarm that unbiblical, unorthodox ideas were being spread throughout the church? Heresies like Arianism, Donatism, etc. drew the attention of the universal church, but things that Protestants reject as "unbiblical" weren't objected to.

Kelly's book doesn't make mention of controversies over those kinds of matters...at least I don't recall any. Is this guy right? Or were there those who stood up to say "Hey, we can't pray to saints, where'd you get that idea?"
 

JohnOwen007

Puritan Board Sophomore
I was recently asked by a Greek Orthodox priest, "Where are the controversies in early church history?" His point was, if things like prayer to saints, Eucharist as a sacrifice, use of images in worship, etc. arose over time and were in conflict with what was taught by the apostles and earliest fathers, where were the dissenters? Where were the voices of reason who cried foul and raised the alarm that unbiblical, unorthodox ideas were being spread throughout the church? Heresies like Arianism, Donatism, etc. drew the attention of the universal church, but things that Protestants reject as "unbiblical" weren't objected to.

Kelly's book doesn't make mention of controversies over those kinds of matters...at least I don't recall any. Is this guy right? Or were there those who stood up to say "Hey, we can't pray to saints, where'd you get that idea?"

Several things need to be said about this. Firstly, it is an argument from silence: We don't hear of it, therefore it wasn't a problem. On that logic we could argue that the whole church was speaking in tongues because no-one made objections to it. (I've heard people actually say this!).

Secondly, when it comes to say the doctrine of the sacraments, we do see development (in a bad direction) in what is said. The first explicit mention of something akin to Eucharistic Sacrifice (and this is still inchoate) is in Cyprian (around the 250 mark). When we look at the early writings prior to 250AD we don't find any hint that Christ is being offered up again in the bread and the wine, which is strange, because if it was so important why was it not mentioned to catechumans etc.

Thirdly, as we trace say the doctrine of Chrismation (the Orthodox version of confirmation), we find a variety of interpretations; there is no uniformity. If Chrismation was so critical why was there such variety of opinion--something Kelly shows well.

Fourthly, there weren't debates about the Eucharist (for example) because the other debates were so large and consuming. However, the debates did begin to arise in the early medieval period. For example, in the 800s Ratramnus argued against Radbertus that the bread and the wine are not the body and blood of Christ essentially. Indeed, Ratramnus was personal friends with Charles the Bald, who had friends in high ecclesiastical places, and we find no condemnation of Ratramnus. The same debate occurred again in the 1000s with Berengar (who denied the real presence). However, by this time he got severely persecuted for this position (no doubt because of the rise of a new theology of the papacy and concomitant centralizing of the church). In other words, by the early middle ages when creation, Trinity, and Christology had been largely nailed down, these guys had the time and luxury to began to discuss issues that were generally left alone.

Every blessing brother.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
DTK put this up once, and I reproduce it here:
Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403): Asking what place it was, and learning it to be a church, I went in to pray, and found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints; I do not rightly remember whose the image was. Seeing this, and being loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ´s church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 51 - From Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, In Cyprus, to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, §9.

The idea that the church had no controversy over this is also ridiculous. The powers had to convene an ecumenical council to overturn the results of a previous ecumenical council called by Constantine V in 754: Council of Hieria (which ecumenicity is denied by the idolaters so as to legitimize their own practice) that had ruled icons/idols out of conformity with Christian practice.

The idolaters won the day at Nicaea II (787), claiming (among other things) that since there were no "patriarchs" present or their deputies, that this council was just void. Don't even have to answer those arguments--just sweep the whole thing under a rug.

The iconoclast/iconodule controversy is a matter of historical record.
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
A more specific question...following on JohnOwen007's comment in earlier about the Jewish Christian influence waning quickly after 70 A.D...

I've read and heard in numerous places that many of the early church fathers didn't have any great love for Jews. I recently read that Chrysostom had "a streak of virulent anti-semitism." I've also heard things to the effect that some in the early church felt a need to basically liberate Christianity from its Jewish roots and to bring it to full expression through Graeco-Roman philosophy, language and culture. Is there an element of truth to that? Is it entirely true?

One thing I've really enjoyed learning about is biblical theology. The themes and trends that flow throughout all of Scripture really present a coherent model that would seem to preclude any radical innovations. In that model, things like the sudden use of images in worship, or prayers to/for the dead, seem to stick out like sore thumbs. I can't see how anyone familiar with the themes from OT to NT could fail to see those with at least a certain degree of skepticism. A lack of OT knowledge, Jewish history, and certainly a disdain for those things would seem to be a good explanation.

Anyone care to shed some light on this aspect of history?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Sorry, I have met 3 very sharp people from Bob Jones. Bob Jones, does seem to have vigorous courses in some areas. Although 2 of these 3 people from Bob Jones werre a bit "stiff" and adhered too many rules on lifestyle issues. So, Bob JOnes seemslike a good place foracademics...It is just all that extra stuff that you didn't pay for that gets them a bad rep.
 

ModernPuritan?

Puritan Board Freshman
Sorry, I have met 3 very sharp people from Bob Jones. Bob Jones, does seem to have vigorous courses in some areas. Although 2 of these 3 people from Bob Jones werre a bit "stiff" and adhered too many rules on lifestyle issues. So, Bob JOnes seemslike a good place foracademics...It is just all that extra stuff that you didn't pay for that gets them a bad rep.

academics were fine.. no issues there- just everything else
 

ModernPuritan?

Puritan Board Freshman
A more specific question...following on JohnOwen007's comment in earlier about the Jewish Christian influence waning quickly after 70 A.D...

I've read and heard in numerous places that many of the early church fathers didn't have any great love for Jews. I recently read that Chrysostom had "a streak of virulent anti-semitism." I've also heard things to the effect that some in the early church felt a need to basically liberate Christianity from its Jewish roots and to bring it to full expression through Graeco-Roman philosophy, language and culture. Is there an element of truth to that? Is it entirely true?

One thing I've really enjoyed learning about is biblical theology. The themes and trends that flow throughout all of Scripture really present a coherent model that would seem to preclude any radical innovations. In that model, things like the sudden use of images in worship, or prayers to/for the dead, seem to stick out like sore thumbs. I can't see how anyone familiar with the themes from OT to NT could fail to see those with at least a certain degree of skepticism. A lack of OT knowledge, Jewish history, and certainly a disdain for those things would seem to be a good explanation.

Anyone care to shed some light on this aspect of history?

while one can assert that the early church fathers were heavily influenced by their pre saved mindsets, or whatnot

my questions would be
1) WHAT FORMER SINFUL , PAGAN MINDSET ARE YOUR INTERPRETATIONS or the REFORMERS interpretations influenced by- WHAT were you before Christ saved you? (emphisis mine) maybe i should reject every Pbers interpretation because they were previous sinners before Christ saved them.
2) If i should reject the early churches interpretations on things- because of their previous lifes isnt that a double standard? CAN NOT GOD, change a person?? CAN NOT GOD, Guide the christian in to truth? (emphasis mine) God can change our lifes, and give us the correct illumination- but ohh no, dont ever think he can do the same for the Early Church Fathers
3) perhaps some ECFs did have a week OT knowledge- some appeared to have a very good Knowledge of it. Oriegen, Martyr maybe?
4) basically, i dont see discrediting their beliefs because of pre saved life as valid. I believe God can save a flagrant homosexual and turn them into a preacher in the free church of Scotland.
5) when Christ promised to build his church and that Hell would not over come it- is it a stretch to apply that yo doctrinal purity also? that God would protect the church from error? if its not a stretch- then why does the whole of history seem to point to God protecting catholic Dogma? If catholic Dogma is gross error- why has God protected it for atleast 1800 years?

--- no im not looking for an excuse to become RCC:lol: just sorting some mental quandrys out----
 

wturri78

Puritan Board Freshman
while one can assert that the early church fathers were heavily influenced by their pre saved mindsets, or whatnot

my questions would be
1) WHAT FORMER SINFUL , PAGAN MINDSET ARE YOUR INTERPRETATIONS or the REFORMERS interpretations influenced by- WHAT were you before Christ saved you? (emphisis mine) maybe i should reject every Pbers interpretation because they were previous sinners before Christ saved them.
2) If i should reject the early churches interpretations on things- because of their previous lifes isnt that a double standard? CAN NOT GOD, change a person?? CAN NOT GOD, Guide the christian in to truth? (emphasis mine) God can change our lifes, and give us the correct illumination- but ohh no, dont ever think he can do the same for the Early Church Fathers
3) perhaps some ECFs did have a week OT knowledge- some appeared to have a very good Knowledge of it. Oriegen, Martyr maybe?
4) basically, i dont see discrediting their beliefs because of pre saved life as valid. I believe God can save a flagrant homosexual and turn them into a preacher in the free church of Scotland.
5) when Christ promised to build his church and that Hell would not over come it- is it a stretch to apply that yo doctrinal purity also? that God would protect the church from error? if its not a stretch- then why does the whole of history seem to point to God protecting catholic Dogma? If catholic Dogma is gross error- why has God protected it for atleast 1800 years?

--- no im not looking for an excuse to become RCC:lol: just sorting some mental quandrys out----

Whoa...back up the truck! :) Nobody here is discrediting or attacking the early church fathers (ECF's for short now). I stated only what I've read, and some general themes I've picked up on in various readings (which I'll admit, have not often been of the ECFs themselves). Here's my take on the matter in light of your comments:

1) Some (usually Protestants who don't know what to make of church history, or liberals looking to trash the reputation of the church) immediately do discredit the ECFs, saying that "they used to be pagans so you can't trust their interpretations," or "they hated Jews," or "they hated women," or whatever. Some just seem to think that because they wrote thousands of years ago, they must be primitive and backward. Obviously that approach doesn't carry any credibility.

2) Others go to the opposite extreme and romanticize the ECFs, and take the view that if it was believed by someone that early, it must absolutely have been true. I know some Catholics and have read some eastern orthodox (EO) articles who take that approach, and it's usually coupled with a fairly firm belief that all the ECFs agreed on pretty much everything, and that their doctrines have been handed down for 2,000 years unchanged. This seems romantic and naieve...

3) Of course every individual is going to interpret pretty much everything in light of his or her own culture, background, proclivities, and so forth. Part of the reason I try to read various interpretations of Scripture, history or whatever is that I'm very aware that I tend to approach everything very analytically, and to treat everything like it's a math problem or science project. I have a 21st century American culture that's pretty well ingrained in me.

4) I'm aware that just as we must carefully examine Scripture in light of its historical, etc. contexts, we must approach the writings of the ECFs in the same way. If I pull out a letter written by some 3rd century bishop from Antioch and try to read him like he's a 21st century American, I'm bound to miss the boat.

The point of my last post was not to attack the ECFs but to understand the reasons why they didn't cry foul to doctrines that we Reformed would consider obviously unscriptural. For example, if prayer to/through Mary and the saints is incompatible with the biblical witness, and if that practice arose and spread very early in the church, then why didn't someone flag it as unorthodox?

As to your last point, could you please more clearly define what you mean by "catholic dogma?" Do you mean Roman Catholic? History points to all sorts of dogmas being preserved through the ages. Heck, visit your local bookstore for shelves filled with Gnostic "gospels."
 

Davidius

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I think his last question is quite simple. Does Protestantism rely on the notion that the gates of hell did prevail against the Church sometime during the Middle Ages? Is so, does that make Christ a liar? If not, do we avoid this conclusion by defining the Church as something other than a visible institution founded by Christ and, after him, the apostles and those to whom they bestowed their authority (in other words, is our Protestant formulation of the "invisible/mystical Church" something we needed to justify the validity of our break with Rome?), or do we assert that such a literal interpretation of Christ's words is invalid? If the latter, what did Christ mean when he said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church? If the former, how does that idea of the Church square with the rest of the teaching on what the Church is throughout scripture and ecclesiastical history? The Roman Catholics argue that Christ founded a visible organization which continues via apostolic succession, and they therefore argue from this passage that they cannot have become corrupt in the way Protestants assert (i.e. they admit the reality of past abuses of authority and clerical immorality, but deny that it is possible for them to develop impure doctrine or sacraments, hence the doctrine of magisterial infallibility pertaining to the college of bishops gathered in ecumenical council, and from there papal infallibility when this is combined with supposed Petrine primacy), because such would imply that Christ was wrong when he said that the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against the Church.
 

kalawine

Puritan Board Junior
Im sure ive still got plenty of reading to do, but I was told that reformed Christianity is historical Christianity of the early church.

That's a bit like saying modern science is to be found in Aristotle. It just simply isn't true. The great problem was the obliteration of the Jewish Christians around AD70. Hence the church was predominantly Gentile from a Graeco-Roman background that didn't know Hebrew and thus wrestled to come to grips with how to understand Scripture. They brought their Graeo-Roman cultural presuppositions to Scripture, and little by little Scripture broke through. The last 2000 years of church history has seen the church hammer out it's beliefs little by little as she has come to grips with Scripture and put off alien cultural assumptions. We are the beneficiaries of 2000 years of thinking by some of the greatest minds God has given the church (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, etc.). Doctrine, whether we like it or not, has developed throughout church history.

Blessings MP.

:amen::ditto::agree: Yes... when I left the Charismatic movement I wanted to go back as far as possible to discover the true doctrine of the early Church so I could get "back on track." I've studied Church history for a few years (I'm by no means an expert) and I finally came to see that the early Church Fathers were (as someone has put it - I think it was Dr. Gerald Bray) the "early Church babies." They would have loved to know what we know now.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
I think his last question is quite simple. Does Protestantism rely on the notion that the gates of hell did prevail against the Church sometime during the Middle Ages? Is so, does that make Christ a liar? If not, do we avoid this conclusion by defining the Church as something other than a visible institution founded by Christ and, after him, the apostles and those to whom they bestowed their authority (in other words, is our Protestant formulation of the "invisible/mystical Church" something we needed to justify the validity of our break with Rome?), or do we assert that such a literal interpretation of Christ's words is invalid? If the latter, what did Christ mean when he said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church? If the former, how does that idea of the Church square with the rest of the teaching on what the Church is throughout scripture and ecclesiastical history? The Roman Catholics argue that Christ founded a visible organization which continues via apostolic succession, and they therefore argue from this passage that they cannot have become corrupt in the way Protestants assert (i.e. they admit the reality of past abuses of authority and clerical immorality, but deny that it is possible for them to develop impure doctrine or sacraments, hence the doctrine of magisterial infallibility pertaining to the college of bishops gathered in ecumenical council, and from there papal infallibility when this is combined with supposed Petrine primacy), because such would imply that Christ was wrong when he said that the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against the Church.

Isn't there another question that's a necessary preliminary to this one? Did the gates of hell prevail against the Church when Christ spued the Laodiceans out of His mouth? (Or take any instance in church history of the destruction of a given congregation.)
 
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