After the death of the Apostle John, who was the last of Christ's disciples, there followed men called the "Apostolic Fathers" who personally knew and were taught by the Apostles.
The writings of these men have been preserved down through the ages. In their "epistles" or letters they addressed problems and situations in the various churches or areas of churches. Their letters had a strong Old Testament reference, and were exhortations concerning such Christian virtues as love, penitence and humility and obedience to the church leaders.1
It is clear from the subjects addressed by these men that the churches were having trouble and there was a some discord among them. By studying these early church writings and how they dealt with the various problems, we can get invaluable incites into how the church came to be what it is now. The cure for this "disunity" expounded by some of the "Fathers" was obedience to the bishops of the churches. Miller writes: "Scarcely had the voice of inspiration become silent in the Church, than we hear the voice of these new teachers crying loudly and earnestly for the highest honors being paid to the bishop, and a supreme place being given to him. Not a word about the Spirit's place as sovereign ruler in the Church of God".2 In other words these early "Fathers" began a tendency to substitute man's wisdom instead of strict adherence to the dictates of Scripture. This took the role of leading church from God, as He directs from the Bible, and placed it into the hands of man's human wisdom. It has caused great division and confusion down through the ages.
It was during these early years that the seeds of a church hierarchy were planted which later blossomed into polity of Roman and Greek Catholic Churches. From this period came the separation of the "clergy" and the "laity". The clergy being pastors and church leaders and the laity being non leaders of the church. Of course this is un-scriptural because the Bible does not make a difference between members in the church or establish classes within the church. The New Testament presents a simple order of responsibilities within the church. There are but two orders of service that being elders and deacons. The elder, or bishop, was simply an overseer, one taking the spiritual oversight. The deacon was a servant of the church assisting the pastor. There is no precedent in the Bible for a board of deacon running a local church or ruling over the people. This was added in error to churches.
During the first three hundred years of Christianity, there was almost a constant threat of persecution. Thousands died rather than denounce their faith in Christ. It is well to understand that persecution of those who truly trust in God, began in Old Testament times as disobedient Israel murdered the prophets of the Lord. (See Heb. 11:35-40) Christ Himself died willingly at the hands of those who tried to stamp out the Redemptive work of God. Stephen, was the first to follow Christ in death. (Acts 6:8-15) Down through the ages, literally hundreds of thousands have gone to their deaths as martyrs for their Savior and God.
Each of the Apostles were martyred except for John, who died at the old age of over one hundred. The last apostles to die were Peter and Paul who were murdered under orders of the insane Emperor Nero in 67 AD.
Even through there was great persecution of Christians, discord and even heresies in the early church, the Gospel went forth in power and great numbers of people were saved. The church grew until one could hardly go anywhere in the known world and not hear of Jesus. The early writers tended to address current issues and problems and little was said about those who lived for their Savior. These are the faithful who were then and are today true to the Word of God and hold to it uncompromisingly. It would be well to understand that these are the ones who have carried the Gospel down through the centuries and these are the one the Lord used mightily to preserve His Word, work and true New Testament Church. These were rarely in the lime light, except when they were being persecuted and killed by those who wished to destroy the truth, and thinking the way to do it was to kill those who carried it.
One of the clearest lessons we can learn from Church History is that always without exception, there were those in the churches, who for various reasons (some in sincerity with good intentions, and other not) taught false doctrine and there were always those willing to embrace error and follow those who propagated it.
It is the opinion of the writer of these lessons that these men were not the "Fathers", of the True Church, although history records them as such. The true Fathers (without quotation marks), were the many unnamed individuals who without any recognition in history, literally believed the Bible, lived it and taught it to others. Some of history's "Church Fathers" (with quotes), do give us great historical incite into the history of the church. However, history shows without question that much of what these writers did, led to great error in the church, and laid the foundations for a "Christianity" and "Church", which in no way was constituted following the Biblical example. In fact, as time progressed, it was this false church which caused the greatest persecution of the true saints of God, and tried the hardest to stamp out the Truth. The founding principles on which this Satanic church, based in Rome, was built began not in the Holy Scriptures, but in the writings of these early "Fathers". Even now, almost two thousand years later, their error still lives on.
It is well also to note that a great deal of what these writers produced was in fact based on sound Biblical principles, yet with the truth they mixed error. The error destroyed the effectiveness of the truth and it was error that prevailed. The events of Church History prove that God cannot bless error and without the illuminating power and work of the Holy Spirit, truth has no power. It has no power because its power in the first place comes from the convicting work of the God the Holy Spirit. Truth mixed with error is devoid of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and thus will not be used of God. God only blesses truth which is in fact, His pure Word. Today as then, in what ever area the Christian or church allows error to become a part of their belief, that area is not blessed of the Lord. He surely does bless and use the truth which one believes. This is why Paul urges us to "examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith" (II Cor. 13:5).
II. THE CHURCH "FATHERS"4
THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS - THE FIRST CENTURY
96 AD TO 150 AD
In the West
Clement of Rome
In the East
In the West
In the East
Irenacus - Gnostic
Speculative (theology) Alexandria
THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENTIFIC BIBLE STUDY - 325 AD TO 460 - THE FOURTH CENTURY
Jerome - Bible Translator
Alexandrian School |
Chrysostom - preacher
Clement was a student of the Apostle John, and was a leader in the church at Rome. About the year 95, in response to a serious disturbance in the church at Corinth, Clement wrote the "Epistle to the Corinthians", which is the oldest Christian writing apart from the books of the New Testament.5
The Corinthian church had fallen into a state which Clement declared was worse than that of Paul's time. It seems the younger leaders had taken over the church and dismissed the leaders appointed earlier by the Apostles.6
Clement urged the church to follow its true leaders. Clement also, used much Old Testament Scripture with about one hundred and fifty quotes mentioned.7
B. IGNATIUS - About 107AD, Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch in Syria, was arrested and sent to Rome to be killed by the wild beasts in the imperial games. He was the student of the Apostle John. On the way to Rome, he was allowed to have visitors and this gave him opportunity to preach all along the way. He great welcomed martyrdom and urged that no one interfere in his keeping his appointment with death.8
On his trip he wrote seven letters, one to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnesans, and one to his friend Polycarp.9
However, in his letters great emphasis was placed on subjection to the bishops as a way to achieve unity and avoid the growth of heresy. After Ignatius, later writers took this same theme and it grew into a system of hierarchy, and the classes of clergy and laity.
In Rome he was compelled to hold fire in his hands while paper dipped in oil was put to his side and lighted. After this the wild beasts were allowed devour him. 10
C. POLYCARP - 70 AD T0 155 AD
Polycarp was also a disciple of the Apostle John, and was for many years the Bishop of Smyrna. His writing gives much incite into the life in the early church.
In his letter to the Philippians, written in 110 AD, he greatly quoted the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Polycarp was did not address church polity as had the earlier writer and his letter addressed the practical strengthening of the daily life of the Christian. 11
In 155 AD, in was martyred, under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius. After having first escaped those who sought him, he was discovered by a child. Having a dream, he thought it was the Lord's will that he not try to escape again and he was captured. He was burned at the stake, and all the while praying. Earlier at his trial he have refused to recant, and denounce Christ and save his life, saying that in all his 70 years of knowing Christ, the Lord had not denounced him, thus he could not denounce his Savior.12
D. THE EPISTLE OF BARNABAS -
This letter also called, "Pseudo-Barnabas", because it was written by someone other than the Barnabas of the New Testament, is believed to have been written by some Christian from Alexandria, in Egypt.13
The letter addresses the problem of the relationship of the Christian to Judaism. It strongly presents the truth that Christians are not bound to keeping the Mosaic Law, which had ended with the death of Christ. The writer uses 199 quotes from the Old Testament. His use and misuse of allegory of the Old Testament, shows that this method of interpretation was prominent in Egypt as early as 130 AD, when the letter was written. He many times goes beyond, legitimate use of allegory, in trying to make his point. Later around 230 AD Origen, leader in the church in Alexandria, developed his allegorical system of interpreting Scripture which down through the centuries has done much to harm sound Biblical interpretation of the Scriptures.14
E. THE SECOND EPISTLE OF CLEMENT TO THE CORINTHIANS
This was a sermon written about 150 AD, and was not written by Clement of Rome, actually died fifty years earlier. The letter is an interesting example of preaching in the Second Century, and presents a sound view of Christ, the resurrection and the purity of life of the Christian.15
F. PAPIAS This document titled, Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord, was written by Papias, Bishop of Herapolis, in Phrygia, about the middle of the Second Century. It deals with the life and works of Christ. Papias, states that Mark was the interpreter of Peter and that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew.16
G. "THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS"
This writing was modeled after the Book of Revelations, and written by a freed slave of Rome, named Hermas. After being freed from slavery the writer fell into deep sin, neglected his family who also fell into sin. His wife, repented as did the writer, yet all of his children were lost to the faith.
Its theme is a call to repentance and holy living, and is concerned with the Christian in relationship to the Church.17
D. THE "DIDACHE"
This little book came to light in 1875, when it was discovered in an ecclesiastical library in Constantinople. Its name is, the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles", and is a church manual of instruction. It contains four sections. The first addresses, the ways of life and death. The second discusses baptism, fasting and communion. The third looks at ways to distinguish false prophets from true and how to find worthy leaders for the church. The fourth section deals with deals with the Christian being watchful for the return of the Lord Jesus.
It is a pattern of Christian living that is clearly, taught in the New Testament which leads many to believe it was written between 95 AD and 150 AD.
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