February 2018 Newsletter - "The Importance of Early Church Writings" by Nathan Padilla
There was an article that Apostle Mike had come across written by a theologian expressing the importance of the Early Church writings. We know this, but it is refreshing to hear others share the same sentiment and who understand the vitality of their manuscripts. I will give a brief explanation of the article to hit on key points of the author, Jenny Hawkins. At first, she explains that the title “Father” was given to the Bishops. What constitutes you to be a spiritual father? It’s a Bishop/Apostle (same meaning). The term “Fathers” have to do with these Christian writers who were in a time closest to the apostolic custom of interpreting the Divine Scriptures. They were the witnesses of this apostolic tradition and did not stray away from it. To understand their positions and rankings, there were actually 3 tiers. There were Apostolic Fathers who were in direct contact with the Apostles and were their disciples, such as St. Clement (baptized into the faith by the Apostle Peter, and discipled under the Apostle Paul). They were the first carries of the apostolic tradition (the oral teachings of the Apostles that were not written down, see 2 Thessalonians 2:15). These Fathers held to these apostolic teachings and were dedicated to keeping to the way the Apostles had taught them the Gospels. They weren’t trying to “reinvent the wheel” or add to what they were taught by the Apostles. Their dedication leads them to uproot any doctrine that was circulating that was outside of this apostolic tradition. The Didache was a primeval writing of the New Testament that instructed the church in worship and established order in the body of Christ. Some of the earliest letters and writings that helped frame the church were from Ignatius, Polycarp, and St. Clement, who sat at feet of Apostles. This is the first tier.
The second tier was Fathers from the period of 150 AD. These were the Ante Nicene Fathers before 325 AD. These Fathers were considered the first Christian “intellectuals” who were combining classical wisdom and Greek Philosophy (i.e. the writings of Justin Martyr Philosophy which were heavily influenced by the Septuagint). These were the men who helped form the New Testament canon and their meaning. Circa 180 A.D. Iranaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, was the one who initiated the design of putting a New Testament canon together. During the second and third centuries, there were many illegitimate writings circulating around that falsely bore the name of one of Apostles. To prevent this deception from continuing, they decided that it was necessary. So in essence, we wouldn’t have a New Testament without these Fathers discerning which were the authentic writings of the Gospels and the Apostolic epistles. These Fathers (the second tier) were also known as “Apologetic and Anti-heretical” writers who valiantly defended the faith from Christian heresy and wrote letters to the government defending the faith (also known as an apologetic letter). Amongst this league of guardians, the faith was Ignatius (disciple of the Apostle John); Justin Martyr, a converted pagan philosopher turned Christian apologist; Iranaeus, who relentlessly came against Gnosticism; Origen, the greatest Scripture scholar of this time period; and Tertullian, who was the first to use the term “Trinity.”
Now the third tier is the Post Nicene Fathers. For us at Forerunner Ministries International, we adhere to the Ante Nicene Fathers. Now, Miss Jenny Hawkins goes on to discuss this era of Christianity, which would, in reality, change their discourse from the previous Fathers. Not all Fathers were straying away, such as Gregory of Nazianzen and St. John Chrysostom, called the “golden mouth,” both of whom were supporters of the teachings of Origen. Yet there were others who started to stray away from the original orthodoxy of the church that the Ante Nicene Fathers strictly adhered to. Augustine was one of these Post Nicene Fathers, who is known as the “Father of the Roman Catholic Church." He started to teach from more of a Western perspective as opposed to the Eastern. Contrary to how Christianity is perceived today as a Western religion, today's understanding of the Word came through the lens of Augustine. You have to understand that a Western mindset and an Eastern mindset are two different schools of thought. Not only that, but Augustine’s teachings contradicted what Ante Nicene Fathers taught. That is why we choose to comply with those Fathers who were closest to the well and who were strict to adhering to Apostolic Tradition. This was my summary of the article that was written by Jenny Hawkins. Shalom!