Should we follow the “early church fathers”?
Quick Answer: Some argue that we should adhere to what the “early church fathers” taught during the first few centuries of Christianity. While this might sound like a noble idea, it is problematic in that the early church fathers did not even agree with each other about key issues! Furthermore, many of the so-called “early church fathers” promoted unfounded (even heretical!) ideas. In short, it is not the age of a belief that determines its truth value. What is most important is what the Scriptures actually teach, not what those who came later might have claimed. And the Spirit of God is perfectly capable of teaching us the truth of the Gospel today, so we have no need to blindly submit to the ideas proposed by the “early church fathers.”
Diving Deeper: Some argue that we should model our faith after the beliefs of the “early church fathers.” However, in Colossians 2:8, Paul warns the church of Colossae not to be taken captive to “hollow and deceptive philosophy” which depends on “human traditions” instead of Christ. The same warning can be applied today to the theology of the so-called “early church fathers.” As interesting as the church fathers may be to read about and study, they were still fallible human beings just like us.
Furthermore, if we were to follow these “early church fathers”, how would we determine which ones to follow? After all, they did not present a uniform belief system by any stretch! Origen believed all people would be saved through Christ. Tertullian was convinced people should be baptized on their deathbed to ensure their salvation was secured. Irenaeus believed Old Testament Gentiles were justified by living according to Greek philosophy. If we were to simply follow the early church fathers, we’d have quite an odd theological compilation!
It doesn’t take long for people to distort the Gospel message. Consider the church in Corinth that was abusing the Lord’s Supper and getting things wrong very early. Likewise, the Galatians were mandating circumcision and Law-keeping and thereby getting things wrong very early. Clearly, it doesn’t take long for truth to be twisted! Therefore, we should not fall at the feet of the “early church fathers” and adopt their theologies simply because they are from long ago.
Let’s Make It a Conversation!
1. What early church fathers do you know of? What do you think of their theology?
2. What are some issues with basing our theology on tradition?
3. What are some ways we can ensure that we are believing the true gospel of grace (Acts 20:24)?