Final Thoughts -- By: John H. Armstrong
RAR 11:4 (Fall 2002) p. 197
A movement back to the classical Christianity of the early church is clearly growing in much of the Western world. I applaud this interest and happily support the movement itself. I believe the Spirit is using such interest to promote revival in reformation. Given the state of the Christian church in North America and Great Britain, and the profound hunger of younger evangelical Christians for something bigger and more satisfying than pop culture Christianity, this does not surprise me at all. Why should leaders be interested in the early church when so much around us cries out for relevance?
Well, the first reason is that the earliest Christians knew the apostles of the New Testament and best expressed what they wrote and believed. These “fathers and mothers” do not have absolute authority but they do speak profoundly to us as the first followers of Christ beyond the lives of the apostles. It strikes me as arrogant to employ the ideas of Christians from the sixteenth century, and those written and spoken since, and to ignore the writings and insights of these first Christians. If the Holy Spirit has been active in the whole church for two thousand years then surely we can learn from all who have followed Christ in faith.
Second, though these early Christians did not believe that their authority was equal to that of the apostles, they did clearly believe that they were faithfully passing along the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” We ignore their insights and interpretations to our own peril. John Calvin, for one, saw this rather plainly and thus his insights are filled with references to and from this era.
Third, these early believers focused upon living faithfully in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They did engage in polemics and defended the faith against detractors, but their primary focus was upon life itself and presenting the gospel to
RAR 11:4 (Fall 2002) p. 198
unbelievers as clearly as possible. Only later did the church engage in philosophical debates that often moved the people of God away from the basic life-changing message of faith in Christ alone. Making theology an end in itself was not their interest. They did theology so that they could live and die well. If we are interested in reformation then they offer some great thought to us in this effort.
Fourth, their doctrinal formulations were much less complex and philosophical than what we see in later centuries. This does not mean that individuals were allowed to teach whatever they wanted without a response from the church. There was serious accountability in the early centuries. A life of faith was clearly connected to a right pr...
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