Evangelism and Christian Formation in the Early Church -- By: Robert E. Webber

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 13:4 (Fall 2004)
Article: Evangelism and Christian Formation in the Early Church
Author: Robert E. Webber

Evangelism and Christian
Formation in the Early Church

Robert E. Webber

Recently I sat with a longtime friend in a local coffee shop discussing matters related to theology. We have both enjoyed the benefits of Reformed thinking so our discussion turned to the impact of Reformed theology on our lives. “I’m not willing to call myself Reformed anymore,” my friend said. “Why not?” I asked. “It’s too shaped by the Enlightenment.”

This conversation raised a brief but lively discussion on the nature of Reformed theology. Is Reformed theology, particularly the theology of the Reformers—Luther, Calvin, Menno Simmons—an attempt to recover the ancient theology and practices of the church or is Reformed theology what it became in the modern world?

It seems clear to me that the Reformers were concerned to return to a pre-Medieval, Patristic approach to the faith. The Anabaptists wanted to situate faith in the practices of the pre-Constantinian church, while Luther and Calvin were concerned to locate their theological tradition in Scripture as interpreted by the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed. While there are differences between the Reformers, they were all concerned to restore the ancient faith and practice which they felt had been corrupted by the late Medieval church. The Reformers did not have an inkling of

the Enlightenment to come and how that would reshape their recovery of the past.

We now live in a time in which the awareness of post Reformation developments have resulted in a new criticism of culturally-shaped Christianity. Reformed thought filtered through reason and science has distanced us not only from the early church, but also from the Reformers who called us to return to the early church. This is, of course, a return to Scripture as well, seeing that the formation of the Canon was intertwined with the formation of the creeds and many of the practices of the early church. This relation between Scripture and tradition can be maintained even as the final authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and practice are embraced.

I have stated this brief prolegomenon above as a way of legitimizing a return to the ancient practice of evangelism and Christian formation.1 I needed to develop this apologia because what I’m about to present is not found in any developed form in the writings of the Reformers. The failure of the Reformers to refer to the ancient practice of Christian formation is not due to their rejection of it. Rather, because the particular documents that yield an understanding of the an...

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