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  • Virginia Brown

Church fathers

The early church fathers deserve great admiration for their courage to stand boldly for Christ, even at the cost of their lives. They shame us in our worldliness. The writings of the early church fathers also deserve serious study. These men lived in the shadow of the apostolic age. Some of them personally walked and talked with the apostles.


While the early fathers are to be seriously respected, they are not to be venerated. Like us, they too were capable of error. A specific example of the fallibility of the church fathers arose when Jews and Christians engaged in overt hostility with each other over the issue of which religion would emerge victorious. To win an argument, it was easy for early Christians to teach that the church replaced Israel. A prominent church father, Justin Martyr, spiritualized the Old Testament, and thereby refuted the Gnostics who denied the Old Testament’s place in God’s revelation to man. While we agree with Justin Martyr that Christianity is the truth, we disagree with some of his conclusions.


The lesson for us is this: we must go back to the Scriptures as our final source for “doing theology.” As much as we may respect and admire the early church fathers, or, for that matter, the Reformers, the Puritans, or a particular modern spiritual leader, we must always remember to be like the Bereans, checking our conclusions against the plumb line of God’s Word (Acts 17:11). No one could put it more clearly than the Reformer Martin Luther, as he boldly proclaimed before the Diet of Worms: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”


Scott Granville

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