The Patristic Gap

How many of my evangelical readers have read any of the Church Fathers? The period during which they wrote, and during which much fundamental doctrine was hammered out, is referred to as the patristic period. And keep in mind that the patristic period could be said to have begun with the Resurrection. We have no problem reading Acts, or Paul’s writings for example, but many evangelicals seem to act as if nothing written after Paul and Revelation has any significance. No Augustine, no Justin Martyr, none of the early councils. And. most surprisingly, no Ignatius of Antioch. Here was a man who was appointed by Peter as bishop of Antioch and was himself a disciple of John, yet who is disregarded almost entirely in evangelical teaching. Is it possible that nothing he said was important to the life of the Church?

It would not be too much of a stretch to say that the patristic writings are ignored by evangelicals because they are too “Catholic.” In fact, it is quite clear that many of the “unbiblical” practices of the Catholic Church were already an established part of Christian worship in the first and second centuries.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that at some point the patristic writings took the Church away from the simplicity of the Gospel and had become by then distorted by the accretions of the “traditions of men.” We would therefore have to ask ourselves when exactly did that occur. Did the Gospel message get lost immediately after the death of the last Apostle only to be rediscovered by the Reformers fifteen centuries later? Or should we  assume that the Church lost her way gradually and that the earliest writings may shed some light on Christian practice soon after Jesus’ death. If so, then we are forced to take seriously the writings of those who were themselves disciples of the Apostles.

Here is my proposition: let us discuss what aspects of Catholic and evangelical theology and practice best conform to the earliest writings of the Church and to the writings of the Reformers. Where did Catholicism lose its way? Where did the Reformation get it right and where did it get it wrong? How closely to the teachings of the first Protestants does evangelical worship adhere? These are things we must discuss without rancor and with open hearts and minds.

I was raised an evangelical and I was led to the Roman Catholic Church. There are many, many testimonies of those who have taken a similar path, just as there are those who feel that God led them in the opposite direction. Let’s discuss their testimonies and see what understanding we can glean from them.

I still have some lingering doubts about the Catholic Church just as I had doubts about Protestantism. I’m perfectly willing to listen to those who have discovered the truth and have no doubts at all. Talk to me and share the truth. I am strongly of the opinion that as each of us draw closer to the true God we inevitably draw closer to one another.

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