Coming up on the one year anniversary of writing for A Clear Lens, I have to admit that I’m still humbled that so many are still reading and sharing my very first piece: “The First Apologists and Why They Still Matter.” In it, I detail the similarities between the obstacles they faced, with the obstacles of today.
My first big introduction to the works of the first church fathers was in “Testimonies” by Rev. Thomas Browne, MA. It was an awesome look into the lives of our spiritual forefathers. Ever since then, I’ve been devouring anything I can get my hands on regarding the early church.
Here are five things I’ve learned from reading the works of the early church fathers.
Get Plugged Into a Biblical Church
First and foremost as apologists, we must get plugged into a biblical church. All of the early Church fathers and apologists were active in a local body as either a bishop or a presbyter. That’s not to say that we need to become bishops ourselves, but it is absolutely vital that we have a strong Christian family who can both walk beside us and encourage us in our apologetics, as well as hold us accountable if we make a misstep.
Let’s face it: we’re only human. The only perfect person who ever walked the earth was Jesus and we’re not him! We are bound to make mistakes. We might get a fact wrong or, regretfully, may engage in “theological error”. Therefore, we must be active in a local church body. Consult with elders in your church. Tell them about what you’re doing and ask to be held accountable for your actions both online and elsewhere.
This should go without saying, but it’s absolutely vital that we spend time each day studying, reading and yes, even memorizing scripture. (I say this to myself as well because I often get lazy on the memorizing part!) The early church fathers voraciously studied scripture.
In fact, it’s often said that if we didn’t have the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, we could still piece together most of the scriptures just by how many times the early church fathers quoted them.
Study The Works of Skeptics and Other Religions
Exposing ourselves to ideas that berate and challenge our beliefs is a hard pill to swallow. Yet, we need to be well versed in criticisms from non-Christians regarding Christianity. It’s the best way to learn what the arguments against Christianity are and try to understand their perspective. In understanding their arguments, Christian apologist can better engage with the ideas.
Augustine of Hippo, for example, was well versed in the skepticism of his day. After leaving Manichaeism, he almost became a skeptic himself before becoming a Christian. As such, he understood the position very well and was able to deftly interact with it in his groundbreaking work, “Contra Academicos”.
Dig Into Church History
Early church fathers respected and studied the works of those that came before them and we should do the same. Christianity has existed for over 2000 years. The vast majority of accusations and objections to the Christian faith have already been answered or debunked. One of the best examples of this is the argument that since the situations in the gospels don’t match up verbatim, then they’re false. This accusation was attempted by Celsus (AD 170) and answered by Origen (AD 248).
Face Opposition with Humility
The early church suffered a great deal more than simple name calling. Tertullian famously said, “If the Tiber rises too high, or the Nile too low, the remedy is always feeding Christians to the lions.” Yet, even though they often faced imprisonment or death depending on the whims of the local government, the early church fathers remained humble.
Again, quoting Tertullian, “If we are commanded to love our enemies, who have we to hate? If, when injured, we are forbidden to return evil for evil, lest we should be like our adversaries, whom can we hurt?”
If Tertullian and other church fathers can maintain such humility in an era where Christianity was considered to be a “religio illicita“, then we can handle name calling.
Learning from the Past
There are many more things that we can learn from the early church. It’s encouraging to read about how they persevered through challenges to the faith as well as physical violence.