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Particulars of Christianity:
401 First Eight Writers' Consensus


Early Church Consensus: Introduction

Early Church Confirmation Rubric
Early Church Consensus: Introduction
1: Nature of the Godhead
2: Covenants & O.T. Saints Relationship to the Church
3: Kingdom (Hell), Timing of 2nd Advent and Kingdom
4-5: Age of the World (6000 Years); Communion Meal
6: Baptisms
7-8: Law of Christ; Repentance
9-12: Excommunication; Divorce; Sabbath; Tithing
13: Freewill (A) Against Original Sin and Total Depravity
13: Freewill (B) Against Unconditional Election
13: Freewill (C-D) Against Ltd. Atmt.; Ir. Grace, OSAS
14-15: Church Authority; Roles of Men and Women
16-18: Charismatic Gifts; Civil Gov't., War; Men & Angels
Addendum 1: Eternal Begetting - Irenaeus and Ignatius
Addendum 2: Eternal Begetting - Justin Martyr



Introduction

As we begin this study of the non-canonical writers known as the “Apostolic Fathers,” it is appropriate to begin with an applicable comment from Irenaeus.

Irenaeus –
AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK III

CHAP. III. 1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. …2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishopsIn the time of this Clement,  no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things…4. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom,(1) departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time…There is also a very powerful(4) Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. …CHAP. IV. 1. Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life.(1) For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question(2) among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?...CHAP. V. 1. Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth,(7) and that no lie is in Him.

In this quote, Irenaeus begins by giving an answer to the question, “how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings?” In other words, if there was no New Testament, how would the Church measure truth? Irenaeus’ answer is that, if there was no New Testament, the Church would have to resort to looking to the writings of later writers, themselves appointed by the apostles, in order to trace and compare which beliefs could be traced to the apostles and which beliefs were new and had no connection to the apostles. Irenaeus even mentions two epistles, one written by Clement and one by Polycarp, as post-apostolic writings that could be used to measure the accuracy of Christian teaching if the apostles had not left writing of their own.

Nevertheless, after briefly discussing the evidence available in later writings, he concludes by turning his attention for the bulk of his own work to the New Testament itself. He says, “Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth.”

Two things are clear from these comments by Irenaeus. First, he believed that scripture was the primary and most authoritative means of measuring the accuracy of Christian doctrine. And second, that he also believed later, non-canonical writings of the earliest Christians who themselves had close connections to the apostles, could be used as a secondary source for evaluating the soundness of more modern Church views.

Consequently, what this study represents is nothing new. This cataloguing of the views of the “Apostolic Fathers” on each topical area of doctrine is intended as a secondary, lesser means of checking the accuracy of modern Church views by comparison to the views of the earliest Christians who still had close ties to the apostles themselves, in some cases even being the next generation appointed by the apostles. But, like Irenaeus, this catalog is held to be of secondary value only. Since the apostles did leave us with writings of their own in the New Testament, it is unquestioningly the writing of the apostles that is the first and most authoritative measure of Christian teaching. And the apostles’ record is complete, lacking in nothing and not needing to be supplemented or filled in with these later, non-canonical writings.

The role of the non-canonical writings is included only as an interesting testimony to the way that the earliest Christians interpreted the teaching of the apostles. And what is striking is that although they may have erred in minor and incidental points or arguments, in their works there is not a single major doctrinal conclusion that is problematic or out of conformity to scripture. They did not deviate rapidly or widely as some suggest today in the modern Church. Nor did they disagree among themselves, but held demonstrable and impressive consensus that puts the many, many divisions and differing opinions of the modern Church to shame. The modern Church doesn’t hold a candle to the consensus and specificity of these early writers. And before we imagine that the Bible is so flexible in meaning as to justify all the diverse views of the modern Church, we ought to be heavily cautioned by the fact that the first Christians all saw the same one and only one interpretation in the exact same New Testament that we have today. They did not look into the New Testament and see confusion or flexibility, but clarity and singularity of meaning.

 

Introductory Notes:

NOTE 1: All quotations from the epistles of Ignatius are from the “shorter versions” of those texts.

NOTE 2: The following topics are included in the survey below.

1) View of God
2) View of the Covenants & the Relationship of Old Testament Saints to the Church
3) View of the Kingdom (and Hell), the Timeframe of Jesus’ Return and the Kingdom
4) View of Young Age of the World and a 6,000 Year Limit of Human History
5) View of the Communion Meal
6) View of Baptisms
7) View of the Law of Christ (Rules in Christianity)
8) View of Repentance
9) View of Excommunication
10) View of Divorce and Remarriage Forbidden
11) View of Sabbath Keeping and Holy Days
12) View of Tithing and Communal Living and Christian Giving
13) View of Freewill and Election
14) View of Church Authority
15) View of the Roles of Men and Women
16) View of Charismatic Gifts
17) View of the Christians Relationship to Governments and Participation in War
18) View of the Nature of Men, Angels, Demons and Nephilim

NOTE 3: Below are the summaries of the Apostolic Fathers on all eighteen of the topic areas above.

1) View of God
(Trinitarian) There is only one God, not multiple Gods. However, from the beginning of creation, this one God has revealed Himself to be comprised of three, perpetually distinct, simultaneously existing, and intercommunicating persons, operating in communion and in perpetually unbroken agreement with one another. The titles for these three are the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. The Word existed before time or anything else was created, and is therefore Himself eternally existent. The Word is considered to have the same essence as the Father. Although mentioned in less detail, the Holy Spirit is regarded as a comparable counterpart to the Word (in such regards). (For instance, the Word and the Holy Spirit are both regarded as God’s “hands” in creation and the Holy Spirit is even referred to by Irenaeus as being the “similitude” of the Word, reflecting the Greek term for “another” in Jesus’ phrase “another Paraclete” in John 14:16.) It Was the Pre-Incarnate Word Who Visited Men in the Old Testament.

2) View of the Covenants & the Relationship of Old Testament Saints to the Church
There are not multiple covenants (or programs) of God operating at the same time. God progressively prepared men for redemption and accomplished that redemption through a series of covenants that culminate in the New Covenant which was inaugurated by Jesus Christ at the last supper, his death, and resurrection with believing Jews and under which Jewish and Gentile saints of all ages (including the Old Testament saints who lived before the Law of Moses and during the Law of Moses and the saints living since the new covenant) are all redeemed through the atoning work of Jesus Christ and all receive the same promises and eternal reward together, side-by-side in the kingdom of God on earth. This new covenant brought by Jesus Christ put an end to and replaced the old covenant given under Moses. (See also the section on “Sabbaths and Holy Days” below.)

3) View of the Kingdom (and Hell), the Timeframe of Jesus’ Return and the Kingdom
There will be a literal, physical kingdom with Jesus Christ physically present on earth and ruling over Israel as the head of nations. Jesus will be assisted in his rule by Jewish and Gentile saints of all ages and covenants who have been made immortal. At this time the earth will be restored to the abundant, non-violent state that was in the paradise of Genesis. Hell is a literal place where the wicked will reside alive in punishment. The kingdom of God is not itself present on earth at this time (apart from the presence of some of its citizenry) but instead only arrives following the fulfillment of certain prophecies involving the final tribulation and persecution of the saints of God (i.e. Jews and Gentiles under the New Covenant) orchestrated by a literal, singular antichrist and brought to an end at Jesus Christ’s second coming, all of which still lay ahead in the future.

4) View of Young Age of the World and a 6,000 Year Limit of Human History
The earth was only a several thousand years old as indicated by the record of the Old Testament. The total length of human history prior to the return of Jesus Christ to rule his kingdom was no more than approximately 6,000 years. Jesus’ kingdom was seen as a seventh thousand years and that total 7,000 year period was seen as corresponding to the seven days of Genesis 1, with Jesus’ kingdom corresponding to the Sabbath.

5) View of the Communion Meal
The communion meal was an actual meal shared by all believers during church gatherings. It commemorated the atonement brought by Jesus Christ and celebrated the saints future resurrection to participate in the kingdom of God on earth when Jesus Christ returns. Since it was associated with participation in the kingdom of God eternally, taking communion symbolized having eternal life. (“Transubstantiation,” the doctrine that the bread and wine change to become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ was not held. At most, it could be argued that the “Apostolic Fathers” believed in “consubstantiation,” the doctrine that the bread and wine remain actual bread and wine without being changed, but in a spiritual sense, they are joined with or by the body and blood of Jesus Christ. However, upon closer examination in detail, the surrounding context of the quotes indicates otherwise.)

6) View of Baptisms
There were two forms of baptism, not one. They were water baptism and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Water baptism was viewed as associated with the various Old Testament washing rituals, the baptism of John the Baptist, and the forerunner or outward symbol of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the Holy Spirit was another term for the rebirth and was seen as the ultimate form of baptism, the baptism brought by Jesus Christ, and the baptism that brought salvation. Baptism in the Holy Spirit literally referred to the internal cleansing that occurred over the lifetime of a believer as they learned to follow the Holy Spirit in obedience to Jesus’ commands. The rebirth was the time when the Holy Spirit first came into a person’s life and began this work, which normally occurred at the time of water baptism. As such, water baptism was seen as the believers’ voluntary commitment to live as a disciple and to cleanse themselves of sin, (at which point he received the Holy Spirit and became born again). Consequently, water baptism was practiced and was seen as normal but not absolutely necessary since it was the inner baptism by the Holy Spirit that performed what was truly needed for salvation.

7) View of the Law of Christ (Rules in Christianity)
The Law of Moses had been discontinued. But Christianity had rules and Christians had to follow those rules. The rules were given by Jesus Christ when he inaugurated a new covenant. (Therefore, these rules were not based upon or a continuation from the Law of Moses.) (The rules were far fewer and simpler than the Law of Moses and more lenient in the sense that they replaced execution with excommunication and, thereby, allowed an opportunity for future repentance and reconciliation. Forgiveness was, of course, provided on the basis of Jesus’ atoning work.) Legalism was defined as the false teaching that the Law of Moses was still in effect and believers were obligated to keep the whole of the specifics of the Law of Moses instead of the Law of Christ. (Strict adherence to the Law of Christ was seen as necessary, not as legalism.)

8) View of Repentance
Required the acknowledgement of what was sinful in your life, the commitment to turn from those sins, and the real effort to stop sinning as well as asking forgiveness through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

9) View of Excommunication
Excommunication was social and spiritual separation from those who were called Christians but who either spoke or lived in rejection of Jesus’ teaching, whether conceptual or moral teaching. If such persons did not respond to correction with repentance, they were excommunicated, which symbolized their rejection of Christ’s teaching and their removal from the fellowship (i.e. sharing) of eternal life. If a person later repented after being excommunicated, they could be restored to fellowship.

10) View of Divorce and Remarriage Forbidden
Divorce was not permitted in the church and everyone who was in a second marriage while their original spouse was still alive was seen to be an unrepentant sinner on the same level as any standard, unrepentant adulterer or adulteress.

11) View of Sabbath Keeping and Holy Days
The Law of Christ did not require keeping a weekly holy day, particularly the Jewish Sabbath (which is the modern Saturday). However, early Christians met frequently throughout the week, including most prominently on Sundays.

12) View of Tithing and Communal Living and Christian Giving
The New Covenant abolished the tithe of the Mosaic Law and replaced it with a command for believers to live communally, sharing all they had with one another as needed. The tithe was neither required nor instructed for Christians under the New Covenant.


13)
View of Freewill and Election

a) Even after the sin of Adam and Eve, the power to choose both good or evil, belief or disobedience has always remained in every man. Children are born innocent. God’s sovereignty was thought of as jurisdictional, as a right to rule and act autonomously, particularly with regard to judgment. And although God exercised determinism over specified areas such as how to structure creation, which men to elevate to authority, and the occurrence of key historical events leading up to the incarnation and atoning death of Christ, God’s sovereignty was never viewed as causative for all things, for salvation, or for any of the choices of men, whether good or evil. It was understood that prior to judgment, God’s will was often thwarted, resisted, and left undone by men and angels, including by born-again Christians. Consequently, Calvinist doctrines of Original Sin, Total Depravity, Calvinistic Sovereignty, and even Compatibilistic Will were rejected.

b) Which men were elected for redemption and reward and which men were selected for final condemnation and punishment was unequivocally viewed as being conditional upon which men would choose to believe and obey and which would not. This conditional election took place before creation by means of God’s ability to foreknow all things, including men’s entirely free choices. Consequently, the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election was rejected.

c) The atonement of Christ truly offered salvation to the whole world by extending the invitation and opportunity for repentance to the whole world, not just a unilaterally pre-determined number leaving the rest unable by nature to repent. The only manner in which God limited the number of men who would receive atonement is by limiting the amount of time he would allow men the opportunity to freely accept and believe in Jesus Christ, not by God unilaterally determining to cause some men to believe and not others. Consequently, the Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement was rejected.

d) Real born-again Christians who had already believed and received salvation and the Holy Spirit were capable of resisting God’s efforts on their behalf concerning salvation, to mature them in Jesus Christ and purify them toward the day of Jesus’ return, and consequently, could literally turn from real belief to real doubt and literally lose their salvation. (Not only could a believer fall away after coming to God, but they could also come back to God and be accepted by God after falling away if they repented.) Consequently, the Calvinist doctrines of Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints (or Eternal Security) were rejected.

14) View of Church Authority
The role of an elder, bishop, overseer, and pastor were seen as the same role. That role was simply a local successor appointed to fill the apostles’ function after the apostles had moved on from one city or region to the next. There was more than one bishop for each local city but often the most mature, capable bishop in a region was identified as having the highest oversight for that region. Having demonstrated their experience and maturity in the teaching of Jesus Christ, their role was to pass on that teaching to all less mature Christians and to safeguard the church against deviation from Jesus’ teaching. Like the rest of the church, they could excommunicate and their expertise naturally conveyed on them the highest appeal when such controversies arose. But no single bishop (such as the bishop of Rome) was seen as having rule over all the others but instead they shared collective authority over the church as a whole, even providing guidance to localities outside their own jurisdiction or having other localities appeal to them when questions or controversies arose. Consequently, bishops and congregations were required to submit to the correct understanding no matter who articulated it. Likewise, the men of any local congregation were allowed to speak and ask probing questions to determine the correctness or expose the incorrectness of any teaching at church gatherings. And, if accusations (of improper belief or moral behavior) were proved true, the other elders or men of any local congregation could remove a bishop from authority and even excommunicate him. Consequently, authority was entirely conditional and accountable to other elders and to the local church community.

15) View of the Roles of Men and Women
By God’s design and under the new covenant, men were understood to have authority over the women of their household but were required to live gently with those women and in accordance with correct Christian teaching. The men were required to lay down their lives to meet the spiritual needs of their wives and families, but not their desires or preferences. Men were allowed to speak and ask probing questions during church gatherings. By God’s design and under the new covenant, women were understood to be under the authority of the man of their household and were required to live in submission to him as a helpmate to him in his efforts to build the church. Women could hold authority over each other and over children but women were required to be silent at church and, if they had any questions, were to ask their husbands when at their own home.

16) View of Charismatic Gifts
The charismatic (i.e. miraculous) gifts did not cease with the death of the last apostle or the close of the canon of scripture or when the last person died upon whom the apostle’s laid hands, etc. Instead, these gifts continued to exist in wide practice in the church well into the second century. It was understood that the charismatic gifts were supposed to always be present in the Church for the benefit of the Church and for mankind as a whole, just as in the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. However, it was also understood that not all miracles or claims of miracles should be accepted because counterfeit miracles were occurring among heretics and it was understood such lying miracles would occur before the return of Jesus in order to draw Christians into false and damnable teachings. These counterfeit miracles were understood to often be legitimately supernatural but they were described specifically as lacking the character of the miracles performed by Jesus and his apostles. For example, the truly lame or blind or dead were never restored. Counterfeit miracles also included the “initiated” coaxing and coaching “uninitiated” believers to practice what amounted to pretend prophesying. Christians were instructed to turn away from such counterfeits and from all teachings and so-called Christian groups associated with such miracles. 

17) View of the Christians Relationship to Governments and Participation in War
The nations are ruled over by angels, particularly evil angels. Satan acquired (or rather abused this authority) when he took men captive by means of sin. Nevertheless, God still retained oversight (or at least passive approval for the time) of which men came to rule at which time, appointing such men to administer justice. Christians were to live obediently to the laws of the nations in which they lived, were not to rebel against the government, but were to submit to the laws even to death if condemned for their Christian faith. However, although they were the subjects of such governments, and obedient subjects, Christians were citizens of Jesus’ coming kingdom rather than of the countries in which they lived. Christians were not to participate in war or the civil institutions which administer justice in this age.

18) View of the Nature of Men, Angels, Demons and Nephilim
The human body, soul, and spirit are three distinct components of a human being. Although spiritual, angels and heaven itself are comprised of substance, a higher form of matter, but corporeal in that sense rather than incorporeal. Angels could interact with men and things on the earth and human bodies could eat angelic bread and even be taken into heaven. Some angels did come down to earth and take women as wives even having children by them. Genesis 6 described these historical events and pagan myths captured these events in distorted form.