I am a biblical fundamentalist; I am an Economist, believing that Jesus Christ is God, according to the Economy of God. I do not believe in doctrinal development past the point of the Apostles. I do not believe in new revelations, historical Tradition, or the that tradition defines and develops Doctrine. I stand with Marcellus of Ancyra in appreciating the early Church Fathers, but finding the sole source of Doctrine as the Scriptures from the Apostles and Prophets. I do not give any doctrinal significance to the Councils, nor will I call anyone a Saint, except for the broader body of the Church. I see no greatness in Rome or the so-called Apostolic Church which she leads.
To be honest, I relish the thought of being a heretic hunter, of stamping out false doctrines where they arise, with a steady word and a heavy hand. The Church has no room to allow these cancers to grow. I have no problem, as many would read this blog, of stating that this one or that one is a false prophet and a heretic.
However, in my study of the Church Fathers, I have come to a deep appreciation of their writings and their tribute to biblical studies and would rarely use the word ‘heretic’ (except for maybe Origen). I have been criticized for my use of them, however, I will continue to use them and their quotes in my own development and maturity as a Christian.
John Chrysostom has become a favorite of mine, as has Irenaeus, Tertullian, and even Cyprian. Most of these men I would have disagree with in nearly every way, yet, they have measures of Truth. I fully recognize
“So, we see Justin Martyr accused of ditheism and/or subordinationism. Or, we see Gregory Nazianzus accused of proto-Nestorianism.”
However, in doing so, I also recognize that there was not a sudden shift from what I would consider orthodox doctrine (except maybe Origen), and these men still have a measure of contribution to every self-proclaimed theologian – or otherwise – not in refuting any doctrine, or building any doctrine, but in tracing what theological development took place and when and in understanding the Christian community in a historical viewpoint.
Let me say quickly that if you believe that Christianity suddenly ceased after Peter and Paul and that Rome immediately appeared, then you have no faith in Christ or His Church. If Christianity ceased after the Apostles, then Gamaliel was right, and we have all been wrong for nearly 2000 years.
I find that Irenaeus, who is roundly despised by biblical fundamentalists, must be understood as the defender of the faith against well-learned Gnostics, versed and steeped in the Bible. He defended the Faith as one would in these circumstances, and more often than not, stayed within the pattern established by Ignatius and Polycarp. We have Justin, who I find in error as a ditheist, who has great strength in defending the Church against the Jews and further in defending the Septuagint. Tertullian provides us with a rigorous approach to Christian living while Cyprian fought for Church unity against the rising power in Rome. This is not to say that I judge them Christian, as that is in God’s hands, but even the most radical anti-Catholic (which rarely makes any sense) can see that some measure of Truth existed in this learned men.
Personally, I agree that
“Tertullian’s extreme temperament led him to rigid views about asceticism and prophecy which drove him from the orthodox church.”
Except for the part about the prophecy and his Montanist days, I find little wrong in Tertullian’s rigidness. I do however, find a great deal wrong with Origen and the entire school from Alexandria. I find it a break from Orthodoxy, no matter the century and cannot rightly see him in any positive light.
Returning to the others, however, I realize that many of them do not share the doctrines that I might hold, in total; however, it does not erase their value. We have to remember that History is rarely kind to even Inspired Writings, much less the writings and thoughts of men, albeit inspired men. (Look at the war that history as waged on the epistles from Ignatius) Interpretation of these writings is the same way. Do not take them in the light of theologians 1800 years removed from them, but attempt to understand them in the world in which they wrote. Unlike the Bible, their words are not timeless, and must be understood against the world that they fought.
I agree with the writer of the above post when he says,
A second less innocent motive is heresy hunting in the context of inter-denominational apologetics and polemics. In this kind of heresy hunt, we see writers (often, but not always Protestant) search the Fathers in order to find something wrong in what they are saying. What they are doing in reading the Fathers isn’t reading them to understand them or to take insight from them, but rather they are reading them the way that a lawyer reads a hostile brief–they are looking for dirt and evidence to beat the other side with.
There a few things that I no longer like to see, and that is anyone on my ‘side’ calling the theologians of the 2nd and 3rd century, Roman Catholic. Most them would have rebelled against the idea of the Roman Church as we know it now. Instead, we must look at these as cousins, rather distant, and stop the labeling, often times done in error. We must not succumb to the ‘violence’ of apologetics, but instead place these people in their respective places, learning and valuing their input.
Finally, even Paul used non-Christians to highlight Christianity, and if we dismiss the entire corpus of post-Apostle’s writing simply because they might not agree with us in every way, then we do a great deservice to the Church.