The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers

by Hadley Robinson

Implicit in contemporary Protestant theology is the principal that writings outside of the NT are entirely optional except, perhaps, those of contemporary Protestant theologians….  As a result, we can expect that most in the Church will give a collective yawn if asked about the writings of the Apostolic Fathers – those who lived during the period just after the deaths of the New Testament Apostles (95 - 150 A.D.).
 
However, these writings can be an important test of orthodoxy against the abundance of writings we have today and, especially, a test against the significant new teachings that have developed in the post-Reformation Church.
 
Misuse of Scripture is a common error of the post-Reformation period.  As a result, many Spirit-filled Christians have experienced discomfort and conflict as a result of some contemporary theological views but may not understand why?  They may not have the knowledge of Greek or the time to do the necessary study from scratch of what the New Testament teaches concerning how Christians are to live.  However, the indwelling Spirit tells them, “Something is wrong here.  But what? How?”
 
If you think that Christians are generally encouraged to act like noisy busybodies, you are correct – and, if they were alive, the Apostolic Fathers would also agree.  We are so accustomed to hearing that every Christian must hand out tracts, talk about Jesus wherever he goes, send money here or there, get involved before it’s too late, etc. that we believe it.  The New Testament teaches no such thing – nor, for example, did the Apostolic Fathers.
 
The result of us being encouraged to be busybodies is that the Church experiences anything but peace.  The Royal Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40) are laid aside, people do not live holy lives, and the Holy Spirit’s distribution of the gifts (Rom. 12:6; 1Cor. 7:7; Eph. 4:11) is turned on its head.  Generally, we are encouraged to live disobedient lives so that some man’s name and/or his organization might be great in the world’s eyes – we must do it “for God.”
 
It is not that we must walk in love and holiness, as the Scriptures teach everywhere, but that we must help further the kingdoms of persuasive church leaders.  How often have we heard them begging for money and/or asking us to drop what we are doing and run off somewhere?  “I want to save Africa from (fill in the blank).”  “If you can’t join me you could at least help by sending money.” “Don’t you care about the little children?” And on it goes.
 
It does not occur to anyone that the conditions we observe in most of Africa have little or nothing to do with natural disasters but with a people that love evil:  Murder, thievery, greed, immorality, divorce, and adultery.
 
Like with ancient Israel, God often punishes sin with horrific judgments, including famine and disease that can also affect a people’s children.  Few note the graphic details in Deuteronomy resulting from the sins of  God’s people:  The famine God sends in judgment will result in their eating their own offspring (Dt. 28:53ff).  We must be sorry for suffering.  But should not there be repentance on the part of the people who are living such lives?  How much do we do in order to mitigate the consequences of gross evil or interfere with the Creator’s anger at sin and rebellion?
 
I can love and do good to my neighbor.  But how can people be my neighbors whom I have never met or of whom I have any idea of their true circumstances?  According to contemporary evangelical theology, everybody, everywhere is my neighbor and God loves them all.  The Scriptures do not teach this – nor did the Apostolic Fathers.
 
This is not saying that all Christians are not to be full of mercy and love towards others.  These are the marks of God’s people.  But contemporary leaders distort this and beat the flock in order to enlarge their own influence – not to encourage them to be obedient Christians.  It is all about expanding my kingdom and influence or, euphemistically, “God’s Kingdom”.  The two are one and the same for these leaders.
 
The Apostolic Fathers were persecuted for their faith in Christ.  Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was sentenced to die in the Roman arena by being torn apart by wild animals.  The prospect of torture and/or death for the mere crime of saying “Jesus is LORD” focuses the mind of the Christian on what is eternal.  It also tends to discourage the charismatic salesmen who profit off the Gospel in one way or another either by enriching them or making them prominent – the aptly named “lovers of being first” as mentioned in 3John.  It must be noted that persecution does not always yield purity of faith – it can help sift out the bad.  After 150 A.D. writings of such persecuted men as Origen and Irenaeus contained seeds of error that grew over the centuries in the Church.  Nonetheless, they still deserve our attention and respect.
 
An important early 2nd century document known as the Didache instructs the Christian to give freely of what he has and not resist those who would seize his property because, the writer continues, he could not get it back anyway.  Such was the status of those who loved Christ during that time.  They were not forced to sit at the back of the bus – they were not even allowed on the bus but would be thrown off and tortured or executed.
 
The faith of the early Christians was tried by fire – the fire of the most exquisite tortures and painful deaths that the heathen could dream up.  What would make any man or woman endure such a fate?  Needless to say, our brother Paul summed it up, 

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

What we see, therefore, in the life of the early church was purity of the faith largely unspoiled by the selfishly ambitious and the lovers of money and power.  Could this be why the study of early Christian writings is discouraged in today’s church?
 
The writings repudiate the easy-believism-no-true-repentance-required teachings of the modern charismatic and influential giants and their acceptance of immorality.  Billy Graham, for example, publicly stated that there was no Christian position on abortion and that it was sometimes necessary.  These would include such notables as Billy Graham and obvious frauds like Joel Olsteen.  (Note:  Here is Mr. Graham's If the reader has any doubts of Mr. Graham’s position adherence to easy believism, acc contact this writer and he will provide documentation.)  Roman Catholics disparage these writings because they are silent on a number of key issues including the nature of the Lord’s Supper, the supremacy of the bishop of Rome, and the worship of Mary. 
 
If the above are so important, especially making the Gospel palatable to as many as possible, why the silence in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers?
 
This is not to say that frauds were not present in the Church from the beginning, starting with Judas – one of the chosen twelve.  But what about the rest of it that developed over more than a dozen centuries?
 
Let us first look at some Scripture which speaks about how God treats His sons – those whom He loves. 

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.  – Malachi 3:2,3

And:

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  – 1Cor. 3:12-15

Without godly discipline, the Christian faith often becomes polluted.  It can become mixed with incompatible worldviews in circumstances that give the “what’s-in-it-for-me” crowd generous room to operate.
 
After all, churches are often full of attractive young men and women, gentle and loving families, and blessed with attractive meeting places.  If you are looking for a mate, someplace to mine for customers, or desiring to lord it over others, why not join a church?  Jesus spoke often of these people as those who are placed among us by the Evil One.  The two parables of the sower in Matt. 13 are some of the best illustrations of the various types who operate in the church to her detriment. 
 
It is safe to say that the visible church today is largely in the hands of the weeds.  They do not love His flock sacrificially, purely, nor with a desire to teach, preach, and live the truth no matter what comes.
 
This is why we often find strange doctrines that have wormed their way into the church and often share – functionally – the authority of Scripture.
 
Jesus had some words for those who wiped out the truth of Scripture with their traditions: 

Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." – Mark 7:13

Tradition, therefore, is not just within the domain of Roman Catholicism.  In fact, the whole Church today is under a heavy burden of doctrine that is without foundation in Holy Scripture.
 
For example, the recent Pro-Life rally held here in El Paso, TX had teaching that reduced the abortion holocaust to a mere civil rights issue.  It is nothing of the kind: Abortion is murder.  It is not even close with the issues to which it was compared by one speaker at the rally (a Jesuit, in fact).
 
The Apostolic Fathers were simple in their faith:  Walk in love, live holy lives, and obey your clergy.  Nonetheless, they attacked with fury doctrines that misrepresented Christ. For those who believed Jesus was not really a man, it was simple:  His blood atonement could not be effective to save His people.  His blood had to be real blood, not some phantom substance.  If He was not God, the Eternal, His death would be as useless as the next man’s, neither of which could save, even the life of the man who suffered.  They had no interest whatever in changing the civil authority or influencing it:  It was primarily the domain of the Devil – just as it is today – and their greatest hope was that the magistrate would leave them alone.
 
The Apostolic Fathers did not have time to write lengthy volumes on doctrine nor engage in hair splitting.  This tendency to excess is illustrated in the documents of the Reformation, including their rebuttal undertaken by the Council of Trent.  But from the Reformation on, truth trumps relationships.  Better I am right than I love my enemies.  What is unclear about 1Corinthians 13?  Is love ever a noisy gong?  The way men often  speak, doctrine is just a noisy gong.  It has no attitude of sacrificial love.
 
Godly and saving faith is amazingly simple.  So simple, in fact, that illiterates whose contact with the organized and visible church were minimal became heroes and examples for all of us.  They show us how we can bravely endure the Masters of this Age.  The young Carthaginian Perpetua said “no” to burning incense to Caesar.  Was she baptized?  Probably, but we do not know.  We do know that she bravely gave up all this fallen Age has to offer for Christ and His Kingdom.
 
Alban of the U.K., was a nobody who, like the thief on the cross next to the Lord, never set foot in a church building.  We do not have the words that the fleeing priest he sheltered told him but we can be fairly certain that it was simple. 
 
If these nobody illiterates have their names in the Book of Life, what does this tell us of what the Lord considers to be of great importance?  1Corinthians 1-2, for example, gives us some clues.  It is not Man’s clever wisdom that saves but the all-powerful simplicity of the Gospel: Repent and believe in the Christ.  If it were not, then I can boast and to say to myself, 

What a clever and smart boy you are!  YOU accepted Jesus as your savior.  What on earth is matter with these other dullards that they do not see the sense of it? If they were as I, they would trust Him, too.

The Fathers did not waste their time engaging in hubris like so many contemporary Protestants and Roman Catholics.  They never said a word about rescuing the masses from poverty or famine – of which they had their share.  They had no notion of usurping the work of the Spirit by sending out armies of un-called evangelists to sell the Gospel at any price.
 
Such misused Scripture as John 3:16 was not in the Fathers’ vocabulary. They did not incite people to a fever about the lost who will perish because I did not send money nor abandon my work and families. (Note:  There are times when we must leave all for the Gospel, including this life, but those situations are rare.)  The Fathers knew God loves His own – and not anyone else.  They understood that grace is grace and that God’s Grace is effective wherever and to whomever it is graciously applied – even to a scoundrel like Samson.
 
The notion of a Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) was unknown.  The Spirit filled and directed evangelists already know where and what they are to do (Acts 8:26).  Why take the Lord’s Words that He gave particularly to the Apostles?  Why just the so-called Great Commission above? Why not the commission given in Luke 10?
 
They did not suggest that any Christian might “change the world for Jesus.”  God had a Plan for a few – and they were thankful that they were a part of that Plan.
 
They understood Paul’s words in 1Timothy 2:1-2: 

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

It was – and is – God’s wish that His people be left alone, in so far as it is possible.
 
We know from the book of Job that the Master and Prince of this Age desires nothing but the destruction of the Lord’s people.  The lives of contemporary Protestants teachers are not quiet.  Minding one’s own business and living holy and godly lives while waiting for the Lord’s return are often mocked.  But such a view is not mocked in Scripture, 

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. – Philippians 3:20-21

Neither Scripture nor the Fathers were opposed to slavery.  At least they were honest as great segments of the world are slaves to Socialism but no one calls it by its proper name.  Nonetheless, Christians had to be kind and loving to their slaves.  Bishop Tutu of South Africa is, at least, honest when he urges people who call themselves Christians to reject parts of Scripture because God’s Word allows slavery and subjugates women to men.  But the bishop belongs to this world so we can expect him to say such.
 
Reading the writings from this early time is refreshing.  There is a distinct lack of clutter in their thinking.  They are filled with love, faith, obedience, and submission.  They were not bullies who beat the sheep.  They did not beg for money.  In fact, that Didache declares that an apostle or prophet is a false one if he asks for money for himself or “his ministry”.  The early bishops were known not for their peculiar attire but for their peculiar and sacrificial love for the flock of God.
 
They forbade abortion and infanticide among their own.
 
The woman was not a partner with the man but was his critical helper because of the Creation order and His purpose for her.  She was his glory, not Christ’s – as was the man.  They were not confused about these matters.
 
They did not address government because neither the Scriptures nor they saw any need to:  All government is divinely appointed.  Some for our good, and some to savagely punish a rebellious and evil people.  “Nothing happens without God” was firmly embedded in their worldview – they were not Deists.  The words “freedom” and “independence” were not on their lips except to be free and independent of the influence and punishment for sin.
 
They were not confused about debt.  If you did not pay what you owed, you could expect to be imprisoned until you and your relatives paid back every penny.  Imagine if people today were imprisoned for not paying what they owe?  It might not be exaggerating to suggest that one in ten would be in jail at the moment, perhaps more.  But would that not be a lesson for people to put a curb on their appetites – something most current governments and their citizens are unable to do?
 
Generally, the Fathers can help us to be warned of the above deviations from godly truth that may be summed up as humanism and Egalitarianism.  The former declares that I have a right to be happy and the latter declares that all people are equal.  Both of these were codified in the Reformation including the earliest English translations of the Bible.
 
Humanism manifested itself at that time in the notion that men can divorce their wives for sufficient reason and then be free to marry another.  Divorce – unlike how both Scripture and the Fathers define it – means today that not only can I leave my spouse but the marriage is also dissolved AND I can marry another.  The Fathers were unanimous that this was not so.  Marriage was for life and nothing could dissolve it but death of one spouse.  After all, how can one be separated from his own flesh (Gen. 2:24)?  All this was clear to the Fathers (whose native tongue was the Greek of the New Testament) and to John the Baptist.  But it was a murky subject to the translators of the Bible into English (cf. Matt. 5 &19).  The moral character of translators of the Bible is as important as the moral character of the people who watch your child in Sunday School or of your babysitter when you go out at night.
 
Another notion put forth in the Reformation was that if I had sufficient reason to dislike the magistrate (whatever government unto which I am subject), I could get rid of him.  Translated:  Rebel against that government by the use of deadly force.  The Fathers would have nothing to do with this sort of thinking.
 
Whatever it may be, my happiness trumps all else and if God does not have the sense to fix a problem, I will do it myself.  It’s all about me.  From this we get such things as abortion and so-called representative government.  No true Christian is “free” in the U.S.  Each and every one of us is subject to mob rule.  What is inherently just or truthful about a majority?  In Scripture we learn the opposite:  The crowd is usually wrong and we are not to go along with them (e.g. Ex 23:2).  So when does the common man have a monopoly on anything other than sin?  Is he not under its bondage and its love of the flesh?
 
Consider that our U.S. Constitution means whatever five lawyers on the Supreme Court say it means.  The X Amendment seems clear to you average reader but it has been nullified by 175 years of godless empire builders including Abraham Lincoln.  These judges know what the people want and they do not lack the hubris to carry it out.  The 1973 ruling on abortion is one of the great examples of this.  Even Justice Ginsberg recently commented that the U.S. Constitution is not a good model for up and coming nations to adopt(!).
 
Egalitarianism manifests itself in similar ways.  The Word of God portions up the Body of Christ into many distinct parts with lines of authority.  Each has his own valuable role, however undistinguished it may be.  Today, on the other hand, most are incapable of submitting to authority, whether inside the home or outside. Where is the general respect for the constable, the judge, or the clergyman?  Nearly a hundred years of Socialism has not fixed those who cannot, will not, or do not take care of themselves.  More and more are jumping on the wagon and fewer are there to pull it along. 
 
The Scriptures and the Fathers commanded that the clergy be obeyed as well as the magistrate (in so far as it is possible).  The Bible teaches that he owns your body and your means – he can tax and he can put to death (Romans 13).  What is unclear about this?  Since when do the means of our labor belong to us?  How does any of this square with God’s role in blessing us by giving us the skills to prosper (e.g. Dt. 2:7)?
 
The only instance where we can refuse to obey (but not rebel) is when the magistrate demands we do something contrary to God’s law – a clear and established body given by, for example, the Ten Commandments.  If we do refuse the magistrate, we willingly accept the consequences at his hand – and not go raise an army of similar rebels to throw him out and kill him.
 
The worst manifestation of egalitarianism is what we know today as feminism – the first sin of the Creation and Eve its first devotee.  It would take pages to describe its effects on our culture.  Here are a few:  Women abandoning their homes and men for “careers”.  Why a bald man cannot become President.  Why corporal punishment will become a universal crime.  Why animals must have the same rights as people.  Why criminal behavior, sloth, and public dependence are so widely accepted.
 
The majority of voters in the U.S. are women and it shows in whom is elected, especially the current rascal and head of State.
 
It was the shame of Israel when women were in charge, 

Youths oppress my people, women rule over them.  O my people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path. – Isaiah 3:12

Both Adam and King Ahab were examples of men ruled by their women.  What is unclear about Gen. 2:24 (woman’s purpose for being created) and 1Tim. 2:15? 

But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

The feminists explain it all away.
 
Few care if the long term weight of humanism and egalitarianism are more than any culture can bare.  “It won’t happen in my lifetime.”  We hope….
 
The Scriptures (and the Fathers) declare that Jesus Christ is King.  Kings are obeyed.  They are not argued with or rebelled against.  How do the people know what’s best rather than a sovereign?  In the Scriptures we often see the people leading the way as a whole.  They get the leadership they want – and deserve – much like here.
 
If the Church here continues to adopt the thinking of the culture, including some basic principles of the Reformation, it will likely experience the same disaster as the Church did in Constantinople in 1453 A.D.: she will disappear.  We already see this in Europe. 
 
It is not too late to put aside foreign worldviews and traditions.  We need to purify our faith and cling to the basics.

When we have time, wealth, and opportunity our minds like to wander like disembodied spirits in a desert wilderness.  Persecution and suffering can help.  Suffice it to say we are to give thanks in all circumstances for God has not forgotten us and He uses us for His purposes which may not be what we prefer.
 
Simply, we are not to play the harlot with the world. 

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17

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