Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ancient History

It seems in the church (for sake of brevity, I am assuming church universal--all who designate themselves Christian) two types of folks exist, among many other possible polarizations: 1) Those who are content with the historical status of their church/denomination (that is, they feel it most closely resembles the "early church" of the New Testament, whether in structure, mission, liturgy, tradition, etc.), and 2) those who do not.

It seems impossible that any modern group is mirror reflection of the ancient group that once rubbed shoulders with Paul, John of Patmos, and the physician Luke, so it encourages me to come across the latter group. This holy discontent is indicative of a desire for truth, and in most cases a commitment to personal growth and a missional mindset.

Most often, when talking to such folks I am directed to a number of books aimed at guiding me to that which most resembles the early church. More often than not, I am familiar with the authors and have even read many of their works. But what always gives me a chuckle, is that these authors are always modern authors, most no more than twenty years older than myself. While there is nothing wrong with reading such modern works, it seems like the last place to begin a search on origins. Shouldn't the search begin at the origin?

Of course the patented answer is, "yes, that's what scripture is for." But since scripture is not a comprehensive history of the early church, I do believe it alone cannot completely fill in all the ancestoral blanks...that is why any number of people read anything spiritual in nature outside of scripture, whether it be J. Vernon McGee or Donald Miller.

So why not broaden our scope. Stop putting sole stock in an author 2000 years separated from that elusive early church? Why not read the works of Polycarp, who was tutored by John, the disciple of Christ, or Irenaeus, Polycarp's understudy? Logic seems to indicate that the early church fathers stand to be much more veracious in painting a picture of what Christianity looked like at its inception.

So, put down that copy of Blue Like Jazz (which I read and enjoyed), and pick up the First Epistle of Clement. Here you will find a nearly comprehensive translation of their works, free, in electronic format, downloadable in PDF or Word format. This is a great resource, and I hope a few check it out.

P.S. Apparently Barak Obama employed the ever degrading middle finger insult to Hilary Clinton. Whether it's true or not is irrelevant...every one loves a rebelliously spicy campaign.


James said...

Good thought, Nate. I feel like the only men fit to mentor me through literature are the dead ones, i.e., the ones who have proven themselves to the end. Those still living are still prone to lose trust in Christ, and I prefer to read from those that saw this walk through. Examples, Jonathan Taylor (although a little on the law side for my liking, still some great stuff), Charles Finney, and Watchman Nee.

WES ELLIS said...

The Forward to the addition of "On the Incarnation" by St. Athanasius which I read, was by C.S. Lewis. Lewis's whole introduction is all about the value of reading "old books" and primary sources, and ironically most people think of Lewis as old.

This is something Dr. Yarchin, my Biblical Apocalyptic professor, always harps on--the value of reading primary sources (and appropriately, he has published a great reader filled with primary sources on the history of Biblical interpretation). We're deathly afraid of reading people like Polycarp, Clement, and Irenaeus but if we'd bother to pick them up and read them, I bet we'd find ourselves still alive and actually more enlightened afterward. Nothing beats the primary texts!

nate said...

James, that's a great perspective I didn't quite think of..."proving oneself to the end." Hindsight is definitely 20/20.

Wes, it's funny you mention that. I actually dressed up at Athanasius monologued against Arius' heresy in seminary (slightly nerdy, I know).

Is your teacher's reader compsed of primary apocalyptic texts, or is more far reaching?