The first century church fathers are seldom forefront in our study of the Christian faith and almost never referenced from the pulpit. I spent time reading the words of Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Origin to hear their voices and better understand their contributions.
These men were the leaders who picked up directly after the work of the apostles. They fanned the fires of faith, began to bring structure to the church, continued to preached the Gospel, added to its intellectual base, and suffered death for their belief.
Polycarp receives mention more frequently than others for his dramatic story of martyrdom. He was a disciple of the Apostle John, transcribed John’s defining letter on the deity of Jesus, and was a conduit for the faith into the next generation. His pen gave us the gift of, “The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.” Polycarp exhibits the type of faith which you and I experience it today. He did not hear the Sermon on the Mount with his own ears, but heard through the voices of the Apostles the same way you and I hear their voices in the written Word. Like Polycarp, we are, “Those who believe but have not seen with their own eyes.”
Why are the writings of the first century church fathers not a part of our regular teachings? I discern it is for the same reason you and I will not have our writings canonized or saved for millennium.
The first century fathers restated the Gospel. They did not add to it or reinvent the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fathers used the Word they were given to combat the issues of their time and to call the church to repentance and action.
They saw no need to create something new, or to write something creative, they simply restated the Gospel and its application to the issues arising in communities and the new churches growing across Europe, Asia and Africa.
The way they lived deserves our attention and celebration. Their acts serve as an example to what we should be saying and using in our teaching.
“The Word does not return void.” It convicts and saves and builds our intellect. The church fathers knew this as they witnessed it in the life of the Apostles and replicated them as good disciples. We may do the same, as the tools they used are the same ones available to us today: The Word, the Holy Spirit, Nature and the person of Jesus Christ. These all speak to us the same way they spoke to Clement. We may serve the same as he did in the faith.
“Follow the saints, because those who follow them will become saints.”
― Clement of Rome
Jesus has not changed, the Word has not changed, the Holy Spirit has not changed, and the revelation in Nature has not changed. Why do we seek to create something new? “Behold I am doing a new thing!” does not mean God has changed the foundations of the faith or that we need to find a better story. It means He is always active in the lives of individuals and communities and bringing people to Himself.
There may be new media, but the message to declare is the same. This is the great example from our church fathers. We, as they, should reiterate the Truth we have all received. The same words continue to convict, save, build our intellect and form our actions.