I’m so grateful that I was able to do my undergraduate work at a Christian university. It was there that I truly developed a love for the Scriptures and a passion to impact the world for Christ. I’m also thankful for being able to graduate from Seminary, and for the many practical ministerial lessons I learned there.
However, even though I was blessed with a wonderful traditional Christian education and graced with many brilliant professors, I feel like the writings of the earliest Christians have deepened my faith far more than anything I was exposed to in the classroom.
To be fair, we did learn about a few of the major Gnostic heresies during the Ante-Nicene period such as Marcionism, Valentinianism and Manichaeism. However, it was basically implied that real orthodox Christianity began to take root with the 5th century teachings of St. Augustine (who spent his early years as a Manichaean before converting to Christianity).
I have encountered many believers who experienced the same carefully shaped version of Christian history in Bible college or seminary as I did. We were informed of the heresies the earliest Christians stood against, but despite the vast amount of Ante-Nicene writings available to be studied, we were neither exposed to them, not taught what the earliest Christians actually stood for.
So, for the remainder of this blog, I’m going to provide you with a few testimonies from the early Christians that led me to begin questioning my previously held spiritual worldview. Each of these testimonies are from apologetic-type works, with the authors describing the actions of Christians around the entire known world at the time.
As you read these excerpts, I’d like for you to ask yourself this question: Why? Why are testimonies like these rarely being taught to the up-and-coming pastors, professors and leaders of Christendom?
Justin Martyr on Christians and Violence in 160CE:
We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified… Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For just as if one should cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us. – Justin Martyr 160CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 413 [CD-ROM]
Irenaeus on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in 180CE:
Those who are truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, … perform [works] in His name, in order to promote the welfare of others, according to the gift that each one has received from Him. Some truly and certainly cast out devils. The result is that those who have been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come. They see visions, and they utter prophetic expressions. Still others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and the sick are made whole. What is more, as I have said, even the dead have been raised up and remained among us for many years. … It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church throughout the whole world has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them. – Irenaeus 180CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 676 [CD-ROM]
Tertullian on Christians and Government in 197CE:
As those in whom all zeal in the pursuit of glory and honor is dead, we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public meetings; nor is there anything at all more entirely foreign to us than affairs of state. … If, also, Jesus exercised no right of power even over His own followers, to whom He discharged menial ministry; if, in short, though conscious of His own kingdom, He shrank back from being made a king, He in the fullest manner gave His own an example for turning coldly from all the pride and garb, as well of dignity as of power. For if they were to be used, who would rather have used them than the Son of God? What kind and what number of weapons would escort Him? What kind of purple would bloom from His shoulders? What kind of gold would beam from His head, had He not judged the glory of the world to be alien both to Himself and to His? Therefore what He was unwilling to accept, He has rejected; what He rejected, He has condemned; what He condemned, He has counted as part of the devil’s pomp. – Tertullian 197CE, ANF Vol. 3, p. 67, 110 [CD-ROM]
So, what do you think? What could be some of the reasons that testimonies like these are rarely being taught to the up-and-coming pastors, professors and leaders of Christendom?
As I mentioned earlier, these are just a few of the subjects written about by the earliest Christians that began to cause shifts in my spiritual worldview. It can be scary when our worldviews are shaken; I know from experience. However, I’m so thankful that it happened.
The early Christians taught me to take Jesus more simply and seriously than I ever did before. They inspired me to believe with much more fervency that the same Holy Spirit who indwelt and empowered the Apostles still transforms and enables Christians today to walk as Jesus walked. They challenged me to trust more fully in God as my protector and avenger, and to more passionately wage war against the forces of darkness with the divine weapons graced to us by our Lord.
Seminary was definitely a blessing for me, but it’s what I didn’t learn in seminary that totally changed the course of my life.