Archives For early church leaders

As we have learned in several of my recent posts Origen was one of the most influential theologians in the early church who was later deemed a heretic and then after that a saint again.  He spent quite a bit of time reading the “scripture” of his day. I put scripture in parens here because there was no Bible as we know it today in existence.

Today Origen is definitely not one of the more popular early Christian figures with some in our establishment churches. That is particularly true of those that believe all of the Bible comes from God’s lips and is totally factual and inerrant. That belief has never been as universal as some would have us believe. Here is another quote from A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story  by Diana Butler Bass.

Origen pointed out scriptural contradictions from Genesis through the Gospels. Not intending to ridicule God’s Word, Origen claimed, The object of all these statements on our part, is to show that it was the design of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to bestow upon us the sacred Scriptures, to show that we were not to be edified by the letter alone, or by everything in it—a thing which we see to be frequently impossible and inconsistent; for in that way not only absurdities, but impossibilities, would be the result; but that we are to understand that certain occurrences were interwoven in this “visible” history which, when considered and understood in the inner meaning, give forth a law which is advantageous to men and worthy of God.

Origen believed that scripture was much like Jesus’ teaching in that he used parables which are fictional stories to relay a message and so to do the other writers of ancient script.   Origen was not an infrequent visitor to the scripture. In fact he spent twenty years on his Hexaple which was a massive work of Old Testament analysis. There was probably no one in his day that had more knowledge of the ancient writings than him.

This will probably conclude our study of Origen. As I have said before he definitely shows that the earliest versions of Christianity were very diverse. It was not until the power struggles that frequently occurred within the church establishment did this willingness to accept a diversity of belief become stifled. I celebrate the fact that the current emergent movement is willing, in fact they actually celebrate diversity in their midst.  They accept that there is more than one “right” way to being a follower of Jesus Christ and that gives me confidence that the church of Jesus Christ just might live to see a bright future.

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My study of the early church leaders is to show that there was much diversity in the early church that was later driven out. Many, if not most of the “church fathers” believed things that are now considered heretical. Ignatius was certainly no exception.

Ignatius and Irenaeus had definite ideas of how the young Christian congregations should be governed. Both authoritarians, they were hardly advocates of participatory democracy. Still, they respected the remarkable diversity of the churches and did not try to enforce any standardization. — The Future of Faith (Cox, Harvey)

As indicated by the above quote for The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox, Ignatius was a contemporary of Irenaeus. Even though they were powerful men in the early church they did not get into micro-managing the various congregations they were involved with. Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch after Saint Peter and St. Evodius. There are seven letters, commonly known as epistles today, attributed to him.  One of his major beliefs was the value of the Eucharist He called it a “medicine of immortality”. He, strangely to us today, had very strong desire for bloody martyrdom in the arena. He I expresses rather graphically in places.

An examination of his theology of salvation, technically called soteriology, shows that he regarded salvation as one being free from the powerful fear of death and thus to bravely face martyrdom. The idea of original sin was not part of his agenda for salvation but instead was to free us of our personal sins committed in our lifetime.

One of the interesting things about Ignatius is that there is now swirling doubt as to the authenticity of the seven letters attributed to him. Some evidence seems to point to one person who later modified the content to meet his view of theology. Without being able to find much about Ignatius I will leave the quote in The Future of Faith of respecting the diversity of the church as the main focus of this post.

This will be the beginning of I don’t know how many posts on the early leaders of the church. By early I mean after the Apostles but before Constantine (350 AD). Again I want to state very clearly up front that I am not a theologian or someone who is very learned in this area. I am just an ordinary guy who has questions about these sort of things.

I am doing this study to try to learn how we got to where we are as a church today. In the beginning diversity was a celebrated part of the church but then strict adherence to a particular set of beliefs took over.  In the early part of this study I want to try to discover just what happened. That is the purpose for this section and every other that will follow.

The early church leaders were as diverse as those they tried to lead. For the most part they were an affluent bunch who generally lead a privileged life prior to, and sometimes after,  their conversion to People of the Way. Of course being affluent meant that they were usually studied in greek culture and were literate. That is they could put down their beliefs in writing whereas most common men and women of the time were illiterate. We have a few stories of these others but for the most part only the ones who could leave a written text are now known.

The other thing we need to realize about the early church leaders was that they were not historians as we come to know them today. They were generally considered theologians in that they had opinions on where the church should be going. But for the most part they were people who wanted to influence the direction of the church for one reason or another. For the most part I am sure that they all thought they were getting their opinions directly from divine revelations but since some of their views directly opposed others direct revelation could not be true for all. We also cannot be so naive to think that those opinions that dominated were necessarily the ones God provided.

We must also remember that they were men (and a few women) who relished power as most do. As many of them gained power they lost tolerance for other who held differing views. This is what makes church history so messy. Power corrupts everyone to one degree or another. That is just human nature.  We must recognize this fact when studying any history, especially something as important as  church history.

I’m sure I will not be covering all the early leaders of the church here and maybe not even some considered the most important.

And the study goes on…..