It is a shock to find when we have been following a path that has taken us where we do not want to go. Even more so when we find the place we had started is not quite where we thought we had started. It goes on even further when we realise we are not allowing ourselves to be dressed by the very robes of Jesus Christ.
We have developed a conversation in our modern church with terms that invoke our own ideas of what church, life and the world around us should look like. How do we know if the conversation we are having is the very same conversation the apostles were having with their followers? Many of us have been taken straight to the Scriptures and have been told particular ways to interpret and understand them. The question is, though, is it the very same conversation as the church was having in the very first century?
With the advent of the internet, the world of information has been brought much closer to us than ever before. What this means for the church is every person who makes a claim regarding the testimony of the church is now held accountable. This is because the conversation that was occurring in the first few centuries was recorded, handed around and preserved and passed on to the next generation. These conversations still exist and therefore anyone is able to trace the extant ancient resources and read for themselves how the gospel was understood. It is made far easier to do so now these conversations have been made available to all through the internet.
As the church encountered each crisis in the first few centuries where the teaching of the Apostles were under question, they referred back to the Scriptures and certain figures who were closest to the Apostles and resisted so called new information from the enemies of the church. They had a particular way of understanding the Scriptures and humble and a unique framework of thought as they tackled each and every crisis. They resisted the temptation to try and add to what has already been said. They tried to stand where the apostles stood, hear what the heard and see what they saw. They were acutely aware that they could not come and table for discussion something they had discovered about Jesus and enlighten Him on something He had not realised before. It was foolish to come to Jesus with a theory or hypothesis and extrapolate from the gospel a conclusion. This is to rely on knowledge outside the Person and work of Jesus Christ as having equal reliability as the knowledge Jesus brings of Himself regarding the ways and works of God. The very thing the knowledge of God does in Jesus Christ is to question all our prior knowledge we had regarding anything to do with God.
There is the age old saying that action speaks louder than words. Nevertheless, in the ministry of Jesus, the controversy of the very things He said drowned out and blinded the Jews to everything He did. Even today the acts of God in Jesus as accurately recorded by the witnesses is often blinded to those who try to see. The miracles from beginning to end should have clearly indicated something breathtakingly remarkable about Jesus. Such was the reaction to the miracles the Greek words describe in similar terms to a reaction as great as an earthquake. Yet when He tried to explain the meaning behind His actions slowly unveiling the reality of who He actually was, there was a growing determination to have Him killed. There is no one person who had the foresight to anticipate the chain of events that would lead to the death of Jesus, even though Jesus made it plain to the apostles exactly what would happen.
It was only after the resurrection where the apostles were able to join the dots. This astonishing and utterly staggering event gave the apostles and the followers a whole new way of looking at the Scriptures. It took Christ Himself to show the unveiling of the truth that would otherwise never have been known. Here lies the specific direction from which the knowledge of God travels. It begins with Jesus Christ and the majesty of all His ways and works is communicated from Him to us. Thus we are mere witnesses of His Majesty. This knowledge is not from ourselves and as witnesses we must point to the ground of our existence as well as the Source and Origin of all the ways and works of God. Therefore the gospel rests on an ancient message. There is a consistency between what Peter declared on the day of Pentecost, what was recorded in the gospels as well as the epistles and what is testified by the early church fathers.
Logic, reason, cause and effect, the basis upon which all Greek cosmology and Paganism rests could not anticipate the Incarnation, the Passion and the Resurrection. They could not anticipate the sheer closeness that the Supreme God would undertake in human affairs assuming all our human nature into Himself as He became one of us. In addition to this, the thought that God would allow Himself to be dragged into the horror of death at the hands of His creatures was unthinkable and an impossibility. God could not make Himself so weak as to allow His creatures to be masters of His fate. The creatures killed and murdered their Creator in the most cruel and humiliating way. In the same way, logic and reason, cause and effect manners of addressing issues such as cosmology cannot be employed to read and understand the Scripture and the ancient church.
As the Spirit of Christ swept through the ancient world and the church started to gain a foothold there came a growing interest in the claims Christians were making regarding the peculiar story of the gospel. The truth of the gospel questioned all ideas and questioned all other belief systems to the core. Many could not allow the testimony of the witness to challenge their mythology. Those who deemed themselves ‘wise’ realised that all previous ways of understand God and His relationship to the world was utter rubbish if the Christians were to be believed. Many tried to use their mythology as a corrective for the interpretation of the Incarnation death and Resurrection. People and communities attempted to reinterpret and change the story so that the worldly ideas could remain credible to those around them. As we all well know the gospel is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. In other words, people think they know better. They often dismiss the Incarnation by either attacking the divinity or the humanity of God in Jesus Christ and reinterpret it to fit in with people’s own ideas of God. This has been the problem for the church for the last two thousand years. Nothing has changed between the controversies the church faced in the very early centuries and what the church is confronted with today. It merely comes down to ‘who’ are we listening to?’
There is a general idea of how the gospel is understood in mainstream Christianity. We listen to those around us and are able to obtain a general idea of who Jesus Christ is and who the Father is in a carefully communicated message from behind the pulpit, within our bible studies and what is taught in seminaries all over the world. It is usually through fellowship that we gain our ideas about who God is and is not and what He can and cannot do. This often raises more questions and these questions are tackled in such a way as to remain true to the doctrine of the particular denomination. We all take this very very seriously and hope to have some degree of confidence upon the ground of the doctrine we hold to. If the foundation of our denomination has employed logic and reason, cause and effect methods of understanding and interpreting Scripture, then we are no different to the Greek and pagan philosophers the church fought so hard against.
If we had the chance to join in on the conversation of the apostles with what we are led to believe is a true reflection of what is taught in the Scriptures, would this conversation correspond with the message conveyed by the apostles, the prophets with Christ as the Chief Cornerstone? Would we come to them with empty hands? Or, would we have an agenda to try and have some form of affirmation for our understanding of Scripture? The heretics often approached the ancient church bringing their own ideas in hand in an attempt to have their own ideas affirmed by them.
I have recently collated a whole number of the writings of the church fathers together on this site who were, historically speaking, at arms length away from the apostles themselves. For example, we have Polycarp who was a disciple of John for many years. He had a written conversation with the Philippian church. This text is freely available. We also have Irenaeus who was at Polycarp’s feet as he taught. Irenaeus spoke of those Polycarp encountered who had the voices of the Apostles still ringing in their ears. He wrote a masterpiece, Against Heresies, and this is freely available. A line can be drawn from these two people all they way through the fathers to the Nicene era and beyond. The very things they held onto were consistent with people like Irenaeus and Polycarp. What we are talking about here are leaders of communities who had enormous influence as well as being enormously influenced by their peers speaking with one voice the Spirit of Christ. With these significant characters having such a close relationship with those around the Apostles, we are able to gain much insight into how they understood the Scriptures and the event of the whole life of Jesus Christ.
However, for some, this is somewhat of a problem. If we approach the text of the ancient fathers with our modern framework of thought, what is said may not agree with what we have been led to believe by the modern church. In addition, much emphasis during the early church is placed on Jesus Christ as the Source and Origin of their teachings and the very same as was taught by the Apostles. In fact, there is much of evangelical theology rests on a conversation that was developed much later. In fact, its foundation rests on a blend of theology and mythology and made to appear Scriptural. This conversation is far out of earshot of the Apostles but it is this figure we tend to listen to the most. It was developed by Augustine who was a great teacher around about the fifth century who sourced Tertullian. This is not to say that everything he taught was bad. His background as a Neo-platonist crept into theology and laid the groundwork for a ‘god’ different to the One who was revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. If we look through the Augustine dualist cosmological framework, what happened earlier in church history may be a little confusing. For this reason, a large part of the modern evangelical church choose to ignore the conversation of the fathers prior to Augustine as it may not line up with the conversation they are use to having in their local church communities.
The early conversation centred around the importance of the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son, the Word, became flesh and brought the knowledge of the Father and shared this knowledge He has with us. No one else is on the inside of the knowledge of God unless they take heed to everything Jesus Christ disclosed to us in Himself through His Person, His work and His Words. Without Jesus Christ, we know nothing about God. It takes God to know God and without God teaching us, God cannot be known. To know anything about God, we must let the Light shine on us and in us. The darkness of our understanding is clueless. Our cleverly devised schemes trying to guess who God is and what He can do is beyond our understanding and has no origin in any part of our being. More importantly, much of modern theology claims to be Christian but have no origin in Christ at all. Human beings are incapable of trying to work out who God is. It is unrighteousness trying to work out righteousness based on unrighteousness concepts and framework of thought. It is dressing ourselves in our own clothes.
Dikaiosune from which righteousness is rendered is not to be interpreted in a judicial sense. When interpreted under the philosophy of law it loses it significance as to its true reference to Jesus Christ’s work on us in Himself. The righteousness of Jesus Christ actually does something to us. For us to understand God, a change had to be wrought in us so that we are able to share in His understanding of Himself. In Jesus Christ, righteousness is a rectification of our beings from one that is devoid of His divinity to one that is able to share and participate in His divine nature. By sharing in His divine nature, we admit that any knowledge contained in our previous nature is absent of the ways and works of God and full of darkness. We walk in eternal life which is ‘a way of being,’ rather than a time based concept.
We come to Jesus Christ with empty hands and try to share in what the Apostles saw and heard and allow God to actually touch us with His knowledge of Himself in Him. There is nothing we can offer that will enlighten Jesus Christ about Himself. Who are we to question the testimony of our Creator? Who are we to advise God on who He is and what He can do. Ultimately, it is the Spirit of Jesus Christ who teaches us how to know Him and it is under His authority we must remain. This is the conversation we must allow ourselves to engage in and reframe and shape our minds. The more we see Jesus Christ, the more we see ourselves as we ought to be, the more we see our brothers and sisters as they ought to be and the more we see our enemies as they ought to be. When the big picture starts to emerge and Jesus Christ explodes into someone far bigger and far greater than we could ever have imagined, it is then we start to realise it is Jesus Christ who is dressing us in His robes.
By allowing ourselves to hear what the early church was declaring and finding the common ground between those who actually engaged with the apostles, we can come closer to the truth of the utterly staggering news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a common thread which reflects a framework of thought that affirms and strengthens our relationship to God in a way we never could have imagined. What we find through each of the early church fathers is Christ Himself is not only dressing you in His robes of righteousness but also grooming and keeping them pure as He is in Himself. Seeing the gospel in the pure Light of Jesus Christ enable us to see anything that poses a threat to this awesome reality and utterly staggering loving kindness. The way of the world is knowledge of darkness that questions the knowledge of Light that has presented Himself to us as a Person. He is God of very God who has made Himself visible and has transformed us in such a way that we have the best chance of understanding who He truly is and what has become of us in Himself. Join in the conversation of those who were closest to the apostles. Learn from the early church and we will find how much we grow when we are dressed by Jesus in His very own robes.