Three Ways You Shouldn’t Treat the Church Fathers

Woodcut, The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

What should we Christians make of the Early Church Fathers, the early Christians who preserved orthodox Christianity?

After all, these are the men who compiled the Scriptures, organized the early Ecumenical Councils, and warded off dozens of heresies. How much attention should we pay to their writings, and how much credence should these writings receive?

Before answering that, I want to show three wrong ways of approaching the Church Fathers. The first way is to ignore them; or worse, to disregard them as pagans. The second way is to exploit them: to cite them in glowing terms when they agree with the position that you already hold to, and throw them away when they challenge your pre-existing views. The third wrong way is to treat them as if every word that they speak is infallible.

Having shown why each of these approaches fails, I’ll put forward an alternative view tomorrow. Or more accurately, I’ll show from the writings of the Church Fathers how they believed Patristic writings should be used.

Wrong Way #1: Ignoring or Fearing the the Church Fathers.

This first camp tends to be made up of Baptists and other modern Evangelicals. For members of this camp, the teachings of the Church Fathers don’t matter, either because they disregard the Fathers as heretics, or because they just don’t really care what the Fathers have to say.  Scot McKnight, himself an Evangelical, describes the problem of ignorance well:

Most evangelicals know almost nothing about the early Fathers, and what they do know (they think) supports what they already believe, so why bother studying them. When it comes to realities, however, few have read even a page of the Fathers. However, very few evangelicals are drawn to either the Fathers or the Medieval theologians to strengthen their faith and interpretation. The only theologian from this era most of them bother reading is St. Augustine (whom they hesitantly call “saint” out of courtesy). 

So there might be an assumption that the Church Fathers must have believed in something like modern Evangelicalism, but a hesitation and even a refusal to read the Church Fathers directly, to find out if that theory is true.

Much of this ignorance seems to be intentional. I’ve previously mentioned the episode of “the Berean Call” with Dave Hunt and Tom McMahon, in which they simultaneously claim that the Church Fathers weren’t Catholic, and warn Evangelicals not to read them, and instruct Evangelicals to follow (their own interpretation of) the Bible instead of the writings of the early Christians. 
Worse, when it’s shown that the early Christians were Catholics, not Evangelicals or Baptists, this is treated as a reason to reject the Fathers, rather than a reason to convert to the faith of the early Church. McKnight mentioned that Augustine is the one Father that Evangelicals tend to like. But when they discover he was Catholic, this reaction often changes. So, for example, Laurence M. Vance (a Baptist firmly entrenched in this first camp), has lambasted St. Augustine as a heretic. From pp. 55-56 of The Other Side of Calvinism:
St. Augustine (from an Austrian pulpit) (1890s)

Since Augustine is regarded by Calvinists as “in a true sense the founder of Roman Catholicism,” it is no surprise that he maintained a number of Roman Catholic heresies besides baptismal regeneration. He taught that Mary was sinless and promoted her worship. He allowed for the intercession of saints and the adoration of relics together with the miracles attributed to them. He was the first who defined the so-called sacraments as a visible sign of invisible grace, and adds confirmation, marriage, and ordination to the Lord’s Supper and baptism. To Augustine the only true church was the Catholic Church. Writing against the Donatists, he asserted: 

The Catholic Church alone is the body of Christ, of which He is the head and Saviour of His body. Outside this body the Holy Spirit giveth life to no one, seeing that, as the apostle says himself, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us;” but he is not a partaker of the divine love who is an enemy of unity. Therefore, they have not the Holy Ghost who are outside the Church.

 He believed in an apostolic succession of bishops from Peter as one of the marks of the true church. [… Lorraine] Boettner also admits that Augustine was the one who gave the doctrine of purgatory its first definite form.

Admittedly, many of the claims that Vance makes are false: Augustine didn’t found Roman Catholicism, didn’t teach that Mary or relics should be worshiped, didn’t “add” to the number of Sacraments, didn’t believe that the Eucharist was simply a “spiritual presence,” etc. But ignoring these and a whole host of other factual errors, Vance’s central point is true: Augustine was a Catholic who held to Catholic teachings.
This ought to be a reason to take a second look at Evangelical assumptions about what Christianity teaches about Mary, purgatory, relics, Sacraments, the structure and marks of the true Church, baptismal regeneration, etc. But instead, it is treated as a reason to reject Augustine.

Why this First Way Doesnt Work: It Reduces Christianity to Incoherence

Guillaume Crétin, Baptism of Sigebert III from the Grandes Chroniques de France (16th c.)

Of all of the early Christians who left a substantial “paper trail,” they all sound more Catholic than they do Protestant. For example, there was no camp that rejected the supposed “heresy” of baptismal regeneration: that was the view that all Christians took in the first millennium of Christianity. 

It’s not just me saying that, either. The Protestant history Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325, wrote on “The Doctrine of Baptism” that “This ordinance was regarded in the ancient church as the sacrament of the new birth or regeneration,” and that its “effect consists in the forgiveness of sins and the communication of the Holy Spirit.
So to take this Evangelical position, you end up needing to reject not just Augustine, but the entire Christian Church of the first few centuries. Why is that a problem? Two reasons. First, because it undermines the authority of all of Christianity. Try proving the Trinity when you believe that everyone at the Council of Nicaea was a heretic, along with all of the early Trinitarian apologists.
But wait, you argue: I’ll just argue from the Bible alone! That’s impractical, since you end up debating the same handful of passages, generation after generation, without getting very far. But more fundamentally, where did you get that Bible, exactly? How do you know which Books are orthodox, and of Apostolic authorship? Remember that many of them are internally anonymous, and that there were several false Gospels purporting to be Apostolic.
There are basically two answers to this. The first is to claim some sort of internal witness of the Holy Spirit, in which the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to you, individually, directly. And that’s what much of Protestantism devolves into. But if you’ve got those sort of prophetic powers, why do you even need Scripture? And in any case, why should any one besides you believe in Scripture on the authority of your internal feelings? After all, Mormons claim to have the same thing.
The second answer is the authority of the Church (either the witness and consensus of the Church Fathers, the decrees of the early Church Councils, or both). But if you condemn that Church as heretical, this option is closed off to you, and your religion becomes, frankly, an incoherent mess.

Wrong Way #2: Exploiting the Church Fathers.

Woodcut, The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

This second error (which overlaps with the first) is one that I’ve seen mostly from Lutherans and Calvinists. This unprincipled treatment of the Fathers dates back to Luther and Calvin themselves. For example, in the 1559 edition of Institutes of Christian Religion, the reformer John Calvin cited Augustine over 400 times. And note well, these are positive citations: he is trying to prove the truth of his claims, in part, by citing to Augustine’s authority. Calvin is attributed as saying, “Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.

But while Luther and Calvin both considered themselves Augustinians, they really only accepted a sliver of what he taught (mostly, cherry-picking certain things he said about predestination), while rejecting (or simply ignoring) his teachings on a slew of other issues, like the papacy, the Sacraments, etc.

As the Vance passage cited above points out, Augustine held views on Mary, purgatory, relics, Sacraments, the structure and marks of the true Church, baptismal regeneration, etc., that modern Lutherans and Calvinists would find anathema.  And on all of these issues, the Patristic position is simply disregarded, even if it is the position held by all of the Fathers, which is how John Piper can justify rejecting baptismal regeneration, by appealing instead to his personal (mis)reading of 1 Peter 3:21.

Why this Second Way Doesnt Work: It Doesnt Treat the Fathers Honestly.

To cherry-pick a handful of Calvinist-sounding things from Augustine, while ignoring an overwhelming number of other things that he taught is exploitative. If you only accept Augustine when he agrees with what you already hold, Augustine doesn’t matter. You’re believing only on your own authority, and citing to Augustine is little more than a pretense. Plus, as we will see tomorrow, this uses Augustine in a way he would have resented, and a way that he protested against.

Fra Dolcino of Novara (c. 1250 – 1307)

Of course, the same is true for the exploitation of any of the Fathers. For example, Dr. Keith Sherlin, a pro-“rapture” advocate, claims that “Orthodox Believers of History Have Believed in a Pretribulational View” by citing to four early Christians. Here is a sample of Sherlin’s analysis:

One scholar has found a quote that relates to the teachings and disciples of Dolcino. Dolcino and his followers held to some form of rapture view whereby people were translated to heaven before the time of judgment on the Antichrist.

This is a great example of cherry-picking. The “orthodox believer” that the author has chosen was Fra Dolcino of Novara, the head of a short-lived heretical sect, known as the Dulcinians, from the fourteenth century. And the passage he cites to is not one of Dolcino’s own writings, but a passage from an anonymous book about the Dulcinians, called The History of Brother Dolcino.

Sherlin’s clear that he’s choosing Dolcino simply because either he or his followers seem to have “held to some form of rapture view.” It’s not because Sherlin actually thinks Dolcino was orthodox (I strongly doubt Sherlin has any idea who Dolcino was, or about the Spiritualist Franciscans more generally). All he seems to mean by “orthodox believer” is “someone who seems to agrees with the position I’m currently arguing for.”

Sherlin certainly wouldn’t endorse the actual positions of the Dulcinists. The Dulcinist “rapture” view includes the prediction that “when the Antichrist is dead, Dolcino himself, who then would be the holy pope, and his preserved followers, will descend on the earth, and will preach the right faith of Christ to all, and will convert those who will be living then to the true faith of Jesus Christ.

So Sherlin can’t actually believe that the Dulcinians are orthodox, or that their end-times predictions were true. He’s just reaching for somebody from history he can point to, in order to give the illusion that his views were consistently held (when they weren’t). That’s not honest scholarship, and it’s beneath what we should expect from Christians.

Wrong Way #3: Treating the Church Fathers as Infallible.

There is a third error, however, at the opposite end of the spectrum: treating something as true simply because a particular Church Father says so. I think that this is self-explanatory, so I will add only two things. First, we Catholics are most likely to fall into this trap. Second, this is the least dangerous of the three approaches (and the one closest to what the Fathers prescribe). However, it is still problematic, as we are about to see.

Why this Third Way Doesn’t Work: The Fathers Occasionally Disagree.

The basic problem is that the Fathers occasionally disagree with each other. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it does happen. We have, for example, letters between St. Augustine and St. Jerome in which the two Saints (both of them Doctors of the Church) disagree with one another. Sometimes, the Church will step in and declare which of the two (or more) sides was correct: as She did with the canon of Scripture. 

So there are really two problems: first, it’s logically impossible for contradictory Patristic views to each be infallible; second, you can’t reject a teaching of the Magisterium simply because a Church Father taught otherwise prior to the Church settling an issue.

So where does that leave us? It seems that every way we would go about approaching the Church Fathers is wrong. If only one of the Church Fathers had left us some clue about how to use their writings. Tune in tomorrow to see how Augustine and others answered this problem.


  1. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to the Church Fathers is a hybrid of problem #1 & #2 above, where Protestant apologists will say the Early Church Fathers “were neither Catholic nor Protestant.” Meaning what? What were they then? No answer.

    1. One of the ways in which I’ve learned to respond to that is to describe the Church Father in question.

      Usually, they were Bishops, priests who presided over the Mass, confected and served the Eucharist, who taught prayer to the Saints and all the other Catholic Doctrines which Protestants deny.

      So, I ask, “in what way were they not Catholic?”

      Sometimes, also, they pair that objection with the claim that the Church Father in question agreed with and practiced the doctrine of Scripture alone. In which case, I’ll point out, that if that is the case, then all the Catholic Doctrines which that Church Father believed, must be in Scripture.


      De Maria

    2. Roman Catholics do #1, #2, and #3 as it suits them in any particular situation.

      The modern Roman Catholic church is just like a dysfunctional worldly government with its laws, codes, policies, directives, guidelines, rulings, decisions, cases, opinions, revisions, legislative histories, interpretations, procedures, requirements, law reviews, journal articles, expert opinions, secondary sources, restatements, treatises, commentaries, encyclopaedias, and periodicals expounded, described, circumscribed, differentiated, enlarged, applied, extended, limited, declared obsolete or “on point” by an ever growing hoard of lawyers, judges, professors, academics, scholars, politicians, journalists, commentators, self-appointed experts, authors, entrepreneurs, and charlatans … all with a vested interest in pretending their system is wonderful and should continue as is. With so much confusion the various authorities can be made to say whatever anybody wants them to say.

      The saved Bible Believer has more sense than that and we say “No thank you” to the entire hellish system.

      God gave us the Holy Bible and he preserved it in the church (i.e., amongst the body of saved believers). The presumption that so-called “fathers” (see Matthew 23:9 KJV) – of any rank – can teach anything contrary to the apostolic scriptures is to be flatly rejected.

      The true “early church” is in the book of Acts, and the authoritative text for Christianity is the New Testament – which trumps all patristic writings.

      – Mack

    3. Ok Mack…in feeling a little under the weather, but I couldn’t stay silent. I will answer one point, that of calling someone father. You quote Scripture, so I thought I would as well. Would you say Paul is heretical, sinning against Jesus’ command, when he calls Abraham “our father”? (Rom 4:1 KJV) Do you sin when you call the husband of your mother “father”? I would think that “no” is the answer to both questions…so what to do with Matthew 23:9? It must be interpreted in light of the whole of Scripture, not just taken out of context and literally from the end of verse 8 to the beginning of verse 10.

      Also, that neat little concept of “sola scriptura”? Nowhere in Scripture 🙂

      Pax, brother

    4. Notice the circular logic: the body of saved believers. And how can you find this body? Why they are the ones who agree with my interpretation of the Bible!

      Incidentally, if He preserved the Bible in this body of saved believers, why is it that we can’t find these believers anywhere in the early centuries?

    5. The Early Church Fathers were neither Catholic nor Protestant as those labels retain to the original issues of sixteenth century Europe and the continued fracture of the church. It is anachronistic to make the Early Church Fathers into modern day Catholics or Protestants. It is intellectually dishonest to place a label upon someone that lived many centuries before simply because we do not know what the Early Church Fathers would think about the issue of indulgences or other issues of the Reformation. We can make arguments and assumptions, but these anachronistic arguments are more likely to reveal our own opinion than those of the actual Church Fathers.

      The Early Church Fathers were faithful servants of the orthodox and catholic church, just as Luther started out as a monk in the Roman Catholic Church of his day. It is hard to describe the early church because it was a time before the Great Schism and the Reformation. The body of Christ was one body, even if there were many heretical groups. To answer your question of “what were they then?” They were faithful servants of the one true apostolic and catholic church, and they helped create the theological teachings of the orthodox church and to establish the traditions of the catholic church. Please note that I did not capitalize certain words so that people will not read into my statement their own modern understanding of these terms.

    6. Rev. Dark Hans,

      This is exactly what I mean about the problem with saying they were neither Catholic nor Protestant, because the only alternative is some nebulous undefined “Christianity” that is long lost. And what you’re saying, even if unintentionally, is that either the Church went into some apostasy or that dogmas can and did evolve into a new Christianity. Either way, that’s problematic.

      There is nothing anachronistic to say the Early Church believed the same things the Catholic Church today believes. Indeed, that’s required.

    7. Mack,
      I know right where you are coming from, but I have a question. How do you deal with the Act’s Church beginning the process of “laws, codes, policies, directives, guidelines, rulings, decisions, cases, opinions, revisions…”, and doing so saying they are doing it with the Holy Spirit?

      “It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. Acts 15

    8. Texas Mike,

      The statement in Acts 15 is not a “beginning the process of” anything because the statement is explicitly final.

      Note the words, “lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…” What part of that allows for even 1 more thing to be added?

      The operative statement of salvation is: “But we believe that through the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” Acts 15:11 KJV.

      So we see that in Act 15 there was agreement of all the apostles present, the entire Church, and the Holy Ghost in a statement of total finality:

      You are saved by grace when you believe on Jesus Christ, and then you “do well” by living a Christian life avoiding idols, blood, and fornication.

      Do you know any Church that (1) teaches you are not saved by free grace? (2) teaches you can’t just believe and get saved? (3) teaches that it is presumption to think you are saved? (4) teaches that you must eat blood? (5) that bows down to statues? (6) that has a celibate priesthood and centuries of ongoing fornication problems?

      Perhaps now you can see why certain churches are horrified by the prospect of returning to a Bible-based Christianity – they’d be out of a job.

      – Mack.

    9. Mack,

      You quoted Acts 15:9 which says “purifying their hearts by faith.” This contradicts the Protestant teaching that justification by faith is by the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, which only covers us, not cleanses our hearts.

    10. Rev. Hans,

      I understand your point about specific doctrinal or disciplinary developments. It’s hard to say exactly “what the Early Church Fathers would think about the issue of indulgences or other issues of the Reformation.” Perhaps (even hopefully) Augustine would have been outraged over the sale of indulgences. Perhaps not. It’s hard to say.

      To that extent, I agree with you. But here’s where I think you’re making a mistake. You seem to be approaching this as a modern Protestant. In other words, you’re projecting onto the Fathers the notion that they would choose a church based upon their own agreement with that church. I’ll do my best to articulate this by sketching out (in broad and unnuanced terms) the difference between how you and we approach the question of the Church:


      The basic Protestant approach to ecclesiology, as best as I understand it, is to find a denomination that agrees with your personal beliefs. Rarely does one find a Protestant who agrees with 100% of what their denomination teaches (and from talking to you, I know that you diverge from ELCA teachings on a number of critical issues, like abortion). So it ends up being a question of finding the “right fit”: a denomination that more-or-less agrees with what I believe, is a good environment for fostering spiritual growth, etc. In other words, you choose a church the way that one might choose a school.

      If that’s how you approach ecclesiology, it’s only reasonable that you might have to leave your denomination tomorrow. Your church might suddenly change their statement of beliefs (reversing itself on same-sex marriage, e.g.), the community could simply deteriorate, the liturgy might not be as nice as it used to be, etc.

      So, if the Church Fathers were Protestants, it would be perfectly reasonable to say we can’t know what church they would attend. It’s reasonable, for example, whether C.S. Lewis would be an Anglican if he were alive today. Given his reasons for being Anglican then, that’s a good question.


      The basic Catholic approach to ecclesiology, in contrast, isn’t simply that the Catholic Church must nearly matches my beliefs and/or preferences. It’s that the Catholic Church is of Divine origin and Divine guidance. Therefore, if She starts doing something I dislike tomorrow (using a form of the Liturgy that I find obnoxious, for example), I don’t have the option to leave. To leave the Church is to leave the Body of Christ, and to cut myself off from salvation.

      And it’s this second ecclesiology that the Church Fathers explicitly articulate: we see this particularly in Augustine’s writings against the Donatists. He warns them that they don’t have the right not to be Catholic. Given this, it’s absurd to question whether or not he’d be Catholic today. It’s not even an option for him.

      To be truly Catholic at any point in history is to consent to be Catholic forever. As I recall, C.S. Lewis explained somewhere that his objection to joining the Catholic Church was not over what She teaches, but what She might teach. This grasps the difference in our ecclesiology fairly well (although it misses a critical point: the reason that we’re not afraid of what the Catholic Church “might teach” tomorrow is that She’s under the steady and unfailing protection of the Holy Spirit, and cannot change Her teachings).


      To say that we can’t know whether the Church Fathers would or wouldn’t be Catholic today, is to assume that they would choose a Church in the way that modern Protestants do. But given that they quite vocally condemned this approach to ecclesiology, I think that’s a poor assumption, and (ironically) more anachronistic than what you’re trying to avoid. If the Church Fathers were Catholics in the fourth century (as both we and they claim), they would be Catholics in the fourteenth, or the twenty-fourth century.



    11. Mack,

      You claim “Roman Catholics do #1, #2, and #3 as it suits them in any particular situation.” This claims seems like little more than lazy anti-Catholic bigotry: this is bad, therefore Catholics must do it. I’m not even sure if you’re attempting to criticize the Catholic Church or individual Catholics. Can you provide some substance to these allegations?

      You also say that “The presumption that so-called “fathers” (see Matthew 23:9 KJV) – of any rank – can teach anything contrary to the apostolic scriptures is to be flatly rejected.” Amen! I’ve agreed with you numerous times on this point, but you keep on making it.

      Let me spell things out for you a bit, by laying out four general propositions.

      1) “The Bible might seem to teach X, but it actually teaches Y.”
      2) “The Bible is silent on whether X or Y is true, but we know from Tradition that the truth is Y.”
      3) “The Bible leaves room for either X or Y policy, and we’re going to take Y.”
      4) “The Bible teaches X, but I want to reject X in favor of Y.”

      The Catholic believes that it is within the Magisterial authority of the Church to do (1), (2), and (3). But we don’t believe that the Church may do (4).

      Ironically, while Protestants criticize the Church for (1), (2), and (3), you end up doing each of these as well. In correcting heretical misinterpretation of Scripture, you’re engaging in (1). In saying that the (internally-anonymous) Gospel of Matthew was written by St. Matthew the Apostle, you’re engaging in (2). And in deciding to have services at a particular time on Sunday mornings (and maybe Wednesday nights, as well), you’re engaging in (3).

      The only difference is that we have a coherent ecclesiology that explains why the Church has the ability to do this. You deny that the Church has the ability (at least, when it suits you), but are forced to do it anyway.

      Other than that, your comment was the standard fare. Re-read the section on “Why this First Way Doesn’t Work: It Reduces Christianity to Incoherence,” because it answers your claim that you can somehow have the Bible and “the Church” while rejecting the actual early Church. You’ve got a lot of work to get from the first-century Church in Acts to your local church today, and no coherent means by which to do so.



    12. I just copied this post and saved it. This really spells out the conflict between Protestants and Catholics.

      Did Christ create a physical Church on this planet to guide us? The answer has to be NO if you’re a Protestant because there is no one, universal Protestant church that is physically on this earth throughout history.

      Of course, if you read scripture and come to the conclusion that Christ did not create a physical Church (as opposed to the church being solely an invisible body of believers) on this planet to guide us you might as well reject all forms of logic and reason.

    13. Joe,

      You admitted that Roman Catholics misuse the “church fathers” but if I say it that’s “anti-catholic bigotry”?!? You betray a reactionary under-siege mentality of one who thinks only Catholics are qualified to criticize Catholics.

      Nevertheless, the Holy Bible came from Jews, not Rome: “What advantage then hath the Jew? … unto them were committed the oracles of God.” Romans 3:1-2 KJV. So Jews could use your argument: “You can’t use the Bible against us since we gave you the Bible.” Do you recognize the familiar flaw in that logic?

      Also it is circular reasoning to claim Matthew 16 established the Roman Church, and that Matthew 16 is to be believed because it was promulgated by the Roman Church … that’s also your argument.

      The Bible believer doesn’t believe the New Testament because of trust in a Catholic council, but rather because the original apostolic authors were supernaturally confirmed by signs and wonders to be God’s appointed speakers (2 Corinthians 12:12 KJV; Mark 16:17-18 KJV; Acts 1:8 KJV; 2 Timothy 2:2 KJV). The process of compiling, copying, preserving, and translating their text was accomplished by the Holy Ghost from the very start working amongst and through Bible-believing soul-winning Christians from that time up to the present day.

      As for your 4 propositions (the more moving parts you add the easier to hide your devilment) … let’s just keep it simple because all the permutations boil down to this: the person is right who believes what the scriptures say, and the person is wrong who doesn’t. Anything else is a matter of preference or conjecture.

      Is your bedrock “belief” resting in the Magisterium or in the Bible?

      – Mack.

    14. Mack,

      I’m not saying that anyone who criticizes Catholics and/or the Catholic Church is anti-Catholic. I’m talking about you specifically, based on your pattern of making sweeping and baseless generalizations about Catholics, and your readiness to ascribe both bad faith and all manner of evils to us. I asked you to defend your claim, and you didn’t. And you can’t.

      And when you say that you can believe in the Bible because of the Holy Spirit’s work “amongst and through Bible-believing soul-winning Christians” from the Apostolic era down to the present, you’re basing your belief off of a belief that the Holy Spirit guides the Christian Church. You can’t make that claim, and simultaneously hold that for 1500+ years after the Apostles, the Holy Spirit didn’t protect Christians from universal heresy.



    15. > “The process of compiling, copying, preserving, and translating their text was accomplished by the Holy Ghost from the very start working amongst and through Bible-believing soul-winning Christians from that time up to the present day”

      Could you please give us a few names here of these “Bible-believing soul-winning Christians” in the early centuries?

    16. The process of compiling, copying, preserving, and translating their text was accomplished by the Holy Ghost from the very start working amongst and through Bible-believing soul-winning Christians from that time up to the present day.

      And yet these “Bible-believing soul-winning Christians” also attended what we today would call “Mass” weekly (If not daily if they were priests or monks…), as described by St. Justin Martyr, around the year 150.

  2. One also notes that a Church Father may be wrong even if he’s not contradicted by another one. After all, they were in the early stages of the development of doctrine, and not all implications of things were worked out even as well as they are now.

    1. I got inspired and wrote a post specifically looking at the issue of Early Church Father conflict:

      “The Early Fathers are the giants on whose shoulders modern theologians stand. For example, the Fathers were the first people to come up with ways of explaining the mystery of the Godhead (a theological minefield). Another example would be that they were the first to explore the relationship between Christian faith and the reason found in Greek Philosophy. Given this, it was inevitable that there would be some heated debate among them”

  3. Joe –

    Excellent article. Fascinating how history is rejected as potential truth in the BerensCall video and no explanation is given why early church hisotry is so Roman Catholic in substance and belief. Just once I would like a Protestant to admit that Christ created a physical church on this planet that wasn’t strong enough to keep heresy from taking over and everything went flying off the rails around 200 AD. Just admit that’s what happened in history and it took another 1,300 years until “truth” was restored. Everyone was stupid in history and just couldn’t figure out scripture. Joseph Smith at least figured out this problem.

  4. Mack –

    Please explain to me how you have the right to remove 7 books from the OT as part of your Bible (unless you, God forbid, use a Catholic Bible)?

    Please explain to me how you even know what IS the New Testament Canon? Or do you believe its a fallible collection of books built upon the traditions of men?

    Joe –

    I changed my original post to remove the error regarding fallibility.

  5. Mack,
    Thanks for responding.
    Are you saying we should not do good? If so you may have a Matthew 5:19 problem.

    Per your concerns:
    1&2 The Catholic Church does teach that it is only by true faith in Christ Jesus our Lord that one is saved. It must be living faith and not dead faith though, and “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The Spirit creates living faith in which Christ works through us.
    3. Presumption is also warned against by Paul 1Cor4:”4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” Salvation is a today and a eternal thing which is know today in faith and hope, but not knowledge.
    4. Blood, is one you will want to search the Word yourself for with your own prayers about. John Chp 6 and 1 Corinthians 11 and more. It’s in there and has been taught from the beginning, and is believed in some form by many Protestants.
    5. If idolatry is your concern, don’t worry the Church teaches all unrepentant idolaters have their share in the lake of fire, along with (6) fornicators whether priests with celibate vows,like Paul, or married with faithfulness vows or the unmarried fornicator.

    I love Scripture and am Catholic. Call me odd, but I don’t think it is really that unusual.


  6. I’ve been finding your recent posts most interesting, such as this one and your treatment of “sola scriptura”, in light of reading Karl Keating’s book “Catholicism and Fundamentalism”. A huge reason I started my own Catholic blog was for my own suspicions of Protestants not “getting” Catholic teaching, and Keating’s book, while slightly dated, has proven that point.

  7. Very interesting post. I beg you to hear out my long reply and read carefully what I’ve written as i read carefully the apostolic fathers and ur own post. I have no hatred anymore of Roman Catholism. Though I have had periods of intense hate.But that hate never extended to Roman catholics themselves, having always felt a great love of catholics and eastern orthodox persons, even more so than the Jews. It is still my conclusion that the papacy resembles the anti-Christ out of all options, and this is not because of the reformation conclusion, but because the early church fathers themselves of whom I liked to read and whose writings I have taken into consideration over the last few years, in order to temper some of the extremities of reformed theology/calvinism/lutherism e.c.t. they themselves said epecially in the first 200 years that Paul told the thessalonians that the one who withheld the man of sin was the Roman empire. And with the fall of that comes the men of lawlessness. In revelation, we still the scarlet and red clothed woman, the same colours worn by the cardinals of the papacy. The pope also sits on a throne and quotes of some popes claim to be God on earth. It is the supreme authority of the Roman papacy which was one chief cause of the eastern orthodox schism. after the first 1000 years or so. Lastly the papacy given civic power was the remnant of the roman empire and corresponds to Daniel as the little horn. The apostles warned of the antichrist already being in their midst, as coming from the church itself, as being at work already, but being hidden from revealing until something was taken out of the way (the roman empire) which in falling, the papacy came to complete power thereafter. My rejection therefore of the church fathers, is not a complete rejection, but when I read them, I must bear in mind that the antichrist that John warned of was already among them, and was said to be revealed soon. So I am reading them with caution, knowing that “the end is near” so to speak. The more time goes on with the early church, the more the doctrines of infant baptism, Mary veneration, purgatory, extreme hierachy and formalism appear (though purgatory appeared rather later) . The image of the acts church is one of simplcity, meeting in houses, and the temple, with joy, singing, breaking of bread, sharing what they had, each bringing a prophecy,a tongue, an encouragement, not the decorative, sensous formality of the Roman catholic church. I agree that most protestant churches do not conform to this model either. Believe me I am not the only protestant displeased with what I see in the church. It is true to say the Catholic church is the church, but the antichrist came in, and corrupted it. And after 400-500 ad its corruption was more or less complete with the roman empires collapse and fragmentation. I believe God always keeps a remnant of true believers, I have yet to read through medieval Christianity, but that is my next undertaking, as I have already devoted months of thorough reading on the early church. I do find in terms of salvation that the first 200 years writings corresponds to 1 John’s view of salvation. That is works on necessary for salvation only in that they are the proof of a person really being saved/regenerated/indwelt by the Spirit/Christ. By this we test whether a professed christian is trully a christian. For not all professed christian are trully Christ’s, some are false, even self deceived, but it is their falling away that proves them to not have been genuine. The genuine will endure to the end and be saved. So yes enduring to the end as u say is necessary for salvation. U can’t just believe on Christ then go and live an immoral life. The believer isn’t free to live an immoral, rather free to love the lord and keep his commandments which are not burdensome. The professed christian who believes on christ then wants to live an immoral life, is not really a christian. It is impossible for someone to be made a new creation, to be sanctified, to be saved, to be indwelt by the spirit and by Christ yet remain unchanged by that grace. I feel Catholics and orthodox have a sad lack of faith in the powerful effects of the new creation and just like protestants to catholics an misunderstanding about our beliefs. May we talk more! No, I was so transformed by the Spirit in me, that my heart was changed, its desires changed. I don’t believe the protestant belief that we are only declared righteous. That is true, but its more than that, we are regenerated, sanctified when we first believe, and that sanctification continues. But that sacntification is also guaranteed. The true christian cannot help doing good works of love and becoming more like Christ, because Christ is in him causing him to do it. The Spirit has put the new desires in the true christian. There is a war between the new desires and the old carnal ones, but the victory is that the true christian no longer in their deepest heart wants to do the sinful things, but rather is “a slave to righteousness”. Though they might sin sometimes. it is not they that sin anymore, but their sin nature only/their sinful body of flesh, which is like our prison. 1 John is my favourite book of the bible as I feel it clears up alot of confusion of paul’s epistles, the same as James does. I find no contradiction in James. A saving faith of a true christian produces works, a dead faith is one that produces no good fruit, and is not a genuine faith. This is a false believer. Do not think we believe that a christian can merely intellectually assent to christ, then carry on living the same way! No, God forbid, as Paul says. But it is not because its not allowed, but rather because it is spiritually impossible for a regenerated christian to carry on living the same way. That is why I feel roman catholics/orthodox underestimate the awesome effects of the new creation/conversion. The true christian is controlled by the spirit. Anyone who is not controlled by the spirit has not the spirit, and anyone who has not the spirit of Christ does not belong to him at all, and that person was never ever saved.
    I have been a protestant Christian, having been in a number of denominations, until of recent times withdrawing from church attendance to examine my faith. I’ve read through church history, including most of the apostolic fathers and early church fathers. It has left me in a bewilderment. I can no longer go back to basing my faith on the reformation, I can’t be part of a church that is only 3-400 years old, with very limited connection to the original early church. A protestant church which claims “solo scriptura” or “solo scriptura” plus Holy Spirit revelation, yet has no unity, everyone’s “interpretation being different. On the other side, when I was first “saved” I had a spiritual encounter with Christ, having been aggressively anti-christian. Cut to the heart, I knelt and was burdened to confess all my sins against God out of a pain of having hurt God and having ignored and spoken against Christ’s loving sacrifice. I suppose it was a moment of what Roman Catholics call “perfect contrition” This conversion went on for a few hours, and has changed me and affected me for the rest of my life so far. I wholeheartedly accepted Christ’ atonement for my sins in that moment too, whilst committing to following Him, and abandoning all my old ways. If there was ever a moment of perfect contrition that was it. When I got up I had complete assurance of the forgiveness of my sins, and right standing with God, and adoption. I went from being a bitter, hateful, unforgiven person, to instantly forgiving a man who had abused me as a child, forgiving him to the extent that I would have hugged him. I was instantly transformed, and my Christian acquaintances who I had formerly mocked, did not recognise me. I was baptised in water about 10 months later. And experienced a baptism in the spirit another 12 months later. My conversion is the only thing I can hold onto, being that it was in line with scripture, and only the grace of God, the Holy Spirit could have produced such an incredible Paul like conversion. I did not choose the gospel, but rather my heart was so changed that I did not want to resist it. It would have been almost impossible for me to resist it. In my first 3-4 years of following Christ thereafter, I was in love with Him, is the best way of putting it. I was not having to follow commandments, I just wanted to do everything that pleased the one who died for me. I had no fears of losing my salvation, or any thoughts of it. I could not understand why other christians around me were not as joyful about their salvation as I was about mine. And it was the gratitude and joy that naturally produced good works out of me. Noone had to tell me to do good works, they just flowed out. My understanding of this is that 1 John taught that those who are born of God live righteously and love their brother and abide in the doctrine of the Father and the Son. That is if they do these 3 things they evidence that they have received genuine saving faith, that they have really been made a new creation. But if they don’t evidence these things, John says they are false believers, unregenerated, and John says that such people who leave the churches never belonged with them, and by leaving proved that they did not belong with them. False believers are those who have not the spirit of Christ, who were never really born again, regenerated. It is impossible for a person to be trully regenerated and not produce the accompanying fruit of salvation, just as an olive tree will produce olives and not figs. Works are not necessary for salvation, rather they are the evidence of salvation. Once the doctrines of losing salvation got to my ear, and certain elders in the church tried to convince me that I could lose it, then my salvation was shipwrecked. For the fear of losing salvation causes fear, it doesn’t motivate me to works of love and gratitude. When I was eternally secure in my mind, the good works of love came naturally and in large numbers spontaneously. I cannot boast of this, because really I was a changed person, who was now doing the things that were natural for me to do. But as unwashed pig, that is someone who when claiming to be a christian, has only had their outside cleaned, and not the inside, is unregenerate, and this is proven by their lack of love and works. So not every who accepts Christ as a saviour is saved, only those who are regenerated, who experience the new birth, and evidence of this new birth is the loving of our christian brother, living righteously and abiding in the doctrine of the Father and the Son, and bringing for the fruits of the Spirit such as gentleness, hope, joy, self control e.c.t. From the position of believing myself fully justified by faith in Christ, having right standing with God, being assured of eternal life, being forever a new creation, transferred from one kingdom to another, from that place of infinite security, my works of love and righteous living flowed, out of gratitude. But upon doubting the greatness of my salvation, upon thinking that perhaps only my past sins had been forgiven when accepting the gospel, and not my present/future ones, upon thinking my salvation to be conditional, upon fearing my salvation to be only half as good as I had thought, upon thinking I could be lost, this ruined my salvation, and just as it says that being under law, causes the law to tempt one to sin, so it did me. My previous gratitude was gone. My salvation brought no joy anymore, because now I was still under law, not full mosaic law, but still a form of ethics law, the 10 commandments e.c.t. I cannot love a saviour who might still condemn me to eternal torment, a Father who would unadopt me, and disown me as my own mother did. God’s love went from amazing, to not much different from earthly conditional love. If your version of roman salvation is true, then it is a very rubbish salvation. it meant that Christ did not do everything necessary to save a person, it meant that God chose noone. But rather we chose him. But it written that God chose us, that those who don’t come to Christ are not his sheep, that the father did not enable them to come to Christ. While free choose is written in the scriptures, so is predestination. We cannot just take one without the other. perhaps catholics and protestants are guilty of choosing one and ignoring the other. I consider myself a christian, and do not take the term protestant, for I am not resistant to read the early church fathers and do not base my faith solely on the reformation. I had very little theology when I was saved, I only knew what I had received at conversion, which was from no man, and was similar to Paul’s own testimony Like Paul despite the good fruits of my conversion, I still like Paul had to test that I had received something legitimately christian and tested it by the scriptures as well, to which I found it corresponded precisely. So if my eternally secure (once saved always saved) faith produced more joy, more gratitude, more peace, more works of love, more humility, more heartfelt repentance of sin, not out of fear of hell but out of love for Christ, more adoration for Christ than all the christians I know who believe that salvation is losable, and more than any catholic/orthodox I’ve ever met, and produced such an instant genuine heart change, genuine character change, rather than the mere behavioural changes/self reform i see in roman, catholism/eastern orthodox, then why in the name of everything lovely would I want to go into Roman catholism, or orthodox? Why would I want a salvation which is inferior to the one I received. Which gives me 10 percent of the joy of my salvation, 10 percent of the peace, and 2percent of the good works of love and righteous living, and 2 percent of the adoration and deep sincere love of God that I have with my salvation?? In protestanism there is a saying, that the only thing that distinguishes christianity from other religions, is that all other religions are about man doing works to earn or maintain his/her salvation. In this sense, roman catholism is very similar to islam, a initial conversion of faith and confession by grace, followed by the maintaining of that salvation by the keeping of commandments. and repenting of sins. We can only genuinely love God if there is no more fear of punishment of hell. And if when christ died for us, all our sins were future tense, then when we accepted christ, why would only half of our sins be forgiven? And if we are still under ten commandments, then we are still enslaved to law. If we are only freed from the ritual mosaic law, then christ really should have stayed in heaven, because his sacrifice was not worth the trouble. God cannot condemn a person for whom christ died for a sin which christ has already died for. It is injust to demand double payment for one debt. Christ died for all my sins , and being under grace now and not law, I am now treated as a father treats the son, the father does not kick the son out of his house, or burn him in eternal torment in fire and sulphur when he disobeys. He chastices him, but as a father does a son, not unto hell. If God is better than earthly fathers who don’t condemn their children to hell, then God’s love is even better than them. I believe genuine christians if in sin, will repent and get right, it is impossible for them to stay in that state. Everytime I have been out of intimate fellowship in some sin, even for times of months away from God in my heart profoundly, I always come back. Inevitably drawn back by God’s grace, for he has promised that noone who the father gives to Christ will be lost by christ, but Christ will raise them up to everlasting life on the last day. I say we stop diminishing promises like this to the ordinary. If christ says no man can snatch us from him, but we can get away, what kind of rubbish promise is that? Who would even think that a mere man could snatch us from the Father? Why would such a rubbish promise like that cause the apostles such joy as to endure persecution and even death with radiant gladness? The only way that promise produces the sort of joy that would cause the apostles to see persecution as wonderful and to give up their lives for Christ, is if the promise meant that nothing at all can snatch us from Christ and the Father once we are chosen to be in Him, that we can’t be tempted away by the devil, deceived by false doctrine away, somehow get lose and wander away and be lost. What we need salvation from most of all is our free will, from our wandering heart. If Christ couldn’t save us from that, then his death was in vain. As it is written ” I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” God predestines those he chooses,and who are we to argue with the maker as the clay, as Paul says, if God chooses one to be a trashcan even. Paul establishes predestination very strongly in his epistles, and the argument is too strong to ignore. Of course, in working out our lives, it will appear to us we are making decisions, so we must make decisions as though there was no predestination. But there is predestination still. God is able to bring people to him, to cause them to repent, to give them a heart that obeys him, and to keep them in him, just as he always kept a remnant of faithful people in every single old testament generation, even in the times of the prophets of Baal. If we could have chosen christ, chosen to believe, chosen to repent, we would have something to boast about. We would be able to boast that we nobly and sensibly chose eternal life and righteousness, whereas other people were stubborn and foolish to choose their sins and damnation. We could boast that we had loved God by choosing him, but others had hated God by rejecting him. This is merit. Bur salvation is unmerited. So this is not correct. And we doctrine is more worthy of joy unto death, that we chose Christ, or that he chose us for mysterious reasons? How awesome to contemplate that before the foundations of the world, even though everyone deserve hell, God in his mercy chose certain persons, not based on any good or bad works they had done, or anything else merititous in them, but based on his on will and often mysterious purpose, to be saved, but the rest to remain damned. So that noone in heaven will deserve to be there. And everyone will hell will deserve to be there. So that noone will have anything to boast of. But I say the roman catholic has much to boast of. Having chosen christ by his/her own free will. Having repented of his own free will, with only some help from God’s grace. Having cooperated with God in maintaining his/her salvation by means of sacraments and confession. For it is meritous when a person is so careful and zeolous to confess all their mortal sins, attend every holy celebration e.c.t. The catholic has all their past sins forgiven at baptism, after that it is one sin at a time forgiven. So the catholic starts under grace, then is under law. How horrible, how similar to every other religion in the world! How mundane and unspectacular is your salvation, how unworthy of unlimited joy and peace! But I come to the defining scripture. Hebrews, 10 vs 2, “Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins” Every year, the jew went to the day of atonement, to have the new sins they had committed that year atoned of. Because the last years sacrifice only atoned for the past sins, and since then they had committed new ones. This sacrifice was said to be imperfect for that reason. Every year they were reminded they had committed new sins for which they were guilty. So the guilt carried on every year. They were never cleansed once for all. U are the same as these Jews, for you are coming over and over again to be cleansed. Your guilt continues. Every year u have new sins, and guilt and have to come and be cleansed again. And as hebrews says, if the sacrifice had been perfect, then the worshippers would no longer have needed sacrifices, because they would no longer have had consciousness of their sins, being cleansed once and for all time. If christ’s sacrifice is perfect, then it must cleanse us once and for all time, removing all guilt forever. If it does not do this, then we are in little better position than the jews who came each year to atone for their new sins. I for one do not think that the father would have sent his son to have him go through all that suffering just to slightly improve the old testament covenant, just to remove the necessity of keeping the ritualistic law. No, the new covenant must be completely different to the old.
    God bless. Forgive me for my terribly long reply.

  8. An interesting thing is that Protestants also abuse the “early church fathers”, by doing #2 in cherry picking things they want to adhere to or prove, while also arguing that the same people cannot be trusted as authority. This is especially true when it comes to the topic of instrumental music.
    Much effort is used to gleam from the writings of the early church fathers on what they thought about instrumental music and the argument goes “the church didn’t use instrumental music up until it was introduced in 600AD”, all the while arguing that the early church fathers are not authoritative and the recorded church was not “THE church”.
    The same people who use the early church fathers for instrumental music do not use them for or against any other subject, because they believe in “sola scriptura”.
    It is cherry picking and duplicity at its best.

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