After the decease of the twelve apostles, “Church Fathers” began to surface, to take prominence within the Christian community. Most of these men came from philosophy backgrounds, and these men essentially wanted it both ways. They wanted to be philosophers and prophets. (Oil and water don’t mix; never have, never will. Neither will philosophers and prophets.) Men such as Origin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Arius, Aquinas and Athanasius—all Church Fathers.
Most Protestant lay people (and more than a few ministers) are ignorant of what transpired in these critical first three centuries of the church age. Isolated incidents are perhaps mentioned infrequently by some pastors on special occasions, but that’s it. And more times than not, our response?
“The Nicene Creed? I’ve heard of it but what is it?”
“Constantine? I’ve heard that name. He’s the one who saw the Cross in the sky, wasn’t he?”
That’s about it. The extent of our knowledge.
We’re largely unaware, for example, that the Protestant movement (1500s) was greatly influenced by what transpired in these beginning centuries. For one thing, it was during the time of our Church Fathers that the shift from revelation to rhetoric occurred within the Church. And that shift, to this day, has gone unnoticed by most churchgoers.
Rhetoric replaces Revelation
The early church had prophets who led the Church by revelation. The church of the second, third, and fourth centuries had professional orators who led the saints by rhetoric.
The enemy sowed philosophers for prophets and rhetoric for revelation among the saints. In other words, the enemy sowed tares. Philosophers and prophets may look alike, but they don’t sound alike. And a lot of people to this day can’t tell the difference. Tares and wheat look alike too but they’re not the same. Here’s one grand difference: the gospel is not an explanation; it’s a revelation. It can’t be taught; it must be caught. The gospel begins with a revelation that breaks into a reformation that leads to a revolution. One old prophet said, “We’re not to make the gospel acceptable; we’re to make it available.”
Our Church Fathers never learned that. Listen to our Apostolic Fathers: “Philosophy prepares the work that Christ completes.” Clement of Alexandria said that. According to Origin, “cultivated Christians” really think just like cultivated heathens, so that “anyone would think either that present-day Christians are philosophers or that philosophers of yore were Christians.”
The story of Moses seeing God is for Origin simply one of those old wives’ tales, “and if you take it seriously,” he says, you “run into the absurdity of saying that God is corporeal,” a thing which any pagan philosopher could tell you is just too silly for words.
Augustine tells how in his youth, after reading Cicero, he would laugh at the prophets, and how from the very first, the pagan schools had taught him to abhor any suggestion that God might have a body—it was instruction like that, he says, that convinced him that the Christians could not possibly be right.
And these were the men who would eventually write our creeds?!
Most of our Church Fathers did not believe in the Incarnation. And most “spiritualized” the resurrection.
“To be subject to Christ is to be subject to God, and to be subject to God is to have no need of a body,” said Origin.
In the end, something had to give way, and it was the Church. Instead of our Fathers bringing the pagans to Christ, they attempted to “Christianize paganism” or “paganize Christianity,” and failed miserably at both. Probably the epitome of events that personifies this period in church history is . . .
Between 313 AD and 400 AD, the Church fell apart. When Constantine founded the city of Constantinople (Istanbul), he planned a gigantic capital which he called New Rome. In it he commissioned the building of pagan temples and something he designated as buildings for Christians to meet in. He didn’t want the Christians to feel left out, so he put the pagan temples on one side of the street and the Christian buildings on the other. Constantine built these assembly buildings for Christians not only in Constantinople, but also in Rome, Jerusalem, and in many parts of Italy.
This then triggered a massive “church building” boom in large cities all over Europe. Which carried over into America as a result of the Reformation. In his pagan mentality, Constantine ordered each building to be named after one of the Christians in the New Testament; i.e., “St. Peters,” “St. Thomas,” “St. Jude.” Pagan temples had written on them “Apollo” or “Zeus.”
It was truly a fiasco.
By now the seed has progressed from the heart of a man to the heart of men—our Church Fathers. And spiritual decline is rapidly progressing.