7. The Early Church Fathers’ interpretation of Scripture. Many Protestants out there have not really studied the writings of the early church in any great depth. Turns out, even most of the Protestant seminaries that I have studied (and especially the Baptist seminaries) don’t spend much more than a semester studying the first 1,500 years of church history, and to cover that ground quickly, they usually rely on a history textbook that “filters” out the distinctive voice of the early church.
Thus, many Protestants don’t realize that in the first century, Christians already identified as members of the “Catholic Church.” Christians already celebrated the breaking of bread at every liturgy (as we even see in Acts 2), and they believed the Eucharist (the consecrated bread and wine of communion) to be the body and blood of our Lord. And this was taught by the bishop (St. Ignatius of Antioch) who was chosen to replace Peter when the apostle left for his final journey to Rome (where he would eventually be martyred). Infant baptism was already a well-established practice by the early second century, and the bishops claimed to practice it because it is what the apostles taught them to do. And remember: St. Paul commanded them to follow everything he taught them, not just that which was written in a follow-up letter.
The early church had bishops, presbyterois (which we English speakers contract to “priests,” not to be confused with the priests of the Old Testament), and deacons, a tri-partite structure of “Holy Orders” that remains in Christ’s church today.
I could go on and on, but my point is this:
(a) clearly, the early church, guided by those faithful witnesses trained and appointed by the apostles to pass on Christianity, was Catholic; and
(b) there is no record in the first centuries of some massive slide into apostasy at the end of the life of the apostles. We do know that many heresies developed (Arianism, Docetism, Gnosticism, Nestorianism, etc.), but Protestants universally recognize that it was the early Christians—the early Catholics—who were the ones fighting off these early heresies. And they were successful in doing so! Yet – these same early Christians were practicing the Mass. Before Justin Martyr was martyred, he was asked by the Romans to describe the worship of Christians. If you read his First Apology, you’ll see that the Sunday worship he describes is fundamentally the same thing we have in the liturgy today: readings, a message, prayers, a “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and then something Justin describes as the “Eucharist,” in which we eat special “Eucharisted bread.”
(c) the students of the apostles serve as a witness to the beliefs of the early church
(d) to be able to go to a Bible study with the student of an apostle is an AWESOME opportunity, but you may also find it a challenging one, because these early preachers, most all of which gave their lives for preaching this Gospel, were preaching a Catholic gospel!
The question then is: why should I trust modern Bible interpreters 2,000 years later when they contradict those people who read the Bible in their native tongue and studied it in the midst of the very people who wrote the Bible?
I put that question to Pastor Witmer many times, and he has not yet answered it.
Please pray for him and encourage him that you are willing to follow the truth of Sacred Scripture wherever it is leading all of you at LBC, even if that means to a Christianity that is different…and better…than anything you have ever known. And in the context of this point: a Christianity that is the same Christianity as what the apostles taught and meant in their writings (vs. the traditions of men that entered the scene 1,500 years later through a monk by the name of Martin Luther, who actually wanted to take all the books out of the Bible that disagreed with his new ideas).