The great diversity in forms of worship and doctrine seen in today’s church has come about over 2,000 years of Church History. Obviously, then, a great deal has gone into creating that diversity.
The principal foundation for Christian faith and practice is the Bible, including the teachings of Christ and the examples of the early church. The next to build on that foundation were the immediate descendents of apostolic days. We refer to the key identities from that era as the Early Church Fathers.
This category starts with such identities as Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Pachomius, Athanasius, Basil the Great and the Gregory’s.
There are many things to gain from an understanding of early church history. One is the very example and testimony of men and women of God who inspire us by their devotion. Another is the theology expressed in those early days, as a source of light to Christian theology as understood and applied so close to the time of the Apostles. We also get a view of the heresies and philosophies which impacted the church at that time.
Another key area of interest is church government. Since the philosophy and process of church government is diverse and widely debated, it is instructive to see what the concepts of those early days were and to trace various developments from those times.
The Bigger Picture
The early church era and the information gleaned from that time complete tie up some of the loose ends of the New Testament record. We see how widely used the gospels and epistles were. We see the fruit of things which were initiated in New Testament times.
The human record also complements the rich spiritual resource of the New Testament. We see how people lived out the faith that was delivered to them by the Apostles.
And, of course, we find much to confirm the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament documents which have been passed down to us.
Some of the characters from the early church are known only by name. There is simply no information about some key people from that era. Others wrote extensively and their writings have been preserved. Some were written about. Others are the subject of legends, where the facts are unsure. For some there is conflicting information, so scholars have to determine what facts can be relied on.
Some of the people are accounted for in documents which date back to their own time. Others are referred to centuries later, where information is recorded, from sources unknown, and the later quote has survived. Because of the variety of resources and their varied character, there is much room for speculation and debate.
These History Posts
The summaries which are provided in this series of posts are intended to be a primer or an introduction to the subject matter. Some students will end up immersing themselves in source documents and analysing minute detail. But most of us are happy to at least have captured the big picture and put a few pieces into place.
These posts are intended to provide that quick sweep of the landscape, with sufficient information to give a sensible understanding, without the depth of detail which may be available for the determined student.
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