So much has happened to me over the last several years. I have often thought that I should write it all down. So this is my first attempt at that endeavor.
It was 1991. My wife and I had been married a couple of years and we were both working for a Christian bookstore. One of the great things about this job was that we were encouraged to read the books in our spare time, or even borrow some periodically. This helped us to know what we had and give recommendations to our customers. I am an avid reader and this was practically paradise for me. One day I found a book called Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up by David Bercot.
In this book, Bercot makes a great case for using the early Christian writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries to help us better understand the New Testament. These writers lived closer in time to the apostles, they spoke the same language, and lived in the same culture. Some of them even knew the apostles. They were heirs to the living tradition of the Church. In many areas of belief that have divided so many Christians they stood firm in one faith. With this kind of unity and consistency, I felt that I had to know more. In addition, these men lived such exemplary Christian lives- and they were typical of their age. I was so enthralled with it all that I wanted to know more.
However, finding out more took a considerable amount of time. Meanwhile, I was content with the little that I knew of this early Christian era. For one thing, most of their beliefs agreed with mine already. So I was encouraged that I already had an ancient Christian faith. But there were some areas of departure. I wondered what to do about those.
Ministry took me away from the bookstore and over the years I was really too busy to give a lot of time and attention to the early Christians. Finally, I became a pastor in a small Pentecostal church. I was thrilled. I knew God had called me there. I rejoiced in preaching the word and getting to know my new congregation. I loved the new community that we were a part of and God was opening many doors of opportunity for us.
In the midst of it all, my hunger for early Christianity was renewed. As a pastor I wanted to pattern my ministry after the early model. I thought I already knew what that would look like. I found out that Bercot had finally written a sequel to Heretics. So I went out and bought it.
In Bercot's new book, called Common Sense, he was even more up front about calling us to use the early Christians as commentators on the Scriptures. His argument made, well, common sense. How could we rely so much on later commentators, or even our own opinions when we are so far removed from the historical and cultural context of the New Testament? Instead, why not rely on the immediate heirs to the apostles? I couldn't argue with the logic. Furthermore I was really impressed with the example of these men, as I mentioned. Then I also thought that these were the very people responsible for keeping and assembling our New Testament. We trusted them to give us the Scriptures. Couldn't we trust them to interpret it for us?
After quite some time of struggling through with this, I asked myself two critical questions. First, how do I know that what I believe and teach is right? I had no answer. At first I thought I could say it was in the Bible. But all Christians say that. Then I thought about commentators. But anyone can write a book. Then I thought about denominations, seminaries, theologians, and professors. But all kinds of denominations have those and still no agreement. I was left with nothing. In the end I saw that my so called reliance on Scripture was nothing more than my reliance on my tradition and opinions about Scripture.
Secondly, I asked myself, "Am I in a position to teach the Fathers (the early Christian writers), or are they in a position to teach me?" Did I have more wisdom than they after 20 centuries of Church history to be able to look back and see their errors? Or were they the ones with the wisdom who stood together in a unified faith only one, or two, generations removed from the apostles? To me, the answer was clear. They were in a much better position to teach me than I was to teach them. With that, I determined that it was time I took a serious look at what it was they taught and how it interpreted the Scriptures.