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Advantages of the Old Guys

I read a post from John Piper yesterday. This man had a profound influence on my life, most particularly through his book Let the Nations Be Glad. In this short post, however, Piper missed the boat. He was arguing that Christians today are in a better position to know Christ than the Christians in the first 300 years of church history.

I won’t rehash his argument here. You can check it out. He has a point. However, his argument is unbalanced to such a great degree that it becomes untrue. Although we do have some advantages over our brothers and sisters from the early church when it comes to knowing God, they have some advantages over us as well.

Here are a few:

1)    Earliest Christians read the Scriptures in their native tongue.

When Ignatius read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (which he almost certainly had), he read it in his native tongue. He did not rely on a translation. He read the letter with the same comprehension that you are reading these words. This is quite an advantage, and despite all our study of ancient Koine Greek, we cannot begin to match the comprehension of a native speaker.

2)    Earliest Christians were mentored by the apostles

The links aren’t always clear, but we have every reason to believe that the earliest Christians, especially the bishops, were mentored and discipled by the Apostles themselves. If Polycarp didn’t know what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you eat my flesh you have no part of me…” he quite possibly could have asked John. This gives him quite an advantage over me, reading these words 2000 years removed.

3)    Earliest Christians had the benefit of a unified Church structure

Having the Scriptures is an incredible benefit. However, the Scriptures still have to be interpreted. A new Christian today will open her bible and find a confusing passage. Then she will see over 30,000 denominations offering differing interpretations. It will be difficult for her to guard against heresy and error, because there will be no authority structure that will help guide her in interpretation.

Ignatius dealt with that problem too. There were divergent interpretations. His advice to church members was to find the Christians and their pastor and to submit to them. Worship with the Christians, not the other groups. This would have been difficult to do if there were 30,000 groups to choose from with equal claim on the ‘Christian’ label.

Piper was right in a sense. There is a trend to glorify things simply because they are old. The average teacher in the early church could make errors, just like we can. However, these teachers did have some significant advantages when it comes to knowing God. Their voice cannot be silenced.



One Response

  1. Hey James,
    Thanks for the good post. I agree with what you wrote. It is because of those “advantages” that the church Fathers had which, in my opinion, make them worthy of our study. I like what John Wesley had to say: “From a child I was taught to love and reverence the Scripture, the oracles of God; and, next to these, to esteem the primitive Fathers, the writers of the first three centuries. Next after the primitive Church, I esteem our own, the Church of England.”

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