Who are the Ante Nicene Fathers and why are they important to our Christian walk? Why haven’t we heard of them before and why should we read their writings? It is fair to say, that the church isn’t where it should be at this time. Why is that? Why doesn’t the church walk in the same power the early church did? Why is there so much compromise? Why are there so many denominations and how do we know which is the right one? How do we regain the unity in the church that the early church had? These are all reasonable and commonly asked questions amongst the saints (Christians) today. For us to find the answer to these questions we need to go back to the early church, before the discord in the church took place.
The early church refers to the first 325 A.D. years of the church, prior to the Roman Catholic Church where the Roman Emperor Constantine lead the counsel of the Nicene.
What was the early church like and how were they united? Was it love? Was it common interests? The early church were united by their understanding of how to interpret the scriptures spiritually.
The Early Church Fathers (Ante Nicene Fathers) were: Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Origen, Polycarp, Hermas, St. Clement, to name a few. These men were the disciples of the Apostles. Imagine learning directly from the Apostle John. Imagine being able to ask Paul what he really meant in his Epistles!
What the apostles passed down to their disciples is what is called Apostolic Tradition. Apostolic Tradition is mentioned by Paul in his epistles. 1 Corinthians 11:2 “I appreciate and commend you because you always remember me in everything and keep firm possession of the traditions (the substance of my instructions), just as I have [verbally] passed them on to you.” Paul also said regarding these apostolic instructions: 2 Thessalonians 2:15 “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
By understanding these scriptures above, we see Paul was saying there were some traditions he wrote to the church and there were traditions that he and the other apostles shared that were not written down, but instead; spoken. These spoken traditions we will not find in the Bible.
What is tradition? Tradition is instruction that is passed down verbally; breath to breath. The word “tradition” in Greek is “paradosis” (Strong’s Dictionary reference G3862). The Thayer’s Dictionary defines “tradition” as: “a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e. tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc. of the body of precepts, especially ritual, which in the opinion of the later Jews were orally delivered by Moses and orally transmitted in unbroken succession to subsequent generations, which precepts, both illustrating and expanding the written law, as they did were to be obeyed with equal reverence.” What we see here is that the Jews had a tradition of verbally passing down interpretation of the law/Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to each other. In fact, most Jewish sects were required to have the whole Old Testament (Tanak) memorized as well as the Oral Torah. We see this same type of tradition carry on into the early church. It may come as a surprise that the early church consisted of converted Jews mostly at first.
The early church had an eastern mindset and culture, so when we try and interpret scripture though our western eyes (mindset) it causes great confusion. To understand scripture correctly, we must interpret using the same mindset as the early church.
What were the traditions Paul and the apostles taught the church orally, that weren’t in the Bible? Who carried on those traditions?
Origen of Alexandria (185 – 250 A.D.) said this about one of his biggest influences, the holy Apostle Paul; “The Apostle Paul, ‘Teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth’ taught the Church which he gathered from the Gentiles how it ought to interpret the books of the Law. These books were received from others and were formerly unknown to the Gentiles and were very strange. He feared that the Church, receiving foreign instructions and not knowing the principle of the instructions, would be in a state of confusion about the foreign document. For that reason, he gives some examples of interpretation that we also might note similar things in other passages, lest we believe that by imitation of the text and document of the Jews we be made disciples. He wishes, therefore, to distinguish disciples of Christ from disciples of the Synagogue by the way they understand the Law. The Jews, by misunderstanding it, rejected Christ. We, by understanding the Law spiritually, show that it was justly given for the instruction of the Church.”
Apostle Paul had such a vast amount of understanding and revelation on the scriptures; to think that he and the apostles were limited to just a few epistles seems a little strange.
How did Paul teach? He always taught Christ from the Torah and the prophets as we see read in Acts 28. Some hearers received what Paul was teaching and some didn’t. When those who didn’t believe quoted the same prophecy that all the major prophets including Christ prophesied in Matthew 13, “Acts 28:26-27 saying, ‘GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY: “HEARING YOU WILL HEAR, AND SHALL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND SEEING YOU WILL SEE, AND NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEARTS OF THIS PEOPLE HAVE GROWN DULL. THEIR EARS ARE HARD OF HEARING, AND THEIR EYES THEY HAVE CLOSED, LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, LEST THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEARTS AND TURN, SO THAT I SHOULD HEAL THEM.” Isn’t it peculiar to find that many Christians today say that the Torah is done away with and quote from Paul’s epistles that he did away with it. However, we see in the Book of Acts towards the end of Paul’s life he was teaching from the Torah that was allegedly “done away with” and Origen, a Christian apostle of the second century wrote that Paul taught how the Gentile church (not the Jews) how to interpret the Torah spirituallyand to not to take it literally.
If the Torah was done away with, why was the early church still teaching from those sacred books and why did they follow the commandments of the Torah? The early church understood the Torah was not done away with; it was the letter understanding, or the literal meaning, that was done away with. So, who do you think would have a better understanding of the Torah? We, who learn from books about men think the apostles meant? Or from the men who learned from the apostles themselves? It would be wise to take the words of those men who learned from the apostles.
The Torah is just one of the things the church today has really misunderstood and is divided on. There are many other topics of the Bible that the church is divided on and have no unity in their understanding. The understanding must come from what the parables (mysteries and secrets) [Luke 8:10] of the Word are truly saying. The early church studied the mysteries and secrets of the kingdom and they taught the way the apostles taught them. What if we said this is how the church is going to come into unity. How? Acts 2:1 states that the church was in “one accord”. In what way were they in one accord? Was it love that made them in one accord? Was is it that they just got along and put doctrine aside? It is preposterous to think that the church could be united by putting doctrine aside and come under Christ’s name, because Christ isthe Word!
The word “accord” in the Greek is “homothumadon” (Strongs G3661) which means “one mind”. Let’s now look at that word in the Hebrew (the original language of the Bible & language Jesus spoke). It’s the word “yachad” (Strongs H3162) meaning unity; and when you look up that word in the ancient Hebrew it means: “A uniting together. All things are a unity with something else (one man is a unity of body, breath and mind, one family is a unity of father, mother and children.” Due to it’s parent-root letters meaing “unite” and “unity”, “yachad” is related to another word in Hebrew meaning “riddle” (Strongs H2330): “The riddle begins by dividing the hearer from the listener by creating the riddle. The riddle ends with the answer uniting the two.” In the Hebrew we see that unity happens when two people have an understanding of the riddle (dark sayings, parables) [Psalms 78:2]. All Yahushua (Jesus) taught were parables and dark sayings (mysteries). We read in Mark 4:34 and Matthew 13:34 “without a parable He did not speak” and in the upper room the disciples were all in the same mindset (unity) because they had the same understanding of the mysteries that Christ taught them. Thisis how the church will come back into unity.
The teachings that were passed down to the apostles have been lost and hence the unity in the body has been lost. The Wesley movement that birthed the Pentecostal and Methodist churches were birthed because John Wesley went back to the early church. This is what John Wesley said about the Early Church Fathers:
“Can anyone who spends several years in those seats of learning, be excused if they do not add to that learning the reading of the Fathers? The Fathers are the most authentic commentators on Scripture, for they were nearest the fountain and were eminently endued with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given. It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the council of Nicea.”1
John Wesley understood the wealth and the weight of the understanding that the Early Fathers had. Because he went back to the understanding of how to truly interpret the Word the way the Apostles taught their disciples, it started a huge move that birthed two denominations. So, how important is it to go back to these instructors who carried the teachings of the Early Church? If we’re supposed to be like Yahushua shouldn’t we also teach like him? He taught his disciples toteach how the same as he did and in turn they taught their disciples.
This is a quote from Eusebius about the disciples to “These men, preserving the true tradition of the blessed
doctrine, directly from the holy apostles, Peter and James and John and Paul, the son receiving it from
the father (but few were like the fathers), have come by God’s will even to us to deposit those ancestral and
Someone had to carry the teachings of the apostles otherwise we wouldn’t be here as believers in Christ. Another thing to consider is how rich it would be to sit at one of the apostle’s feet and not just learn from them, but ask them questions. How close were the men? Let us see what Irenaeus (120 – 202 A.D.) had to say about this:
“Polycarp also was instructed by the apostles and he spoke with many who had seen Christ. Not only that but by apostles in Asia he was appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna. I also saw him in my early youth, for he lived a very long time. When he was a very old man, he gloriously and most nobly suffered martyrdom and departed this life. He had always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the church has handed down, and which the church handed down, and which alone was true.”
Irenaeus also said:
“It behooves us to learn the truth from those who possess that succession of the church which is from the apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech… They expound the scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonoring the patriarchs nor despising the prophets.”
Today’s problem in the church is that it has lost this Apostolic Tradition. This is the same tradition that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 11:2 “I appreciate and commend you because you always remember me in everything and keep firm possession of the traditions (the substance of my instructions), just as I have [verbally] passed them on to you.” The holy Apostle Paul clearly states that there are some things that he taught that he didn’t write down everything that he taught. So, what was the tradition that Paul passed down? Origen explains what this apostolic tradition of instruction that Paul passed down to their disciples: “The apostle Paul, ’Teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth’ taught the Church which he gathered from the Gentiles how it ought to interpret the books of the Law.”
The biggest problem with the church today is the same problem almost 2000 years ago; how to interpret the Word. In today’s age it is much worse than ever before. The holy Apostle Peter said to his disciple Clement that his teachings were being twisted, and there were schools where they were misinterpreting his teachings. He said “But if, while I am still alive, they dare thus to misrepresent me, how much more will those who shall come after me dare to do so!”. If that was happening with Peter’s teachings it has certainly happened with Christ, and most certainly Paul. Peter himself said in 2 Peter 3:16 that Paul’s teachings are “hard to understand”. If the teachings of Paul are hard to understand, we need the understanding of the disciples that the apostles raised up.
The churches unity has lacked severely since the Council of Nicea came together in 325 A.D. It began when Constantine started and Ecumenical council to bring all the churches together and he made the church in Rome the head of all churches (the beginning of Roman Catholicism). Before that Ecumenical council took place, the church was in one accord and one understanding. Tertullian said “No other teaching will have the right of being received as apostolic than that which is at the present day proclaimed in the churches of Apostolic Tradition.” This was said in 207 A.D. and even after these teachings still continued to be the same. In 197 A.D. Tertullian said “We hold the communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different than theirs. This is our witness of truth.”
So how did the church become separated? How do we know which church is correct? Why are there so many church denominations? Satan has truly done a number on the church by infiltrating, coming as an angel light and introducing the doctrines of demons, bringing division. Lactantius was a 3rd-4th century apostle who enlightened the church of the heresies and other sects of the church that weren’t of the same teachings and of the same body as those whom the apostles had established. “But since many heresies have existed, and the people of God have been rent into divisions at the instigation of demons, the truth must be briefly marked out by us…” To our surprise many of today’s teachings that the churches teach today were condemned as heresies. Some of the most notorious heretics of the early church and in all of history, are being taught in the churches today. Lactantius also states “He Himself and His apostles foretold that there must be numerous sects and heresies, [Mat 18:7; Luk 17:1; 1Co 11:19; 2Pe 2:1] which would break the unity of the sacred body” and this is how it is today.
The church has many unanswered questions; what is the true interpretation of the gift of tongues? What is salvation? What about the Torah and the Feasts; are they still being kept or done away with, just to name a few.
So, what is the answer? How do we fix this discord, this chasm of division amongst the churches? The answer is to go back to the purest teachings of the Christian faith, which is what we offer here at Forerunner Ministries International. That is the call of the church, to turn back to truth and be united. We need to have a love for the truth.
These holy men in the early church had what we don’t; the apostles as their teachers. As we read the teachings of the early church we will be edified and probably a little scared, but that’s good, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. These teachings will bring an intense fire into the church. It will cause and inspire us to take our walk with Christ more serious. These Ante Nicene Fathers will make us fall in love with the King of Kings, as they reveal the beauty and the majesty of Christ!
- John Wesley“Advice to the Clergy” 1756
- Eusebuis-Early Church History Vol. 5 Ch. XI
- Iranaeus-Against Heresies Vol. 1 Book 3 Ch. II
- Iranaeus-Against Heresies Vol. 1 Book 4 Ch. XXVI