Anchor Your People In the Early Church Fathers — An Excerpt from "Awakening Faith"
My childhood church background is in the independent Bible movement. For college, I went to a liberal arts Bible college of the Baptist variety. After graduating, I moved to Washington D.C., where I later worked for an evangelical ministry and attended an evangelical mega-church.
I share this bit of personal travelog because having been born and bred an evangelical, I was entirely unfamiliar with the historic Church. Growing up I thought Calvin was merely a college up the road in Grand Rapids, the same for Aquinas. In Sunday school, college, and beyond I never learned about Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Augustine; never learned about the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds; never learned about the ancient practices of fixed-hour prayer or the sign of the cross, silence and solitude or lectio divina.
In other words, I was completely ignorant of the forebears of my faith—who they were, what they taught, why they mattered.
It was only after I went to seminary and studied the Church Fathers that I fully understood their significance. I have a hunch that some of you reading know what I'm talking about. James Stuart Bell and Patrick Kelly sure do, and they hope to rectify this situation.
In their new book Awakening Faith: Daily Devotionals from the Early Church, they "hope you discover new ways of thinking, praying and obeying our Lord" (10) by plumbing the deep riches from the early Church. Through 366 carefully selected devotionals written in modern English set next to inspiring Scripture passages, they are hoping to help recapture the historic Christian faith for our day in order to reawaken that faith and nurture it within you.
As a pastor I am constantly on the hunt for resources to help deepen my peoples' spiritual lives. Modern guides are great, because they help modern people navigate the choppy waters of modern life. But there's something about returning to the fonte of our faith, the source of Christian spirituality that anchors a modern Christian in a way that modern resources often can't.
This is that resource.
Awakening Faith will help introduce this important anchor to your people by introducing some of the writings from the earliest Christians that make up that anchor. And below you'll find a section from the introduction that explains why we should read the Fathers today, as well as three devotional excerpts.
-Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)
Why should any other Christian, particularly any evangelical Christian, read the Fathers today when he or she could read contemporary answers to these questions? There are good reasons besides historical curiosity. Each Father’s strengths and emphases vary, some affirming much of what we do today, others serving as a corrective against some of the imbalances in our current preaching, teaching, and Christian living. Overall, though, they shared a great commitment to Christian doctrine. In a time when followers of Christ were killed for their beliefs, and later, when doctrinal controversies threatened to split the church…theology mattered. It undergirded the lives of Christians in a way that deserves our consideration, since contemporary evangelicals can be tentative about or unaware of doctrine…
Another strength of the church Fathers is their commitment to Scripture. They readily made the words of Scripture their own words, comfortably seeing all of life through a biblical worldview. Their minds were so steeped in Scripture that some Fathers found it difficult to write a single paragraph without multiple references to the Bible. They established a pattern of unselfconsciously interpreting Scripture both theologically and applicationally at once. This is all the more impressive when we consider that many of them had limited access to the Bible and were often quoting from memory and not from the text itself…
A third strength, perhaps the most valuable for this volume, was the church Fathers’ commitment to personal virtue and Christlikeness. The best Christians in every age take sanctification seriously, without diminishing the work of the Spirit and his grace in transforming us. The Fathers exemplified this understanding. They discussed and exhorted every possible virtue, and their refusal to deconstruct or reduce the teachings of Jesus to make them more palatable or easier to achieve. They were clearly not interested in softening the edges of their exhortation for the sake of complacent believers—pursuing a holy life was difficult in their view, but nonetheless imperative.
"Let the Word Go Deep"
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. (Psalm 19:7-9)
No one can understand Holy Scripture without constant reading, according to the words: “Love her and she will exalt you. Embrace her and she will glorify you” (Prov. 4:8).
The more you devote yourself to a study of the sacred utterances, the richer your understanding of them will be, just as the more the soil is tilled, the richer the harvest.
Some people have great mental powers but cannot be bothered with reading; what reading could have taught them is devalued by their neglect. Others have a desire to know but are hampered by their slow mental processes; yet application to reading will teach them things that the clever fail to learn through laziness.
The person who is slow to grasp things but tries hard is rewarded; equally, whoever does not cultivate their God-given intellectual ability is condemned for despising their gifts and sinning by sloth.
Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears, but it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside but serves no inner purpose. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding his Word, which has been received by the ear, sinks deep into the heart.
~Isodore of Seville
"Prayer is Spiritual Food"
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Prayer and communion with God is a supreme good; it is a partnership and union with God. Just as the eyes of the body are enlightened when they see light, our spirit is lit up by his infinite light when it is intent of God. I do not mean the rote prayers said without thinking, but prayer from the heart, not confined to a schedule, but continuous throughout the day and night.
Or spirit should be eager to reach out toward God not only in meditation, but also when it is doing its everyday activities, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, and giving generously to the ministries of others. Our spirit should long for God and call him to mind, so that our works may be seasoned with the salt of God’s love, so our offerings to the Lord are flavorful. We can enjoy the benefits of prayer in every aspect of our lives if we devote ourselves to it.
Prayer casts light on our spirit, gives true knowledge of God, and mediates between God and people. Prayer raises the spirit up to heaven, where it tenderly clings to God and cries for the milk that only God can provide. Prayer turns to God for its satisfaction and receives better gifts than anything the world can offer.
"God Adorns Us with Good Works"
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
So what shall we do, brothers and sisters? Should we become lazy in doing good, and stop practicing love? God forbid us to follow such a course! Instead let us eagerly seek to perform every good work, with our minds ready.
For the Lord himself rejoices in his works. By his infinitely great power he established the heavens, and by his incomprehensible wisdom he populated them with stars and planets. He also divided the earth from the surrounding water and anchored it to the immovable foundation of his own will The animals that live upon it were commanded into existence by his Word. Likewise, when he had formed the sea and the living creatures within it, he established their proper boundaries by his power.
Most amazing of all, with his holy and undefiled hands he formed man and woman, who are the most excellent of his creatures; and they were blessed with God’s own image. For God said, “Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness. So God made man; male and female he created the” (Gen. 1:26-27). Having finished these things, he approved them and blessed them, and said, “Increase and multiply” (Gen. 1:28)
It is clear, then, how all righteous people have been adorned with good works and how the Lord adorns himself with his works and rejoices in them. With this example guiding us, let us not delay to do the Lord’s will and pursue the work of righteousness with all our strength.
~Clement of Rome
Awakening Faith: Daily Devotionals from the Early Church
by James Stewart Bell and Patrick J. Kelly
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