THE UNITY OF 2nd CENTURY CHURCH

Irenaeus – 2nd century theologian

Irenaeus was a staunch defender of the Christian faith, the essentials of which, according to this man at least, were uniformly understood by all the globally expanding churches having recently been established by the apostles and their immediate successors. In stark contrast to 4th century Augustine, Irenaeus features very positively in my book, since much of what I believe the Spirit has revealed to me accords with his teaching and more importantly that of the churches of his time. Here is a quote from chapter three of my book: 

“This (teaching concerning law and grace) will be a new interpretation to many but it is what it I have been shown and it works: the teaching of Jesus, Paul and the other apostles acquire perfect coherence once the re-interpretations and various linguistic ameliorations presented in this package are taken on board. How do I know that? – simply by reading the New Testament with reference to the Greek, over and over again and observing how it now entirely gels. What many will regard as my novel interpretations actually accord more with that of the Ancient Church, i.e. the teaching of the ante-Nicene fathers; perhaps most clearly in the case of Irenaeus, who was hardly a maverick but a staunch defender of the Faith as it had been received from the apostles. He had personally come under the tutelage of Polycarp who in turn was an immediate disciple of the Apostle John. Not that the other ante-Nicene Fathers contradict my assertions in this area, but second century Irenaeus not only affirms Christ’s filling out of the Decalogue[note 1] but also the purpose and context of gospel salvation within broader providence, the restoration of physical creation at the Parousia, pre-millennialism, a tripartite anthropology, a positive role for natural law, the utilisation of Enoch as an important reference source and the affirmation of an “Elijah” to come. These have been cross-referenced where they occur in the book.

Irenaeus of course was but one man but note what he writes concerning the UNIFORMITY OF ESSENTIAL DOCTRINE WITHIN THE 2ND CENTURY CHURCHES:

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“The Church having received this preaching and this Faith although scattered throughout the whole world yet as if occupying one house carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had one soul and one and the same heart and proclaims and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she only possessed one mouth. For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain or Gaul. . . But as the sun, that creature of God is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the Truth shines everywhere and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth ” [note 2]

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Irenaeus’ depiction of the 2nd Century churches’ doctrinal uniformity may be  exaggerated but equally it could not have been the case that the essential doctrines concerning the nature of faith and salvation could have UNIFORMLY BEEN IN ERROR given that each of the churches he refers to could trace its origins just two or three generations back to the apostles.

It is not that all the second century churches will have come to agreement through a sublimity of biblical exegesis, it is because a good number of these assemblies will have been FOUNDED AND SUPERINTENDED BY THE GREAT APOSTLE HIMSELF OR HIS DIRECT APPOINTEES. These leaders knew what Paul was talking about because they or their leaders had heard Paul and talked to him; they did not have to rely entirely upon his pastoral epistles that even his fellow apostle Peter observed were “hard to understand” and misunderstood by many (2Pet3:16NKJV). I am not claiming that such an historical affirmation can be provided for ALL the assertions in my book [note 4], for as third century Origen had observed, certain mysteries were left to be explored and resolved over the course of the Church’s pilgrimage. But I say again that cannot apply to the ESSENTIALS OF CHRISTIAN SALVATION which were made clear from the start and have always been adequately set forth within the Apostolic Church in East and West, at least in terms of the “hows” (i.e. what is required for salvation), if not always the “whys” and “wherefores”, such as the context of gospel salvation within broader providence and the nature of man’s future participation with the Godhead, being mysteries destined to be revealed in their due time (cf. Rev10:4-10)”

Excerpt from “Fellowship of the Secret” chapter 3 (Justification and the Faithfulness of Christ)

References:

[1] “Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap. 13 (paras 1 and 2)

[2] “Irenaeus against heresies” Book I chap. 10 para 2

[3] The Early Fathers’ writings are available on the internet HERE

[4] “The Fellowship of the Secret” – a free PDF is available HERE

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