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Doctrine and the Church Fathers

How much damage did the Church Fathers really do to the Church?

In the way of a review it is now useful to remind ourselves of how each of our key historical characters fared in the various battles, in order to ascertain their agendas. We start with the truth, as in The Truth, as in The Way, The Truth and The Life, as in Jesus himself. We can moan about the others that came after him but he is untouchable, beyond criticism and reproach. He was a Six Day young Earth creationist (and Creator), who believed that he was the only way to God and that all who reject him are doomed to eternal conscious punishment in Hell. He believed that there would be a day of reckoning when God would wrap things up and seemed to be a premillennialist inasmuch as things were going to get worse before the End of Days. As for his thoughts on the Jews and their future he didn't speak specifically, so we'll take that as an abstention for now. So what was Jesus' agenda? He spoke much of his mission and identity, but perhaps he summarised it best here:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

It is fair to say that his apostles, who all gained their theology and practices at his feet, had no reason to diverge from his views. As we don't know what they said and wrote, other than that which became inerrant Holy Scripture, it is inadvisable to query them on that basis. Suffice to say, their agenda would have been to present Jesus to the World, so that folk may have life and have it to the full.

Moving on to the early Church Fathers, who largely viewed their theology through Greek-tinted glasses, we start to see a moving away from the doctrines and beliefs of their forbears. Although their views on Hell and the End Times tallied with the apostles, the same can't be said about other things. For them a belief in Jesus wasn't the only qualification for Heaven, it seemed to be open for Greek philosophers and their rationalist friends too! Creation became subject to their rational approach, although at least God's role in this wasn't doubted. As for the role of the Jews, antagonism had set in and a corresponding theology was being formulated to justify this. So ... agendas? At best they were looking for a way to integrate the philosophic ideas from their former life into their new life in Christ. At worst they were attempting to fit Jesus into their tried and tested philosophic systems. We will give them the benefit of the doubt by declaring that the truth is somewhere in the middle, between the two positions!

Not so, the next person in our review. Origen deserves a whole paragraph to himself, so significant was he, although not in any good ways. His position in the battlefield was right at the front, confrontational and effective, wielding the sword of allegory, holding aloft the shield of Plato. His legacy was a devastating one in all five battles. Creation, Israel and End Times were all excused away as symbolic, allowing him to put forwards his own views, laying down the fundamentals of amillennialism, replacement theology and universalism for others later to follow and distribute to the Church at large. His agenda was a thoroughly Greek one, with an attitude that was both sincere and true to his convictions, but with dangerous consequences.

Augustine took Origen's building blocks and packaged them to a wider audience, establishing amillennialism and replacement theology as the party-line of the dominant Church right up to modern times. In matters of Hell and salvation, he followed the traditional line of orthodoxy that had bypassed Origen, but on Creation he fell prey to the Greek tendency of embellishment and the second-guessing of God's intentions, rather than just reading the Genesis account at face value. Thomas Aquinas was much the same, however he over-emphasised the role of sacraments in the Church as means of salvation. The agendas hadn't really changed; it was still the search for an accommodation for the rationalism and allegorical thinking of Greek philosophy within a Biblical framework. But, with the huge influence of Augustine and Aquinas, it was a sense of normalising this agenda as a "Christian" agenda, not to be questioned or queried. Plato and Aristotle had entered Christian mainstream and were free to stride down the main street of Christendom without fear of rejection, a privilege that the Jews of the day couldn't contemplate in their wildest dreams.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again

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