Ancient obedience

Early Christian writings are a source of unity

Apr 23, 2018 by

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In The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle writes that about every 500 years the church undergoes a massive transformation. It “cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale.”

If that’s true, it could help explain why I’m still searching for a church home since my previous congregation dissolved last year.

Not satisfied with Facebook-only relationships with radical Christian friends in another time zone, I planned a 30-day road trip to do some reporting for MWR while trying to make a decision about where I might move.

A common theme I observed among plain Anabaptists, Lancaster Mennonite Conference and the “Kingdom Christians” who aren’t from a traditional Anabaptist background is an interest in the writings from the church’s early centuries before the council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Thanks to church historian David Bercot, people who would never have the time to wade through multiple volumes of the Ante-Nicene Fathers can learn their perspectives through more digestible books and audio lectures.

Amid debates about how to interpret and apply biblical teaching, there is wisdom in looking at how the Christians who were much closer to the apostles historically, geographically and culturally understood and applied it.

Of course, being an ancient Jesus-follower from the Middle East, North Africa or Rome doesn’t make one’s writing infallible. But Bercot’s A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs should be a first choice among Bible commentaries.

While too many North American churches are aligning themselves with one or the other side of the polarizing culture war, the views of the early Christians on the kingdom of God, salvation and righteousness provide a third way that has existed much longer.

The Anabaptist tradition’s origins were closely connected to attempts to reclaim early Christian understandings and practices. Today, among the Anabaptist world and beyond, interest in ante-Nicene Christian writings correlates with spiritual revival and increased engagement in mission.

It is good that the leaders of Lancaster Conference and representatives of various plain Anabaptist groups are looking in the direction of our ancient Christian heritage. As they do, they will rediscover their common ground and perhaps work together.

As I continue my pilgrimage, I hope to see these kingdom-seeking groups join forces in simple obedience to God, as Jesus’ followers have done since Pentecost. I want to join them for some church attic-cleaning.


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