Who Are We To Pick & Choose What We Want From the Early Church Fathers?

Responding to a Question: “We get much or our systematic theology from the early Church Fathers. Who are we to pick and choose what we want from the early Church Fathers?”

While I greatly respect the contributions of the early Church Fathers, I have no reason to believe that they were infallible and inerrant. There are many points at which the early Church Fathers were in clear error and at odds with scriptural teaching. On the other hand, they have greatly contributed to Christian truth and theology. The Bible itself is not a systematic book in the sense where all of the doctrines it teaches are neatly laid out for us in lists and outlines (that sure would be nice). So listening to the learned voices of the past is indeed a wise thing to do.

However, we do know for sure that the scriptures themselves are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). As God’s Word, we have a standard by which to judge whether a teaching is from God or is consistent with His Word. At this point, we bring this standard to bear upon anything that would claim to be divine truth. If the teachings and interpretation of a Church Father should conflict with God’s Word, then we must act and respond accordingly. The questioner asked, “Who are we to pick and choose?” The answer is simple: We are the children of God. We are the sheep who recognize the voice of the Shepard. We do not arbitrarily listen to the various voices that call out to us. We listen to the voice of the master who teaches us to “test all things; and to hold fast to that which Is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This notion of “testing all things” is not to disregard the many great contributions of faithful men of God who have contributed much to the edifice of knowledge and understanding. Rather, it is to honor God by not allowing the words and teachings of men to take precedence over God’s inspired word.

Even the great Apostle Paul was tested to see whether what he was teaching was found in God’s Word: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11). If the Apostle Paul’s word needed to be tested by scripture, how much more, the works of the early Church Fathers? We honor God when we test all things. Let us study the scripture well, and the writings of others, but may we allow the Word of God to be the filter through which all other teachings must pass through in order to be accepted.

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