Rod Bennett was deep in the Jesus People movement when he found a copy of the Early Church Fathers in an evangelical book store.
The discovery changed his life.
Rod, like myself and many evangelical Christians, always thought that Church history ended with the death of the last apostle, with end of Acts or, at least, the last of Peter and Paul’s letters. Discovering, says Rod, the sheer volume, the enormous magnitude, of writing from the Christians that followed those in the New Testament was, by itself, an incredible shock.
How did we have so much writing from the Early Church?
How did we, as evangelicals, know so little about it?
In this week’s episode of the podcast, I sit down with Rod to answer some of those questions and to mine the writings of the very Early Christians to discover exactly how they worshiped, what they believed and, ultimately, to talk about just how incredibly Catholic they appeared.
From a clear belief in the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus, to a deep appreciation for relics and prayers for the dead, to a Catholic understanding of baptismal regeneration, the succession of Bishops, and the celebration of Mass—the very first Christians sound, in their own words, very Catholic.
And not very evangelical, as it turns out.
This discovery, on Rod’s part, was a revelation and his challenge for non-Catholic Christians is equally weighty: Would the Early Christians be welcomed in an evangelical church?
Would Christians who worshipped by consuming the flesh and blood of Jesus be welcome in the evangelical church that sees Communion as merely symbolic?
Would Christians who understood that “baptism now saves” be welcome in the Christian community that believes salvation comes through a prayer—and baptism is merely a symbol that follows?
Would Christians who repeated rote prayers, venerated the bodies of fallen Christians, and believed that the Church only had authority when it could trace its ancestry back to the apostles be welcomed in the non-denominational church founded just last week?
The answer, says Rod, should give the God-fearing evangelical a bit of a pause; it should be humbling, too. And it should cause the well-meaning Christian seeking after Christ and His Church to go back, to look again, at the Scriptures, and to dig into the writings, outside of the Bible, written by those that lived and learned from and with the apostles appointed by Christ Himself.
And if maybe—just maybe—your evangelical reading of the Bible may have missed something the first time.
Because if the very first Christians and all of their beliefs wouldn’t be welcome in your evangelical church then where would they be welcome?
The Cordial Catholic is available on all podcasting platforms. To listen to this episode of the podcast click here, or listen below.