‹ Back to Blog
Blog Category: Early Church (10 posts)
Luke J. Wilson | 17th June 2019 |
I was asked not so long ago what kinds of things Christians did in the Early Church (first to fourth century) as a form of spiritual discipline, on a personal level as well as a corporate one. Though the concept of an individual “personal spiritual life” would have been quite foreign to first century believers as faith and Church was very much a corporate venture that had personal implications, rather than the other way around as it can often appear to be thought of today.
Much of what made Christianity structured, disciplined and set apart from society, has largely been lost in practice, or forgotten and relegated to the annals of history by many practicing Christians today.
With that said, let’s take a look at what the most common practices were of the ancient Church.
Memorising Scripture – specifically the Psalms and Gospels
Singing/praying the Psalms as worship to God
Both of these principles are based on Psalm 1:1–3 and Colossians 3:16.
“Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.” Commentary on Psalm 1, Basil the Great (4th century)
Prayer and Fasting
Another common practice that was expected of believers was regular fasting, since Jesus had said “when you fast”, not “if”.
Typically, fasting was done every week on Wednesday and Friday, based on Matthew 6:16–18, and also to honour the days of the Passion and crucifixion in later tradition.
“But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; … but fast on the fourth day (Wednesday) and the Preparation (Friday). … [But pray] as the Lord commanded in His Gospel (the Lord’s Prayer) … Thrice in the day thus pray.”
Didache (c. 50 – 70)
Alongside fasting, praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (morning, noon, evening) was a common discipline. From around the third century, liturgy and prayers in a church...
Luke J. Wilson | 02nd June 2019 |
The Nicene Creed — what is it and why is it called that?
This creed gets its name from a time and place: the first ecumenical Church council held at Nicaea, which is now known as İznik in northwestern Turkey, in 325 AD.
Now that may raise another question for you: what is an ecumenical council? Well, to explain more about the Nicene Creed, we are going to have to take a look at The First Council of Nicaea in order to better understand why this creed was written.
First things first though; an “ecumenical council” is ideally a Church-wide meeting where all the Bishops from all across the Church come together to hold a very large and very important meeting to discuss topics and issues affecting the whole Body of Believers, with the results intended to be binding on all believers. Most often, these Councils were called to combat heresy and false teachers who had come about and gained enough popularity that it warranted an official response, with the creeds being the result after proper orthodoxy had been ratified.
Seeking unity, the Council was convened by Constantine I in response to the Arian controversy which had gripped the Greek-speaking East. The teaching of Arius of Alexandria were considered heretical by most bishops of the time, fearing that it would cost people their salvation. 1800 bishops were invited by Constantine (that was every bishop across the Roman Empire), but only around 250-320 turned up from across the Empire, except Britain, according to the various surviving documents from different attendees.
This Council was an extremely historic event as nothing quite like it had happened before since the Council of Jerusalem around 50 AD (Acts 15), which convened in a similar manner to counter controversial and false teaching which was upsetting the Church Body. As with that Council, the Nicene Council and its outcome was intended for the whole of the Church global.
What actually happened at Nicaea
I won’t go into too much detail about everyt...
Luke J. Wilson | 08th May 2019 |
40 Days with the Fathers: Companion Texts is now available to buy as Paperback or Kindle!
I am happy to say that the new book is now available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon! Other eBook formats will be available soon as it rolls out.
This book is the companion to my other book (40 Days with the Fathers: A Daily Reading Plan), and includes twenty-three Early Church texts in full—including all additional footnotes from the original editors and translators so that you can get as close as possible to reading these ancient texts without needing to know ancient Greek or Latin.
It's structured in such a way to read a chapter a day over a 40 day period which will help digest these long texts, and also serve as an easy introduction to what is often the more scholarly/academic side of things.
Order your copy today to get the Paperback at the special low price of £19.99 (RRP: £21.99)!
In the UK? Go to Amazon.co.uk
In America or worldwide? Go to Amazon.com
Thank you for your interest and support of my work!
Luke J. Wilson...
Luke J. Wilson | 13th November 2018 |
Free Early Church Resources
I've created a few resources to aid with your studies or interest in the Early Church. The below maps are converted from the appendices in my book. I'll also soon add some hi-res versions as A3 poster size to purchase as well. Below the maps is an interactive chronological timeline of when the New Testament and Early Church texts were written. At the time of writing, I have covered most of the Ante-Nicene (pre-325 AD) period.
Geographical Locations of Early Church Texts
Approximate locations of where the NT and Ante-Nicene texts were written (or sent).
Blue book icons represent the New Testament books, the red crosses are a selection of the Early Church Fathers texts. Zoom in and click on the icons for more details.
Journey of Ignatius to his Martyrdom
The whole journey covers about 1524 miles (2454 km)!
Blue pins are the known route that Ignatius took
Green pins are where he stopped to write his epistles (zoom in and click the pins for info)
Red pins are the conjectured route
Chronological Timeline of the New Testament and other Early Church Texts and Events
A timeline of when the New Testament and other early Patristic works were written*, plus significant historical events which may have influenced certain writings.
KEY:Orange = New TestamentDark Green = Apostolic Fathers (c.70 - c.150 AD)Light Green = Ante-Nicene Fathers (pre-325 AD)Light Orange = Post-Nicene FathersBlue = Significant Historical EventsBlack = Major Time PeriodsTeal = First Seven Ecumenical CouncilsRed = Widespread PersecutionsLight Red = Localised/Regional PersecutionsGrey = Disputed FactsYellow = Major Schisms
* Much of the dating and research has been taken from the works of Schaff, Lightfoot, Harmer et al.
Powered by Time.Graphics
Luke J. Wilson | 02nd November 2018 |
Take a journey through the first 400 years of Church History in only 40 days!
"40 Days with the Fathers" is a daily reading plan/devotional spread out over forty days; and over the course of this reading plan you will read extracts and commentary on 23 different early Church texts from a selection of some of the most influential Church Fathers, such as:
Didache, Diognetus, Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Cyprian, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, and Leo the Great.
These people who came before us, those great men of faith, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom to preserve the Church and Christ's mission, bridge the gap between the Bible and the present day. They fill the void we sometimes wonder about when we get to the end of reading Acts or the Epistles and think, “what happened next?” or “what happened to the Ephesian church after Paul left?” — well now you can read for yourself and see how God continued to grow His Church!
Revised Edition includes: a chronological timeline of the Early Church texts, a map displaying where the New Testament and early texts were written and sent, plus a map of Ignatius’ journey to martyrdom in Rome. As a small added bonus, at the end of each chapter there is now a "Notes" section so you can jot down any thoughts you have whilst doing your daily reading.
Available Now From:
Download a free sample chapter!
Luke J. Wilson | 11th October 2018 |
The Apostle's creed — what is it and why is it called that?
Outside of the New Testament, this is one of the oldest creeds we have, dating back to the sixth – eighth century in its current form that is commonly known today, but having its origins much earlier — as far back as the second century in a shorter form known simply as the “Old Roman Creed”.
The Apostles creed is also sometimes referred to as the “Rule of Faith” as it is a summary of the Gospel and is the basis for pretty much all modern theology. The points of the creed cover all the major pillars of the Christian faith which aims to safeguard what is true orthodoxy (right belief), which one must agree and adhere to in order to be counted amongst the Christians. Most often, the need for creeds arose in opposition to heresy so that the Church could point to what was historically taught by Christ and the Apostles to show what was ancient and true, as opposed to new and “novel” doctrines.
The Old Roman Creed
The text of the Old Roman Creed survives in a letter from a bishop Marcellus of Ancyra, which was sent to Julius, the bishop of Rome, dating back to around 340–360 AD where it was mainly used as a baptismal text in the Roman church. Roughly 50 years later, Tyrannius Rufinus (an Italian monk) wrote a commentary on this creed whilst translating it into Latin, where he made a note about the view and belief that this creed had been originally written or determined by the Apostles themselves shortly after Pentecost and before they left Jerusalem, hence the name this creed eventually came to be known as.
I mentioned last week in my introductory post to this series, that there’s a handful of creedal statements within the New Testament, and one in particular in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is similar in structure to the Apostle’s Creed, though not necessarily in wording. Let's take a look at the Old Roman Creed and the Apostle’s Creed side by side to have a look at what developed and was ...
Luke J. Wilson | 29th September 2018 |
I’m starting a new four part series over the coming weeks which will be looking at the different historical creeds of the Church which have been recited, used and handed down for two millennia, beginning with the very first formal creed: the Apostles Creed. This series will be a mixture of historical background plus a commentary on the creed itself to see where each statement is based in Scripture, and why we can trust them to accurately portray the Faith.
What are creeds and why should we accept them?
The word “creed” comes from the Old English crēda, and from Latin crēdo meaning “I believe”. A creed is basically a set of beliefs which you profess; a statement of faith. Many non-creedal (or non-denominational) churches have a ‘statement of faith’ on their websites to highlight and specify where they stand on certain doctrines – which is essentially just stating their own type of creed instead of listing an ancient and historically accepted one. Even those who declare “no creed but Christ”, or “I just believe the Bible”, are ironically making a creed, albeit a short one with no solid definition.
The Church has been declaring creeds for as long as it has existed, despite the sometimes common accusation that creeds are “unbiblical” or “non-biblical”; statements which couldn’t be further from the truth! Even in the Apostles time they were making statements of faith in short creedal formats, and a few of them are preserved in the New Testament, primarily in Paul's letters. One of the longer examples can be found in the first letter to the Corinthians, and has a similar form and wording to what came to be known as the Apostle’s Creed:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:that Christ died for our sinsaccording to the Scriptures,that He was buried,that He was raised on the third dayaccording to the Scriptures,and that He appeared to Cephas,then to the Twelve.Then He appeared to over 5...
Luke J. Wilson | 08th December 2017 |
Why read the Early Church Fathers?
Maybe for some of you reading this, the question might better be phrased as: who are the Church Fathers?
No doubt you will be familiar with some of their names: Augustine, Jerome, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr et al. You may have even read portions or quotes by some of these men. But that still doesn't really explain to you who they are and why you should care, much less actually read any of their works.
My new book deals with a selection of some of the most influential Early Church Fathers, sometimes also referred to as the Apostolic Fathers (if they lived between AD 70-150), or collectively as the Ante Nicene Fathers for all of those in the period of time preceding the Council of Nicea (AD 325). It is these men who wrote doctrine and defences against heresy and helped to continue and shape the Church in its most formative years.
Some of the earlier Christian leaders of the 2nd Century were discipled and taught by the Apostles themselves. Those include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Still others in mid-2nd century were then taught by those who knew the men who were taught by some of the Apostles. One of the more well-known Bishops who was second generation to the Apostles was Irenaeus (best known for his extensive apologetic works, Against Heresies).
From chapter 21 onward in my book, I look at a few writers from beyond this period (around 356) up until AD 449 where we can observe some distinctive changes in thought and practice.
These people who came before us, those great men of faith, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom to preserve the Church and Christ's mission, bridge the gap between the Bible and the present day. They fill the void we sometimes wonder about when we get to the end of reading Acts or the Epistles and think, “what happened next?” or “what happened to the Ephesian church after Paul left?”.
So Why Read What They Wrote?
The Bible didn't just...
Luke J. Wilson | 03rd October 2017 |
In light of the sad, recent events in the Las Vegas shooting — and similar events in America— I often see Christians across social media jumping to the defence of gun ownership whenever there is even a slight hint at gun control in America.
But how has gun culture become so ingrained in American Christianity when we can observe a clear theme and pattern of thought in the first few centuries of the Church, which goes completely against this?
Update 7th Nov 2017: It's so sad to have to update this post on the same subject so soon, almost a month to the day. Yet another shooting, this time in Texas where 26 people have been shot dead in a church of all places. But despite this, America tightens its grip on their guns, and Trump says tighter gun laws would have made no difference to the situation. Days earlier though, when a terrorist killed 8 people in NYC by running them down with a truck, President Trump was quick to tweet about implementing "extreme vetting" of immigrants. Yet again, voices are loud for everything else except curbing gun ownership, and the silence from the Church in America is still deafening.
You can read more in the link below, but here's a few examples from the early Church with regards to war and violence, and using or owning weapons:
“It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.” — Marcellus ~298 AD
“Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.” — Tertullian 155-230 AD
“God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”
— Cyprian ~250 AD
“The servants of God do not rely for their protection on material defenses but on the pine Providence.”
— Ambrose 338-397 AD
I don't have an answer to this cultural problem, and I'm not sure we can ever fully solve the issues of gun violence in the States now; but one thing that I do know is this: the Church in America needs to repe...
Luke J. Wilson | 28th February 2016 |
Quite often in discussions which are about or involve some aspects of early church history or practices earlier Christians did, someone will inevitably throw out the "show stopper" that is "it's all just man made tradition" therefore not valid and the discussion is over. It’s as though saying it's "man made", without considering anything other than that they can't find an isolated chapter and verse in the bible which states something explicitly, means they've "won" the debate!
Nothing more to see here folks, someone told us it's man made so we can all go home now. Either that, or the mere mention of the word “tradition” and suddenly you’re accused of being a Roman Catholic or that any Church tradition only has its basis in the Roman Catholic Church, and is therefore automatically wrong and invalid in a discussion, and/or in practice.
Except that's not exactly true nor a good way to discuss anything (and probably falls under the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy).
Traditions and creeds go back much further than the Catholic Church – all the way back to a time of the Apostles.Yes, Jesus had a go at all the Pharisees for making their traditions greater than Scripture (Matt 15:2-3; Mark 7:9) and in that case dismissing something as "man made" is valid.
But what about when it's something based on or inspired by Scripture, something that becomes almost 'living exegesis' rather than just head knowledge? I've been thinking of Lent lately, as that often is dismissed as "man made” or “Catholic tradition" without looking at the history or how the practice came to be.
Generally, no one has an issue with you saying that you're going to fast, but say you'll do it at a specific time of year or for a certain length of time, and suddenly it's wrong and “man made”?
What do the Scriptures say?
Colossians 2:8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the ...