I’ve been looking for a way to describe the Christianity I see in the early church fathers for many years. In the midst of a discussion with a friend, this outline came to me.
1. The Gospel: They preached total surrender to Jesus as King. Their Gospel centralized on bodily resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus proved he was King, and our resurrection to eternal life is the reward promised to those who obey him.
2. Baptism: Baptism is the entrance rite into the church. Before the baptism, the convert renounces the devil and all his pomp. He renounces the world. He is then baptized, his sins are washed away, and he is thus buried and born again.
3. Laying on of hands: This was done right after baptism by the elders as they prayed for the Spirit to come upon the new convert. They didn’t necessarily expect any manifestation.
4. Extensive catechizing (basic instruction) in the teachings of Scripture.
5. Faith and works: They understood that baptism and being born again required only faith and repentance because there is no more that a slave to sin can offer. After baptism and the laying on of hands converts are both pure and empowered. At that point they can, and must, offer to God obedience and good works.
6. Most teaching centered on continuing in the faith and obeying God. The warning passages in the NT were much more heavily utilized than they are today.
Two other points should be emphasized. One, the Eucharist was a big deal to them and was eaten at least every week. It was never a cracker and a thimble of grape juice, but a meal, or at least part of a meal. Two, the church was seen as the reservoir of salvation. In it, people were saved. Outside of it there was no salvation.
It’s hard to bring that last point into the modern era. We don’t have the one church that existed in the second century. It was a big deal to the early church, however, and the Scriptures, too, emphasize the unity of the church and the fact that the church and the church alone is the pillar of truth.