The quest to find the ancient Church is not new, nor is it necessarily difficult. It is, however, a quest that requires the seeker to lay aside their modern prejudices and preconceptions and to be willing to approach the Church on the Church’s terms. The seeker must be prepared to accept what they find without reservation. If your search is for the purpose of adapting the early Church to 21st century standards, then you are not seeking the early Church. You are seeking your own church. If you are seeking the early Church to find fault in its theology or organization, then you are not seeking the early Church. You are simply looking for a way to justify your own departures from historic Christianity. Just as a stream that bubbles pure from a spring gathers runoff, pollutants and toxins as it flows down through the valley, modern Christianity has diluted the once pure source with personal opinion, political aims, financial demands and cultural relativism. If you want to drink of the pure faith bubbling from the earth, you must leave all those pollutants behind and just taste what the early Church provides.
Before beginning the search for the early Church, there are several questions an inquirer should ask. If you can’t answer yes to each of these questions, you are not ready to search. I am not asking you to accept any of these matters as Truth. Your journey will reveal the answers. I am asking if these things are revealed, whether you are prepared to accept them. If not, you are not ready to search.
- If you learn that private interpretation of scripture was forbidden in the Early Church, could you lay aside the temptation to engage in it?
- If you learn that the Holy Tradition preached by the apostles, and not just the Bible, was a source of authority in the Early Church, could you humbly submit yourself to that authority?
- If you learn that in the Ancient Church, that one bishop was empowered to supervise the bishops under him, and override the decisions made by other bishops for the sake of Christian unity, could you embrace a hierarchical structure of Church governance?
- If you learn that from the earliest days of Christian worship, communion of the True Body and True Blood was the hallmark of the Christian faith, could you approach the chalice without seeing the bread and wine as mere symbols?
- If you learn that the Ancient Church worshipped using liturgical prayers and solemn psalmody and hymnody, are you prepared to leave your video screens and rock bands behind?
Now, this short article is not to convince you of any of the above propositions. In fact, at least one of them is decidedly untrue. The purpose of this exercise is to see if you are at a point where you can lay aside all of your modern preconceptions and beliefs and truly say that you want the faith of the Early Church. Drinking from a pure stream after being raised on polluted water can leave a strange taste in your mouth. It is often human nature to prefer the familiar to the pure. But this journey is too important to be made by someone who is not willing to drink deeply. If you find the pure stream, the ancient faith, and reject it, at what peril do you place your own soul? If you come to know the Church as created on Pentecost, and hear the faith once delivered to the Saints, returning to the modernist theology that rejects so much of the Apostolic faith is truly drinking to your condemnation.
If you aren’t ready to make this journey do not despair. Pray. Pray humbly. Pray earnestly. Ask God to free you from all your preconceptions and all your assumptions. Ask God to open your heart and your mind to all that you will learn. And when you are settled, then begin your journey.
And if you are ready to drink from the pure stream of the Ancient Church, let us begin. Do not rush, for all things are revealed in God’s time. And the evil one surely will attack and try to dissuade you in your quest. With prayer and humility, continue steadfastly toward the source of the stream. When you arrive, you will find the purest water that will quench your spiritual thirst like no other drink ever has or ever will.