Why Should Protestants Trust the Church Fathers?

I want to introduce my Protestant friends to the church Fathers (more specifically the early church fathers) but I am immediately confronted with the response “Well, that was back before they had the bible so you can’t trust what they’re teaching” Now I am well aware Saint Clement of Rome was ordained by St. Peter himself, and Polycarp was ordained by St. John the Apostle and St. Ignatius of Antioch was John’s disciple. Does someone have any other ways to introduce them to the Early Church Fathers that makes sense in the light of their ignorance of the Early church?

So, I suppose we should disregard EVERYTHING in the New Testament, because it was ALL written before we had the Bible. But, I digress…

Ask them where they think the Bible came from. By whose authority were the 27 books of the New Testament selected and declared Scripture? It’s not like those were the only 27 early Christian writings around. There were many others, such as the Shepherd of Hermes (an apocalyptic writing which many early Christians favored over Revelation). There was the Protoevangelium of James. The Gospel of Peter. And many others.

And it’s not like we have any authority from authorship. Two of the four Gospels were written by gentiles (Mark and Luke) about whom practically nothing is known. We know that Paul did not write everything attributed to him (find me just ONE recognized Bible scholar who says that the author of Hebrews and the author of Romans were the same guy). We have NO IDEA who wrote significant parts of the New Testament, including HALF of the Gospels.

These guys think of the Bible as a single book, but it is really a compilation of many writings by many authors, many of whom we know nothing about. WHO do these guys think compiled the New Testament? WHO do these guys think canonized the New Testament? WHO do these guys think preserved and protected the Scriptures for MANY centuries before Martin Luther invented the protestant religion?

Tell them, “we’re glad that YOU like OUR Bible.”

If we can’t trust the testimony of the Early Fathers then we have no basis to call the Bible “Scripture.” Because - guess what? - the Bible (or, at least, the New Testament) comes to us courtesy of the Early Fathers.

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!


Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.


Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.



:smiley: I like that.

:thumbsup: True.

Many of the other things you said in your quote were useful, but the above is more likely to start a war than a productive dialogue.

My suggestions:

  1. As David mentioned, point out that the Holy Spirit chose to organize and make known the Bible… through the Church.

  2. Point out that Calvin, Luther et al among the Reformers believed that it was important to read the Fathers and cited them (albeit selectively) nearly as much as Scripture.

  3. Make an argument from Scripture for authority for Church Tradition. I’ve seen many excellent arguments here using the text of the Bible to show that it was meant to be read and understood in the context of the oral teaching of the Church.

This hymn is frequently sung in Lutheran churches. :thumbsup:

BTW, the original third verse was:
Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.

Frederick Faber was Catholic


Was the reformation a Schism?

and Methodist churches!

You might ask them to think about how the bible came into being? It did not come from the sky, and was not available in Jesus day. Jesus did not write one word of the gospels but yet we have what Jesus said because the good news of Jesus Christ was passed down orally to be eventually written down by the Church.

It was the work of Church and the earliest Christian writers were people of the Church (the Church Fathers) who aided in passing down of these oral testimonies of the good news of Jesus Christ (the gospels) and began to collect the stories and record them in a more coherent manner. So one of the earliest forms of the bible the didache was written by the apostles, early Christians and St. Clement, a Church Father, and deals with the Church teachings and the good news of Jesus Christ and helped the Church to formulate and understand what Jesus was meaning ad-mist all the chaos that was going on with the persecution of Christians. Many Protestants are familiar with these writings but don’t acknowledge how instrumental these Church Fathers where in the formation of what we believe as Christians. Eventually it would be the Church which decided what Scriptures were to be included and what weren’t in the Bible based on the apostles and the early Church Fathers understandings of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles with regards to issues on morality and the church practices. Protestants don’t deny that the bible is Gods word yet, they miss out on how the bible came into being by the diligent work of the Church and how it can only be fully understood along with sacred tradition and the Church teachings on our faith (the magisterium). The problem there is that their beliefs are based on the bible alone without the Church teaching of the bible, most of which we learned directly from the apostles and Church fathers infused by the Holy Spirit to teach very soon after Jesus died when the information was fresh and new. So they’ve made the bible subject to different interpretations having moved away from that day so the earliest private revelations of God have become lost without those apostle and Church Father teachings on our faith. I hope this helps.:shrug:

(Edited) If your friends actually said that, they are completely disconnected from reality.

So, when and where do they think the bible came from?

Don’t they respect Church Elders? Some of the Fathers were disciples of the Apostles. If you don’ t want to listen to those who heard the Apostles preach, why would you want to listen to a preacher some 2000 years later? It is like the further away from the source, the clearer the message.? :confused:

I think some of them are just afraid to know because history is not on their side. As Peter Kreeft said, I thought the early church was Protestant but after checking out the earliest Christians, what do you know, they were Catholic!

King James? :shrug:

I have Protestants tell me that their Bible came from the Holy Spirit but they do not elaborate on that.

They are the ones who passed on the teachings that Jesus gave and were passed down through the fathers for centuries before the 27 Book Canon of the New Testament was Canonized. IOW, it is through these very church fathers that we have The New Testament Scriptures, for which the Protestants should be very thankful.

It might be important that they know that King James lived in the 17th century, that is almost 1700 years after Christ, so the are probably unaware that the Scripture was preserved and handed on the Scripture for 1700 years by The Catholic Church.

No. A schism is a dispute over leadership. The reformation was a rejection of Catholic doctrine. Thus, the reformation was not a schism, but a heresy — but we’re not supposed to talk like that these days.

But the thing was, they did have the Bible. Maybe not all of it, and maybe they used different canons, but they were not without the Bible. Go through St. Clement’s Letter to the Ephesians and count all the citations. Same thing with the other Fathers. They were more familiar with Scripture than just about any Protestant off the street today.

The reformation was/is actually heresy, Incredulity, and schism

*Incredulity *is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “*Heresy *is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; *apostasy *is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; *schism *is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Protestantism is also one of The Great Heresies

How about letting them know that many protestant seminaries teach the church fathers… Some protestants may look at the Church Fathers in a way of trying to go back to the bare basics and essentials of Christianity. They may believe it to be pure Christianity before the “corrupt church” changed things around. I would think that most protestant theologians accept the church fathers.

Ask them this. Do they trust their pastor’s interpretation of the Bible, or their own? If they say yes. Ask them why do they trust someone’s teaching 2000 years removed from the event, over those who actually walked and had hands laid on them by the Apostles themselves.

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