Vol.IV No.III Pg.7
May 1967

Queries And Answers

Robert F. Turner

Mr. Turner:

This is not a Bible question, but it concerns interpretation. What value do you attach to the teachings of the church fathers? Do you regard Mr. Campbell, David Lipscomb, etc., as your church fathers? CP


Paul called himself a "father" of the Corinthian brethren, saying: "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." (1 Cor. 4:15) In the primary sense we are begotten by God through the word; (Jas. 1:18) which makes God our spiritual "Father"; so Paul referred only to the fact that he had taught them the truth. (I planted -- 1 Cor. 3:6)

This did not make Paul an authority for truth, apart from that divine inspiration whereby God was in him. He asked to be followed only as a teacher -- and to the extent that he faithfully taught -- Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1) In this same way Timothy was Paul's son "in the faith." (1 Tim. 1:2) In the sense of "authority" Jesus said, "Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." (Matt. 23:9)

I was a member of the body of Christ long before I ever heard of Alexander Campbell, and some time before I heard of David Lipscomb. This is equally true of thousands of other members of Christ's church. No doubt these men taught many the truth, and "planted" or "established" various local churches. I have had the privilege of establishing several local churches also; so I suppose I am "father" in one sense of the word, with Campbell, Lipscomb, and hundreds of other Christians and preachers. But not one of us is either founder or authority in the church of Christ.

I have a set of books called "The Writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers". These are the works of some of the "leading" writers of the church prior to the Nicene Council, A.D. 325. The Roman church puts great store in "the unanimous consent of the fathers" but I have never found any distinctively Roman Catholic doctrine upon which there was such "unanimous consent." I read the Ante-Nicene Fathers for one thing only -- viz., to have a better understanding of the thinking of men who lived shortly after the Apostles. Want to know what I learn? I find the same unscriptural concepts that lead the church into digression today, led the church into digression back then. To a lesser degree, but commensurate with their influence on others, unscriptural concepts among pioneer preachers and writers in this country had the same disastrous result.

This is not to say we can not benefit by reading the works of others. There is, in fact, a sort of cumulative knowledge of the Bible that may be gleaned from all Bible students. I will not live long enough -- even if I were smart enough -- to sort out and grasp for myself, what I can get by using the study of others. But in the final analysis, I must subject all conclusions to the test of the Bible, and like the noble Bereans of Acts 17:11, "search the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."