Who were the early church fathers?
Those who followed the Lord Jesus Christ as His Apostles and went on to establish the first Christian churches are considered early church fathers. These men not only established churches, but encouraged and discipled new converts in their faith.
The book of Acts, in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, provides a rich history of the genesis of the New Testament church, following the ascension of our Lord. The Holy Spirit filled all of Christ's disciples, who were present in the upper room, on the day of Pentecost. In addition, the Apostle Peter was empowered to preach a sermon that resulted in the salvation of three thousand souls and an exponential increase in the number of new church members (Acts 2).
Following the first recorded convening of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35), Peter is not mentioned again in the book of Acts. However, Peter, along with the other early church fathers, wrote letters (epistles) of encouragement, instruction, warning, and edification to the disciples of the first churches. Their letters are also found in the New Testament.
Often, these epistles were written under threat or reality of persecutions, beatings, imprisonments, and death. According to Fox's Book of Martyrs, all of the early church fathers, with the notable exception of John the Beloved, died violently.
The ministry of the Apostle Paul is preeminent in the chapters of the book of Acts that succeed the convening of the Jerusalem Council. Though Paul persecuted the early Christian church, the Lord Jesus Christ called him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, following his dramatic conversion (Acts 9). Paul became the greatest of the early church fathers, embarking on more missionary journeys and writing more epistles to establish the early church than any other apostle or disciple.
After penning three epistles to the first churches, the Apostle John (also known as "John the Beloved") was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. After miraculously escaping death, John was banished to the isle of Patmos, where he received the Revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ (also known as the book of Revelation). Afterward, the Apostle reportedly returned to Ephesus where he wrote his account of the gospel of Jesus Christ and where he remained through old age, until his death.
Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, being the incarnation of our Heavenly Father and the "first born of many brethren," was the first of the early church fathers. He taught the early disciples how to live life in this world for the advancement of the kingdom of God on the earth. He continues to teach those who will follow Him, through the gospel accounts written by a few of those disciples.
What's more, after Jesus' death and ascension, He came to indwell the apostles, and all who would later believe on Him, through the Person of the Holy Spirit. The infilling of His Spirit enables believers to bear witness of His life to an unbelieving world. If we are true to our Lord's final instructions to us, we actively co-labor with Him to birth more sons and daughters of God and to raise them up to follow Jesus in the spread of the Good News (the Gospel that is able to save the human soul).
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