- Jared Ayers
According to a recent article, Facebook now has 10,000 times the amount of images as does the US Library of Congress, long supposed to be the premier library in the world.
I serve as a pastor to people in a world where an endless amount of images, media, and information are available to them at the swipe of a finger. Yet, oftentimes, I find that they’re Googling for something more than simply info, amusement, and distraction.
Here’s what we’re after: wisdom.
The question is: where do we find real wisdom in a sea of endless advice and information? One significant voice of wisdom that’s shaped me as I’ve discerned what it means to follow Jesus and live a genuinely human life is that of the earliest generations of the Christian family- the Church Fathers (and Mothers, too!)
Why ancient Christianity?
Of all the branches on the Christian family tree, why suggest that it’s imperative to re-acquaint ourselves with our earliest roots? Allow me to notice two reasons...
Proximity. WhenI pick up the latest seller in the “Christian inspiration” section at Barnes and Noble I’m reading the writing of someone who lives two millennia, and half a world, from the beginnings of my faith. When I drink in the wise insights of the correspondence of Ignatius of Antioch, I’m listening in on the pastoral conversation of the Apostle John’s primary understudy.
Christianity is an earthed faith. God discloses himself and redeems creation in sovereign love- and does so in particular places: Egypt, Sinai, Galilee. And in particular people: Shiphrah and Puah, David and Jonathan, Peter and Mary and Paul. Embryonic generations of the Christian church have the enviable privilege
Mission. Our world has changed drastically in the last half-century. We live with pluralism that would seem unimaginable a few decades ago. For many, particularly in Europe and North America, Christianity is not the dominant worldview they hold or inherit from their parents. In my neighborhood in downtown Philadelphia, for example, most of my neighbors are professionals and creatives who have never darkened the door of a church. They don’t hold the assumptions about the world that someone who is even nominally churched would, and it’s not uncommon that I’m the first Christian person they’ve ever known.
The world that waits on the other side of our front doors bears a striking resemblance in many ways to the world of the earliest generations of Christianity- much more so than any other period of Christian history. Early Christians lived in a historical moment of great upheaval; they inhabited a wildly pluralistic society; and, they were a compellingly attractive counterculture within the ancient world.
A few ways that ancient Christians have taught me, and my church, to follow Jesus...
Silence, solitude, prayer. In a busy world, I need someone to teach me to slow down. In a noisy world, I need someone to teach me to be silent. In a hyper-connected world, I need someone to teach me to be alone and be present to Christ.
The ancient Christians, particularly the desert fathers and mothers, are expert guides for us here. They are experienced practitioners in silence and unceasing prayer, whereas I’m but a beginner.
Story-shaped worship. The structure and rhythms of ancient Christian worship- gathering before God, listening to God’s word, coming to the Lord’s Table, and being sent out into God’s world- narrate the very story of redemption for those of us who’ve never heard it, and for those of us who need to receive it ever deeper into our lives.
Good news for all five senses.God creates the material, physical cosmos amid a symphonic chorus of “And it was good! And it was very good!” And God shapes each of our senses, by which we take in his world. At the climax of redemption God even stoops into the material world in person. In keeping with God’s ways, he invests physical, material objects- water, bread and wine- with sacred significance. The Christian communities of the future will recover this ancient, sacramental vision of the Church, by which God holds out the Gospel to all of our senses.
Allow me to introduce you to a few forebears in the faith to get you started, along with a few wise contemporary guides:
- The Sayings of the Desert Fathers - collected wisdom of ancient Christian monks. Also check out Henri Nouwen's excellent reflection on the Desert Fathers, in a book entitled The Way of the Heart.
- The Didache - an anonymous ancient Christian teaching document.
- Epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp - Pastoral letters from among the first generations of Christian leaders.
- Robert Webber - The late Robert Webber was a key figure in reviving evangelical interest in early Christian faith and practice. Check out his whole "Ancient-Future" series, especially "Ancient-Future Faith" and "The Devine Embrace".
- Christopher A. Hall - Chancellor of Easter University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, Hall has an excellent triad on early Christian faith - "Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers,""Learning Theology with the Church Fathers," and "Worshipping with the Church Fathers."
The Rev. Jared Ayers moved to center city Philadelphia in the summer of 2008 to start liberti church, with the vision of seeing a church started that would be a blessing to the city. Prior to coming to Philadelphia, Jared served as a pastor for 9 years in several different contexts, and participated in international work on the European and African continents in a variety of ways. He is married to Monica, and they have been graced with two boys, Brennan and Kuyper.