Nana Yaw Aidoo
Recently, I came across an article entitled “On Christian Masculinity.” To be fair to its writer, Michael Witcoff, he does make some very good points and honestly, even though Witcoff is of the so-called Orthodox “Christian” faith, this article is one I would recommend even if I don’t fully agree with its contents. Witcoff observes that a real Christian man is one who appears like a man or is not effeminized, one who has learned the art of self-control and one who obeys or submits his will to God’s will. These are pretty good points, which when heeded will do much good in this fallen world. However, as he elaborated on the public appearance of men, he took the position that one of the things that should be part of a man’s appearance is a long beard. His source of authority for this position? The church fathers, for:
Since the Holy Spirit speaks through both the Bible and the Church, we should expect to find—and do find—this same sentiment passed down through the centuries. Specifically, we find Church Father after Church Father exhorting men to grow beards and not to shave their faces (Witcoff).
I come from a place where men with long beards are not seen in a good light and so I neither have a long beard nor do I intend to ever grow one. However, that is not the reason for this article. The main reason for this article is this: how should we view the church fathers? Were they as inspired as the apostles were in their teachings and writings like Witcoff implies? If they were, then I suggest we cannot in any way dispense with their teachings for that would be to dispense with the teachings of the Holy Spirit.
Herein lies the problem. The issue of how we view the church fathers—men who lived immediately or a few centuries after the apostolic age, who either met the apostles or met men who met the apostles—is an issue of what we consider our authority in religion. While the writings of the church fathers are valuable in the study of church history, we deny that they were inspired. To teach that the Holy Spirit inspired the writings of the church fathers is to teach that the Holy Spirit is the author of confusion (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33) because the church fathers contradicted one another most of the time. Concerning the church fathers, Shelly wrote that “…these men do not agree with one another on such issues as the nature of God, the humanity/deity of Christ, the organization of the church, divorce and remarriage, and many other subjects” (40). (Rubel Shelly has long since this article become one who loosens where God has bound in religion). That this is so, is seen in the many councils and creeds that surfaced over the years after the apostolic age.
As Christians, and in view of the foregoing, we ought to view the church fathers as men who wrote their opinions on various subjects and not as men who “…establish the New Testament position on any subject, for these men were no more inspired than present day students of the Scriptures” (Shelly 40). If we do not view them this way, then we are left with the only other option, which is that, the Holy Spirit inspired contradictory things.
Our authority on any matter of faith and practice has to be the New Testament alone, which in the apostolic age was said to have been delivered once and for all time to the saints (Jude 3). Moreover, Jesus Christ assured the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Now folks, if the Holy Spirit did not guide the apostles into all truth, but left some of the truth to be revealed through the church fathers, then our Lord Jesus Christ told a resounding lie. Who is willing to take this position? Furthermore, it is a fact that in the apostolic age, it was held as doctrine that the Scriptures give us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3) and that they are sufficient in themselves to completely furnish the man of God unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Since the Bible makes an exclusive claim of authority for itself in religion, it is a mistake to rest our faith and practice on any other “authority.” The one who rests his faith and practice not on the Bible alone but also on the writings of the church fathers, is like “…a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:26-27).
There is only one source of authority in religion for the child of God today—The Bible and specifically, the New Testament. Do you consider it alone your authority in religion?
Shelly, Rubel. “Scripture Or The “Church Fathers”?” The Spiritual Sword, vol. 6, no. 2, Jan. 1975, pp. 39-41.
Witcoff, Michael. “On Christian Masculinity.” Gab News, 6 Dec. 2021, news.gab.com/2021/12/06/on-christian-masculinity/. Accessed 11 Dec. 2021.