You can read part 1 of my Review of Will the Real Heretic Please Stand Up? can be read here.
The first portion of the book dealt with the radical lifestyle of the Early Christians (99-199 A.D.) As mentioned in the review of that section, their lifestyle challenges even the strongest believer today. They took their faith seriously and lived out the radical teachings of Jesus. Today many popular books have been sold with the theme of radical Christian living, but none of those books compare to the lifestyle promoted and lived by the Early Christians. The first five chapters alone make this book an inspirational read.
Early Christian Doctrine
However, in chapters 6-10 Bercot turns his attention to the doctrine of the Early Christians. Now not every doctrinal teaching is highlighted, but rather it appears Bercot chose the doctrinal teachings that most contrast the view of popular Evangelicalism today. Also, by Bercot’s estimation, the doctrines he chose were ones that were held universally in varied geographical reasons. My guess is that some of the doctrines you will agree with and be happy that the Early Christians confirm your belief. Other of these doctrines might cause you unease because what they believed and what you believe are different.
Their Doctrinal Beliefs
The first doctrine addressed is the doctrine of salvation. The Early Christians would not have held to the modern teaching of faith alone. Instead they argued that man’s obedience is required for salvation. They were able to both believe in the necessity of obedience, while also maintaining that this obedience does not merit salvation. They would argue that “salvation is a gift from God, but that God gives His gift to whomever He chooses. And he chooses to give it to those who love and obey him” (62). By extension they believed that someone who stop obeying would no longer receive that gift. Bercot maintains it was the Gnostics who taught a doctrine similar to today’s Evangelicals.
Second the Early Christians did not believe in the doctrine of predestination as described today. Instead, they believed in free will and man’s ability to choose. They argued that Scripture clearly taught this, the justice of God demanded this, and that the passages that many use today to teach predestination could and should be interpreted differently.
Third the Early Christians would reject the way the Evangelical World has lowered the significance of water baptism. Most reject that baptism has any role in salvation. The Early Christians, though, felt baptism resulted in the remission of sins, the new birth, and spiritual illumination. They did not separate the rite from faith, but believed that when someone with faith was baptized that they were supernaturally passed from being the old man of the flesh to being reborn. Thus, they viewed baptism as the normative way people came to salvation.
Fourth the Early Christians viewed prosperity different than many today, especially those who teach the “health and wealth gospel” (I’ve written about how the New Testament is against that teaching here). They viewed prosperity as a danger to faith. They felt that those who were rich and think they own much, as really being slaves to their wealth. They felt that wealth was a “weight that ought to be removed and taken away as though it were a dangerous and deadly disease” (85).
Fifth the Early Christians had a different view with regards to War and Capital Punishment. They Early Christians did not participate in war and viewed it as sin. Some called war as murder on a grand scale. Others viewed it as repaying evil for evil and thus unacceptable. When asked why they refused to help the king their response was that they did help the rulers of their day, not by taking up the sword, but by lifting them up in prayer. Ironically though, they seemed to not require new converts who were in the military to leave active service. With regards to capital punishment they believe the state had the right to execute criminals, but Christians should not participate in a personal way.
Again some of you will agree with all of these. Others of you will agree with none of these. My guest that most will agree with some and disagree with others. At the very least they should make us think through these issues and determine if what we believe is from God or simply a position we have accepted because of our cultural predisposition to do so.