Imagine for a moment you could get inside the mind of the earliest Christians. Christians that were alive when the apostles were still with us. Christians who were directly taught by those who knew Jesus in the flesh. We’ll never have a perfect understanding of those believers from almost 2,000 years ago, but we do have letters, sermons, and other writings penned by these early Christ followers. These were not unorthodox teachings of the Gnostic heretics, but from genuine believers, some of whom were appointed by Apostles to oversee the church in their city.
These early Christian writings, all from 70 A.D. through 150 A.D., are commonly referred to as the Apostolic Fathers. Don’t let the name confuse you. These were not the writings of the Apostles themselves, but rather those church fathers who closely followed the Apostles in leading the church, namely Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp. Additional writings included in this collection are from the same time period, although not associated with any known church leader. These would include 2 Clement, the Didache, the Shephard of Hermas, and several others.
You don’t need to be a scholar to read and appreciate the Apostolic Fathers. In fact, many of Ignatius’ letters are so short you could read them in one sitting. There are English translations available online for free (see links on my Early Christianity page). If you want a hard copy, there’s several options for online purchase. I personally favor the edition edited and translated by Michael B. Holmes, which includes both the Greek on the left side and an English translation on the right. There’s also a slightly cheaper version with just the English translation available.
In a typical evangelical church, most Christians are not familiar with the Apostolic Fathers. Those with a seminary degree may have a cursory knowledge, but I think it is fair to say that there is a high level of ignorance when it comes to the teachings of the early church. Yet, many modern Christian authors are highly regarded and their books frequently read. If we value these teachers who are so far removed from the cultural background and direct influence of the Apostles, how much more should we value those teachings from those who were so intimately aware of the apostolic teachings both in written form and in oral testimony. They will only serve to deepen our faith and understanding of scripture itself.
Take 15 minutes, and read a couple pages in your spare time. You’ll find the testimony of those early Christians like Ignatius and Polycarp who suffered and died for Christ is a strong encouragement for us as our world gets spiritually darker.