Athletes of God
There is a corps of great men that our modern minds seldom recall: The Fathers of the Western Church. Among them were gifted philosophers, expert psychologists, proficient poets, and prolific thinkers. Yet, there was one trait possessed by all: a determination to carry the Light of Christ into a darkening world.
Beginning with Paul, the last apostle, and progressively following Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, Benedict, Gregory, Bernard, Francis of Assisi, and Thomas Aquinas, one can read of the intellectual and spiritual founding of Western civilization. Moreover, immersing oneself in a study of these heroes of the faith will certainly rekindle the spiritual flame and galvanize deeper thought. From the end of the apostolic era and into the medieval age, the Fathers fought against the apostasy, heresy, agnosticism, and rife paganism of the Roman Empire, the world, and even the Roman Catholic Church!
Italian paintings of the Renaissance captured the regality, inexhaustible wisdom, and even the solemnity of these revered men. Such lofty description is reinforced in the accounts of the Fathers’ lives, solidifying a truly heroic image as one encounters the veritable toughness and unshakable discipline that so shaped them. For they demanded the highest potential in both faith and meekness, first of themselves, and then of others. Their training drove them to destroy an enemy through love, and therein gain a comrade in the fight for the Kingdom of Heaven. And despite being citizens of Eternity, they were racing against time. A sense of urgency drove them to “finish their faith” before taken by death or rapture. I am here reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exhortation on “single-minded obedience” in the third chapter of The Cost of Discipleship (worth the read, I assure you).
A way of thinking was acquired that enabled the Church Fathers to face the unyielding mysteries of God, and this served to harden the resilience and constitution of mind and spirit as the epic war between heaven and earth raged. There was no impulse to merely contain the devil or his methods; rather, his tactics must be undone and the devil himself must be cast into the pit. There was no room for truce with darkness, only defeat which had been secured by Jesus Christ at His Resurrection.
Exploring both the immense depths and the immense heights of theistic reality, the Fathers left a cumulative legacy of vast works to be examined and considered. Such has long inspired a way of life that empowers people to live confidently with integrity, temperance, and gallantry amidst the constant siege of darkness. Though the Fathers often disagree or contemplate minutiae ad infinitum, this simply reveals their humanity and tendencies comparable to our own. However, the matters they appraised remain critically important to our lives.
Today, in part due to neglecting historical awareness, the Western Church has drifted from a brazen faith to one of dithering mediocrity. Relying more upon non-Biblical tradition than on Scripture, establishing “churches” on trends and not on Christ, and building audiences rather than armies has caused the West to witness an increase in spiritual apathy and cynicism. We must resurrect the God-saturated existence of the first century Church and the medieval equivalent wherein God was found everywhere. Miracles are still happening in our lives, but we have lost the capacity to be amazed. Jesus said that anyone who believes in Him will do greater works than even He has done (John 14:12)!
Why is this not the present status of the Western Church when the book of Acts remains the context of our day? Why are programs and concepts pushed with weightier conviction and passion than with the Gospel? Where are the athletes of God? Let us pray ardently for such to arise who are cognizant of their role in history as they call for individuals to live fiercely for Christ, wielding His Word as deftly as our Victorious King Himself!