The study of early church history after the close of the apostolic age has been a little intimidating since I have not taken the opportunity to study under a teacher on this subject. But, I have always been intrigued to read about the views of those after the days of the apostles to see what they said in regards to the New Testament books and practices of the early church. We would do well to learn more of this material to help fortify our faith and be able to resist modern day attacks against Christianity by such works as The DaVinci Code or others that seek to erode our faith in Christianity. Of course one always needs to keep in mind that the apostles warned of an apostasy in the church that had already begun in their lifetime. So it is imperative that one does not allow what happened in later centuries to over rule what happened in the first century.
Brother Ferguson makes a valuable point about the Christians in the second century,
All who strive to be New Testament Christians in the present age are in a way second-century Christians. Not that we have, consciously or unconsciously, followed the second-century church or taken it as an authority. But, at best, we stand in relation to the first-century Christians as did the second-century Christians. We can never hope to reproduce the circumstances of the first century with its living apostolic witness, miraculous works of the Spirit, and specific historical setting. Apart from the second century’s geographical and chronological proximity to the first century, we sand in the same relation to the first century as did the second century. Our faith is dependent on the first-century testimony, and we try to carry that faith over into a new setting. So, we can hope to be, in a sense, only “second-century Christians.” Therefore it is of value to see what that second-century church was—what was its life, what were its successes
and failures. That will say something to us about our efforts in our derivative and secondary situation to be faith to the first-century message. (Page viii)
The book begins with an overview of church history from various vantage points: geographical expansion, relationship to Roman Empire, organizational development, and doctrinal controversies. Then the book provides a topical guide to the writings of early Christians and is structured as:
Chapters II – V discusses baptism
Chapters VI – XIII discusses worship
Chapters XIV – XV discusses organization and discipline
Chapters XVI – XIX discusses the Christian lifestyle
The book also includes indices to the materials quoted from the early Christian writers, a scripture index and a general index as well. There is an important Glossary of Terms in the back that is helpful in learning various items as it relates to this period. Plus, there is a listing of the early writers and brief overview of who they were. Also, there is a time chart showing how these writers relate to one another over time. The time chart shows in parallel columns the Christian writers, Non-Christian writers, the Roman Emperors, and key events relating to the material.
Everett Ferguson is Professor of Church History Emeritus at Abilene Christian University. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University “with distinction”. His works are highly respected and utilized in various religious circles. I had the pleasure of hearing and meeting brother Ferguson and his wife at the Freed-Hardeman University Bible Lectureship. He written and edited several books that are worthy of study.