So, after having had some time to think through some of my thoughts about the importance of the Fathers, particularly in our view of the Church, I'm back with another post. How terribly exciting for all of us.
Basically, I think that the problem with modern Protestant views of the Church stem from the problem of sola scriptura. Stanley Hauerwas, in a lecture given at Boston College, called this "the great Protestant heresy." I don't know if I'm willing to use the H word here, but I think he's got a point, particularly in ecclesiology. If we look just to the New Testament for our view on the Church, we're going to get a strange animal. We're going to have to piece together a few verses here and there, try and look at Acts a bit, and see what we can figure out. But this has lead to a multiplicity of denominations. If the New Testament were all we needed for ecclesiology, why isn't it more clear? How does the same text provide us with Senior Pastors, Multiple Elder-led congregations, and the whole lot? Well, it's because we're only looking at half the story. We are only looking at half of what the Apostles revealed to their disciples.
I think what happens when we exclude Patristics from our study of the Church is we isolate the NT in an unnatural way from the earliest Christian communities that used the text. These communities had various traditions concerning liturgy that can be traced back to the Apostolic age. We don't read about this in the NT because that's not the aim of the NT. It's not a handbook on ecclesiology. So, we must look to the Fathers and their witness about the Church during their time. They are our glimpses into the first fruits of the Apostles' evangelization.
Also, on the topic of the Fathers from some of the comments in the earlier post:
The Fathers do disagree sometimes. The Church is made up of people, and people are going to disagree about some things. However, their disagreements are often fairly minor. Overall, there is an orthodoxy maintained throughout the Fathers. And like I said before: we are hard-pressed to find this notion of pop-up house churches that are without set liturgy and clergy in the Fathers. My comment on the Apostles having to be the worst teachers still stands (not that they are, but that they would be if their students got it that wrong). Yes, students sometimes go astray from their teachers, but the idea that the Apostolic Fathers and their students got it so wrong is without merit. It would be tantamount to reading Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q and walking away believing he believes in Q. You would either have to be beyond stupid (which the Fathers weren't, their writings are really wonderful and deep) or Dr. Goodacre would be the worst communicator on the face of the planet (which he isn't and his book is one of the best I've ever read concerning the issue...I can't stress how much I love that book). Likewise, the Apostles would've had to have said, "Okay guys, no priests, no sacraments, Peter's not the Pope, and Christ isn't literally present in the Eucharist" and then their students would've said, "Okay, so you're telling us to have priests, sacraments, Peter is Pope, and Christ is literally present?" It just doesn't make any sense that the Apostles instruction would've produced something that different from what was intended.