The Church Fathers vs. John Calvin
(Different Views or Damnable Heresy?)
by Ward Fenley
For some time I have been considering the cries of heresy against preterists by evangelicals and Reformed theologians alike. Many use terms like "unorthodox" and "heterodox" to describe preterism, or full preterism. I maintain that their accusations are hypocritical. Since 1997 I have been examining the Church Fathers and what they viewed as fundamental tenets of the Christian Faith. Two of those fundamentals were water baptism and the Eucharist. If one does not agree, it is simply because that person is ignorant of history and the Church Fathers. Many of the Church Fathers I quote in the following paper are directly responsible for the Council of Carthage during which the Canon was closed. Whether you are a full preterist, Reformed, or claim Sola Scriptura, you have deviated from the Church Fathers' position on what is necessary for salvation.
What I expose in the following paper is that any accusation of a Protestant, non-Catholic, or non-Orthodox person declaring preterism to be heresy is hypocritical. I also show that the Church Fathers were very clear in their presentation of the Eucharist (Communion) as that which perpetuates salvation and that non-participation and unbelief in the Eucharist as essential for salvation is damnable. That is, according to the Church Fathers, anyone who does not regularly participate in the Eucharist loses saving grace and anyone who denies that the Eucharist keeps one saved is damned, or anathema. Therefore, for a Protestant who simply upholds the memorialist, or “in memory of” view (e.g., according to Zwingli or Calvin), to call a preterist a heretic is like the pot calling the kettle black. To deny this is to turn a blind eye to what the Church Fathers plainly taught. This paper will give you the tools you need to charge Protestants with hypocrisy as they accuse you of heresy for believing fulfilled eschatology. Though not an exhaustive treatment of this topic, this paper is thoroughly researched. It is only a small part of the developing work I hopefully will publish in a few years in order to show Protestantism unorthodox and heretical according to the Church Fathers.
With that said, some will assume I have adopted the position of the Church Fathers regarding the Eucharist. I have not. I am simply contrasting their view with that of John Calvin, the patron theologian of Protestant theology, particularly Reformed theology. By the end of this paper, one should be able to conclude that the Church Fathers would likely anathematize John Calvin for his views on the Eucharist.
Finally, lest any charge me with the accusation that Nicaea places no specific emphasis on the significance of the Eucharist, I appeal to the Apostles' Creed: "I believe...in the communion of saints." This paper will show that this creedal statement represents what was for the Church Fathers an essential belief for salvation and that the Church Fathers believed in what would later be called transubstantiation. Reformers are quick to deem as humanism the doctrines of Pelagianism and Arminianism. They would deem any doctrine of works-justification another gospel. If one were to approach a solidly Reformed pastor and ask him if transubstantiation is another gospel, he would likely emphatically say yes, thus declaring that those who put together the very canon upon which they (the Reformers) base their doctrine of salvation and Sola Scriptura were unsaved. But they would never declare the early Church Fathers unsaved...would they? I simply want consistency. It is not fair that Reformers and evangelicals accuse preterists of heresy when they themselves are heretics according to the Church Fathers. And it's equally unfair when they base their charges of heresy against full preterism on the futurist eschatology of the Fathers, while they reject the soteriology of these same Fathers and could not affirm their salvation based upon the Reformed principle of Sola Gratia (salvation by grace alone). This paper will provide preterists with a solid argument enabling them to effectively counter Protestant accusations of heresy and heterodoxy against full preterism by exposing the hypocrisy of these accusations.
Ward Fenley resides in Greenehaven, Arizona with his two boys, Austin and Trumann. He teaches for an online virtual academy and also teaches private music lessons. Ward enjoys hiking, composing, and of course, writing about and discussing theology. He has written two books and many articles dealing with the kingdom and grace of God. Ward's current focus is on the subjects of the conscience and mercy in Scripture and how those elements relate to our everyday lives and those around us. He believes that love shown through mercy is the captivating element which not only proves the existence of the kingdom of God, but is also that which draws unbelievers to inquire into our faith in Jesus Christ.