Compiled by Spencer D Gear PhD
A person asked on a Christian Forum:
If you can, let us know.
The ECFs (Early Church Fathers) did NOT believe in eternal security. . . .
The ECFs did NOT believe in predestination . . . . (I don’t consider Augustine to be an ECF as he wrote in the 400’s)
The ECFs believed in doing good works.
Google helped me locate the following. I see no point in repeating what other researchers had done in pursuing these three topics, so I’ve supplied links to helpful research online.
Early Church Fathers (ECF) on eternal security:
In this article, the author quotes ECF on eternal security and cuts to the chase of what the ECF believed:
It can be perhaps witnessed, when studying the Church as it functioned through the New Testament centuries that after Christ and His apostles left the earth, there was a steady decline in doctrinal purity leading up to our day. This was long ago prophesied – “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.” (2 Tim. 3:13)
It is interesting to observe the words of some of the leaders in the Church world throughout these New Testament centuries. Many of these men held to the biblical revelation of salvation – how it is received and how it is maintained. It may interest you to know that Polycarp was the direct disciple of the apostle John. These men addressed this unconditional eternal security matter that had already sprung forth from diabolical origins soon after Christ had risen again from the dead.
Later, John Calvin came on the scene and grossly perverted the grace of God as foretold by Jude in Jude 3-4. Calvin set forth and re-established the lie that would continue through the centuries to be responsible for the damnation of millions of souls who believed and died believing they were eternally secure no matter what spiritual state they died in.
This StackExchange included these helpful insights from the ECF:
These men wrote from about A.D. 100 – 250. We do not find any statements to the effect that once a Christian is saved, he or she is always saved. But we do find a consistent belief, except for a few instances, that faith and works go together. This is consistent with the teachings of the Bible.
The earliest statement regarding “once saved always saved” comes from Augustine (A.D. 354-430).
It was left to Augustine to speak a clear word for perseverance in pre-Reformation times. Starting with predestination, he saw that election to eternal life inevitably involves final perseverance. Since salvation is always God’s gift, he entitled his work on perseverance On the Gift of Perseverance. He denied, however, that the believer can have any assurance of his final salvation. Carl F. Henry. Basic Christian Doctrines. Baker Book House, 1962.
It is important to note that the doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved” did not appear in the literature of the church until the Reformation period. A review of the existing literature from the early church fathers suggests that most of them believed faith and works must both exist for a person to be a true Christian. While no person is perfect, the pattern of life must be present. Only a few seem to believe that a person can lose his or her salvation by disobedience. But it is also possible that they are only observing the biblical truth stated in James 2:17 and 1 John 2:19.
What is most important is, “Does the Bible teach, ‘Once Saved Always Saved.?’” The opinion of the early church fathers does not constitute truth. The early church fathers were not inspired authors. But Jesus and the apostles were. Jesus did not teach and the Bible does not teach that once a person believes in Jesus Christ he or she is going to heaven regardless of what he or she does in the future. James 2:26 captures the truth that faith and works go together. A true Christian will believe and obey. A true Christian will not leave the faith. Someone who claims to believe and lives like the world or leaves the faith is a liar, and 1 John 2:4 says the truth is not in him or her. However, we must remember that only God knows if one has actually left the faith. We do not see as God sees. The statement “Once Saved Always Saved” is misleading because it is not backed by biblical substance. It should be worded as follows, “Saved Only Once” or “Once Truly Saved Always Saved.” Once God selects people for salvation they have been selected and they will not depart from the faith. Those who have been truly saved will never depart from the faith. The better biblical language is: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13 NIV).
However, there are times in severe persecution that some apostasize and leave the faith, only to return later.
ECF on predestination:
Here is an interesting article by Jacques More titled, “The Early Church Fathers and Predestination.” Its first paragraph stated:
In a previous Article I wrote entitled THE MEANING OF ELECT – now a chapter in the book So you think you’re chosen? – I made mention that ‘There is no record of a teaching of “predestination of individuals” in the early church until Augustine came along. So for at least 300 years any such notion was not taught.’ The context of this remark was that anyone “specially picked” or “chosen out from others” was not a concept familiar to the first century Christian. This helps to define the predestination discussed as unconditional predestination: a choosing by God in no way initially influenced by the chosen one, but in being prior to the existence of that person. This is what I mention as foreign prior to Augustine (AD 354-430).
This following article provides a comprehensive list of the early church fathers and direct quotes from their writings regarding predestination:
Tim Warner wrote in 2003,
Prior to the writings of Augustine, the Church universally held that mankind had a totally free will. Each man was responsible before God to accept the Gospel. His ultimate destiny, while fully dependent on God’s grace and power, was also dependent on his free choice to submit to or reject God’s grace and power. In the three centuries from the Apostles to Augustine the early Church held to NONE of the five points of Calvinism, not one.
The writings of the orthodox Church, for the first three centuries, are in stark contrast to the ideas of Augustine and Calvin. Man is fully responsible for his choice to respond to or reject the Gospel. This was considered to be the Apostolic doctrine passed down through the local church elders ordained by the Apostles, and their successors. Below we have listed a few representative quotes from the earlier writers in order to give the flavor of the earliest tradition regarding election and free will. Some deal with the subject of perseverance and apostasy (cited in “Did the Early Church Fathers Teach Calvinistic Doctrines? Soteriology 101).
No evidence remains of the date of his birth, but he is known to be a child of wealthy parents and lived in the same city as Tertullian where he received a good education in rhetoric – “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing” (Oxford English Dictionary 2021. s.v. “rhetoric”). While there were many periods of persecution of Christians in the early centuries of the church, it became intense for the Christians when Emperor Decius issued an edict in 250 that demanded an annual offering of sacrifice at the Roman altars to the gods. Those who made such sacrifices were given “a certificate called a libellus.”
As a lawyer, he became a Christian about 246 and a couple years later, as a new convert, he was appointed Bishop of Carthage. There he was confronted with the Decian persecution and he went into hiding. Thousands of Christians left the faith (apostatised) and the church had to deal with what to do with those who returned to the faith.
During the Decian persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius (emperor from 249-251) the imperial Roman government issued tickets (libelli), indicating that citizens had satisfied the pagan commissioners by performing a pagan sacrifice (sacrificati), or burned incense (thurificati), demonstrating loyalty to the authorities of the Roman Empire. The government also issued libellatici (certificates) certifying that apostates had renounced Christianity.
It is written, “He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved” [Matt. 10:22]. So whatever precedes the end is only a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation. It is not the final point wherein we have already gained the full result of the ascent” (Cyprian, Treatise 1, On the Unity of the Church sec. 21).
Cyprian of Carthage (northern Africa) wrote under the chapter heading, “The liberty of believing or not believing is placed in free choice.”
In Deuteronomy: “Lo, I have set before your face life and death, good and evil. Choose for yourself life, that you may live” [Deut 30:15]. Also in Isaiah: “And if you be willing, and hear me, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you be unwilling, and will not hear me, the sword shall consume you. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken these things” [Isa 1:19-20] (Treatise 12, third book, ch. 52).
He made controversial statements such as:
· “There is no salvation out [outside] of the Church” (Cyprian, Treatise 72.21), i.e. Christian salvation is found only in the Roman Catholic Church.
· “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother” (Cyprian, Treatise 1.6).
· What will happen to those who committed apostasy during persecution and wanted to return to church? Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (northern Africa),
held that they ought to be received back into full communion after suitable intervals of probation and penance, adjusted to the gravity of the denial. In this he took a middle course between Novatus, who received apostates with no probation at all, and Novatian, who would not receive them back at all, and who broke communion with the rest of the Church over this issue, forming a dissident group particularly strong in Rome and Antioch.
He died a martyr’s death, being beheaded, at Carthage, northern Africa, in 258.
Justin was born to pagan parents near Shechem, an ancient Canaanite city, now in the northern region of the West Bank of Palestine. His early life was that of a wandering philosopher searching for truth in ideas from Stoicism, Plato, and Aristotle. It was without success. One day while walking along the seashore he met an old man who directed him to the Scriptures where he would find the true philosophy. He described this true peace he was craving in Dialogue with Trypho, chapters 2-8.
However, most of his writings have been lost. He wrote his First Apology to Emperor Antoninus and his adopted sons in about AD 150. The themes included a request for the emperor to examine the charges against the Christians (chs 1-3), and if the Christians were innocent of charges they should be released. In chs 14-60 he discussed Christian morals, doctrine, and instruction on the Christ, the Founder of Christianity. He pointed to the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to the Messiah’s superior life and morals. He blamed persecution and error on the work of demons. In chs 61-67 of this writing, he expounded on Christian worship and showed charges against them should be dropped and they should live as free people, allowed to worship their Lord. Justin’s followers pursued these teachings.
His Second Apology is really an appendix to the First Apology in which he cites examples of cruelty and injustice of Christians. He tried to show the rationality of the Christian faith. He moved to Rome in 161 and founded a Christian School:
Justin and his disciples were arrested for their faith. When the prefect threatened them with death, Justin said, “If we are punished for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope to be saved.” They were taken out and beheaded. Since he gave his life for the “true philosophy,” Justin has been surnamed Martyr.
He died a martyr’s death for his Christian beliefs.
Justin wrote concerning free-will:
Could not God have cut off in the beginning the serpent, so that he exist not, rather than have said, ‘And I will put enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed?’ [Gen 3:15] Could He not have at once created a multitude of men? But yet, since He knew that it would be good, He created both angels and men free to do that which is righteous, and He appointed periods of time during which He knew it would be good for them to have the exercise of free-will; and because He likewise knew it would be good, He made general and particular judgments; each one’s freedom of will, however, being guarded.” (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 102)
There is no doubt these Early Church Fathers believed in free will and did not promote the Calvinistic-Augustinian doctrine of predestination.
 Christian Forums.net 2021. “The Good News/Bad News”, wondering#403, https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-good-news-the-bad-news.84920/page-21#post-1601858 (Accessed 8 January 2021).
 My following major outline points were posted to the Forum at OzSpen#412, https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-good-news-the-bad-news.84920/page-21#post-1601858 (Accessed 8 January 2021). This article is developed from that outline.
 These biographical details are based on Earl E Cairns 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, rev. & enl. edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p 92.
 The above paragraph is based on Encyclopedia Britannica (2021. s.v. “St. Cyprian”). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cyprian-Christian-bishop (Accessed 27 January 2021).
 Jery M Norman 2021. historyofinformation.com, “The Imperial Roman Government Issues Certificates of Conformation to Pagan Religious Practice.” Available at: https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=3491 (Accessed 26 January 2021).
 These biographical details are based on Earl E Cairns. Christianity through the Centuries, pp 106-07.
 Christian History 2021. Christianity Today, “Justin Martyr: Defender of the ‘True philosophy.’” Available at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/justin-martyr.html (Accessed 26 January 2021).