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The Clincher of Unanimous Consent

If the Church Fathers agree on a doctrine, who are we to contradict them?

Imagine a scenario. My name is Parker. Imagine that my twenty closest friends all told you, “Parker’s favorite color is red.” Without even talking to me, you could probably assume that my favorite color is red.

That’s how the unanimous consent of the Church Fathers works, too, when it comes to determining how the early Church practiced and believed.

If it is logical to use the argument, for example, that the first followers of Jesus all said he was God, and therefore we can attest that he did in fact claim that he is God, then it is also logical to use that line of reasoning to believe other things unanimously attested to. As another example, we would say it’s reasonable to believe that baptismal regeneration is correct because the first followers of Jesus all believed it.

Not only would a Protestant be unable to use this argument, but he would have to show why it fails. If it is valid, Protestantism as a whole is refuted. Similarly, we could wonder: if it is acceptable for a Protestant to deny one thing that this community unanimously accepted, why would it be wrong for someone to say that the four Gospels are not Scripture?

Overall, there are three main reasons why the unanimous consent of the Fathers is important for all Christians. First, it just makes logical sense to follow it. Imagine for a second that Jesus teaches his apostles that baptism doesn’t save, and it’s only a symbol. Then the apostles tell their successors the same thing. Then what happens with the successors? They unanimously believe that baptism saves. Did they just not read Scripture? Were they influenced by someone? Why did the apostles choose these people if they didn’t take them seriously? It just doesn’t make sense.

Second, as mentioned previously, you undermine your ability to use Scripture if you are going to use it against the covenant community who gave the scriptures to you. When we use something unanimous (let’s say the Gospel of John) to reject something else that was unanimous, like baptismal regeneration, we erode the foundation underlying both!

Third, if a Protestant is going to claim that the “true gospel” was lost, this would mean that the Great Apostasy is true. But Bible verses such as Matthew 16:18 and 1 Timothy 3:15, among others, refute this.

Lastly, think about how quickly Christianity spread in the beginning stages. Now think about how unlikely it would be that something was unanimously taught by all of the churches that was not taught by the apostles. A supposedly heretical teaching would have to infiltrate not only a few churches; it would need to infiltrate every single church. It’s hard to get the evidence together to claim that a heresy could have permeated the Church in this way.

A Protestant would likely push back here, claiming that although doctrines like baptismal regeneration were unanimous in the early Church, the Church Fathers were all wrong, because that view contradicts Scripture. Putting aside the fact that this Protestant believes that the Church Fathers unanimously believed something that the Protestant believes is so plainly contradicted by Scripture, he also undermines his ability to use said Scripture if he is going to use it against the covenant community to whom the scriptures were entrusted. When this community unanimously says the Gospel of John is Scripture and also unanimously says that in John 3:5 Jesus says we have to be baptized to enter heaven, it would not make sense for us to listen to one statement and not the other. Why can we just pick and choose?

Another thing a Protestant might say is that he doesn’t care about the Fathers; he cares about only the Bible. But this objection doesn’t work because the consensus of the Fathers is the reason we have a New Testament in the first place. How can we trust the Church Fathers’ twenty-seven-book New Testament if they got baptism, justification, and a plethora of other important things wrong? How can we trust the early Church’s particular articulation of the Trinity (three persons in one God, co-eternal and co-equal) when those terms aren’t in Scripture, yet we can’t trust other important things they said together? If these guys are a bunch of heretics, how can we trust anything they said? It simply doesn’t make sense.

Overall, I encourage Protestants to think about how important the unanimous consensus of the Fathers is. Despite their best efforts to prop up Scripture through sola scriptura, Protestants have allowed themselves to reject things in the early Church that were unanimously accepted. In doing this, they undermine their ability to use other unanimously accepted things, like the four Gospels, and call Christianity as a whole into question.

All in all, the question to ask is not “Is this Protestant belief logical?” Rather, it is “Is this belief so persuasive that we can reject all of Church history?”

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