The Ministry of the Word in the Early Church: Lessons for the Global Evangelicalism

The Scriptures were central to the life of the early church. This is apparent from the teaching of the fathers. As a guide to liturgy, the Scriptures played an essential role in the church’s worship; as a manual for catechism, they functioned as a resource to formulate creedal statements; as a text for preaching, they provided the preacher with the lesson; and as an authoritative body of writing, they governed all ecclesiastical polity. As patristic scholars like David Rylaarsdam and Robert G. T. Edwards have observed recently, the reading and interpretation of Scripture was intimately bound to ecclesiastical life, and was undertaken within the context of worship. The present study explores the functional relationship between biblical exegesis and spiritual life in the early church and its relevance for the evangelical church today. Frances Young has rightly suggested that the modern church’s fissure between biblical exegesis and doctrine, or indeed between biblical exegesis and praxis would have been inconceivable in patristic thought. Most of John Chrysostom’s exegesis was undertaken in the church, and is best understood when considered in that milieu. In this study, I survey the fathers’ understanding of the role of Scripture in the church; examine John Chrysostom’s use of Scripture in his ecclesiastical context; and retrieve a wealth of insights from the ministry of the Word in the early church for global evangelicalism today.