What Is the historic Christian faith? And why does it matter?
We all know the problem. Christianity today is divided. Everyone has an idea of what the Bible teaches, what it means, and what's important.
Is there a resolution?
I believe there is. It's called the historic Christian faith.
I'm going to tell you:
Number 4 is the least important. So if you have to skip something for time, skip that one and number 2.
The first and third could change the world. In fact, they are changing the world. In Kenya and in America we're doing what many Christians have called impossible.
The historic Christian faith is two things:
Yep, that's it.
Requiring anything more is sin, and we will pay for our sin by missing out on the promises of God!
The rule of faith was based on a simple, Trinitarian formula, and it varied from church to church. It became longer as heresies arose and the faith had to be defined to exclude those heresies. For example, very early on gnostic believers taught that Christ was an emanation of God that inhabited Jesus' fleshly body but was not Jesus. Thus, even very early rules of faith state that the Son of God came in the flesh.
Once those basics were taken care of—once the churches could establish that you believed in the real God, his real Son, and in his Spirit—then there was just one thing that mattered: living for him and by his Spirit.
The historic Christian faith emphasizes that the unity of the Church is a spiritual unity. It is not based on doctrine except for these basics:
Paul summed up this sort of unity by saying:
The sure foundation of the Lord stands firm, having this seal: The Lord knows those who are his, and let those who name the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. (2 Tim. 2:19)
A few verses later, Paul adds:
Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22)
This is the church of Jesus Christ. It is his disciples, banded together to walk in righteousness, faith, love, and peace.
There are so many verses that say this that it's scary to continue, lest this page become tens of pages long! But we should address at least two more verses:
Both those verses address the purpose of the Scriptures. The purpose of the Scriptures and the commands of God is not to produce theological degrees! The purpose of the Scriptures and God's commands is to produce people who are equipped for every good work, done out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
Those who walk in this way will find that they have a fellowship and a unity that transcends human understanding.
This one's pretty simple. We know what the historic Christian faith is because the early Christians—those in the churches the apostles started—talked about it.
They talked about the rule of faith. They gave examples of it. They also gave example of what is outside the historic Christian faith:
One may bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith; and explain the operation and dispensation of God connected with human salvation; and show that God manifested longsuffering in regard to the apostasy of the angels who transgressed, as also with respect to the disobedience of men; and set forth why it is that one and the same God has made some things … (Irenaeus, Against Heresies I:10:3, c. A.D. 185)
These things they were allowed to speculate on, but …
It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, and should conceive of some other God besides him who is the Framer, Maker, and Preserver of this universe … or of another Christ. (ibid.)
The picture that emerges from the second century writings is quite clear. We are not left wondering what those churches were like. We know what they emphasized, and we know what they did not emphasize. We know how they baptized, whether they kept the Sabbath, how they addressed the Law in general, etc.
The Scriptures teach that God gives eternal salvation to those who obey him (Heb. 5:8).
The historic Christian faith emphasizes some basic and important teachings concerning who God is and who Christ is. These are clearly essential to being a Christian.
On top of those basic beliefs, they added obedience to God. Here's what obedience of God produced (really important!!!):
Surely, if you're a Christian and you've experienced the Spirit of God, then you've also experienced that amazing, heart-to-heart unity that only the Spirit can provide. You've met someone, barely known them, but your mutual possession of and by the Spirit of God knit you together in a way that filled both your hearts with love and with a desire to be together.
That is what produced the glorious description of the Church in Acts:
They continued steadily in the apostles' teaching, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayers. Fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods and divided them to everyone as there was need. Then, meeting daily in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their meals with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favor with the people. And the Lord added those who were being saved to the church daily. (Acts 2:42-47)
I have trouble picturing a true Christian that doesn't dream of a such a life. That life was not legislated. It was the product of people who mutually obeyed God, loved Jesus Christ, and had his Spirit.
Today, we work at division. Have you had the experience that I've had multiple times of meeting someone, experiencing that unity of Spirit, and then having some stupid, modern doctrine divide you?
The historic Christian faith made no room for such things. If you wanted to dispute about doubtful things, then you were divisive and thus evil, and you were put out of the church. Galatians 5:19-21 mentions three versions of division, and it says that those who practice such things will not inherit God's kingdom. Titus 3:10 says that such a person—which is what the word "heretic" describes—must be rejected after the first or second admonition.
Another excellent passage on this matter is Romans 16:17-18. There Paul tells the Romans to mark those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine they've learned. What doctrine did they learn?
They learned the historic Christian faith, and those who wanted to divide over other things, says Paul, "do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own bellies."
Give up the intellectual bantering and submit to God, and we will find the Spirit of God compelling us to unity by a supernatural love that drives us to be together and take care of one another. (I'm not speaking theory, by the way. It's happening.)
There are two reasons that no one pays attention to the historic Christian faith: we don't like change, and we don't like the consequences of this particular change.
Emotionally, we don't like change. It's hard for humans, even saved humans, to give up what they've been taught. It's going to be awful hard to convince a Pentecostal that God wants him to stop telling people that they have to speak in tongues to know they're baptized in the Holy Spirit. It's going to be awful hard to convince a Baptist that he has to stop preaching eternal security or a Nazarene that he has to stop arguing with the Baptist about it.
If we're living for God, all those things will take care of themselves.
Eternal security will be true for everyone because everyone believes that those who obey Christ all their lives and continue to the end are eternally secure. The tongues thing may be a problem because if you leave tongues to God, it's not going to happen. The Pentecostal is going to have to get used to the idea that lots of people speak in tongues only because they crusade and teach people to do that. When they leave it to God, most tongues are going to stop.
That Pentecostal issue is a good example, though. There are people that don't want God to resolve issues. They have their opinions, and they don't want to give them up.
The way that's supposed to be handled, according to Scripture, is that such a person is to be rejected after the first or second admonition.
This creates the second reason no one pays attention to the historic Christian faith. They can't face the consequences.
Divisive, opinionated people are going to have to be rejected. There's going to be a fight.
The historic Christian faith is worth fighting for (Jude 3).
The "church" today is divided. People call themselves by all sorts of names. They claim they're united while they attend different churches and teach different doctrines.
God hates it.
We have to change. What matters is not what's comfortable to us but what's comfortable to Jesus Christ. According to Galatians 5:19-21, one aspect of division is a word that means "sects." That's the same word as denomination. Those who practice denominations will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Do with that what you will. We can discuss application of that verse, but when I tell you that the Bible says that those who practice denominations won't inherit the kingdom of God, I'm not interpreting, I'm quoting.
Unity matters to God. It's not only commanded all over the New Testament, but Jesus said that it's the proof that God sent him (Jn. 17:20-23).
No wonder Christianity has such a bad name today! The proof that Jesus said he was going to offer the world isn't there! And it's our fault.
It's not okay for us to cling to our denominations. It's not okay for us to cling to beliefs that are outside the essentials of the historic Christian faith. It's not okay for us to continue living lives marked by disobedience to Christ. You cannot be his disciple if you don't give up your life (Luke 14:26-33).
The historic Christian faith overthrows all those things. It brings together the obedient ones, who are the only ones who have salvation (1 Jn. 2:3-4; 3:7-10), and it drives out the divisive ones who want to argue over doubtful things. It will rescue us.
The proof is in the pudding, they say. The early churches, who believed these things, were not only united, but they were full of power.
Let's follow them.