Thursday, February 25, 2010

The “Rule of Faith” and the Development of the Creeds

By Ben Zemmer

As the apostles faded off the scene of the first century church, they left behind a very certain witness, everything necessary for the life and growth of the church. This “apostolic” witness or “rule of faith” is the gospel in all of its continuity and agreement with the Old Testament scriptures (2 Peter 1-2). The believers of the first century had copies of the Old Testament Scriptures, and as apostolic letters circulated, they thoroughly examined these teachings in the light of the Scriptures they possessed (Acts 17:11). A teaching was deemed to not be biblical and authoritative when it did not demonstrate continuity with the Old Testament scriptures in content, nature, prophecy, confirming signs or miracles, power of truth, and observed life (Hodge, par.70). Long before the official recognition of the canon, more than two centuries after the death of the apostles, the church was experienced in the use of the “rule of faith” to recognize true from false teaching.

This faithful practice guided the church’s response to heretical challenges arising from within the church itself. Individuals and groups introduced thoughts and teachings which deeply diverged form biblical teaching. Having recognized this fact from the testimony of the scriptures, local churches and groups of churches responded in these early centuries with short statements of faith otherwise known as “creeds”. These were used as a tool to recognize false teachers or teaching from true (Gonzalez, p.63). Creeds are not a concept foreign to the scriptures, but rather are in keeping with similar tools exemplified in Paul’s writings and even the summaries of the Mosaic law namely the “shema” of Deuteronomy 6 (Horton, p.7).

In recent years scholars re-discovered a document which dates back to the time of the apostles. Due to its proximity to the apostles and evidence of common thought in the early church, this document has achieved some level of importance. Known as the “Didache” (teaching), this document synthesizes many of the imperatives of the New Testament into summary form and presents directives for churches to follow. Due to the fact that this document at several points does not agree with the “rule of faith” in the revealed scriptures, this document was rejected as scripture and authoritative (Powel, p.123). It is clear both from the fact that the document was rejected and by the fact that the content of the document does not match with the scriptures, that it should not be used as an authoritative example for Christian life and practice.

The “rule of faith” is not only the criteria used by the early church for the recognition of false teaching from true, it is an example of the means God has given His church for the interpretation of the scripture. Christ Himself embodies the gospel and it is He who stands over and above any teaching claiming any sort of authority. To Him be glory both now and forever more.

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