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By Gary F. Zeolla
Jude exhorts Christians, ". . . to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). But what does he mean by "the faith"? In this context, "faith" (Greek--pistis) means ". . . the content of what Christians believe--the faith, beliefs, doctrine" (Louw and Nida, Vol. I, p. 379).
So we are talking about beliefs, doctrines. But which ones? Christians have many beliefs about many subjects. Which ones are essential to the Christian faith?
In the early church (the church of the second and third centuries), these questions were answered by appealing to the "Rule of Faith." Origen (185-254 AD) described the Rule of Faith as follows: "The holy apostles when preaching the faith of Christ, took certain doctrines, those namely which they believed to be the essential ones, and delivered them in the plainest terms to all believers . . ." (Stevenson, p. 198).
Concerning these doctrines, Irenaeus (120-203 AD) wrote:
. . . the Church, having received this preaching, and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same (Stevenson, p. 112).
So there was an unity in the early church and this unity centered around certain doctrines the apostles had specifically stated were essential to the Christian faith.
But what about today? There are hundreds of Christian denominations and associations, along with numerous independent churches. The Christian Church is no longer speaking with "only one mouth" -- or is it?
Much time and effort went into drafting Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith. The main source used was the Rule of Faith. Also, the writings of the early church fathers in general were investigated. In addition, the documents of the early ecumenical councils were studied. Plus, numerous creeds and confessions of various church bodies past and present were compared.
The purpose of all this research was to determine what the major emphases of the Christian Church have been down through the ages. Also, of course, the Scriptures were searched to be sure that all of the points to be included on the confession were strongly Biblical and central teachings of the Word of God (Acts 17:11).
The confession thus represents the doctrines around which true Christians through history and throughout the world today are united (Acts 2:24; Heb 12:1). The Church of today still speaks with "only one mouth" when it teaches, proclaims, and defends these essentials of the Christian faith (1Tim 2:2; Acts 17:22,23; 1Pet 3:15).
Darkness to Light is dedicated to carrying out these vital obligations of the Church (Matt 28:19,20). We are also committed to training other Christians to be able to do the same (Acts 8:4).
Beyond the ten articles on the confession, there are important (though non-essential) doctrines and practices about which Christians disagree. These topics do need to be addressed (Acts 20:27). When discussing such topics, this ministry generally presents a Reformed-Baptist perspective.
But it must be remembered, these areas are secondary topics. One's decision to accept or reject the Christian faith needs to be based on one's attitude towards the essentials of the faith. It is these doctrines which constitute the core of the Christian faith.
In addition, when Christians discuss areas outside of the essentials of the faith they should abide by the attitude of Chrysostom (347-407 AD):
essentials unity, in non-essentials charity,
in all things Jesus Christ"
(Prov 18:19; Eph 4:1-3).
Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith
All Scripture quotations from: The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: United Bible Societies, 1988.
Stevenson, J. A. New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337. Revised by W. H. C. Frend. London: SPCK, 1987.
Bush, L. Russ. Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics A. D. 100-1800.
Eusebius. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History.
Leith, John H. Creeds of the Churches .
Lightfoot, J. B. and J. R. Harmer eds. Apostolic Fathers.
Schaff, Philip. Creeds Of Christendom.
Schaeffer, Francis. How Shall We Then Live?
Essentials of "the Faith." Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1991.
It was posted on this Web site in July 1996.
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