Introduction -- By: John H. Armstrong
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Christianity is, first and foremost, a historical religion. It changes hearts, for sure. And it powerfully transforms lives. But it began in real history. And it grows and reforms in real history as well. The Apostle puts it this way: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NRSV).
Though my observations may seem self-evident, I am convinced many modern Christians think and live in ways that practically deny the historicity of their faith every day. And their churches and pastors feed this deception. Modern faith seems to have almost nothing to do with the church historically, especially the early church.
The most common mistake of all, at least the mistake made by evangelical Christians, is to act as if nothing really important happened after the death of the apostles until sometime in the sixteenth century. (Many are not even sure much good happened in the sixteenth century!)
The need for theology, for creeds, and for careful consideration of the practices of the early church, all arise from what the late John Leith called the “two basic facts.” First, man is an intelligent and thinking being. Anselm said the Christian needed “to learn to discern with agonizing clarity
RAR 13:4 (Fall 2004) p. 8
what is conceivable by him and about God himself.”1 Second, Leith noted, Christian faith holds that God is both the truth and the source of all truth. “If God is to be known and served, he must be known and served with the mind as well as with the heart and will.”2
The most basic confession of the early church in the New Testament is: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). But when faced with heresy, schism and Christ-denying error on every hand, the early church said much more. Creeds followed, making the faith plain and simple for all to hear and follow. Congregations learned from one another and worshiped within the parameters of the most holy catholic faith. Vincent of Lerins (died before A.D. 450) put this simply, in a famous line often cited: “In the Catholic church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” The church father Tertullian (A.D. 160-230) underscored the prominence that should be given to the post-apostolic churches when he wrote: “It is evident that all doctrine which agrees with those apostol...
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