Back to the Basics
Dr. Norman Geisler once stated, concerning historic Christianity, “one Book, two testaments, three Creeds, four Councils and five centuries.” In other words, the foundation of Christianity can be summarized within the first 500 years after the death of Jesus. My goal here is to elaborate on Dr. Geisler’s summary.
Orthodox Christianity -
The English word orthodox comes originally from the Greek words “orthos”, meaning "right/ true" and “doxa”, meaning "opinion." These two words were combined to form the Greek verb orthodoxein, meaning "to have the right opinion." From orthodoxein came the Greek adjective orthodoxos, which was translated into Latin as orthodoxus. The English adjective orthodox comes from this Latin adjective. There can only be one “true” Christianity. All claims may be wrong but, we cannot all be right.
One Book -
One book, the Bible, containing 66 separate books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Written by 40 different authors, over 1600 years, by men 2000 miles apart. What about apocrypha? The KJV only folks? This is part of the point. One true, Book inspired by God.
The Old Testament was completed on or near the time of Ezra AD 250. The New not before 100 but 393 Hippo. No early church council decided on the canon. It was God, and God alone, who determined which books belonged in the Bible. It was simply a matter of God’s imparting to His followers what He had already decided. The human process of collecting the books of the Bible was flawed, but God, in His sovereignty, and despite our ignorance and stubbornness, brought the early church to the recognition of the books He had inspired. We have the Dead sea scrolls containing every book of the Old Testament except Ruth. The New Testament, we have more manuscripts, archeology, prophecy and secular sources than any other ancient document.
Three Creeds -
There are many Creeds both within and outside of the Bible. Unfortunately, many have not heard of any of them. The Creeds are a vital part of historic Christianity. I am only going to list the three main Creeds.
Nicene Creed - is a statement of belief widely used in Christian liturgy. Accepted at the Nicaean Council in AD 325.
Chalcedonian Creed - was adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 in Asia Minor as a response to certain heretical views concerning the nature of Christ.
Apostles Creed – a summary of the beliefs of the apostles, though not written by them. AD 390 last change 750
Four Councils -
Council of Nicaea AD 325 - The Council of Nicaea took place in AD 325 by order of the Roman Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine. Nicaea was in Asia Minor, east of Constantinople. At the Council of Nicaea, Emperor Constantine presided over a group of church bishops and other leaders with the purpose of defining the nature of God for all of Christianity and eliminating confusion, controversy, and contention within the church. The Council of Nicaea overwhelmingly affirmed the deity and eternality of Jesus Christ and defined the relationship between the Father and the Son as “of one substance.” It also affirmed the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were listed as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons. The Council of Nicaea did not invent the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Rather, the Council of Nicaea affirmed the apostles’ teaching of who Christ is—the one true God and the Second Person of the Trinity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Council of Constanople AD 381 - rejected the teachings of Apollinaris, who said that Jesus’ divine nature had displaced His human mind and will. According to Apollinaris Jesus was not fully human, a teaching that2 John 1:7warns against. Later, Nestorius said Jesus had two separate natures and two wills, essentially making Him two persons sharing one body. This teaching was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431. And ten years later Eutyches also denied that Jesus was truly human, saying Jesus’ human nature was “absorbed” or swallowed up by His divine nature. This led to the Council of Chalcedon, which only lasted from October 8 to November 1, 451.
Council of Ephesus AD 431- According to the Council, Nestorianism overemphasized the human nature of Jesus at the expense of the divine. The Council denounced Patriarch Nestorius' teaching as erroneous. Nestorius taught that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God, the "Logos" ("The Word", Son of God). The Logos only dwelled in Christ, as in a Temple (Christ, therefore, was only Theophoros: The "Bearer of God".) Consequently, Virgin Mary should be called "Christotokos," Mother of Christ and not "Theotokos, "Mother of God." Hence, the name, "Christological controversies". The Council decreed that Jesus was one person, not two separate "people": complete God and complete man, with a rational soul and body. The Virgin Mary is "Theotokos" because she gave birth not to man but to God as a man. The union of the two natures of Christ took place in such a fashion that one did not disturb the other. The Council also declared the text of the Nicene Creed decreed at the First and Second Ecumenical Councils to be complete and forbade any additional change (addition or deletion) to it.
Council of Chalcedon AD 451 - The Council of Chalcedon met in AD 451 in Chalcedon, a city in Asia Minor. The council’s ruling was an important step in further clarifying the nature of Christ and the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The council also laid the groundwork for one of the most significant events in ecclesiastical history—the Great Schism.
I feel, with the summary presented, I should also provide what is commonly referred to as “the essentials” of Christianity. Simply put, what one must believe as a true Christian. It is here that many professing followers differ.
The deity of Christ. Quite simply, Jesus is God. While Jesus never directly says, “I am God” in the Scriptures, He makes it very clear to those around Him, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, that He is God. John 10:30says, “I and the Father are one.”
Salvation by grace. We are all sinners separated from God and deserving of eternal punishment for our sin. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the sins of mankind, giving us access to heaven and an eternal relationship with God. Ephesians 2:8
Salvation through Jesus Christ alone. A truly provocative question to ask someone might be “Do all roads lead to God?” The truth is that all roads do lead to God. John 14:6
The resurrection of Christ. Perhaps no other event in the Bible, aside from Jesus’ appearance here on earth and subsequent death on the cross, is as significant to the Christian faith as that of the resurrection. The gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul spells out what the gospel is and how important it is to embrace it and share it with others. He reminds the Corinthians of the gospel he preached among them: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Monotheism. Quite simply, there is only one God. Exodus 20:3 states very powerfully, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God to be worshipped and served.
The Holy Trinity. While the concept of a “three-in-one God” is demonstrated frequently throughout Scripture, the word is never written.
This is Christianity. The truth. Short and to the point.
One final piece to demonstrate the validity of historic Christianity. The Church fathers…
Church fathers –
The early church fathers fall into three basic categories: apostolic fathers, ante-Nicene church fathers, and post-Nicene church fathers. They can be traced historically to the apostles! They are outside sources of the Bible!
Clement of Rome – wrote 1 Clement, used prior to canon of the New Testament.
Ignatius – student of John, leader of Antioch church, mentions letters of Paul; martyred
Polycarp – student of John also; burnt at the stake.
Irenaeus - wrote the first apologetic work. Student of Polycarp.
Clement of Alexandria – philosopher; wrote concerning Gnosticism.
Tertullian – writer of theology and apologetic material. Introduced term “trinitas” (Trinity)
Cyprian of Carthage – converted pagan writer; martyred
Origen – earliest Christian commentaries on Bible. Some views not mainstream Christianity.
Athanasius of Alexandria – first on record to identify 27 books of NT as we know in an Easter letter AD 367. Nicknamed “Black Dwarf”
Augustine of Hippo – first major philosophical apologist of Christianity. Book Confessions, struggle with women. May have formalized canon AD 393
Sometimes we need a step back to the basics. Prayerfully I have given justice to the foundation of what we believe.
John Mays is the Regional Director for the states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, He is also the Chapter Director at Marshall University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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