Losing The Faith (2/22)
Apologists and Theologians
The writers whose works are the source of our research are known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers. They include the “Apostolic Fathers” and their successors up to the Council of Nicaea (which contributed to the eventual development of “the Trinity” by elevating Christ to the position of a Divine being). So we are dealing with the development of the teachings of the apostate Christian church in the second and third centuries, AD 100 to AD 325).
As we progress through these two hundred years we discover that the earlier simplicity of the faith is disappearing; influences of the philosophers and mystery cults are being felt.
Christian writers after the middle of the second century are well versed, not only in Scripture, but also in the secular views of their day; most have been educated in Greek and Roman culture and philosophy. We will see in their works the development of some of the doctrines and practices that came to characterize the church from the middle ages to the present.
“The Rule of Faith”
“I believe in God the Father almighty. And in Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary; crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and life everlasting.” This is “The Rule of Faith” as cited by Marcellus of Ancira in AD 341 (see The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. I, page 204.) The “Rule of Faith,” an early attempt to summarize apostolic teaching, was originally used as a baptismal confession of faith. It is cited several times in second and third century writings and survives in Roman Catholic and Protestant liturgy today as “The Apostles’ Creed.”
Tertullian (AD 145-220) comments upon it rather extensively. It is clear that in his day it had an “official” status. It was employed as a check on the Gnostics and others who sought to allegorize away the apostolic faith. He writes that “inquiry” into the Word must be undertaken “without impairing the rule of faith” (Prescription Against Heretics, ch. xii.) He paraphrases the “rule” in chapter xiii:
“Now, with regard to the rule of faith … that which prescribes the belief that there is only one God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son … at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Spirit to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh.”
It will be noticed from the testimony of Tertullian that the Rule of Faith did not sufficiently guard against the false teachings that came to be standard in the Christian community. Tertullian is reading into his paraphrase errors that had come to be accepted in the church: the pre-existence of Christ and “everlasting fire” for the wicked. He also accepts that the Holy Spirit was continuing, after apostolic times, to guide believers into all truth, while in fact, they were rapidly drifting away from the pristine truth of the gospel.