There is a tendency in certain religious circles to create a doctrine from a single phrase or sentence found in the New Testament. One such instance has been the movement called the “Prosperity Gospel” which often is based on 3 John 1:2 and little else.
Other doctrines are floating around simply based on one sentence or phrase. This is often why there are so many thousands of churches calling themselves “Christian” that do not agree or are not in communion with others.
From the beginning of the Church, there were teachings and these doctrines were settled from the beginning as “The Apostles Doctrine” and were taught by the Apostles to the first overseers of the first churches. Dogma was settled long before the New Testament was collected and organized. The Scripture references for the doctrines of the Church were later referenced.
In the early fourth century, a presbyter named Arius decided that since Jesus was begotten of the Father, there must have been a time when Jesus did not exist. His conclusion was that Jesus was not God at all but a created being. The confusion which this line of thinking created spread quickly. It finally reached the capital city of the Empire, Constantinople. The Emperor Constantine realizing that the State Religion was in danger of disarray, asked the Patriarch of Constantinople if there was a way for this to be addressed. The scholars of the Church knew, from the example in history, (we see it in Acts with the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem) that those who were overseers of the congregations should meet. They could each expound on what had been taught and passed down to them.
This brought forward the Ecumenical Council of Nicea. After exhaustive explanations from each bishop in attendance concerning what they had been taught from the beginning, the decision to write it down was made.
The first two sections of the Creed was crafted. This defined the Church’s belief in God the Father and his role as well as God the Son and his role. It also clarified that the Son was “begotten not made” and was “of one essence with the Father” and that by Him all things were created.
Once the first two sections of the Creed were accepted, they were duplicated and taken to all the local churches with instructions to read them, study and learn what they taught in case anyone was under the mistaken ideas previously heard.
The Church progressed for several decades when a dispute seemed to be raised over the Holy Spirit. Was He God and a person or simply the effect of God’s presence in the World. Once again the Church leadership met in a council, this time in Constantinople in 381 and when all the speeches and teachings were expounded, the decision to add to the Creed was made. The inclusion of the teachings of the Holy Spirit, with his role in creation, as well as Baptism and t teaching concerning the universality of the Church and its descriptive foundation.
When the Creed was accepted as complete by the consensus of the bishops, they collectively declared that anyone that changed it at all, without the entire Church leadership in council was to be accursed. This was the anathema that they attached to identify how serious these foundational doctrines were.
In the year 386 a committee of scholars and bishops began the task of collecting all the works that each local church had which were thought to be scripture. Many books that were called “Gospels” purported to be written by anyone. The writings of any Apostle were also collected. This collection of books were compared, studied and those found to be consistent with all teachings accepted previously were organized into what we now refer to as The New Testament. This final canon of scripture was accepted in the year 389.
Now if we look, each part of the Creed, finalized in 381, is consistent with scripture that was canonized in 389.
The Creed in Scripture:
I believe in One God, (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29, 12:32; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6)
The Father Almighty (Genesis 17:1-8; Exodus 6:3; Matthew 6:9; Ephesians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 6:18)
Maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1; Job 38:1-30)
And of all things visible and invisible (Colossians 1:15-16; John 1:3; Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11)
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ (John 20:28; Acts 11:17, 16:31; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5)
The Son of God, the Only-Begotten (Matthew 3:17, 14:33, 16:16; John 1:14, 3:16)
Begotten of the Father before all ages (Psalm 2:7; John 1:1-2)
Light of Light (John 1:4, 1:9, 8:12; Psalm 27:1; Matthew 17:2, 5; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 1:5)
True God of True God (John 1:1-2, 17:1-5; 1 John 5:20)
Begotten, not made (John 1:1-2, 16:28, 1:18)
Of one essence with the Father (John 10:30)
By Whom all things were made (Hebrews 1:1-2, 10; John 1:3, 1:10; Colossians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36)
Who for us men and for our salvation (I Timothy 2:4-5; Matthew 1:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Colossians 1:13-14)
Came down from heaven (John 3:13, 3:31, 6:33-35, 38)
And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34-35)
And became man (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14)
And He was crucified for us (Mark 15:25; I Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 2:24)
under Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:15)
And suffered (Mark 8: 31; Matthew 27:50)
And was buried (Luke 23:53; 1 Corinthians 15:4; Matthew 27:59-60)
And He rose again on the third day (Mark 9:31, 16:9; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4)
According to the Scriptures (Luke 24:1, 45-46; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
And ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-10; Mark 16:19)
And sits at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55; Luke 22:69)
And He will come again with glory (Matthew 24:27; Mark 13:26; John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
To judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 4:5)
His kingdom shall have no end (2 Peter 1:11; Hebrews 1:8)
And I believe in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Acts 1:8)
The Lord and Giver of life (Acts 5: 3-4; Genesis 1:2; John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:6)
Who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26)
Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified (Matthew 3:16-17)
Who spoke through the prophets (I Samuel 19:20; Ezekiel 11:5; 1 Peter 1:10-11; Ephesians 3:5)
And I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church (Matthew 16:18, 28:19; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Ephesians 1:4, 2:19-22, 4:4, 5:27; Acts 1:8, 2:42; Mark 16:15; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17)
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins (Ephesians 4:5; Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:12-13; Acts 22:16)
I look for the resurrection of the dead (John 11:24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-49; Romans 6:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
And the life of the world to come. (Mark 10:29-30; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1)
Amen. (Psalm 106:48)
Now, understanding this builds the doctrine of the Church, the foundational teaching of the Church, with references in scripture. That’s a completely different way to establish a teaching or doctrine. In the beginning of this article, I referred to taking a phrase and creating a doctrine from it. The reference I made was to the expressed good wishes from the Apostle John that “I would that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers”. The groups known under the banner of “The Prosperity Gospel” preachers tend to build this up to declare that God wants me to be wealthy. If I perform everything that is a commandment, tithing and giving primarily, I will prosper and be in health.
Over time we have seen how flawed this thinking can be considering that God never promised us a mansion or a jet or a Rolls Royce. If we look, usually it is found that those preachers experience that kind of monetary prosperity often to the detriment of their followers. The regular guy is often told to keep giving and if he REALLY believes he will prosper. When he doesn’t get wealthy, the conclusion he reaches is that he just doesn’t believe enough.
Years ago, close friends of mine were seduced by this kind of preaching. They were also pointed to an investor that traded gold internationally. They believed so deeply in the people that they followed that they took out a second mortgage on their home. They invested all of that borrowed money into this fund that was supposed to be managed by this investor in international gold trading. A market correction caused his fund to collapse and last I heard from my friends they had lost not only their investment but when the second mortgage came due they could not pay it, they lost their home and assets in bankruptcy.
There are several preachers from that belief system who have died of cancer in the past decade. I have the question in my mind, if they spent years telling their congregations that sickness was caused by lack of faith, how do those congregations explain their pastor’s death? It seems to be a difficult place to be found. The foundation of their belief was not really God, rather it was a man’s interpretation of scripture.
There are many such flawed teachings. Another one that is prominent is that presbyters, pastors and priests (all the same kind of minister) should never be referred to as “Father”. This is based on a statement of Jesus in Matthew 23:9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9 NKJV
Based exclusively on this one sentence, entire doctrinal statements concerning the title “Father” have been built. They obviously ignore that the title Father has a specific use in history, the man who raises children is the FATHER to those children. The history of the term is exhaustive and can be found in any language. Saint Paul writing to the Church in Corinth identified them as his children “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”
I Corinthians 4:15 NKJV
He obviously identified to them that he was their father in the Gospel because he had begotten them. I wonder if that reference would lead me to believe that he was their spiritual father and they identified him as such?
References to fathers weave through the New Testament. It is clear from context that the Apostles writing referred to fathers on earth and the Father in heaven. There was no general prohibition on referring to any man as “Father” and the apostles many times talked to the Church as “my children” so to make some blanket statement that based on the one sentence that it is recorded that Jesus said “call no man father” is ignoring the history and practices of the Church. We know who our father is, who our spiritual father is and who our Heavenly Father is, we’re not stupid. One line reference to build a doctrine from seems without foundation.
The Great Schism 1054, where the Roman Pope excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople and all those who were remaining in communion with Constantinople, saw the biggest division of the Church. After the Schism, the Roman Pope began making up doctrine never accepted before. Some could be easily reversed if Rome ever chose to return to the community of believers that are in the Eastern Church. Other doctrines are more difficult to reverse. One of those is the addition of what is known as “the Filoque” which is the corruption of the Creed. In reference to the Creed, presented above with scripture references, I refer to the identification of the Holy Spirit. The Creed makes a point of saying the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father”. The Roman church added the phrase “and the Son” to that sentence. They read that “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” thus subordinating the Holy Spirit in some hierarchical way. This is not a doctrine of a one-liner but rather a part of a larger doctrine easily seen in scripture. This is why it became so important.
The idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father was derived from the teachings of the Apostles. When the canon of scripture was finalized, the Gospel of John made it clear because only there do we find the specific of where the Holy Spirit comes from. Many want to reduce this to a mere semantic argument but it being so much part of the larger teaching in the Creed makes me believe that it is of great importance.
The authority of the Creed was the authority of the Church. The bishops (overseers) were the voting members of the Church Councils. Those same bishops were the authority for the Canon of the New Testament Scriptures. Effectively, the Church coming first, has the authority, and the New Testament Scriptures, being produced by the Apostles, is higher than the Creed but the Creed is a collection from scripture of the basics of Christian belief, they are intertwined and inseparable. It is possible, and common in the modern day, to accept the New Testament and reject the Creed but impossible to be a Christian and reject the Creed.
Is it possible to get “saved” when you are in some religion that denies the Creed? That’s God’s choice, no man can decide that. What we DO know however, is that if you are INSIDE the true Church, founded by Jesus on the Testimony of the Apostles, you stand a great chance since you are following the Apostles’ Doctrine just as the early Church did.