Some liberal scholars have insisted that Christian teaching on the deity of Christ, and other core theological principles, came along later in the development of Christian theology.
As is usually the case, the best antidote to this perspective is historical reading. “Move slowly, read old” is a mantra that every Christian going through deconstruction should repeat frequently.
Discipleship and the Christian Tradition
As conservative evangelicals, it is vital that we understand that we read the scripture in community with the Saints of all the ages. A new or novel interpretation of scripture is a false interpretation. As John Wesley insisted, “Whatever is essentially new is essentially false.”
In discipleship, we must remember that we disciple people not into shallow obedience to a set of denominational principles or life hacks, but that we disciple them into a rich theological tradition that flows from Christ through his Church of all the ages.
How can Irenaeus contribute to discipleship?
A case in point is the church father Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a prominent Christian bishop and theologian of the second century AD. He was born around 130 AD in Smyrna, in what is now modern-day Turkey, and later became bishop of Lyon, in what is now France.
As a young man, Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who himself had been a disciple of the apostle John. This direct link to the apostolic tradition was central to Irenaeus's theology, which emphasized the importance of tradition and the unity of the church. Irenaeus is perhaps best known for his work "Against Heresies," in which he defended orthodox Christian beliefs against the various Gnostic sects that were popular at the time. He argued that these groups were misguided and that true knowledge of God could only be found through the teachings of the apostles and their successors.
In addition to his theological writings, Irenaeus also played an important role in the early development of the Christian canon, helping to establish the texts that would eventually be recognized as the New Testament.
Irenaeus died around 200 AD, but his legacy lived on through his writings and his influence on the development of Christian theology.
Irenaeus' summary of the Christian faith
So what did Irenaeus say was the basic truths of Christian doctrine?
From his writing, “On the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” let's let him speak for himself. As you read, notice how closely his articulation of the Gospel aligns with the Apostles Creed and other core tenets of Christianity.
Unity of the faith of the Church throughout the whole world
The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:
She believes in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.
As I have already observed, 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. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.
Isn't that beautiful? Look how beautifully Irenaeus matches with the Great Tradition!
Conclusion: Our Discipleship Must Match the Great Christian Tradition
The journey through the rich tapestry of Christian tradition, as exemplified by figures like Irenaeus, reinforces the importance of grounding our faith in the enduring truths passed down through the ages. The idea that core theological principles were a later addition is debunked by the historical depth and continuity found in the teachings of early church fathers.
As we navigate the currents of deconstruction, the call to "move slowly, read old" must be a guiding principle, urging us to draw wisdom from the well of tradition that has stood the test of time.
In the spirit of discipleship, we are called not merely to instruct new believers in denominational principles but to immerse them in the rich theological tradition that flows from Christ through His Church across the ages. The challenge is to be intentional in passing on the unchanging core of the faith, aligning with the teachings that have resonated from Germany to Spain, from Gaul to Egypt. The unity of the Church, scattered across the globe yet holding to one faith, stands as a testament to the enduring nature of the message.
Do you have a strategy for discipling Christians into deep orthodoxy?
As we consider the insights of Irenaeus and others who have steadfastly preserved the essence of Christianity, let us not only reflect on the past but actively engage in shaping the future of the Church. To deepen your understanding of the historic Christian faith and contribute to the ongoing legacy of discipleship, I invite you to subscribe to NewStart Discipleship.
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