The rise of the Church..

After Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus emphatically tells Peter, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The certainty of this declaration by Jesus can not be minimized. There is no doubt in his tone about the enduring nature of the church.

In the decades and centuries to follow Jesus as well as the apostles time many heresies arose that challenged the orthodox understanding of Christ and his teaching, and naturally were seeking to prevail over against the church of God. The people of God within the churches, while not explicitly forming it in a manner as western theology has articulated it today, worshiped Jesus simultaneously as the messianic king and as the suffering man who victoriously rose from the dead to impart life. The urgency for doctrinal formulation began to rise as the need to defend the faith from the various misconceptions of the time became increasingly paramount.

Among teachings outside the mainstream of the church, it became common place for one to pick and choose various truths from the apostolic letters that they wanted to adapt for their purposes. For example, Marcion, a heretic who believed that the creator “god” was different than “the Father” whom Jesus proclaimed, elevated the teachings of Paul because he believed Paul was the only one to receive special revelation. Marcionites would even go as far as saying that the other apostles were not saved. They would point to Galatians to show that Paul disagreed with Peter. They even interpreted the “false prophets” Paul mentions to be the other apostles! The church’s response to such claims gave rise to the formulation of the doctrine of apostolic continuity. It’s important to note that this “formulation” is not the creation of this idea. In practice, the church had a deep understanding of the apostles oneness in teaching, as well as an understanding of the authority to which Jesus granted to them. They were merely formulating that which was already obvious to them. Since Marcion separated law and the gospel by claiming the discontinuity between the God of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament, the response by church theologians, such as Irenaeus, was to emphasize the continuity that the law and gospel had. In doing this, Irenaues and others would point to the apostles teaching as the basis for the authority of the Old Testament. Jaroslav Pelikan points out that the, “very boldness of Paul in attacking the authority of the Old Testament law was predicated on a continuity with the Old Testament and on the identity between the God of the law and the God preached in Christ.” Futhermore, church theologians emphasized the continuity that the apostles had with one another as faithful messenger of Christ. Origen spoke in a matter-of-fact way about the apostles all being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Those churches who were faithful to the “tradition” of apostolic teaching were considered to be primitive and apostolic.

As previously said, the rise of heretics allowed the church to articulate the beliefs that were obviously true. The content of the definitions of the doctrine came from the life, faith, and memory of the faithful and dedicated servants of the Most High God. Irenaeus powerfully says,

“The true gnosis (knowledge) is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the church throughout the world, and the character of the body of Christ in accordance with the succession of bishops, by which they have handed on that church which is present in every place and has come down to us, being guarded and preserved, without any distortion of the Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, neither adding nor subtracting anything. It is a reading (of the Scriptures) without forgery, and a lawful and diligent exposition in accordance with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy. And above all, it is the preeminent gift of love, which is more precious than gnosis, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all other gifts of love.”

Indeed. It is humbling to look back upon history and see the words of Jesus coming true. Jesus is building his church. He is claiming his people. And He will not fail. For the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

“For in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” -Acts 5:38-39.

The Church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation,
by water and the word:
from heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy Name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

 

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed;
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

 

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war
she waits the consummation
of peace for evermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blessed,
and the great Church victorious
shall be the Church at rest.

 

Yet she on earth hath union
with God, the Three in one,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.

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