In light of Rob Bell’s claim in Love Wins that orthodoxy is wide and diverse I have been exploring historic orthodoxy. In part 1, narrow orthodoxy was defined as the basic set of Christian essential doctrine that has been held throughout the history of the church. It does not incorporate speculative theological ideas. Wide orthodoxy was defined as encompassing all the varying and often speculative teachings found in church history. I have asserted that orthodoxy is narrow. In part 2 we looked at what Irenaeus listed as the essential apostolic tradition that was handed down. We examined these beliefs with one of the earliest creeds – the Apostle’s Creed . Irenaeus who lived in both Asia Minor and Gaul during his life was writing around 180 AD.
The main two points from that study was that the Scripture were accepted as the basis for doctrine and that the tenets of the Apostle’s Creed were considered the essential truths. Today we are going to look at Tertullian and see if these two points hold up. Tertullian lived around the same time as Irenaeus (145-220) in Northern Africa. He is best known as the father of Latin Christianity and later became an adherent of the Montanist/New Prophecy movement. Prior to moving in that direction he wrote “Prescription against Heretics” (likely before 200 AD). In this document he affirms the importance of Scripture as capturing that which Christ taught the apostles:
From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for “no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (Matt 11:27).or does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach – that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached – in other words, what is was which Christ revealed to them – can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both viva voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches – those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ form God. (Chapter 21).
The Rule of Faith alluded to above is described in chapter 13. The chart below compares that to the Apostles’ Creed.
|Apostle’s Creed||Prescription Against Heretics Chapter 13|
|I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth||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|
|And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord||first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son […]|
|Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary||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|
|Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried||[…] having been crucified,|
|He descended into hell|
|The third day he rose again from the dead||He rose again the third day;|
|He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty||(then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father,|
|From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead||[Jesus] 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 these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh.|
|I believe in the Holy Ghost||[Jesus] sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe|
|I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints|
|The forgiveness of sins|
|The resurrection of the body And the life everlasting.||[Jesus] 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 these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh.|
This post (and parts 1 and 2) should not be considered as endorsing all of the content of what Irenaeus or Tertullian have written. The goal has simply been to demonstrate that the early church had a core set of beliefs (historic orthodoxy) that were considered essential and united all of the churches. These beliefs were based on the teaching of the apostles – both what they had said and what they had written (Scriptures). The apologists and defenders of the faith relied on these essentials when exposing false teaching and anyone who denied these core tenets of the faith or proposed ideas that contradicted them were considered heretical.