<I>Regula Fidei</I> (The Rule of Faith) What Distinguishes a Christian from a Pagan?
What is a Christian? Is Christianity defined by ethnic heritage, a particular political allegiance, by living according to a set of rules, or attendance at particular rituals? Are you a Christian just because you call yourself one? Many people in the world identify themselves as Christians, or are identified by others as Christian, because of ethnicity, politics, lifestyle, or worship choice. Are these valid reasons for assigning the label “Christian” ? Still others claim the designation “Christian” based on some existential experience with very indefinite boundaries or meaning. “I saw a light, and a great peace came over me. After that, I knew I was a Christian.”
These accounts vary greatly, but they usually find their meaning in subjective feelings, and communicate nothing about repentance, faith in Christ, or subsequent dedication to holy living. Many of the people who have these feelings would be difficult, if not impossible, to identify as believers by any other measure than their own testimony of a mystic experience. Others have had an experience only slightly removed from the existential--these responded to an evangelical appeal of some kind. The appeal may have been person-to-person, part of an evangelistic crusade, or by way of a television ministry of some kind, but other than that initial experience, or perhaps some minimal activity, that is as far as it went.
The two examples given have much in common The people in both categories know little about the Savior or the life of faith, they are not part of any corporate worship body, and they are not following Christ. To use a common evangelical clich, if they were charged with being Christian, there would be little evidence to convict them.
Back to our original question, then--”What is a Christian?” The Bible has a definitive answer to this question, as it does with most others. According to the Scriptures, Christians are those who have come to realize their own sinfulness before God and their inability to save themselves, have turned to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance, and have begun following and worshipping Christ, usually in some kind of corporate community of believers. We must also expand the definition a bit to include that to be considered a Christian, a person’s faith and life must conform to what the church has historically called the Regula Fidei, or The Rule of the Faith.
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and the brother of James,” (Jude 1) wrote to the church at large with this purpose: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3). Very early in the history of the church, God’s servants had to write to defend the Regula Fidei. Paul was amazed to find the Galatian Christians, only a short time after the preaching of the gospel to them, had been turned aside into “a different gospel.” (Gal 1:6) Paul also had to caution the Colossian believers against both philosophy and legalism (Col. 2: 8-10; 16-23), and had similar cautions in most of his other writings. Very early church tradition tells us that John the apostle wrote his gospel to correct the heresy we now know as Gnosticism, and he warns against false teachers in his letters (1 John 2:18-23; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11), as does the apostle Peter (2 Pet 2).
The apostles viewed the essence of Christianity to be the Person and Work of Christ made alive in the hearts of repentant sinners awakened by the Spirit of God through the preaching of the Word of God--but this was not viewed by them as merely a subjective existential experience. There was certainly the subjective, individual experience of faith in Christ, but there was also The Faith, a set of doctrines handed down as a sacred trust to be taught, believed, and defended. This set of doctrines is the core of Christianity; absolute, finite, authoritative for eternity, unchanging, and not subject to review by either the individual believer, the church, or society.
Over the centuries, this list of doctrines became encrusted with the barnacles of Greek and Roman paganism and philosophy, Imperial Byzantine and Roman law, and with ecclesiastical dogma separate from the Scriptures--but the core remained intact. The Waldensians, St. Francis, Wycliffe, the Hussites, the Reformers, the Puritans, the preachers of the great awakening, and other great Christian saints over the centuries have periodically broken the barnacles off and emphasized the core, the heart of the faith. The time has come for this to be done again. We need to answer a question, and act on the answer: What constitutes true Christian doctrine?
Like the age of the Apostles of our Lord, the Church today is overrun with apostles of a new “Christianity” that is not true Christianity at all. It is not a denomination--it is interdenominational. It is not a just a new doctrinal perspective. It is not about culture, or preference, or any such thing. This heresy is nothing less than a denial of historic Christianity, teaching a new faith in its place. This is a Collective heresy--not centrally organized at this point, but there are many common threads. Some parts of this heresy are at odds with one another, but they tend to cooperate, and they have one central underlying theme--a denial of orthodoxy.
This new heresy is characterized by:
- Worldliness--the concerns are all about health, wealth, self-esteem, and worldly well-being and possessions, or perhaps it is centered in some political identity of the left or the right.
- Ignorance of, neglect of, or downright denial of, the historic Christian faith
- An exaltation of the person and role of the “believer,” and a denigration and lessening of the person and work of the Redeemer. This exaltation of man and denigration of God is sometimes evidenced by distinctive doctrines which refer to people as “little Gods,” and which deny the historic teaching of the Trinity. It is also evidenced by a concentration on therapeutic concerns, a “touchy-feely” faith, and a neglect of the doctrines of sin and redemption.
- This modern heresy neglects the Scriptures, and twists the ones it does use, preferring to rely on modern-day “prophesies” by the leaders of the heresy, or by inserting secular psychology or left/right politics into the faith.
- This heresy will accept almost anyone or group as genuine if they exercise “the gifts of the spirit” under some veneer of Christianity or if they emphasize healing of the mind or body. (These last two items are not intended as criticisms of the charismatic movement, but only “where the shoe fits.”)
- The teachers of this new heresy who are aptly described by Scripture:
- Philippians 3:18-19 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.
2 Timothy 3:1-5, 7 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. . . . always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (NIV)
In reality, the teachers of the new heresy, and their followers, are little more than another species of pagans. They have baptized what Paul calls the “rudiments” of the world--they are worshipping a false “god” of their own imaginations, and they are foreign to the reality, the knowledge, and the community of The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints.
The problem is not just the existence, or even the growth and prosperity of the false teachers. The problem today is that many, if not most, professing Christians in mainline and evangelical churches are ignorant of even the most basic doctrines of the faith. Furthermore, as these church members have been educated and enculturated by the pagan way of thinking prevalent in society today, they are doubly weakened, and are easy prey for the heresies and cults that are growing swiftly. What is largely missing in American Christianity is a knowledge and appreciation of what doctrines distinguish Christianity from sheer paganism--what constitutes the absolute rule of the faith.
What should we be teaching?
The doctrines of central importance have several things in common. First, they are rooted in the Scriptures. The Bible is our only acceptable source book for doctrine and practice. Church traditions, church history, and the work of God’s servants in the past can help instruct us in the Scriptures, but all must be submitted to the Bible for judgment.
The central core of the faith is non-denominational. Forms of church government, style of worship, differing views on the end times, and even divergent views on the gifts of the Spirit are important issues, but they are peripheral to the faith. We are not saved or lost by our views on these matters. The central core doctrines of the faith are largely those that have been recognized by Christians since apostolic times. Some might object that the principles of Justification by Faith and Salvation by Grace Plus Nothing are innovations of more recent times, but they were plainly taught by the apostles. Furthermore, throughout history, there were minority groups and individuals that maintained the witness of the Scriptures to these things. The Reformation of the church in the 16th century was a reawakening and renewal of apostolic teachings that had been neglected.
The teachings of the regula fidei are accompanied in Scripture with strong warnings--whether it is the warning of John not to add to or take away from God’s completed revelation (Rev 22:18-19), the same apostle’s warning against deviations in Christology (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7-11), or Paul’s anathema against Judaizers (Gal 1:1-9), there are warning signs all along the way in the Bible to let us know that God is deadly serious about the heart of the Faith.
The central teachings of the Rule of Faith are all concerned with God’s redemption plan in some way--they involve the Cross of Christ..
Finally, the core doctrines of Bible Christianity are practical. These are not doctrines that you put up on a shelf to admire--they are doctrines that you can and must use in your everyday walk.
Overview of the Book
Briefly, the doctrines this book will examine are the following:
1. The Essential Christian Worldview--We all have a worldview, whether we realize it or not. This section asks and answers two questions--this set of questions and answers constitute the Christian Worldview. (a) What is Truth? and (b) Why are we alive?
2. The Inspiration, Inerrancy (which means “without error”), and Authority of the Scriptures--This is the most basic of doctrines for the believer. If we do not understand that the Scriptures are our final authority, then we can never be certain about the other teachings of the faith.
3. The Nature of God--What kind of God do YOU worship? The modern “god” is too small, he has no definite doctrines, his plans and providence are subject to man’s whims and desires, he is a cosmic wimp. The God of the Bible is The Absolute God, who is Sovereign, Holy, Just, Wrathful, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Immutable, Merciful, and Loving.
4. The Doctrine of the Trinity--the doctrine of the Trinity is the historic faith of Bible Christianity: no Trinity--no Christianity. No Trinity--No salvation!
5. The Person and Work of Christ--”What think ye of Christ . . .Who do men say that I am?” The answer to this question is the heart of hearts of the faith. Christ is Pre-existent, God Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, Coming Again.
6. Salvation: (a) By Grace, through faith, plus nothing. This is one of the major teachings that distinguishes Biblical Christianity from all other religions--Man cannot work his way to God, God must do it all. (b) Justification by Faith, plus nothing. The corollary to 6a--we contribute nothing to our salvation, and even our faith is a gift.
7. The necessity of a consistent Christian life (sanctification). “My Sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me …” (John. 10:27)
The goal of the author is to be faithful to the Truth, and to be clear in telling the Truth. May God make it so.