As we look upon our religious culture in the 21st Century, it is becoming quite apparent that there are diverse "messages" out there, all proclaiming to represent the rightly divided Word of God. But they can't all be correct, since there are contrasting views within "the Church" on God's acceptance of homosexuality; on the relevance of spiritual warfare; on the definition of the Great Commission; on His acceptance of worshiping other gods (sadly); and even on how we are to honor rituals and traditions.
How do we know, these 2000+ years later, that we are in alignment with the teachings that Jesus commanded the Apostles to carry forward as "the Church"? From the very beginning, there was an ardent desire to preserve the Lord's teachings accurately and authentically. It's important for us to know how those teachings became theology and doctrine, and just how difficult it became to do that without letting human error creep in, whether consciously or subconsciously.
I hope you will suffer me to give a cursory history of the struggle to "rightly handle" the Word of God -- from the very beginning. Just in the first 300 years, Christ's teachings were rendered and interpreted through several groups which have become known as the Early Church Fathers. You have the "Apostolic Fathers", who were a group of early Christian leaders and authors who lived shortly after the 12 Apostles. Their writings are typically dated between AD 80–180. Most of the Apostolic Fathers are believed to have known the Apostles personally or were connected to them in some way. The apostolic church fathers were the ones like Clement of Rome who were contemporaries of the apostles and were probably taught by them, carrying on the tradition and teaching of the apostles themselves. Polycarp and Clement are considered two of the imminent Apostolic Fathers, and they soon became embroiled in presenting truth to counter the theological heresies of Gnosticism and Docetism. Gnostics believed that anything done in the body was inherently evil and sinful, but it didn't really matter, because real life existed in the spirit realm only. Docetism promoted that Jesus was never fully human; He only "seemed" to have a body, and may have been somewhat divine.
The ante-Nicene fathers were those who came after the apostolic fathers and before the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Such individuals as Irenaeus, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr are ante-Nicene fathers. The post-Nicene church fathers are those who came after the Council of Nicea in AD 325. These are such noted men as Augustine, bishop of Hippo, who is often called the father of the [Roman Catholic] Church because of his great work in Church doctrine; Chrysostom, called the “golden-mouthed” for his excellent oratorical skills; and Eusebius, who wrote a history of the church from the birth of Jesus to AD 324, one year before the Council of Nicea.
But even these zealous Early Church Fathers could not keep the Enemy of God from working his own agenda and begin infiltrating the Church with false and counterfeit teachings and doctrines. The Apostolic Fathers were passionate in presenting the gospel just as the apostles taught them, but became increasingly involved in defending the gospel from these heresies, rather than presenting Jesus's teachings in their purest and authoritative form. The very fact that the Nicene Council was convened in AD 325 is evidence that there was a growing fragmentation in the Church between various theologies and doctrines. What followed in the way of commentaries and endless examinations among these disparate groups undoubtedly has led to centuries of interpretations [and denominations] led by theologians such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and the post-Enlightenment theologians like Karl Barth.
As we consider this history, we have to ask ourselves this question: So, do all these varying religious opinions down through the centuries meet the approval of God by the standards He sets in His Word? Which of these messages come from human wisdom, and which are revealed through the Spirit of Truth in the Bible? Which messages rest in the wisdom of men, and which in the power of God?
These may seem like elementary questions, but I think we need to be very aware of the Enemy's tactics in these Last Days. I am seeing everything from a powerless Gospel being preached, to a dangerous message of unity among different gods and religions; that is not Biblical. The Word is the power of God to save us from eternal hell. But that Word must not be weakened, watered down, or compromised. The very definition of the word compromise is this: a middle state between conflicting opinions or actions reached by mutual concession or modification; an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions; the acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable. Do any of those definitions sound like they define the Nature of our God? Does He make concessions or allowances for His laws and commandments -- or ever lower His standards?
Yet, we are now paying the consequences in our society because of compromise; because of our willingness to undermine the Word of God by embracing cultural lifestyles that do not conform to the commandments of the God we pray to. There is no "happy medium" where God is willing to adapt His Glory, Majesty, or Sovereignty to fit our ideas of theology, justice or mercy. Nor is He willing to compromise His order of divine government with corrupted and unholy social ideologies that subvert His righteous rule of the nations. It is time that we, the true Believers in the One True God, declare our unyielding and unshakeable faith in the accurate Word of God. It's time to step into our authority to preach the Word as laid out in 2 Timothy 4:2: "proclaim the Word of God and stand upon it no matter what! Rise to the occasion and preach when it is convenient and when it is not. Preach in the full expression of the Holy Spirit —with wisdom and patience as you instruct and teach the people". No more compromise!
Thanks to the website gotquestions.com for the concise history of the Early Church Fathers.
I Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.
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