Searching for a church to call home can be a daunting task. If you look at their various statements of belief you will sometimes find very divergent points of view. Yet, Scripture says there is one truth, so how should we view the varieties of doctrine out there?
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
I can understand very well how someone might be confused or even discouraged when looking for a church. The Catholics claim they’re the only way, the Orthodox often claim the same, and yet neither agrees completely with the other.
Then you have the multitudes of churches that have popped up in Protestantism, many of which do not agree with each other on some fundamental doctrines of the Faith. Negotiating this milieu is nearly impossible for the average Christian who is not trained in theology such that they can determine the issues with confidence.
It is not easy for theologians even, as they have often been the reason for varying doctrines. My first bit of advice on this is not to give up on the truth. I know it might not be easy to discern it, but rest assured, it exists. You do not want to make the mistake, as many have, of just throwing your arms up and saying “Forget it! None of you has it right, so I’m just going to go my own way.”
That would lead to spiritual error as well. Be committed to the truth of the gospel, despite whether church A agrees with church B on any given issue. Second, understand that there are, and always have been, disagreements on doctrine throughout church history.
For example, there was confusion at one time on whether Jesus was the eternal Son of God, the Logos, or if he was simply “adopted” by God as His Son at His baptism. To us, the very idea that someone would actually argue against the divinity of Jesus is insane. Yet, that is exactly what happened.
There was a lot of turmoil, debate, anger, and division over the issue, as you might have surmised. It took a council of the leaders of the church from all over the world to gather together and hash the issue out for it to be resolved.
It was not a pretty affair, with angry words tossed around, charges of heresy leveled, and undoubtedly friendships destroyed as a result. But out of this volatile situation, the truth emerged victoriously, and you are now able to look back on this episode of church history and shake your head that anyone could ever have thought that Jesus was a mere man who was somehow adopted to be God’s son.
As church history progressed, so too did various false teachings and errors, each of which required the church to, again and again, gather together, argue, debate, and allow God’s truth to finally emerge. Some of those issues were:
- The consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit; The two natures of Christ.
- Monophysitism; Nestorianism.
- Monothelitism; The Filioque.
- Clerical celibacy; Iconoclasm.
- The heresies of Peter Bruys and Arnold of Brescia; The Albigensian heresy.
The list could go on and on. The point I’m making here is that the church has always experienced the problem of differing doctrines and the controversies they tend to bring. This is nothing new. However, the truth always emerges victorious, and the essentials of the Christian faith remain.
The Essentials of the Christian Faith
What are the essentials of the Christian Faith? They are set forth in the Nicene and Athanasian creeds in a systematic fashion. They include the essential biblical doctrines on things like God being the almighty Creator of all that exists, the Person and nature of Jesus Christ, His conception by the Holy Spirit, and the virgin birth.
It includes His sufferings and death for the sins of humanity, His burial and resurrection, His ascension back to the Father, the coming judgment of all, the nature and character of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the church, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life.
It is strongly recommended that you familiarize yourself with these historic creeds since they provide you with the essentials of Christian belief whereby you can compare and contrast the beliefs of any given denomination you might encounter.
These essentials are non-negotiable and are not subject to revision due to time, place, or circumstance. They are set in stone. Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“It is necessary to graciously respond to questions and to demonstrate from the Scriptures themselves how the heresies failed. It is necessary to show how in the truth alone and in the ancient church, there are both the most exact knowledge and the truly best set of principles.”
These creeds are taken entirely from Scripture, and if understood and used properly, they refute false teachings and are a tool for accurate discernment. This is precisely because they are the exact knowledge and set of principles Clement describes. Where these principles are taught, you have a solid foundation.
“Wherever it will be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith are, there likewise will be the true Scriptures, and the correct exposition thereof-and all the Christian traditions” (Tertullian).
Attacking the Truth
Keep in mind also that the Adversary, who is always at work undermining the mission of the church, is constantly working to destroy the unity of the Body of Christ (1 Peter 5:8). He works to disrupt the unity of the church by creating personality conflicts, introducing false teachings and practices, and by so exhausting the pastor and/or laity that they quite simply burn out and cease any meaningful ministry efforts.
What concerns us in this discussion is false teaching. It is of the utmost importance that you, the average congregation member, know what the Christian faith teaches, why it teaches those things and how to defend those beliefs. There is no room for lazy spiritual life.
Not if you want to be aware and discern false teachings as soon as they manifest in your congregation. Somehow, we have gotten to the point that most in the church are quite honestly incapable of doing any of these things, and as a result, we see rampant heresies and false practices.
One need only look at the Word of Faith movement, Shepherding, or Gothardism to see the poisonous fruits of such a poor knowledge of Scripture and basic Christian beliefs. If we are truly concerned with the wide variety of doctrines out there, all claiming to be the absolute truth, it behooves us to at least study the historic creeds so we can refute them (2 Timothy 2:15).
What Does This Mean?
So, the ball is in your court. We know that false doctrine has always been a thorn in the side of the church, we know where to find a knowledge of the truth and of the perfect principles of Christianity, and we know our responsibility to refute them (Ephesians 5:11).
For further reading:
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.