Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
Kingdom Civics

The Rule of Faith (2)


In the generation following Irenaeus, the lawyer Tertullian stood forth to carry the torch of orthodoxy forward.

…but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you… 1 Peter 3.15

The rule of faith

In the generations following the death of the Apostles, certain teachers began to offer strange interpretations of some of the most foundational Biblical doctrines. It became necessary for Christian leaders, such as Irenaeus of Lyons, to step up and, after searching the Scripture and researching what was taught in the churches of his day, to set forth a true understanding of the faith against the claims of heretics.

These took the form of lengthy refutations, diatribes, and apologies designed to expose false teaching and assert the orthodox faith for the better understanding of all believers. Included in these were “kernel declarations” of the Christian faith. These bare outlines of orthodox doctrine became foundational as rules of faith in laying a doctrinal cornerstone for the house of orthodoxy that subsequent generations would erect.

We have seen how the rule of faith set forth by Ireneaus served to clear up growing confusion on the part of many over how to think about the true faith and profess a sincere Christian witness. But the heretical teachers did not give up easily. In spite of such thorough refutations as Irenaeus’ Against All Heresies and the Apologies of Justin Martyr, false teachers such as Marcion continued to pour misinformation into the churches unto the turn of the third century. Each generation of the followers of Christ would, therefore, have to reassert the orthodox faith in ways that both faithfully interpreted the Scripture and spoke to the specific false teachings of their days.

In the generation following Irenaeus, the lawyer Tertullian stood forth to carry the torch of orthodoxy forward.

 Tertullian against the heretics

Tertullian of Carthage (fl. 196-212) was a prolific writer and trusted teacher throughout most of his ministry. Toward the end of his life he identified with a heretical sect of spiritualists; however, most of his writing yet has value for understanding the progress of doctrinal development in Christian thinking.

His Prescription of Heretics is a general broadside at those who depart from the truth faith in any direction, denying all heretics any use of God’s Word since, in crucial fundamentals, they depart from its central teachings. These he summarized as a rule of faith.

Tertullian saw two primary benefits from having such a rule of faith. The first was as a bulwark for the defense of orthodoxy against any false teachings: “Now as to this rule of faith – that we may from this point acknowledge what it is that we defend…”[1] Tertullian outlined the essential teachings of the faith along lines exactly parallel to the teaching of Irenaeus. Tertullian added a little more detail at each heading and included mention of the Kingdom of heaven as a “new promise” given by the risen Son of God.

He also enlarged on the ascension and reign of Christ as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit “to lead such as believe.” And then he offered a concise eschatological vision:

 "…he 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."

The mention of “their flesh” struck a blow at certain Docetist heretics who denied the importance of the flesh, since they denied that Christ came in it, saying he only “appeared” (Greek: dokeo) to do so.

The second use of this rule of faith, besides outlining the orthodox defense of the true faith of Christ, was to serve as a standard against which to measure any claims of truth:

"This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no questions except those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics."

Tertullian’s writings were recognized as consistent with this rule and helped to build out the foundation of orthodoxy through the third and into the fourth century.

A line of orthodox belief

From the Apostles through Irenaeus and Tertullian we thus have a line of orthodox faith which reflects the teaching of Scripture and provides guidance for future doctrinal development and assessment of all teachings in the Church.

These rules established a direction and framework for orthodox preaching, as well as a “working outline” for future doctrinal elaboration. As we see Tertullian adding substance to Irenaeus, without departing from his rule of faith, so subsequent generations of theologians and Church councils built on the work of Tertullian. He was the first to use the word, “Trinity”, with reference to the divine Being – although the idea is clearly there in earlier Christian thinkers. And, while Tertullian did not develop this idea, two subsequent centuries of further debate, discussion, and refutations of heretics would ultimately establish the doctrine of the Trinity on the solid ground of Scripture and in line with the understanding of Church leaders from previous generations.

These rules of faith are thus important in the development of our understanding of the foundational documents of the Kingdom of God. If we would be faithful to those documents we must, like our forebears in every generation, have recourse to the secondary documents of the Kingdom of God – the great doctrinal statements and treatises of the Church – beginning with the rule of faith.

Are your Bible reading and study practices what they ought to be? For a concise overview of how to study and apply the Bible, go to our book store and order a copy of Text to Transformation.



[1]Excerpts in J. Stevenson, ed., W. H. C. Frend, rev., A New Eusebius: Documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337 (London: SPCK, 1978), p. 165.

…but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you… 1 Peter 3.15

The rule of faith

In the generations following the death of the Apostles, certain teachers began to offer strange interpretations of some of the most foundational Biblical doctrines. It became necessary for Christian leaders, such as Irenaeus of Lyons, to step up and, after searching the Scripture and researching what was taught in the churches of his day, to set forth a true understanding of the faith against the claims of heretics.

These took the form of lengthy refutations, diatribes, and apologies designed to expose false teaching and assert the orthodox faith for the better understanding of all believers. Included in these were “kernel declarations” of the Christian faith. These bare outlines of orthodox doctrine became foundational as rules of faith in laying a doctrinal cornerstone for the house of orthodoxy that subsequent generations would erect.

We have seen how the rule of faith set forth by Ireneaus served to clear up growing confusion on the part of many over how to think about the true faith and profess a sincere Christian witness. But the heretical teachers did not give up easily. In spite of such thorough refutations as Irenaeus’ Against All Heresies and the Apologies of Justin Martyr, false teachers such as Marcion continued to pour misinformation into the churches unto the turn of the third century. Each generation of the followers of Christ would, therefore, have to reassert the orthodox faith in ways that both faithfully interpreted the Scripture and spoke to the specific false teachings of their days.

In the generation following Irenaeus, the lawyer Tertullian stood forth to carry the torch of orthodoxy forward.

 

Tertullian against the heretics

Tertullian of Carthage (fl. 196-212) was a prolific writer and trusted teacher throughout most of his ministry. Toward the end of his life he identified with a heretical sect of spiritualists; however, most of his writing yet has value for understanding the progress of doctrinal development in Christian thinking.

 

His Prescription of Heretics is a general broadside at those who depart from the truth faith in any direction, denying all heretics any use of God’s Word since, in crucial fundamentals, they depart from its central teachings. These he summarized as a rule of faith.

 

Tertullian saw two primary benefits from having such a rule of faith. The first was as a bulwark for the defense of orthodoxy against any false teachings: “Now as to this rule of faith – that we may from this point acknowledge what it is that we defend…”[1] Tertullian outlined the essential teachings of the faith along lines exactly parallel to the teaching of Irenaeus. Tertullian added a little more detail at each heading and included mention of the Kingdom of heaven as a “new promise” given by the risen Son of God.

 

He also enlarged on the ascension and reign of Christ as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit “to lead such as believe.” And then he offered a concise eschatological vision:

 

…he 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.

 

The mention of “their flesh” struck a blow at certain Docetist heretics who denied the importance of the flesh, since they denied that Christ came in it, saying he only “appeared” (Greek: dokeo) to do so.

 

The second use of this rule of faith, besides outlining the orthodox defense of the true faith of Christ, was to serve as a standard against which to measure any claims of truth:

 

This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no questions except those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.

 

Tertullian’s writings were recognized as consistent with this rule and helped to build out the foundation of orthodoxy through the third and into the fourth century.

 

A line of orthodox belief

From the Apostles through Irenaeus and Tertullian we thus have a line of orthodox faith which reflects the teaching of Scripture and provides guidance for future doctrinal development and assessment of all teachings in the Church.

 

These rules established a direction and framework for orthodox preaching, as well as a “working outline” for future doctrinal elaboration. As we see Tertullian adding substance to Irenaeus, without departing from his rule of faith, so subsequent generations of theologians and Church councils built on the work of Tertullian. He was the first to use the word, “Trinity”, with reference to the divine Being – although the idea is clearly there in earlier Christian thinkers. And, while Tertullian did not develop this idea, two subsequent centuries of further debate, discussion, and refutations of heretics would ultimately establish the doctrine of the Trinity on the solid ground of Scripture and in line with the understanding of Church leaders from previous generations.

 

These rules of faith are thus important in the development of our understanding of the foundational documents of the Kingdom of God. If we would be faithful to those documents we must, like our forebears in every generation, have recourse to the secondary documents of the Kingdom of God – the great doctrinal statements and treatises of the Church – beginning with the rule of faith.

 

Are your Bible reading and study practices what they ought to be? For a concise overview of how to study and apply the Bible, go to our book store and order a copy of Text to Transformation.



[1]Excerpts in J. Stevenson, ed., W. H. C. Frend, rev., A New Eusebius: Documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337 (London: SPCK, 1978), p. 165.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

Subscribe to Ailbe Newsletters

Sign up to receive our email newsletters and read columns about revival, renewal, and awakening built upon prayer, sharing, and mutual edification.

No items in cart