Why should you uphold anything other than the catholic faith if you are true Christians on both sides? For I cannot understand for what reason a Christian can strive about the faith with a Christian; for whatever has been said by the orthodox Christian, who rightly glorifies God, the other will reply Amen, because he also loves and believes alike.
- Columbanus, Letter to Pope Boniface, Irish, 7th century
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
- 2 Thessalonians 2.15
Don’t miss the importance of Columbanus’ comment to Pope Boniface.
He found himself in the midst of a dispute between disagreeing parties of Christians, one side of which was represented by the Pope and his bishops, the other by Columbanus and his Irish missionaries. He reminded both sides in the squabble that there is a standard that governs the whole Body of Christ, whether in Rome or elsewhere, and that standard is the catholic (universal) faith – the orthodox teaching articulated by the apostles, then passed down through their disciples and the fathers of the Church to Columbanus’ day and, ultimately, ours.
The catholic faith, or the faith held by all true believers from the beginning, is found in the writings of the apostles. They show us how to interpret the rest of Scripture, and highlight the doctrines that are watershed issues for the life of faith. To get at the true understanding of Scripture, we begin with the apostles. Then, using the analogy of Scripture, in which we allow Scripture to be its own best commentator, we develop our understanding by comparing Scripture with Scripture, as the Holy Spirit teaches and leads (1 Cor. 2.12, 13).
Some of what they taught was passed down by oral teaching only, and was remembered by the second and third generations of those who learned from them. In the writings of those who are called the Apostolic Fathers, as well as in the apologists and theologians of the 2nd-4th centuries, some of the thornier matters of doctrine were hammered out through writings, convocations, and public debates. Their conclusions were then codified in such important statements as the Nicene Creed and the Formula of Chalcedon. When we look to the fathers, and to the early creeds and confessions they prepared, we are using the analogy of faith to help us in understanding God’s Word and will.
Both the analogy of Scripture and the analogy of faith are essential for maintaining in its purity the faith once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 1.3).
A “magisterium of the Holy Spirit” (J. I. Packer) has presided over the teaching and transmission of orthodox and catholic Christian faith throughout the ages of Church history. Nobody should consider himself to be above the orthodox tradition, and anyone who refuses to acknowledge and submit to that tradition can scarcely call himself a Christian.
For example, for someone to claim to be a Christian and to deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead flies in the face of the Biblical and orthodox catholic tradition. The Spirit declares this teaching in His Word, and He illuminated our forebears to explain the details of it, as far as is possible. Further, He has kept this teaching in the Church from the beginning.
The catholic tradition is what we profess to belong to when we confess the Apostles’ Creed; “the holy catholic Church”. The more we know about this tradition, the less likely we will be to stray from it in any area of doctrine.
That is some wise advice for our day, when many believers have but little regard for matters of Church history or sound doctrine. Doctrines and teachings held by many who profess faith in Christ today would not be acknowledged as anything other than a form of “near Christianity” by the likes of Columbanus and the fathers of the Church.
What about us? How certain are we that our most treasured convictions and beliefs line up well with the orthodox tradition, and the teaching of the apostles? The true unity of the Church, as well as her right and proper mission, must be grounded in a body of beliefs – to be lived, to be proclaimed – the same beliefs all believers, in all times and places, have always held to be true.
We are not Christians because we claim to be, feel like we are, or because we really, really want to be. We are Christian if we are catholic and orthodox in our belief and practice – in line with Scripture and the most ancient traditions of the Church. Period.
Only true belief “rightly glorifies God”. Hold fast to true belief, even though all the world opposes you.
Psalm 85.7-9 (Lyons: O Worship the King)
Lord, show us Your love; restore us, we pray!
And help us to hear the words that You say.
Speak peace to Your people; in truth let us stand.
We fear You; let glory and grace fill our land.
Lord, give us perseverance in sound doctrine, and help us to give faithful testimony to You, today and every day. Adapted from Patrick, Confession
The continuity of doctrine
It’s important that we understand both the overall thrust and teaching of Scripture, and how that teaching was crystalized into sound doctrine by our forebears in the faith. Our book, Kingdom Documents, shows you how Scripture unfolds according to certain key ideas. Then it takes you into the period of the Church Fathers, and explains how those early church confessions summarized and solidified Biblical teaching into sound doctrine. Order your copy of Kingdom Documents by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore
All psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Walker, p. 51.