In the framework of the church, doctrine is the set of beliefs that are held and taught as truth. What people believe is important. In the words of Paul, doctrine has the potential to “save” you and those that listen to you. Christianity is composed of some basic doctrines that are considered as essential. The early Christian Church wrote creeds which expressed the doctrinal Orthodoxy necessary to form unity. (Orthodoxy means “right opinion.”) The first well-known creed was released in 180 A.D.; and is known today as the Apostles’ Creed.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
(Catholic verses catholic. Capital “C” Catholic refers to the formal Catholic Church. Small “c” catholic refers to the universal church or the church at large) The Apostles’ Creed identifies the backbone of Christian Orthodoxy. Seems pretty complete. It is what we as Christians hold in common as to what we believe. Do you notice anything essential belief missing in the Apostles’ Creed?
There is no mention of the Bible in the Apostles’ Creed. Amazing…all the essential doctrines covered in the Apostles’ Creed without mention of the Bible. The Bible was not officially “canonized” until over 200 years later after the Apostles’ Creed was published. So, the Apostles’ Creed was the theological glue that held the Church together. Beyond the Apostles’ Creed, what did the early church believe and what was their source for teaching and the formation of doctrine? Acts 2:42 tells us that the church devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles. The teaching of the Apostles would have included the stories concerning the life, ministry and teachings of Christ; which eventually became the Gospels; the writings, lessons and letters of Paul, Peter, John, the writer of Hebrews among others; which were passed around, used, and then recognized as being sacred. Essentially, our Bible (the New Testament portion) was formed and canonized around the teaching of the Apostles.
The Challenge of Doctrinal Distinctives. Most denominations have what are called “Doctrinal Distinctives.” These doctrinal distinctives are what divide the Body of Christ into different sects; which we call denominations. These distinctives often amount to the reason one group of churches cannot fellowship with another group of churches. This division in the Body of Christ is not new to Christianity. The Apostle Paul addressed the Church of Corinth about this problem.
1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (ESV) I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Even with this stiff warning, Christians often label themselves as someone who is characterized as an adherent of someone other than Christ.
Questions to Consider: (Please think about the answers and be prepared to discuss at the next Core Group Meeting)
- What would you say are the essential doctrines that are necessary for salvation?
- Can you think of a doctrinal “distinctive” that has divided the Church into different camps of theological thought? (Tell us your understanding of why this doctrine has created division)
- What are some popular doctrines taught in the church that you would consider non-essential to salvation?
- How can we create unity with people who hold fast to their particular doctrinal distinctives?