Come and See
Ancient authentic Christianity is not Judaism for Gentiles. It is biblical, creedal, sacramental, and liturgical. The New Testament is dependent on the Old as it is being written. The first preaching and teaching of the Christian Good News is from the Old Testament demonstrating that what the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has done in Jesus Christ is not only consistent with the Old Testament but is its fulfillment. God’s Incarnate Son Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, is the fulfillment of the promise to Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12:1-3. He is the fulfillment of the promise to David of an everlasting dynasty (2 Samuel 7). It is this same Lord Jesus, true God and true Man, who teaches the one true God is Triune, a community of persons within Himself. The one true God is Father-Son-Holy-Spirit.
There were other stories competing to be embraced. These were rejected by the early Church as inconsistent with the apostolic witness they had received. Among them was: 1) Arianism that taught Jesus is not one with the Father, making the crucifixion of Jesus not necessary to salvation; 2) Gnosticism that taught matter is corrupt and thus the Christ is Spirit and not flesh, making the crucifixion of Jesus not necessary to salvation; 3) Judaism as the essence of Christianity, requiring circumcision and the observation of dietary laws and Jewish festivals, making the crucifixion of Jesus not necessary to salvation.
The Nicene Creed, with the exception of the “filioque” (and the Son) clause, brought the chief teachers and theologians of both East and West together first at Nicea and later at Constantinople in the 4th century to address the threat and challenge to the apostolic witness presented by Arianism, Gnosticism, and some other stories purporting to be the Christian Good News. Indeed the formulation of a New Testament canon (the present list of 27 books) was the direct result of these other stories. When one hears about the so-called lost biblical books, one needs to know these were never lost. They were rejected as sub-evangelical…beneath the gospel, the Good News of Jesus.
As others have said far better, the old stories or heresies (from the Greek word “heresis” meaning to choose wrongly) never go away. They keep getting recycled with new makeovers. It is perfectly clear from Acts 2 that continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread (the Lord’s Supper) and prayers (liturgical worship inherited from Judaism) was the pattern of the early Church. When Paul speaks to problems in the Corinthian church in his first letter, among these are problems with how the Lord’s Supper is celebrated and how some emphasize the gift of glossolalia (speaking in ecstatic prayer language) to the detriment of Christian worship and the unity of the church. He urges clear understandable teaching of the Good News over ecstatic speech. He urges a right celebration of the Lord’s Supper. And he deals with a variety of ethical problems that are a direct result of the pagan culture that took God’s good gift of sex meant for monogamous heterosexual marriage and turned it into “anything goes.” In Galatians, Paul deals with the problems caused by Judaizers who don’t understand that the Christian Gospel is rooted in the Old Testament but is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The United States is a mission field for ancient authentic Christianity. From the threat of entrepreneurial mega-churchism which is gnostic in worship and heretical in its understanding of the Good News to the threat of arianist cults born in America to the new paganism of the so-called nones, there is no shortage of opportunities for the ancient faith to be preached as biblical, creedal, sacramental, and liturgical. Because many pietistic American Christians do not know the history of Christianity or the origins of the ideas they embrace, those devoted to authentic Christianity must be patient and persistent in our teaching and practice. The great reformer Martin Luther was always committed to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. His singularly greatest contribution to the Christian conversation was to remind those who preach and teach never to waste the death of Christ.
That is what is always at stake with any heresy or bad Christian practice. If the death of God’s Incarnate Son Jesus is wasted by bad preaching and teaching, the Good News is lost. What is worse than that? That people will be left dead in their trespasses without hope of forgiveness, eternal life, or salvation. We preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified for sinners. Baptism is necessary. Faith is a gift. The Eucharist is the essential act of Christian worship. Those born dead in their trespasses cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him on their own, because the dead can do nothing to save themselves. Search the Scriptures always asking: “If I believe this or teach this, will the death of God’s Incarnate Son Jesus still be necessary?” This is the ancient Christian faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
If you are tired of swimming in the shallow end of the pool or just exhausted from the hopelessness of Christless-Christianity, then “Come and see.” Begin a conversation with me at the next New Disciples’ Class on Saturday, January 13, at 9 a.m. in our church library. Visit St. Matthew’s next weekend. The sermon will be entitled “The Incarnate Word: Going with Him” (John 1:43-51).