A clear summary of early Christian beliefs

In his post One of the Clearest (and Earliest) Summaries of Early Christian Beliefs, Dr. Michael J. Kruger quotes and comments upon a description of Christian beliefs written by Aristides, a converted Athenian philosopher, to the emperor Hadrian around 125 A.D. Dr. Kruger concludes:

This is a surprisingly thorough and wide-ranging summary of core Christian doctrines at a very early point in the life of the church. And it was this form of Christianity that was publicly presented to the Emperor. Once again, we can see that core Christian beliefs were not latecomers that were invented in the fourth century (or later), but appear to have been in place from the very beginning.

Did the earliest Christians believe in substitutionary atonement and imputation?

Did Jesus die in our place, bearing the punishment for our sins? In Did the Earliest Christians Really Believe in Substitutionary Atonement (and Even Imputation)?, Dr. Michael J. Kruger writes:

The average internet-level narrative goes something like this: the earliest Christians had no clear understanding for why Jesus died on the cross and what it accomplished. The idea of a substitutionary atonement is a late invention designed to retroactively explain the (otherwise embarrassing) death of Jesus. In fact, it was not until Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?) in the middle ages that someone came up with the idea that Jesus died in place of sinners.

Of course, such a narrative can be readily refuted just examining the writings of the New Testament itself–particular[ly] the letters of Paul. However, it is also worth noting that this view was held by some of the earliest Christian writers; in this case, by the author of the Epistle to Diognetus in the early second century. Here are some excerpts from the author that affirm key aspects of substitutionary atonement:

When the Good News becomes bad

In When The Good News Becomes Bad, Dr. R. Scott Clark gives an informative overview of the historical and biblical context for properly understanding the Gospel, and especially its distinction from the Law. Explaining the importance of the topic, Dr. Clark writes:

The word “Gospel” is so familiar and frequently used that it is possible to lose sight of its genuine meaning, “good news.” This question is vital as we face a series of movements within our churches which seek to redefine the meaning of the Gospel. In each case we are being offered “another Gospel” (Gal 1:6). The Good News of Christ faces a threat on the order of that faced by the Galatian Christians.

Law and Gospel: Luther’s Small Catechism on the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism demonstrates his pastor’s heart. The sections on the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed are introduced with the exhortation, ‘As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.’

Taking each commandment in turn (according to the Lutheran numbering scheme), Luther explains not only what is forbidden, but also the corresponding positive obligations that are implied (and taught elsewhere in Scripture). In this way, Luther gives a simple explanation of the Moral Law – God’s pattern for how we should order our lives.

By showing us how we ought to live, the Ten Commandments inevitably accuse us, demonstrating as they do how far short we fall of God’s standards. And, as James wrote, ‘whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all’ (James 2:10). The Law thus shows us our sinful, fallen state before a just and holy God. It demonstrates that we are deserving of His eternal condemnation.

Our sin having been revealed by the Law, we realize that we are unable in any way by our actions to earn or merit God’s favour. Apart from Christ, we are ‘by nature children of [God’s] wrath’ (Eph. 2:3). We begin to understand that we need Someone who will take away our sins, Someone whose perfect obedience will be counted as ours, so that we can stand without fear of condemnation before Almighty God. The sternness of the Law, then, makes us ready to hear the Good News of the Saviour whom God Himself has in His love, grace and mercy provided for us – even Jesus, His only begotten Son.

It is therefore no accident that Luther in his Small Catechism places the Apostles’ Creed immediately after the Ten Commandments. The second article of the Creed presents to us the answer to the Law’s demands: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for us.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus lived the life of perfect obedience to the Moral Law that we could not (Gal. 4:4–5). Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, bearing in our place the punishment for our sinful failure to keep the commands of our Creator God. Jesus died and was buried. On the third day, He rose from the dead, that those who are trusting in Him and His righteousness alone might be declared righteous before God. Jesus ascended into Heaven, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there, He shall return to judge the living and the dead.

Here then, are the first two sections of Luther’s Small Catechism.

Continue reading Law and Gospel: Luther’s Small Catechism on the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed

The Gospel for those broken by the church

You need to hear The Gospel for Those Broken by The Church (audio, video, PDF), a masterful presentation by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt of the Good News about Jesus. It is tailored for those who are mad at or sad about Christianity because of their experience with the church.

So, if you are one of the sad or mad ones, this is certainly for you. Or, if you know someone who has been hurt by the church (and you do), this will help you understand their experience and enable you to comfort them with the true Gospel. Perhaps you are a pastor? Listen to understand the confusion of Law and Gospel that too frequently occurs in our churches. Whoever you are – believer or unbeliever – this message is for you.

Dr. Rosenbladt begins:

This evening I want to address a particular problem: What a Christian might be able to say in conversation with people who see themselves as “alumni” of the Christian faith.

And, of course, I am not referring to those who have been translated by death from what Christians call the “church militant” into the “church triumphant!” I mean people we meet or know who say that they once believed that Christ and His shed blood, freely justified them before God, freely forgave their sin, freely gave them eternal life — but who add that they no longer believe these things.

It seems to me that in the four Gospels [roughly, the biographies of Jesus of Jesus authored by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John], virtually every person who rejected Jesus’ claims to be God and Messiah, the Savior of the world, went away either sad or mad.

First, I’m going to try to deal with today’s “sad ones,” the longing, the “having- given-up-on-Christianity” ones. Second, I want to talk a little about the Gospel of Christ for today’s “mad” ones, the angry ones.

Photo credit: Leanda Xavian.

A (very gentle) introduction to creeds, councils, and heretics

While on the topic of evangelical amnesia, the White Horse Inn offers by way of antidote a very gentle 35 minute audio introduction to Creeds, Councils & Heretics. Programme notes are also provided.