Before you could buy a Bible at any bookstore . . . no, before there were any bookstores . . . no, before there were any books . . . no, before most folks could read, sharing the Gospel must have been pretty stinking tough. Imagine if a member of Churches of Christ hopped in a time machine and went back in time to proselyze the nations some fifteen hundred years ago – man would they have problems. We would want to show them the book, chapter, verse evidence for what we say – problem is the vast majority wouldn’t be able to read. The good thing is, they would probably listen to you just because you could read – but that’s besides the point.
The world was like this for several centuries and yet the Gospel spread. Trying to imagine a world like this is near impossible for me. My world revolves around reading: the newspaper, books, magazine, and of course blogs. Imagine how difficult it would be to learn. Imagine the difficulty in communication. And yet, as I stated above, the Gospel spread – and it spread unlike it spreads today. Why is that?
Enter the rule of faith. The rule of faith was a summation of the Gospel. Let’s face it. If you don’t have a bound copy of Scripture with you, and the people you are talking with can’t read anyway, it’d be pretty tough to memorize the entire Bible (and keep in mind the Bible wasn’t even bound for a few centuries). So the rule of faith became the vessel. It was short and to the point. It was concise. Eventually it took the form of the Apostle’s Creed. In my current read (see sidebar) I read an interesting article last night that discussed how our leaving the rule of faith behind has led to the incredible division in Christendom. No doubt it is too simplistic to blame all of our disunity on this one problem, but I think there is a great message there.
In Churches of Christ (where I come from), we don’t have much of an idea of what unity is all about. I pick on us because that is where I am, but I don’t think many denominations have much a clue. As the rule of faith survived in the early centuries of the church debates began to arise as to the exact meaning and interpretation of the words and phrases. Some were important discussions. Some were superfluous. However the disconnect between churches and the rule of faith widened. The Reformation heightened the disconnect, and the Enlightenment helped the church nearly lose sight of the rule of faith all together.
It is time for us to recapture the Rule of Faith. The discussions and divisions that I’ve witnessed are never about these key, fundamental “rule of faith” issues. We have far complicated what Jesus set out to simplify. When did faith become such a test of intellect? Imagine where the poor uneducated, illiterate would find themselves in our churches today.
Beyond the monotheistic proclamation of the one Yahweh God and the trinitarian acceptance of the Father, Son and Spirit carried out through his one church within the confines of the kingdom entered through baptism and participated in regularly through the communion of the saints . . . what test of “doctrine” do we need? It scares some folks to death, but what do we have to be scared of? Why do we live in such fear of the “liberals” or the “heathens” or the “pagans” or the “false teachers”? Is God not sovereign?
We must live by grace. Give folks the benefit of the doubt. Expect that God would accept those worshipping in his name rather than approaching them with a cloud of doubt. How dare we! I am ready for churches to get serious about unity. What if we could unite locally inter-denominationally instead of always relying on denominational support from across the country? A local effort of local churches would mean so much more to the unchurched than some national board of church directors. Let us recover the rule of faith . . . surely that goes beyond cliches and pat answers.