This year marks the 500th anniversary of the origin of Protestant denominational churches. On the last day of this month, October 31, 1517, a Catholic monk and university professor named Martin Luther posted to the door of the church building in Wittenberg, Germany a list of 95 things that he felt needed to be debated within the Catholic Church that he found to be inconsistent with the New Testament Scriptures. That action created a firestorm that led to the formation of hundreds of different denominational churches today. But, Luther’s action did not start the process of creating division within the church of Jesus Christ…
Early Christians traveled around the world, taking the Gospel with them – the message about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. They had with them copies of the New Testament so they would have the teachings of the apostles with them to guide them. The Christians believed, based on passages like Luke 12:10-12, that the writings of the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, had the authority of Jesus Christ.
One of the first controversies the church had, as you might expect, dealt with the nature of Jesus Christ. To meet that controversy, and to distinguish between Christians who believed what the NT teaches and those who did not, the Christians developed the first creed. A “creed” is a statement of faith for public use; [they typically] contain[s] articles needful for salvation and the theological well-being of the church.” (Cairns, 114).
The first creed was called the “Apostles Creed” and was used in Rome in 340 A. D. Google “Apostles Creed” and read it. Eventually, Christians decided that you had to confess that creed before you could be baptized. You and I would agree with all its points. We can point to Bible verses where the apostles taught each of those points. But, we might easily argue that such a creed, as it stands, was not required by the apostles before they baptized someone (cf. Acts 8:37). The creed did not really solve anything. It separated some Christians who did not believe that you should require the recitation of a man-written creed before you baptized someone.
The Apostles’ Creed did not really stop the controversy. So, in 451, Christians felt compelled to add to the Apostles’ Creed in the city of Chalcedon. Google “Nicene Creed.”
Again, we could agree with the thoughts contained in this creed, not because it is in a man-made creed, but because we can point to some book, chapter, or verse written by an inspired man that teaches that point.
Here is the problem… In the West, there was also controversy over the nature of the Holy Spirit; is He a member of the Godhead? A church council convened in Toledo, Spain in 589 A. D. and they added to the Nicene creed that the Holy Spirit “proceedeth from the Father and the Son.” In Latin, “and the Son” is filioque. That created quite a controversy! In fact, that addition to the creed was a major contributing factor to the split between the eastern Christians (who rejected the addition) and the western Christians (who accepted the addition), which eventually developed into the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
The verse in dispute is John 15:26. Take a moment to read that verse. I think that verse is pretty easy to understand, don’t you? Jesus is going to send the Holy Spirit, from the Father, to the apostles so they can testify about Jesus Christ. Why does that verse have to create division? But the addition to the creed, made by the Western Church in 589 A. D., is a serious area of disagreement between these two groups even to this day.
I have spent a lot of time sharing this history with you for this reason: The creeds of men create division. The creeds of men create denominations. It is the creeds of men that split believers in Christ into various factions and divisions and create strife in the world of Christianity. My point is this: the church of Christ, in the NT, is not divided into various groups with their own creeds, manuals, etc. That’s what I want to emphasize this week… Study with me tomorrow.