00.1 The Standard for Evaluating Church History

One of the tenets of interpreting the New Testament is that making doctrine out of the Book of Acts is a slippery slope. That is because it is recognized that the Book of Acts is a historical record. It is an account of what happened, not necessarily what was supposed to happen. For example, on the road to Damascus Paul is blinded by a light from heaven, falls to the ground, and heard the Lord speaking. Because this happened to Paul, does that mean when God moves in a person’s life they will have a similar experience? No, it does not. This is a record of what happened one time between the Lord and an individual. Yet this is verse that is the doctrinal explanation behind the practice of being slain in the spirit that is practiced in some churches today.

Another example is the Jerusalem Council talked about in Acts 15. The new Gentile converts were being pressured to be circumcised. Barnabas and Saul told the group of Apostles about the signs and wonders that God was doing among the group. Finally, James, as the apparent overseer or bishop, got up and proclaimed the word of the prophets that the Gentiles would be among the remnant of those saved. Therefore, they should just include the Gentiles without imposing any of the constraints of the Law. One could interpret this to say that this is an example where the bishop (James) made the determining ruling as the head elder. You might be tempted to use this as a guide to say that the head elder alone has the final say on doctrinal issues. But that would be missing a vital point. The point missing here was that the holy spirit was consulted. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” [Acts 15:28]

By the same token, many people just accept church history without ever evaluating whether it aligns with the law and prophets, or the Apostles doctrine. Saint Augustine wrote it so it must be right. After all, he is a saint, right? Or, some doctrine (theotokos, deity of Christ, celebration of Easter) was decided by a church council so it has to be right, right? The answer is no, it doesn’t.

The perspective taken in these writings is to evaluate how closely or not the development of the church followed the doctrine and examples of the original primitive church. I want to look to see if the church went off on a detour over the centuries, how far it went off. Each step of the way I want to see where the church looked for the leading of the spirit and where it went off on its own, reasoning for itself what it thought should be right.

© copyright 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

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