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Review: Does our aversion to creeds neglect the rule of faith?

Our daughter attends a Christian university and recently went to a large, off-campus Bible class. Somehow the topic strayed onto the Apostles’ Creed (“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth …”), and the teacher asked whether anyone could say it.

Darren Williamson | In PrintAs my daughter began to raise her hand, the teacher quipped, “If you can, then you probably didn’t grow up in a Church of Christ.”

This anecdote illustrates our fellowship’s aversion to creeds — and reveals an increasing openness to forsaken features of historic Christianity. I view this openness as a positive development but recognize that we need thoughtful guides to help us as we explore parts of the neglected Christian tradition.

Everett Ferguson, a prominent historian in the Churches of Christ and world-renowned expert on early Christianity, is one of those trustworthy resources. His book, “The Rule of Faith: A Guide,” is a fascinating work that specialists and church leaders alike will find intellectually stimulating and practical for the life of the church.

Everett Ferguson. “The Rule of Faith: A Guide” (Cascade Companions). Cascade Books, 2015. 104 pages. $14.Much of the slender volume is a scholarly, detailed explanation of the “rule of faith,” a collective term used to describe the message that post-apostolic Christians preached, confessed and affirmed — often in the face of persecution and threats from dangerous heresies. Ferguson expertly and extensively details the various “rules” of writers such as Clement, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Augustine. Early Christians viewed the rule of faith as a distillation of the preaching of the apostles and as an expression of the core teaching of the New Testament that could be articulated in different ways while retaining the same message.

Most studies of the rule of faith focus on the way that it eventually transitioned into a formalized creed, but Ferguson emphasizes the function and purpose of these summaries and argues that they remain valid in the 21st century church.

The final chapter brings home this conviction and highlights the continuing relevance of the rule of faith. The ability to succinctly articulate the faith obviously helps with evangelism, but it also helps to equip and hone the thought of leaders who are charged with feeding and protecting the flock. As in the early church, the rule of faith provides parameters for biblical interpretation and can prevent bizarre interpretations of Scripture from gaining a foothold. It can play an important role in protecting the church from major doctrinal challenges.

The rule of faith also has great potential for encouraging unity because it continually encourages us to make distinctions between central and peripheral doctrines. It helps us keep in mind the big picture of what God has done — and is doing — in Jesus Christ.

I also would add that the rule of faith has an important role to play in worldview training for children. Once per week, during family worship, we recite the rule of faith (through a modified version of the Apostles’ Creed) to instill the core message of Christianity into the minds and hearts of our children.

The rule does not replace Scripture but comes alongside it to provide a framework into which specific passages can be placed. We pray it will pay big dividends in the spiritual development of our children as they engage an increasingly pluralistic and secular culture.

For all these reasons, Christians will do well to rediscover and embrace the rule of faith, and we are fortunate to have Everett Ferguson as our guide.

DARREN WILLIAMSON is preaching minister for the Keizer Church of Christ in Oregon. He is an adjunct instructor at George Fox University.

Filed under: Reviews

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