Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone Why the Church Councils? An overview of their use in church history
Posted: Thursday, December 2, 2010 9:20 pm
By RB TOLAR
Special to The Messenger
“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.” Acts 15:6
The first 14 chapters of The Acts of the Apostles chronicle the early Church’s unchecked growth, even in the face of fierce persecution. New believers were hungry for the life-changing message of God’s grace in the cross of Christ.
It was not long, however, before the Enemy began to sow tares in the Church. False prophets — ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15) — began to rend the flock.
Jesus promised that the “gates of hell” would not prevail against His Church, a sure sign that Satan would be hard at work, attempting to destroy the work of the Kingdom of God. And so, in Acts 15, we read of false doctrine creeping into the ranks of believers.
Literally thousands were won by the teaching of God’s amazing grace in the work of His Son upon the cross, but a group arose for whom belief in Christ alone was not enough. Through the teachings of the Pharisees, Judaism had descended prior to Jesus’ birth into a complex maze of rules and regulations whereby men might, by careful observance, accomplish right standing before God: In short, a works-based theology was in place at the advent of Jesus.
These people, though they professed belief in Christ, wished to require observance of Jewish religious law in addition to faith in Christ in order that the Gentiles might be saved. Paul, observing this, called for a council of the apostles and other church leaders to meet in Jerusalem to inquire into the matter and issue a ruling on it.
Early in the life of the Church, we read of this first gathering of the Church’s leaders to consider a matter of controversy. Over the centuries, each time false teachers have attempted to graft their man-made doctrines onto the Gospel or to supplant the teachings of the Church, the Church has convened councils of her learned men to earnestly, diligently and prayerfully consider the matter against the light of Scripture and to render a judgment for the edification of God’s people.
At Nicaea, in AD 325, and in Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon in succeeding centuries, the Church dealt with erroneous teachings (which came to be identified by the term heresy) and pronounced anathema (see Galatians 1:8-9) upon such teachings and upon those who propagated them.
It has been observed that heresies in the church tend to follow one of two basic patterns: Christological (the nature of Christ: as in His divinity); and Soteriological (the nature of salvation, how it is accomplished, etc.).
In upcoming articles, we will look at several early church councils, beginning with the Jerusalem Council. As we examine each of these councils in the history of the early Church, it will become apparent that the same errors plague the Church to this very day. They merely resurface in slightly different form with a new name and updated, attractive packaging. In other words: “pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom.” (Genesis 3:6)
Let the buyer beware.
Editor’s note: RB Tolar, a member of Grace Community Church in Troy, is humbly grateful to be able to participate in this writing ministry.
Published in The Messenger 12.2.10
Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone