Classic Christianity 2019-09-21T12:17:47+00:00

 The voice of the CLASSIC CONSENSUS is one that has been accepted throughout history, whether sixth or sixteenth century, whether Africa or Asia, East or West.

The intention of CLASSIC CHRISTIANITY is to “set forth what is most commonly stated in the central Christian tradition concerning God” which runs deeper than the view of any branch of modern Christianity. 

In SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY: CLASSIC CHRISTIANITY, by Oden, the author’s intention is to “set forth what is most commonly stated in the central Christian tradition concerning God” which runs deeper than the view of any branch of modern Christianity. It is the voice of this deeper consensus which has been accepted throughout history, whether sixth or sixteenth century, whether Africa or Asia, East or West. The author follows the thread of that “ancient ecumenical consensus of Christian teaching of God” which has been embraced in the earliest creedal summaries of:

            “Irenaeus, c. AD 190; Tertullian, c. 200; Hippolytus, c. 215; Council of Caesarea, 325; Council of Nicaea, 325; Marcellus, 340; Cyril of Jerusalem, 350; Council of Constantinople, 381; Rufinus, 404; Council of Chalcedon, 451.” (Oden n.d.)

The classic consensus is viewed as true not because it has the most tallies, but because it “corresponds most truthfully to what has been accepted as true over the longest period of time and that the worshiping community knows of God revealed in history.”[1]

Christianity postulates that God took the initiative to encounter humanity.[2] This is referred to as revelation. According to classic consensus God has done this through reason, conscience and history. The faith of the worshiping community trusts the reliability of revelation and has come to know God’s name and character through His actions.[3] Over two millennia, primary, rational, interpersonal and moral attributes have been established and classified. Generally, all the attributes of God fall under the nature of God or the character of God. The ancient ecumenical classical consensus agrees that God is:

the source and end of all things, that than which nothing greater can be conceived; uncreated, sufficient, necessary being; infinite, unmeasurable, eternal One, Father, Son, and Spirit; all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-empowering creator, redeemer, and consummator of all things; immanent without ceasing to be transcendent, Holy One present in our midst; whose way of personal being is incomparably free, self-determining, spiritual, responsive, and self-congruent; whose activity is incomparably good, holy, righteous, just, benevolent, loving, gracious, merciful, forbearing, kind; hence eternally blessed, eternally rejoicing, whose holiness is incomparable in beauty.” (Oden n.d., 76)

The author moves from the name of God to the reality of God and puts forward that which has been said over two millennia regarding whether God exists and whether God is Triune.

The classical consensus first establishes the idea of God and afterward asks if it is possible for that idea to exist. After many inductive as well as a priori deductive reasoning arguments through the centuries the consensus is indeed that “reason confirms that to which Scripture attests, that God incomparably is.”[4] Whether God is Triune is also established by ecumenical teaching, from Scripture:

            “that the Father is God, that the Son is God, that the Spirit is God and that God is One. This is established by showing textually from Scripture that each of the Persons of the Trinity are divine because they are addressed by divine names; each of the Persons of the Trinity have divine attributes; each of the Persons of the Trinity do work that only God can do; each of the Persons of the Trinity are presented in the Bible as worthy of worship, unlike the angels who call themselves fellow servants of man. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. Lect. 7; Tho. Aq., ST 1 Q33; Quenstedt, TDP 1: 329; Watson, TI 1: 475; and Bavinck, DG 4).”[p111]

As for the work of this God who is believed to exist and to exist in a triune manner, it has always been believed by the universal church that “the one true God made all things. (Irenaeus, Ag. Her. 2.9.1, 2). God is ungenerate, without beginning, the original cause of the coming to be, sustenance, and destiny of all creatures (Letter to Diognetus 7.2; Tho. Aq., ST 1 Q44; Westminster Conf. 4). The making of the world by God is an indispensable clause of the creed and hence article of Christian faith (Tho. Aq., ST 1 Q46).”[p125]

It follows, by deductive reasoning that, if God has been correctly described and defined then it would be inconsistent with His divine justice, wisdom, holiness and omnipotence to not exercise providential care over His creation.

The author establishes that the study of God may be called a science and that the very notion of science is historically related to the study of God. He also points out that, at the same time, tradition is also an authoritative source of theology:

            “When conflicting interpretations of scripture arise, the classic rule of interpretation may be appealed to: “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you” (Deut. 32: 7, see also the proverb on “not removing ancient boundary stones; Prov. 22: 28; Vincent of Lérins, Commonit. 21, 27). (Oden n.d., 186)

Having provided us with the classical consensus of Christian teaching of God as found in creedal summaries, the author moves on to present to us that which has always been believed about Jesus by the worshiping community:

            “Christ is the central spot of the circle; and when viewed aright, all stories in Holy Scripture refer to Christ” (Luther, Serm. on John 3: 14). It is from Christ that Christianity derives its name, its mission, its identity, its purpose, its very life (Acts 11: 26; John 15: 1– 5; Augustine, Hom. on the Epist. of John 1). (Oden n.d., 213)

The faith of classic Christianity simply supposes that Jesus told the truth about himself when he said that he is the Son of God and when he responded with “I am” to the Sanhedrin. This is a key confession of the primitive oral tradition, amplifying other concise confessions (“Jesus is the Christ,” “Jesus Christ is Lord”).[5] The apostolic texts themselves declare that Jesus made himself known as Lord, Messiah, and Son of God. That which is foundational to Christology is proclaimed in Jesus and found in his own life. It is not based exclusively on the post-resurrection teachings of the disciples. This is the classical view.[6] The ecumenical consensus was summarized by John of Damascus:

We say that the Son and Word of God became Christ the instant that He came to dwell in the womb…. It is when the Word was made flesh that we say that He received the name of Christ Jesus” (OF 4.6; cf. Gregory Nazianzus, Orat. 30.21; Cyril of Alexandria, To Emperor Theodosius 28).

The primitive Christian confession received by Paul was “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor. 15: 3– 4; Chrysostom, Hom. on Cor., 38.2– 3).[7] The fact that Christ is both priest and sacrifice, and that his sacrifice was for others, has been a main point of classic teaching regarding the atonement. “Priest and victim, then, are one” (Ambrose, On the Christian Faith 3.11).[8] The purpose of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and intercession, according to the ancient account of Irenaeus (AD 180), was “to comprehend all things under one head [anakephalaiosasthai], and to raise up all flesh of all mankind” (Ag. Her. 1.10.1). Thus, the doctrine of exaltation is a key Christian doctrine, and a central feature of the ancient confessions of faith.[9] When classical Christianity looks at the resurrection, it beholds clarity, revelation, plausibility, and evidence of the highest order (Theodore of Mopsuestia, Comm. on John 7.20.17)[10] Christ’s teaching office continues through the church, the universal body of believers, which is the body of Christ. He has promised to be with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28: 20). He has entrusted the deposit of faith to us (Jerome, Comm. on Matt. 4.28.18– 20).[11]

The work of the Spirit has been far less studied and consensually defined than the work of the Son. (Ammonius, in Cramer, Catena on Acts 19.5).[12] The confessing community believes in the Holy Spirit, who “proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven” (Irenaeus, Ag. Her. 1.9.1) The earliest Christian teachers understood that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. This rule of faith was passed down by apostolic testimony from Jesus to the present. According to Tertullian, God “sent from the Father the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The classic consensus and truth that has come to man from God, and which the disciples and the apostles and the early church fathers believed has stood firm for two millennia, speaking vitally. This truth was “great and respected before the Saxon had set foot in Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca” (Macaulay, “Essay on L. von Ranke’s History”).[13] It will stand until the Holy Spirit, according to classic consensus brings all things to consummation. 

God rescues and delivers fallen creatures[14] Preaching draws the hearer toward repentance and a saving faith. The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin.[15] The Spirit works to restrain, convict, regenerate, indwell, baptize, seal, and fill (Owen, Works, 4,8).[16] The Apostolic teaching regarding the order of salvation is that one first repents, then believes, then are baptized and then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.[17] “Paul taught that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10: 9– 11, italics added; Augustine, Sermons for the Recent Converts 214.1).[18]

Justification is God’s declaration that any person who trusts in Christ’s atoning work is accounted as righteous (Theodoret of Cyr, FEF 3: 248– 9; Barth, CD 2/ 2: 125).[19] This is by grace and is a free gift.[20] Righteousness is imputed to us.[21] Without faith it is impossible to please God.[22] Elements of saving faith are; the assent of the mind[23] and a decision of the will in which the whole mind, heart, and soul are surrendered to God.[24]  “One is justified by faith alone, yet faith is not alone but accompanied by the Spirit’s fruits of good works (Leo I, Sermons 90). “The faithful are called to live as if raised from the dead (Col. 2: 12; 3: 1– 2), “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4: 24).

 “The Spirit comes to abide — to dwell (oikeō) in those newly born of Spirit (Origen, Comm. on Rom. 8.9). This gift is given to all who repent and believe (John 16: 12– 13; Chrysostom, Hom. on Acts, 24; Augustine, Tractates on John 96.4). The Spirit is acting to distribute gifts, baptize, and seal his promise to redeem to the uttermost (Bede, On 1 John 4: 13; Ambrose, Of the Holy Spirit 3.11– 14).”[25] The believer is sealed by the Spirit at the time of repentance and faith.[26] “To those who believe, he gives the renewed right of inheritance in the family of God, which John’s Gospel calls “the right to become children of God” (John 1: 13; Cyril of Alex., Comm. on John 1.9).”[27]

 “The life of the believer is united with Christ’s life. “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14: 20; Hilary, Trin. 8.15).”[28] Life in union with Christ is like communion with the risen Lord.[29] Birth and growth in grace occurs for the believer by their personal receptivity to the gifts of the Spirit.[30]  The Lord by his “one sacrifice” has “made perfect [teteleioken] forever those who are being made holy [hagiazomenous]” (Heb. 10: 14). This is a past act completed on the cross, but one in which believers already now participate.[31] The subject of sanctifying grace (theosis, union with Christ) is called sanctification[32]

The church is known by noting carefully what the church does.[33] In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus did not hesitate to describe the ekklēsia as “my church” in a highly personal sense— Jesus’ own assembly, his own called out people, and himself personally as their cohesion.)[34] Ekklēsia refers both to the act of congregating and to the community as a congregation. This community becomes ekklēsia by the repeated fact of its being summoned by the gospel, assembled to praise God. The church is precisely this coming together in response to God’s own coming.[35] The church is a bride, a flock, and a household of faith.[36] It is the Edifice of God and the Temple of the Holy Spirit[37] It is the body of Christ.[38]

In Protestant confessions these three cohere: “The true and essential and visible marks of this pure Church are the pure preaching and reception of the word, sealed through the lawful use of the sacraments and maintained by the use of the keys or ecclesiastical discipline, according to Christ’s institution” (Leiden Synopsis 40.45).[39] The “rock” to which Jesus referred in giving Simon the surname Peter was the revelation that he acknowledged when he confessed; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16: 16). Receiving a new name in biblical reference implied receiving a new life, a new identity, a new calling, a new responsibility.[40]

The future is not an optional topic for classic Christian teaching. It is intrinsic to all its other aspects. —Irenaeus, Ag. Her. 5, I[41] Protestant teaching on the end time summed up “the four Last Things: death, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and the end of the world” (Quenstedt, TDP 4; Schmid, DT: 625; cf. Ecclesiasticus 7: 40).[42] The spirits of believers at death are with God. They are the “spirits of the righteous made perfect” whose names are “enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12: 22, 23). Alive and conscious (Matt. 22: 32; Luke 16: 11; 1 Thess. 5: 10), they enjoy a state of rest and blessedness (Rev. 6: 9– 11). “The spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccles. 12: 7; Augustine, Letter 143). The souls of the righteous dead appear to enter upon this state immediately, according to Luke 16: 22 and Revelation 14: 13 (see also Phil. 1: 23; 1 Thess. 4: 17; Council of Lyon, SCD 457, 464; Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus SCD 530).[43]

Christ returns to earth at the end of history.[44] The sequence was rehearsed by Jerome: “When the multitude of nations will come in, then this fig-tree [Israel], too, will bear fruit, and all Israel will be saved” (Jerome, Comm. on Habakkuk 3.17).[45] It is believed that a “great apostasy” will precede the Lord’s coming and persecutions of the godly are to be expected[46] The lawless one will appear just before the final judgment. (2 Thess. 2: 9, 10; Augustine, CG 20.19.4).[47] Premillennialism was the dominant position among the ante-Nicene Fathers, Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 80.1), the Pastor of Hermas, the Letter of Barnabas, Irenaeus (Against Heresies), Methodius (On the Resurrection), Commodianus (Instructions 44, 4), and Tertullian (Ag. Marcion 3.24).[48] It is argued that the second coming is a single event.[49] The saints and martyrs and confessors will in some sense sit and judge with Christ by concurrence (Matt. 19: 28; 1 Cor. 6: 2, 3; Rev. 20: 4; Tho. Aq., ST supp., Q89.1; Wollebius, RDB: 185).

The church will be “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21: 2; Augustine, CG 20.17), being welcomed into the city of God (Rev. 21: 8– 10).[50] In the New Jerusalem the glorified saints will dwell in the bodies restored to them at the resurrection (Rev. 21: 2; Irenaeus, Ag. Her. 5.35).[51] There is no ecumenically received scriptural authority for the view that God arbitrarily or pre-temporally predestines persons to hell.[52]

 

 

[1] Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (p. 23). Harper Collins. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid, 15

[3] Ibid, 29

[4] Ibid, 104

[5] Ibid, 247

[6] Ibid, 325

[7] Ibid, 386

[8] Ibid, 422

[9] Ibid, 446

[10] Ibid, 457

[11] Ibid, 489

[12] Ibid, 502

[13] Ibid, 510

[14] Ibid, 560

[15] Ibid, 571

[16] Ibid, 564

[17] Ibid, 563

[18] Ibid, 581

[19] Ibid, 583

[20] Ibid, 585

[21] Ibid, 594

[22] Ibid, 599

[23] Ibid, 603

[24] Ibid, 605

[25] Ibid, 623

[26] Ibid, 632

[27] Ibid, 641

[28] Ibid, 651

[29] Ibid, 653

[30] Ibid, 663

[31] Ibid, 667

[32] Ibid, 655

[33] Ibid, 691

[34] Ibid, 695

[35] Ibid, 698

[36] Ibid, 708

[37] Ibid, 709

[38] Ibid, 709-712

[39] Ibid, 717-718

[40] Ibid, 761

[41] Ibid, 766

[42] Ibid, 769-770

[43] Ibid, 784

[44] Ibid, 795

[45] Ibid, 800

[46] Ibid, 801

[47] Ibid, 801-802

[48] Ibid, 810

[49] Ibid, 810

[50] Ibid, 838

[51] Ibid, 834

[52] Ibid, 828

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Oden, Thomas C. A Systematic Theology: Classic Christianity. Toronto: HarperCollins e-books, n.d.