In the second century Gnosticism threatened to tear the young church apart. It was a heresy that taught that all matter was evil, Jesus was spirit, and that true salvific doctrine was passed down through a secret oral tradition. To combat this growing problem the early church father Irenaeus wrote a lengthy treatise titled Against Heresies. One of the methods used by the great church father was the rule of faith. In describing the rule of faith Irenaeus writes, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation .” This rule of faith would lay the groundwork for what would become the Apostles’ Creed. Ireneaus argues that the faith was given by Christ to the Apostles, and then to the bishops to whom the disciples appointed. This is what we now call Apostolic Succession.
The rule of faith also shows that Christ was truly incarnate, and that matter was created by an eternal God and not evil. The rule of faith was a vital part in combating gnostic teaching because it showed that they had no historical, scriptural, or apostolic support for the claims that they were making. It helped expose their schismatic and anti-scriptural view of Christianity. Irenaeus also appealed to Ephesians 1:10 in his refutation of Gnosticism. That passage of scripture states, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth .” The church was to be a unified body of believers with Jesus Christ as its head and the gnostic heresy was causing division. It is linked with the rule of faith in that there was only one faith handed down from Christ. There was not one faith for one group, and a special secret faith for a select few. The faith in Christ is available to all people and in that we should be unified.
The rule of faith previously cited is a great tool in confronting false doctrines in our own times, and in our churches. There is no shortage of false doctrine and some of these groups are outpacing evangelical churches in evangelization even though there number are smaller. The rule of faith is a great tool because it shows that the faith is not a new invention, but was passed down by Christ himself. It shows that Christ is God incarnate, and firmly teaching that the Trinity is one being with three distinct persons. Many of these groups deny the Trinity and showing scriptural support, and that it was taught from the beginning is good place to start. Whether it be in person, phone, or email dialogue about the truth can mean a lot to someone caught in false doctrine. It gives them someone to ask questions to and the Holy Spirit can plant a seed.
1. Olsen, Roger E. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 29.
2. Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Christian Classics Etherreal Library, retrieved May 19, 2018
3. Ephesians 1:10, New Revised Standard Version