As it was mentioned in a previous bulletin article, Christians during the first century suffered for their faith. Historically, this persecution was a localized effort, not something that was empire wide. Well, what was not empire wide soon turned to be—and it was fierce. But, in A.D. 313 the Roman Emperor, Constantine, issued an edict known as the Edict of Milan; this granted religious tolerance throughout the territories controlled by Rome, bringing the persecutions to a halt. It also made it somewhat “fashionable” to be a Christian. Along with the popularity of being a Christian, a problem of another making resulted. “Constantine’s edict of 313 opened the floodgates through which a mighty stream of corruption poured into the church” (Kuiper, p. 27).
With Christianity now an accepted religion by the state the local population soon began to make entry into the church environment. Consequently, it was not long before ideas came flooding in concerning a number of conflicting things. It is important to remember that some 300 years previous to the edict given by the empirical government the Lord had already set forth His will in Scripture. God revealed His word to man, His doctrine that pertained unto life and godliness. Everything God wanted man to know was available to him. Scripture (or the written record), unfortunately, was not something readily available in “book” form to every home. There was reliance on the part of the people to those few who had opportunity and capability to learn and teach. Some teachers, unfortunately, took advantage of this situation (position) and were manipulators. On the other hand, others conscientiously served the people.
But through the years, though many were very conscientious, competing and confusing ideas permeated the local churches. The confusing doctrines resulted in church council meetings being called to order. The first general council meeting called to order was by Constantine (the political Roman Emperor) in A.D. 325 (Nicaea). Before the next 200 years had come and gone there were 3 additional general council meetings called, and from these came creeds, or official church doctrines (teachings). Herein is a problem.
To have a “Church Council,” some people argue, has biblical justification (authorization) from the events in Acts 15. It was on that occasion the apostle Paul traveled from his missionary work (Antioch) to Jerusalem to convene with the apostles about a false teaching that was plaguing the Christian community. This event is referred to by some as the “Jerusalem Council.” It is important to note, however, that the so-called Jerusalem council had the sanction of the Holy Spirit, and not man. Paul wrote, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain” (Galatians 2:1-2, NKJV).
The importance of understanding this is in relation to who authorized it, and for what purpose. The Holy Spirit had already put in place His word for the Christian community, and during the first century He authorized the only church council He wanted convened. Consequently, there was (and is) no justification for men to collect and hash out particular doctrines and then set them forth in a creed (written or unwritten). If the word of God teaches it, that is the only creed one needs. This is not to say that the saints can’t gather together and engage in some intensive study, but setting forth a creed from that study is another matter entirely—and this was what the various church councils did after the time of the New Testament.