The attempts to redefine sex and marriage are nothing less than calling good evil and evil good. Sadly, many Christians didn’t realize how slippery the slope really was whenever they began to bend their convictions on matters like premarital sex and divorce. As we have seen from church history, we should hope to grow in doctrinal clarity through the present challenge.
According to His long-term providence, God always uses heresy and false teaching to doctrinally sharpen His church. Don’t get me wrong. Heresy and false teaching are always bad news, and we should by no means take joy or delight in them. However, when we are forced to face them (which will prove to be inevitable in this life), we should take comfort that if we hold fast to Christ and His Scriptures we will be sharpened and refined through the challenge.
That was the case with the New Testament era of the church. Since the church began in Jerusalem, it began as a pointedly Jewish movement. Soon, however, the gospel began to go into the all nations, just as Christ commanded. And although Paul always made a point of preaching first in whatever synagogues he found, he usually went on to find much better reception with the Gentiles. Thus, it was natural that one of the first major questions facing the church would be regarding its relationship to Judaism. Particularly, where Gentile Christians required to be circumcised and practice other Jewish rites like the dietary restrictions? The Apostles’ answer was unanimous and very clear: no, “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
In the following centuries, the church faced a number of Christological threats, the most well-known being Arianism in the early 300s. Arius was an elder in Alexandria who argued that Jesus was the first and supreme created being but He was not God. The bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, maintained that Jesus was truly God, and the theological rift between Arius and Alexander soon spread throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. To resolve this debate, Emperor Constantine summoned bishops from across the empire to gather at Nicaea and settle the matter. That counsel wrote the Nicene Creed, and although Arianism did not vanish entirely (indeed, it is still with us today via Jehovah’s Witnesses), the deity of Christ, which most Christians had always believed by assumption, was given greater clarification. The Athanasian Creed would go on to clarify explicit belief in the Trinity, and the Chalcedonian Definition would clarify the hypostatic union of Christ.
During the time of the Reformation, salvation and worship were the theological battlegrounds. Things were irrevocably set in motion when Luther posted his 95 Theses, issuing a challenge for a theological debate, particularly over the selling of indulgences. For Luther, the struggle was for the scriptural reality that our salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The Reformers rooted their arguments in Scripture and expressed that glorifying God ought to be every Christian’s ultimate goal. We, therefore, rightly associate the Reformation with the five solas: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and God’s glory alone. Clarity again followed. Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion to make instruction on the basic doctrines of the faith accessible to everyone, and while the Institutes are still very much worth the time it takes to read them, the confessions that we produced in the following hundred or so years better achieved his goal. Of course, Calvin and most of the other Reformers also wrote catechisms. Calvin went so far as to say in one of his letters:
Believe me, Monseigneur, the Church of God will never preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the seed to keep the good grain from dying out, and causing it to multiply from age to age.
Letters and Tracts Volume V, 191
To be honest, I think that is a slight overstatement, since Christ will ensure the preservation of His Church; however, I do agree that catechisms can play a significant role in maintaining doctrinal fidelity in the church.
Of course, you may be wondering what exactly is a catechism, and since we are studying through a catechism, that would be a helpful matter to define. Gordon gives good summary:
Creeds and confessions were originally written to provide summary truths of the Christian faith in the face of great theological error. Catechisms in particular provided short, concise summary statements, in question-and-answer format, on some particular doctrine of the Christian faith. These documents are intended to help Christians, especially children and those new to the faith, to have their minds trained in what Scripture teaches on a given point of Christian doctrine.
On the eve of Easter Sunday, a group of believers has stayed up all night in a vigil of prayer, scriptural reading, and instruction. The most important moment of their lives is fast approaching. For years they have been preparing for this day.
When the rooster crows at dawn, they are led out to a pool of flowing water. They remove their clothes. The women let down their hair and remove their jewelry. They renounce Satan and are anointed from head to foot with oil. They are led naked into the water. Then they are asked a question: “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?” They reply, “I believe!” And they are plunged down in the water and raised up again.
They are asked a second question: “Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and Mary the virgin and was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was dead and buried and rose on the third day from the dead and ascended in the heavens and sits at the right hand of the Father and will come to judge the living and the dead?” Again they confess, “I believe!” And again they are immersed in the water.
Then a third question: “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy church and the resurrection of the flesh?” A third time they cry, “I believe!” And a third time they are immersed. When they emerge from the water they are again anointed with oil. They are clothed, blessed, and led into the assembly of believers, where they will share for the first time in the eucharistic meal. Finally they are sent out into the world to do good works and to grow in faith.