What us modern Christians have in our heads about Christianity is different in many respects than the apostles. Thus, doctrines and ideas have developed, they have changed, they have evolved. But the developments are valid only if the apostles would approve of them had they thought of them.
Certainly no one believes the modern doctrines of Systematic Theology were fully developed by the early church. Rather, starting from the Bible they then begin the centuries-long process of determining what it says and means.
We should ask why doctrines developed over time? You would think the biblical doctrines would be clear to everyone right away, not requiring centuries to evolve under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Doctrines should come from the Bible, straight out of the Bible, fully developed. And anyway, the Bible doesn't mention if doctrine should develop like this.
The goal of studying doctrinal development is to obtain the list of true, apostolic doctrines.
Some examples of doctrinal developments...
- The essential Christian doctrines: none of them are merely quotes from the Bible but, rather, are developed statements (supported by the Bible).
- The uniquely Protestant doctrines were developed (invented) by the Protestant Reformers (revolutionaries) 1,500 years after Christ.
Good enough for the early Christians?
The Christians of the apostolic era did not have our modern versions of doctrines and it was good enough for them. Perhaps there is no need to have any doctrinal development at all?
Certainly heretics prompted the bishops to define doctrines for avoiding false views. But now with these heretics no longer on the scene, perhaps we no longer need those doctrines? Perhaps the only purpose of developed doctrines is to refute heretics who promote false ideas, but they have no value apart from that?
Well, anyway, I'm not pressing this point.
What is Doctrinal Development?
What it is; what it is not...
What it is not...
- Human invention of false doctrine.
- Changing of Divine truth.
- A naturalistic evolution of ideas.
What it is...
- The clarification of Divine truth.
- Expressed in terms the current culture can understand.
- Expressed in deeper ways since over time there is an ever-growing body of knowledge to build upon.
- Consideration of truth in response to heretical attacks.
- Defining ever more detailed descriptions of a particular topic.
- Responding to the needs of the faith community by addressing their current concerns and needs.
- Based on insights gained through careful study of a topic.
What does it mean that doctrine developed? A key factor: there was change over time.
The process of doctrinal development — my take...
- The apostles and only the apostles are the source of Christian truth. The Holy Spirit founded the Church with them; they were its first leaders, its first teachers; they wrote the New Testament.
- We should only embrace ideas the apostles actually had clearly in their minds. In other words, Jesus taught these doctrines to them.
- The Bible yes, but also the writings of the early church fathers; some were direct disciples of the apostles. All were close to apostolic teaching.
- For early church practice we should look to the writings of the early church fathers of how the apostles set up church services and church governance. Not all this is in the Bible.
Point #3 above is key: it's how we know the Eucharist is not merely symbolic and why we embrace the doctrines of the Nicene Creed (except the part about God being a substance, and except the filioque cause).
Regarding point #2 above: the Nicene Creed is believable and apostolic because the apostles clearly had in mind the ideas expressed (even though they did not state them in the same terms).
The process — how it works
Many who consider doctrinal development start with the Bible. Yet even the Bible developed...
- Inspired writers wrote letters and books.
- Uninspired writers also wrote letters and books.
- These writings became available to various congregations. Not all writings were available to all congregations.
- Heretical ideas developed using these writings as support.
- The early church fathers fought heresy and wrote about it.
- The bishops began to sense the need for an official, authoritative list (canon) of books in the Bible.
- They formed various opinions about which books should be included in the canon. These lists with detailed discussions appear in their writings.
- They developed the idea that this canon of scripture was inspired and inerrant.
- They determined the canon in several councils, especially: Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. (This list includes the so-called Apocrypha of the Old Testament, more properly called, the Deuterocanonical books).
Of course, the early church fathers and bishops didn't wait until the canon was officially determined to start developing doctrine. Passed on to them from their predecessors were various writings (both inspired and uninspired) as well as verbal tradition. The process of developing doctrine...
- Each early church father and bishop started with knowledge they acquired from various sources both written and verbal.
- They felt the need to define a doctrine either in response to heresy or to instruct the faithful.
- They synthesized the various bits of knowledge into new doctrinal statements which they passed on to others and often wrote down.
- The entire set of early church fathers over the first few centuries of the Church collectively had a wide range of views. There was a need to accept some of these views and reject others.
- For any particular doctrinal topic the various early church fathers had varying opinions about how all these views should be synthesized.
- As time went on it became more and more apparent there was a need to formulate definite official, authoritative doctrinal statements. This was often necessary to combat heresy so the faithful would not be led astray.
- They began meeting together in church councils to discuss the various doctrines. This went on for centuries.
- For each particular doctrine there was a final doctrinal formulation which is accepted today (some even by Protestants) as the correct doctrine (but we should note that each Church or denomination has different views about which statement is the correct one).
- After much time, all the major essential pre-reformation doctrines were developed.
- During the Protestant Reformation the various reformers developed entirely new doctrinal statements for a variety of issues. They claimed that these new doctrines were the true, correct, Biblical doctrines (but expressed in new words and phrases since they are based on a synthesis and interpretation of the Bible).
- Each reformer had his own variation of these doctrines. Even today each denomination has their own particular set of doctrines.
- Even today there is continuing doctrinal development in various Protestant denominations.
Isn't the Bible Sufficient?
Apparently not. Even Protestants use other books to define and defend doctrines, for example, commentaries in Bible study.
If they really believed the Bible was sufficient they would have no other books or writings — they would merely read and recite the words of the Bible as they are written. But instead, they interpret and synthesize the words of the Bible and proclaim these new "truths" in their sermons and in their various Christian books.
Is there a set doctrines so foundational that there was no need for them to develop? Starting from the Bible as the only authority, doctrines which have not developed are those which can be directly read from the pages of the Bible. But there are no doctrines of this type; rather, the various supporting passages must be selected, correlated, compiled, interpreted, synthesized, summarized, and finally stated in words other than those in the Biblical text.
The Bible a Book of Systematic Theology?
In listening to Protestants claiming the Bible is all that is needed in matters of faith, we should expect to find a book of the Bible defining all topics of theology in a systematic way. But we cannot find such a book or letter in the Bible.
Even for those rare topics having extended passages (such as virginity in 1 Corinthians 7, or the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15) we find that Bible scholars use many passages when discussing each particular doctrine. They have to bring together the various passages speaking about each particular topic. You would think if God intended that the Bible was all that was needed, it would be organized so we don't have to search for related passages like a needle in a haystack. But the Bible is not all that is needed — the Church provides Holy Spirit-inspired teaching and defines true doctrine.
We can purchase many books of Systematic Theology written by various scholars and representing the views of various denominations. But why do we even need such books at all if the Bible is all we need? And, of course, each particular theological system has its own particular doctrinal statements — there is not a general agreement among Protestants about the details of many doctrines.
If Christians really believed that the Bible were really all that was needed, their church services and worship services would be different. Here's the changes we would expect to see...
- Hymns and choruses would be direct quotes from the Bible. There would not be a joining together of passages from different places to compose songs (because this takes human creativity which is outside of the Bible).
- There would be hymns and choruses from all passages in the Bible (since the process of determining whether certain passages are more appropriate than others for use in a worship service is information that originates from outside the Bible. For example, why should we prefer to use verses from the book of Psalms but to not sing the genealogies in the book of Chronicles?)
- There would be no sermons or homilies at all. Instead there would merely be extended Bible readings. (In preparing sermons, the preacher must use his intellect and reason which are outside of the Bible and originate from man).
The Bible should have the following features since this is the way many conduct their church services and Bible studies (but alas; none of these are in the Bible)...
- A hymn book with the total collection of the words for all the hymns and choruses that are needed for the church (it should also include the melodies, chords, and arrangements).
- A book of Systematic Theology.
- A book containing the text of all sermons and homilies to be used (Martin Luther provided this and he expected all Lutheran preachers to preach exclusively from it to keep them from talking about "blue ducks").
- A book which lists and defines all doctrines.
- A book which describes all church practices including the many details of how to conduct a church service or Bible study.
- A book that defines the "true" denominational statement of faith.
- A book of Moral Theology.
Straight Out of the Bible
I present the notion we should only use Biblical truths straight out of the Bible. Why, you might ask? Because of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. If the Bible is all that is needed, then it is all we should use.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is a foundational doctrine for the various denominations (and non-denominational groups) which ultimately had their roots in the Protestant Reformation (but some wish to distance themselves from their roots, from these reformers).
Certainly, most Protestants believe that biblical exegesis is valid, and that formulating biblical truth in terms going beyond the biblical statements is valid. Thus denominations each have their Systematic Theology, creeds, and denominational statements of faith. But I propose the alternate idea that this "reformulation" and "restatement" of the words of the Bible is contrary to the spirit of Sola Scriptura of the Bible as the only authority for matters of faith and salvation.
By allowing interpretation of the Bible they have inadvertently made their own interpretation more authoritative than the words of the Bible itself. When I studied the Bible as a Protestant I tended to understand the meaning of the words from the pre-formulated framework of what it said based on what I was taught by the various theologians I studied. This was especially true of the so-called "difficult" passages which, on the surface, appeared to make no sense at all (but since I've learned of Catholic teaching, these now make perfect sense).
Christians should all seriously consider their sources of authority and knowledge from outside the Bible.
Doctrinal Development by Protestants
I generally try to avoid mocking Protestant teaching, but for topics such as this, I simply must. Key doctrines introduced by the Protestant reformers (revolutionaries) have warped the Church. I should mention that I consider these to be great men of God who lived in difficult times having extreme Church corruption. (Note: False Catholic and Orthodox teaching have also warped the Church; I mock these elsewhere).
At the same time that certain foundational universally accepted doctrines were being developed (in the early centuries of the church), those doctrines accepted even by Protestants; alongside these and at the same time, the distinctive Catholic doctrines were also being developed (for example, church authority and ordination, the pope, the Eucharist, Marian devotion, etc.). What basis is there for accepting the "Protestant" doctrines but rejecting the "Catholic" doctrines since they were being developed at the same time by the same people, and ratified at the same councils?
The view I refute: truth originates only from the Bible and over the centuries the great theologians finally understand its meaning. Inconsistencies of this...
- The Bible does not have a "book of doctrine" in which a Systematic Theology is expounded.
- The foundational, essential Christian doctrines have all been developed.
This is especially true of Protestant doctrines which took 1,500 years to develop (and this development still continues even today).
- Protestants rely on doctrinal formulations which are outside of the Bible. They derive these from the Bible by interpretation using rules of exegesis (which are also outside of the Bible). They do not merely rely on only the Bible itself. If they relied only on the Bible they would merely repeat the words of the Bible. But instead they:
- Expound it (clarify, explain, preach, etc. with words outside the Bible).
- Teach it (using words outside the Bible).
- Derive doctrine from it (expressed in words outside the Bible).
- The Canon of scripture was determined by the early church fathers who knew what was true because this knowledge was passed on to them from their predecessors. They used this knowledge to select which written works were correct.
They determined which books are inspired and which are not. We should note that this list of books is not in the Bible: neither is the criteria for choosing which books to include in the canon. These facts undermine the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
- Protestants have developed doctrines using exegesis of scripture. But is it valid to do this since the Bible itself doesn't state we should and doesn't provide the rules of hermeneutics? And if it is valid to develop doctrines via Biblical exegesis, why are there so many different, contradictory Protestant doctrines and teachings? (This process of Biblical interpretation certainly doesn't seem to work very well).
- The essential doctrines of the Christian faith (for example, the Trinity, Christology, etc.) were developed by the church in councils over a few hundred years. But today, these kinds of ecumenical (all church) councils are impossible since denominations disagree with each other. People typically claim these doctrinal differences are minor but such is not the case. Examples of differences...
- Calvinism vs. Arminianism (some Calvinists question whether non-Calvinists are saved)
- Easy-believism vs. Lordship salvation
- Young-earth creationism vs. old-earth progressive creationism
- Baptism as a symbol vs. Baptism actually removing original sin
- Communion as a symbol vs. the Real Presence
- End-time viewpoints
- Charismatic vs. non-charismatic
- Miraculous healing is the norm for today vs. the miraculous gifts ended with the apostles
- The various forms of church government
- Trinity vs. Modalism