In today’s church there is such a vast difference in doctrine (i.e. principles of beliefs) and interpretation of the Bible, to the point that there are a staggering 33,000 different Christian denominations (1). If we are all reading the same Bible, how has the Body of Christ become so divided? Many churches claim to have the Holy Spirit and to have need only of the Scriptures (Sola de Scrupta). However, if everyone has the same Holy Spirit and is reading the same Scriptures, here begs the question: why are there so many thousand Christian denominations?
The Apostle’s forewarned concerning this: “BUT THE [Holy] Spirit distinctly and expressly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith, giving attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach,” (1Timothy 4:1 AMP). The Apostle Paul advised the church “doubtless there have to be factions (heresies G139) or parties among you in order that they who are genuine and of approved fitness may become evident and plainly recognized among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:19 AMP). The Apostle Peter corresponds with The Apostle Paul, stating “BUT ALSO [in those days] there arose false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among yourselves, who will subtly and stealthily introduce heretical doctrines(destructive heresies),” (2 Peter 2:1).
We are warned that at the end of the age there will be a great falling away from truth (2 Thessalonians 2:12) and that the church, for the most part (Matthew 22:1-14), would no longer “endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, emphasis added). We read above that this is for the purpose to show those who are approved by God, and those who are not.
What was given to the Church, to discern between the truth and the lie? The Apostle Paul foretold the great falling away of the church and he urged the church: “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions and instructions which you were taught by us, whether by our word of mouth or by letter (epistle).” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 AMP, emphasis added). These traditions are of such significance, that he says in the next chapter: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, emphasis added). The Apostle Paul was not speaking of those in the world, but of those in the Church, as the term “brethren” is used within the body of Christ. The traditions Apostle Paul is referring to, are the teachings handed down by Jesus to His disciples. These are not the same traditions that Paul renounced in Galatians 1:14, learned from his Hebrew predecessors, prior to his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
After His resurrection, Jesus started these traditions (i.e. the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction) (2), “Then beginning with Moses and [throughout] all the Prophets, He went on explaining and interpreting to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning and referring to Himself.” (Luk 24:27 AMP, emphasis added). Jesus interpreted all the Old Testament to His disciples, and these teachings remarkably were not written down!
What happened to these teachings? They did not simply disappear, as the prophet said “So is My Word that goes forth from My mouth-it does not return void [without producing any effect, useless], but it shall accomplish that which I please and purpose, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, emphasis added). These traditions that were the interpretations of scripture as taught and instructed by the Messiah Himself, foretold by the prophet Isaiah, would be the very entity to protect the church from the heresies that would infiltrate the church, and would be fulfilled on the earth. Isaiah clearly clarifies the oral traditions that would come. Let us now observe the saints that preserved these traditions.
If then anyone who had attended on the elders, came, I asked minutely after their sayings. I asked what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Phillip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other of the Lord’s disciples-things which Aristion and presbyter John the disciples of the Lord, say. I concluded that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice. (3)
In the Early Church, there was a hunger and passion to seek after these traditions. Keep in mind that these traditions are not like the traditions of man, by washing of the hands and so forth, these traditions are divine revelatory teachings. Imagine the richness of being able to speak personally to the Apostles and asking them for the correct interpretation of the parables that the Messiah taught them. Oh, the splendor! Let us observe another Early Church Father, Irenaeus, to exhibit the continuity that was in the Early Church.
Polycarp also was instructed by the apostles and he spoke with many who had seen Christ. Not only that but by apostles in Asia he was appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna. I also saw him in my early youth, for he lived a very long time. When he was a very old man, he gloriously and most nobly suffered martyrdom and departed this life. He had always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the church has handed down, and which alone was true. (4)
As we read above, Irenaeus was keeping the traditions that were faithfully being passed down through the Apostles and their disciples. Furthermore, we read below Irenaeus expressing how these traditions kept the unity within the church.
Suppose there arises a dispute relative to some important question among us?Should we not have recourse to the most ancient churches with which the apostles had constant communication? Should we not learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the question at hand? For how would it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? To which course, many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ agree. For they have salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink. And they fully preserve the ancient tradition. Therefore, the tradition from the apostle exists in the church in this manner. And it is permanent among us. Accordingly, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who also wrote the gospel. (5)
Knowing the traditions of scripture settled disputes quickly within the Earliest Church, we can see that the disunity within today’s church is a result of no longer pertaining to these traditions. The traditions are what protected the church and kept the brethren in unbroken unity of the faith. Sadly, we are in a time where Pastors who are of the same denomination cannot even come to agreement on the same interpretation on scripture. To show the consistency in the Body of Christ in the Early Church we will display another Early Church Father who spoke of the importance of the Apostolic Traditions.
They then in like manner rounded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore, the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (rounded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality, – privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery. (6)
As we have witnessed these Early Church Fathers who preserved the Apostolic Tradition, we can see that they did not just disappear, but have become buried over time under all the opinions and misunderstandings of scripture by mere men. We must answer the charge for the sake of truth and ultimately our salvation. This is the very means to protect us from the multitude of heresies that have subtly infiltrated the church today. To God be the glory, amen.
For further reading on the traditions held by the Apostles and the Early Church, please go to https://voh.church/resources/category/early-church/
1. “The Facts and Stats on ‘33,000 Denominations.’” The Facts and Stats on 33000 Denominations: World Christian Encyclopedia (2001, 2nd Edition), World Christian Encyclopedia, http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm.
2. “Tradition” by Meriam-webster dictionary
3. Papias (Disciple of Apostle John)-Fragments Vol. 1 (emphasis added)
4. Irenaeus-Against Heresies Bk. 3 Ch. III, Vol. 1 (emphasis added)
5. Irenaeus-Against Heresies Bk. 3 Ch. IV, Vol. 1 (emphasis added)
6. Tertullian-R/x Against Heretics Ch. XX, Vol. 3 (emphasis added)