Just as some would pursue the quest for "the historical Jesus" and come up with something different from the Lord Jesus Christ of the New Testament, there are others who pursue the quixotic quest for "the historical Christianity" even if it arrives at something different from the Gospel of the New Testament. In countering this error, I hold that Scripture Alone can give us the definitive, God-authorized, 100% trustworthy description of the real Jesus and His Gospel message. Christ and Christianity are defined authoritatively by the Bible, undistorted by extra-biblical embellishments.
It is a myth that the authoritative interpretation of the Holy Scriptures may be arrived upon by a careful sifting through the many and various histories of Christianity. It is as elusive as the Holy Grail to find from the study of Church history the definitive, 100% foolproof interpretation of every truth of Scripture. Neither the Bible nor accepted histories nor classical creeds direct ordinary Christian believers make such a quixotic quest through history books to obtain the proper Bible interpretation for a right relationship with the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. And placing one's full trust into the scholarship of others, no matter how famous, on the question has proven faulty again and again throughout the story of Christianity. From the beginning until this day, believers have had to learn to rely upon the Holy Spirit to guide them into all Truth with the Holy Scriptures: and He is given to those who obey God, Acts 5:32. The key to Bible understanding is none other than faithful obedience to the plain teachings of the Bible. In response to obedience to what is plainly understood of Christ's Words, God gives of His Holy Spirit to impart still more understanding. And so, the process is to be faithful to obey what one already understands so that God may reward him with more understanding. "To him who has more will be given," Mat 13:11-13. There is no shortcut.
That first generation of regular, everyday Christians had no Church history to look to for guidance: they relied upon the Holy Spirit and the Old Testament Scriptures to enable them to discern between Truth and error, between genuine and false apostles, between genuine and false gospels, epistles and religious reports. And they were still reeling from the shocking reality that the traditionally recognised defenders of orthodox Bible interpretation were the murderous conspirators against Christ and His Apostles: the Scribes, Pharisees, Saducees, et al.
The second generation and Ante-Nicene Christians had little Church history to refer back upon. Apart from the New Testament writings, what Church history available was little known and unauthoratitive to the majority of common Christians who were largely dependent upon the few individuals among them who could read. Even those who could read had little access to any account of Church history which itself was not clear as what was authoritative and which was Gnostic, etc. Even figures that are now regarded as leading Church men had little renown or authority beyond their immediate circle within the incomprehensibly far flung reach of Christian evangelisation. Various groups of Christians began to organize themselves in various ways, in some places under individual bishops and patriarchs and patriarchates. Leading Christian figures began to publish their own personal lists of writings they regarded as New Testament Scripture, but even these publishings -like all communications- had limited circulation and were mixed among the sea of published opinion. Through all the lack of authoritative information and confusion, common Christians in every pocket of humanity relied upon the Holy Spirit and the Old Testament Scriptures to discern between Truth and error, between the genuine and false writings that purported to be handed down from Christ's Apostles.
Post-Nicene Christians still had little Church history to refer upon. Eusebius had just published his History of the Church around 325AD and would take centuries to gain circulation and regard. Even so, his work concerns more an accounting of various early Christian reports (legends) than of a collection of authoritative Christian teachings. The Council of Nicea brought together a notable collection of council participants from congregations along the Eastern Mediterranean to sift through and begin to settle the many and major confusions about correct Christian teaching. Notable as this event was, it was visited by a very small sampling of believers in Christ spread throughout the Earth. These council attendees agreed to a list they regarded as authentic New Testatment Scripture and they formulated the Nicene Creed as a joint statement of basic beliefs they largely shared. As they retrurned to their homes, this Nicene Creed became circulated, being embellished from time to time by those groups of Christians who adopted it. Still, common, everyday Christians had little physical to go on except the word of those among them who could read, regarded as leaders. Notwithstanding these advances within leading Patriarchates along the Eastern Mediterranean, as with generations past, common Christians dispersed throughout every pocket of humanity still relied upon the Holy Spirit, the New and Old Testament Scriptures to discern between Truth and error, between genuine and false writings of those who purported to be leaders among them.
Subsequent generations of Christians still follow the same Way to faith in Christ: God calls out to them be way of the Holy Spirit, teaching them through their conscience to recognise and regard the Word of God, accept the New Testament's teaching of Jesus God's Son, and obey it. As they grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus, feeding as newborn babes on the sincere milk of the Word, they grow up become productive Christians, consistently displaying the emblems of God's approval -- the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Gal 5:22-24. Now, as with every generation of believer all the way back to Christ, to John the Baptist, to the Prophets & David, to the Judges & Moses, common everyday Christians had relied upon the Holy Spirit to discern between Truth and error, between genuine and false doctrines & leaders.
It is a myth that there was ever a time when ordinary, everyday people could look for and find some authoritative key to Christian orthodoxy other than God Himself via the Holy Spirit. Until very recently via the Internet, ordinary Christians had little access to the full sea of Christian knowledge except that which their immediate leaders decided to make known to them. And many times those immediate leaders were limited in knowledge & understanding themselves. And even advanced scholars were largely limited to only those writings and histories available to them in their own languages.
Not Wikipedia, nor the internet, nor the vast libraries of religious writings current or ancient, nor the solemn pronouncements of popes or metropolitans or denominational leaders can ever provide the authoritative list of correct Bible interpretations by which the inerrant doctrines of "Historic Christianity" might be authoritatively pronounced. The man who attempts it while denouncing the "private interpretations" of others engages in his own form of private interpretation, as well --- his private interpretation of Church history. Who is to say which Church histories are authoritative and which are not? Do we go with "majority rule"? What rules are adopted to sift through it all and discern the truths from the errors? Whose set of rules of Church history interpretation are authoritative? Who said so? How does one know he is interpreting the various creeds and histories correctly? Or if he is really looking at more than just the tip of the iceberg, since so very little of the vast ocean of Christian writings is actually available in one's own language? Does he collect around himself others who agree with him to lend authority to his views? Can he collect more followers to his positions than the leader of the Roman Catholic church? Will he dare to become his own little pope? Will he denounce others who have done the same thing but come to conclusions that differ from his own?
In conclusion to this initial draft, though I find affirmation in the great creeds and notable Christian writings of every generation, And while I find great safety among the many counselors of highly regarded classics of Christian thought, as for me and my house we will cling to the Word of God Himself, Jesus working thorugh the Holy Spirit to serve as the only 100% trustworthy compass, the first and final Authority, to guide us safely through the sea of knowledge and arrive at soul-saving wisdom, faith in Christ expressing itself by loving obedience to Christ, even as generations of genuine Christians have had to do since the beginning. There is only one writing that all of Christianity regards as authoritative, the Bible. The Bible is the Creed of the Church.
The only 100% authoritative Creed is the Holy Bible itself. All others only borrow from its authority to the degree that they agree with it.
The only 100% authoritative Interpretor of the Bible is the Holy Spirit. All others only borrow from His authority to the degree that they agree with Him. And He is known through obedience to Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
How do I know this? Is it because of the pronouncement of a New Testament canon by the Council of Nicea?
No, It is simply because God Himself reached out to teach me, to draw my attention to the Bible, the Word of God and persuade me of its veracity, beginning with the red letters of Jesus and gradually working the way out. It was the Holy Spirit who taught me to regard the Bible as Truth rather than the Son-of-God-rejecting writings of other religions. The Lord Himself is my Shepherd and I trust Him to guide me, to finish the Journey that He started, and safely guide me into His eternal home.
15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?
16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me.
17 If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
Even as scientists must always return to the direct study of their physical surroundings to advance their understanding of the laws that govern the physical Creation, so must Christians always return to the Scriptures themselves to advance their understanding of the Law of the Spirit.