Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4)
What is meant by “faith once delivered unto the saints”? This Christian faith has been once for all delivered to the saints, nothing to be added to it or taken from it. God’s supreme revelation through Jesus Christ concerning the teaching of the Christian faith is finished. In the context of Jude 1:3, faith is not referring to the belief, trust or confidence which Christians have in God, but to the embodiment of doctrine which was given to the church by Jesus and the apostles. There is a body of Christian doctrine that is called “the faith once delivered.”
Our only infallible source of authority is Jesus. Anyone who claims to have a new revelation from God in order to add to the faith once for all delivered to the saints is against Christ. Jesus also gave unique authority to the apostles. Jesus said to the apostles, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Jesus told the apostles that the Spirit would guide them into all truth. In other words, the apostles were guided into all truth through the Holy Spirit when they wrote Scripture.
John the Apostle wrote, “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father” (1 John 2:24). Continuing in the Son and the Father is dependent upon the apostolic faith remaining in us. There was an established faith which was taught by the apostles “from the beginning.” Deviation from that apostolic faith to something new is a departure from the faith.
Paul the Apostle had received the Gospel “by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). He wrote to the Church at Corinth: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). Thus, Paul received the Gospel and delivered it to the Church.
Paul wrote to Timothy: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). At this early time, the Holy Spirit had already guided the apostles into all truth and the complete faith. The faith had already been delivered to the saints by the apostles. Timothy was supposed to pass on that apostolic faith to faithful men. The Holy Spirit was not going to give Timothy special revelation like the apostles had received. Rather, Timothy was to pass on the apostolic faith which he had received from the Apostle Paul. From generation to generation, the authority of the apostles is passed on to the Church from the writings of the apostles, that is, the New Testament Scriptures.
Finally, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). The faith was once for all delivered by the apostles to the saints. Conversely, the faith is not an emerging or progressive belief which evolves over the centuries. It was not an unfinished faith that needed to be completed or improved by successive generations. The faith had been once for all delivered to the saints by the apostles!
The reason the church needed to contend for the faith is given by Jude in verse 4: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, Jude wrote of old and new apostates (vv.5-11), their depravity and doom (vv.12-15). Jude predicted these apostates:
These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit. (Jude 1:16-19)
Paul also warned the Ephesians of apostates who would arise within the church:
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. (Acts 20:29-30)
The wolves in sheep’s clothing who pervert the faith are professing Christians. They are theologians, pastors, church leaders, authors, seminary teachers and missionaries. Though they may boast themselves in promoting unity, they be the ones who “cause divisions,” having divided themselves from the faith once delivered and “draw away disciples after themselves. One early Christian explained:
Paul who, in his Epistle to the Galatians, counts “heresies” among “the sins of the flesh,” who also intimates to Titus, that “a man who is a heretic” must be “rejected after the first admonition,” on the ground that “he that is such is perverted, and commits sin, as a self-condemned man.” Indeed, in almost every epistle, when enjoining on us (the duty) of avoiding false doctrines, he sharply condemns heresies. Of these the practical effects are false doctrines, called in Greek heresies, a word used in the sense of that choice which a man makes when he either teaches them (to others) or takes up with them (for himself). For this reason it is that he calls the heretic self-condemned, because he has himself chosen that for which he is condemned. . . . In the Lord’s apostles we possess our authority; for even they did not of themselves choose to introduce anything [new], but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ. If, therefore, even “an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel” (than theirs), he would be called accursed by us. (Tertullian, Against Heresies, chapter VI).
The passage quoted is Titus 3:10,11: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” The word heretic is defined as “schismatic, factious, a follower of a false doctrine.” The NKJV translates the word as “divisive man”: “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10,11, NKJV). Peter and Paul talked about “heresies” in these ways:
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)
For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. (1 Corinthians 11:19)
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:20-21)
From the passages above, we know that heresies are damnable; heresies are among professing Christians; and heresies are works of the flesh. The word “heresies” simply refers to dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims. For instance, in Jesus’ day, there were bodies, sects or parties of men following their own tenets, all based upon the OT Scriptures (See Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5 where the word is translated as “sect” with reference to the Pharisees, Saducees, Nazarenes). Today there are as many as 34,000 organized “Christian” denominations, heresies, sects, divisions or dissensions that have arisen from diversity of men’s opinions about the Bible.
What we need in our day is not a re-invention of Christianity, but a rediscovery of the old apostolic faith! As I said at the beginning, our only infallible source of authority for the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Many professing Christians agree with that previous statement but disagree about the interpretation of the words of Jesus. Today it is popular trend among theologians, pastors and teachers to speak of many theologies in the New Testament. Bible scholars stress the diversity of viewpoints among the New Testament writers, and the difficulty of harmonizing them all into a single coherent understanding of reality.
What is the body of Christian doctrine called the faith? It is the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, there were mysteries revealed to the apostles after the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, but the faith once delivered is the teachings of Jesus Christ, which He taught His apostles, and the apostles delivered to the saints in the Church. We read that Jesus “went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority” (Luke 4:31-32). “And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). All Israel was familiar with His teaching. “And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him” (Luke 19:47). “And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet” (Luke 21:37). Jesus said, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me”(Matthew 26:55)
Some argue that the teaching of Christ was different after the the resurrection. This is false, because after the resurrection, Jesus gave the apostles the Great Commission:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18-20)
What exactly was Jesus teaching in His earthly ministry? The answer is the gospel of the kingdom of God. We read that “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). Most of Jesus parables and teachings described the kingdom of God. God established a kingdom, the King of which is Jesus, the citizens Christians, and the laws of which are the commandments of Christ.
This gospel message is consistent throughout the NT, beginning with John the Baptist who came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-2). Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:13-15). What gospel? The gospel he just preached: the kingdom of God is at hand! Jesus said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:33). Then Jesus commanded His disciples to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:6-7). He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:2). Furthermore, Jesus said: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). This is the one and only gospel that Christians are to preach in all the world until the end comes. Some argue that the doctrine of Christ and the gospel of the kingdom shifted after the resurrection. But this is not the case. Luke the historian recorded:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)
The Gospel of the kingdom of God was the summation of the doctrine of Christ and the faith once delivered to the saints. This was the message of the earliest Christians:
But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. (Acts 8:12)
And he [Paul] went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)
So when they had appointed him [Paul] a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. (Acts 28:23)
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:31)
From John the Baptist, to Jesus, to the apostles, to the Apostle Paul, the body of the Christian doctrine which is the faith once delivered is summed up in the gospel of the kingdom of God. Dispensationalists have argued that there are two gospels, but Paul only believed in and preached one Gospel. In fact, Paul had zero tolerance for any other gospel (Galatians 1:8-10). Not only did Paul believe in a single Gospel, but he also understood the Gospel of grace and the kingdom of God to be one and the same Gospel. Paul said:
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. (Acts 20:24,25)
Notice how Paul used these terms “gospel of the grace of God” and “kingdom of God” interchangeably and synonymously. Paul never referred to more than one gospel. This gospel of the kingdom is the gospel of grace and has everything to do with our salvation and the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
There is only one gospel. Mark begins his Gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Thus, the whole Gospel of Mark is the Gospel. The entire Gospel of Matthew is the Gospel. And the entirety of the Gospel of Luke, and all of the Gospel of John. The gospel message is not limited to or defined as the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (as some have argued from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4), though this is a very important part of the gospel. All that Jesus said and did is the gospel, and thus the faith once for all delivered.
Notice, after the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew says: “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His doctrine, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28). What is the doctrine of Jesus? The Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of the kingdom of God. For instance, the doctrine of Christ is that murder & adultery begin in the heart (Matthew 5:21-30), divorce & remarriage is adultery (Matthew 5:31-32), do not swear an oath at all (Matthew 5:33-37), do not resist evildoers (Matthew 5:38-42), love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), give alms, pray & fast in secret (Matthew 6:1-18), you cannot serve God & money (Matthew 6:19-24), do not worry about food & clothing (Matthew 6:25-34), seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), do not judge hypocritically (Matthew 7:1-6), ask, seek & knock (Matthew 7:7-13), narrow & difficult is the way to life (Matthew 7:13-14), you will know false prophets by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-19), Jesus rejects those who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23), the wise hear Jesus’ sayings & do them (Matthew 7:24-29). This is the doctrine of Christ. This is the law of the kingdom of God and the law of the King. It is this teaching and doctrine of Christ that a person must be disciplined under in order to be a true follower of Jesus. Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” (John 7:16-17)
In Acts, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). What was the apostles’ doctrine? It was the doctrine of Christ. These were “Christians” because they followed Christ. They were commanded: “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” (Acts 5:28). This is the doctrine of Christ, no doubt, though Luke did not have go into detail in his historical record and reiterate all that Jesus taught in the gospels. “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also” (Acts 15:35). . . . And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:11) . . . preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:31).
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul did not have to reiterate all the teachings of Jesus or the Sermon on the Mount, but he simply affirmed: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:17). He says also, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). John is very bold when he says, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9). We are exhorted to “preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2) . . . holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Paul had much to say to Timothy about sound doctrine:
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, . . . Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, . . . If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed. . . Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation,If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. (1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1,6,13,16; 6:3-5)
I do not deny the fact that Paul preached certain concepts which Jesus did not; this is because he was an apostle to the Gentiles. But never did Paul negate the commandments of Christ in his gospel because his gospel was one and the same as Christ’s gospel. The foundation of the churches established by Paul was Christ and His teachings. If Jesus and His teachings are not the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20) and foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) of a church, then that church is not truly in the faith once delivered to the saints. Paul the Apostle said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). The faith was complete by this early time in Christian history. The Church of God is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19,20). The church does not continue to be the giver of new revelation. God has preserved the teachings of Jesus and the apostles as the once for all foundation of the Church, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). In the New Jerusalem, “the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14). Once again, the doctrine of Jesus and the apostles is the foundation of the Church. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). And who is the person of Jesus Christ apart from His teachings?
At this point, I’d like to provide historical insight into the faith once delivered to the saints by quoting some early Christian writings. What did the early Christians believe as opposed to the modern professing Christian movements and denominations of our day? How did their beliefs compare to Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians Protestants, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Mormons, Churches of Christ, Congregational, Jehovah’s Witness, Assemblies of God, Evangelical, Church of God, Seventh-Day Adventist, Eastern Orthodox, Holiness, Church of the Nazarene, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Dutch Reformed, New Apostolic, Quaker, Christian Science, Full Gospel, Christian Reform, Foursquare Gospel, Emergent?
There are as many as 34,000 organized “Christian” denominations who all believe in the Bible and use it to support their claims. There are 34,000 denominations but there is only one narrow way, one kingdom of God, one faith once delivered unto the Saints. Because all of these denominations quote from Scripture, we ought to compare what the primitive Church believed about the faith in order to bypass thousands of years of church history, tradition, and culture.
Certainly the early Christian disciples were in a much better place than we are today to imitate true Christianity. Like the apostles, many of the early Christians spoke in the ancient Greek language of the original New Testament. Not only did they fluently speak ancient Greek, but they also lived within the same Greek culture as the apostles. They were not inspired like the apostles, but they were direct recipients of the faith once delivered to the saints. These men believed and practiced an unchanging and historic faith which was delivered to them by the apostles, who received the faith from Christ himself.
For the early Christians, the faith once delivered to them was simple child-like obedience to the teachings of Christ. In his First Apology, Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) wrote on “behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, myself being one of them.” Early in his apology, Justin described the faith of the Christians by simply presenting what Christ taught:
Concerning chastity, He uttered such sentiments as these: “Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart before God.” And, “If thy right eye offend thee, cut it out; for it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of heaven with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into everlasting fire.” And, “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced from another husband, committeth adultery.” And, “There are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but all cannot receive this saying.” So that all who, by human law, are twice married, are in the eye of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her. For not only he who in act commits adultery is rejected by Him, but also he who desires to commit adultery: since not only our works, but also our thoughts, are open before God. And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men. For what shall I say, too, of the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things? For Christ called not the just nor the chaste to repentance, but the ungodly, and the licentious, and the unjust; His words being, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” For the heavenly Father desires rather the repentance than the punishment of the sinner. And of our love to all, He taught thus: “If ye love them that love you, what new thing do ye? for even fornicators do this. But I say unto you, Pray for your enemies, and love them that hate you, and bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.” And that we should communicate to the needy, and do nothing for glory, He said, “Give to him that asketh, and from him that would borrow turn not away; for if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what new thing do ye? even the publicans do this. Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where robbers break through; but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for it? Lay up treasure, therefore, in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt.” And, “Be ye kind and merciful, as your Father also is kind and merciful, and maketh His sun to rise on sinners, and the righteous, and the wicked. Take no thought what ye shall eat, or what ye shall put on: are ye not better than the birds and the beasts? And God feedeth them. Take no thought, therefore, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall put on; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But seek ye the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you. For where his treasure is, there also is the mind of a man.” And, “Do not these things to be seen of men; otherwise ye have no reward from your Father which is in heaven.”
And concerning our being patient of injuries, and ready to serve all, and free from anger, this is what He said: “To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak or coat, forbid not. And whosoever shall be angry, is in danger of the fire. And every one that compelleth thee to go with him a mile, follow him two. And let your good works shine before men, that they, seeing them, may glorify your Father which is in heaven.” For we ought not to strive; neither has He desired us to be imitators of wicked men, but He has exhorted us to lead all men, by patience and gentleness, from shame and the love of evil. And this indeed is proved in the case of many who once were of your way of thinking, but have changed their violent and tyrannical disposition, being overcome either by the constancy which they have witnessed in their neighbours’ lives, or by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their fellow-travellers when defrauded, or by the honesty of those with whom they have transacted business. And with regard to our not swearing at all, and always speaking the truth, He enjoined as follows: “Swear not at all; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” And that we ought to worship God alone, He thus persuaded us: “The greatest commandment is, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall thou serve, with all thy heart, and with all thy strength, the Lord God that made thee.” And when a certain man came to Him and said, “Good Master,” He answered and said, “There is none good but God only, who made all things.” And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word: “Not every one who saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. For whosoever heareth Me, and doeth My sayings, heareth Him that sent Me. And many will say unto Me, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten and drunk in Thy name, and done wonders? And then will I say unto them, Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity. Then shall there be wailing and gnashing of teeth, when the righteous shall shine as the sun, and the wicked are sent into everlasting fire. For many shall come in My name, clothed outwardly in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly being ravening wolves. By their works ye shall know them. And every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.” And as to those who are not living pursuant to these His teachings, and are Christians only in name, we demand that all such be punished by you.
And everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him; for at that time some came to Him and asked Him, if one ought to pay tribute to Cæsar; and He answered, “Tell Me, whose image does the coin bear?” And they said, “Cæsar’s.” And again He answered them, “Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment. But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed, and will render account according to the power he has received from God, as Christ intimated when He said, “To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required.” (Justin Martyr, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, 167-168)
Irenaeus (130-202 AD) was a very respected bishop in the early church and a direct disciple of Polycarp (80-167 AD). Also a respected bishop, Polycarp was a personal disciple of the Apostle John. So Irenaeus, a pupil of Polycarp, was only one human link removed from the Apostle John. Irenaeus also described the “teaching of the Lord”,
with whom not only is the adulterer rejected, but also the man who desires to commit adultery; and not only is the actual murderer held guilty of having killed another to his own damnation, but the man also who is angry with his brother without a cause: who commanded [His disciples] not only not to hate men, but also to love their enemies; and enjoined them not only not to swear falsely, but not even to swear at all; and not only not to speak evil of their neighbours, but not even to style any one “Raca” and “fool;” [declaring] that otherwise they were in danger of hell-fire; and not only not to strike, but even, when themselves struck, to present the other cheek [to those that maltreated them]; and not only not to refuse to give up the property of others, but even if their own were taken away, not to demand it back again from those that took it; and not only not to injure their neighbours, nor to do them any evil, but also, when themselves wickedly dealt with, to be long-suffering, and to show kindness towards those [that injured them], and to pray for them, that by means of repentance they might be saved—so that we should in no respect imitate the arrogance, lust, and pride of others. Since, therefore, He whom these men boast of as their Master, and of whom they affirm that He had a soul greatly better and more highly toned than others, did indeed, with much earnestness, command certain things to be done as being good and excellent, and certain things to be abstained from not only in their actual perpetration, but even in the thoughts which lead to their performance, as being wicked, pernicious, and abominable, —how then can they escape being put to confusion, when they affirm that such a Master was more highly toned [in spirit] and better than others, and yet manifestly give instruction of a kind utterly opposed to His teaching? And, again, if there were really no such thing as good and evil, but certain things were deemed righteous, and certain others unrighteous, in human opinion only, He never would have expressed Himself thus in His teaching: “The righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father;” but He shall send the unrighteous, and those who do not the works of righteousness, “into everlasting fire, where their worm shall not die, and the fire shall not be quenched.” (Irenaeus, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, 408.)
I could quote from others to present the same unity of the faith once delivered to the saints. These early church writers were closer to the birth of the church than we are today. Is it possible that they totally missed it? That the apostles failed to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints? And some denomination figured it out almost 2,000 years later? Or is it possible that 2,000 years of church history, translation and culture has caused our generation to miss the truth of the Gospel? When compared to the the words of Jesus, the unanimous testimony of the early church is much more literal and serious than our contemporary commentators and denominational dogmas.
Concerning the faith once delivered to the saints, Irenaeus wrote:
The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.
As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it. (Irenaeus, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, 330, 331, emphasis added).
According to Irenaeus, nobody could make any addition to the apostolic faith because it was already complete. Surely Polycarp and Irenaeus would have known about how the apostolic faith progresses or emerges over time if that were truly the case. But any progression or division from the apostolic faith is a corruption, not an improvement. Even among the churches of different countries and cultures, they taught nothing new or different than that which was delivered by the apostles. Anybody who deviates from the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles is a heretic.
Irenaeus could prove that the historic faith was first preached by the apostles and committed to a succession of faithful men.
The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles. . . . From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telesphorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Soter having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Irenaeus, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, 416, emphasis added).
I must stress that the early Christians provide information, not inspiration (at least not in the same way as the apostles). Irenaeus provides historical proof that the apostolic faith from the beginning was handed down to faithful men just as the apostles had instructed. The apostles of Christ did not fail to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints. He confirms what Jesus and the apostles had said earlier. Irenaeus’ argument about succession was valid in his day because the heretical Gnostics could produce no apostolic lineage of their false gospel. There are many church organizations today claiming to be able to historically prove their existence from the time of the apostles. Yet they do not practice the apostolic faith. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church do not hold to the more ancient apostolic faith. Authenticity is proven by holding to the ancient apostolic faith, not by having an ancient church or doing ancient practices. Jude spoke about the faith which was once delivered unto the saints, not the church which was once delivered unto the saints. Those who believe and practice the faith which was once delivered unto the saints are the true Church of Jesus Christ.
The main point is that the apostolic faith is once for all delivered within the Scriptures. The apostolic faith is the complete doctrine of Jesus and the apostles; it is based upon the Gospel which Jesus and the apostles preached, contained in the totality of the New Testament Scriptures. Irenaeus agrees:
True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]. (Irenaeus, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, 508, emphasis added.)
Once again, the apostolic faith was a very complete system of doctrine, not an emerging or progressive system, not something which could be carnally divided among denominations. The historic faith does not progress or emerge into something new, nor can it be split into numerous expressions, divisions or denominations. There is one true faith which is in harmony with the doctrine of Jesus Christ contained in the NT Scriptures. All else is false. The early Christians show that the historic Christian faith was complete by the time of the apostles’ death. When discussing the heretical Gnostic faith, Tertullian (208 AD) elaborated on the term apostolic:
For if, even at that time, the tradition of the gospel had spread everywhere, how much more now! Now, if it is our gospel which has spread everywhere, rather than any heretical gospel, much less Marcion’s, which only dates from the reign of Antoninus, then ours will be the gospel of the apostles. But should Marcion’s gospel succeed in filling the whole world, it would not even in that case be entitled to the character of apostolic. For this quality, it will be evident, can only belong to that gospel which was the first to fill the world. (Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 3, 470.)
Many professing Christian denominations are filling the whole world. But the first gospel to fill the entire ancient world is the true Gospel. Tertullian talked about the principle of time in relation to the apostolic faith versus the heretical faith which emerged at a later date. He said:
We must follow, then, the clue of our discussion, meeting every effort of our opponents with reciprocal vigor. I say that my Gospel is the true one; Marcion, that his is. I affirm that Marcion’s Gospel is adulterated; Marcion, that mine is. Now what is to settle the point for us, except it be that principle of time, which rules that the authority lies with that which shall be found to be more ancient; and assumes as an elemental truth, that corruption (of doctrine) belongs to the side which shall be convicted of comparative lateness in its origin. For, inasmuch as error is falsification of truth, it must needs be that truth therefore precede error. A thing must exist prior to its suffering any casualty; and an object must precede all rivalry to itself. . . . So that, whilst he amends, he only confirms both positions: both that our Gospel is the prior one, for he amends that which he has previously fallen in with; and that that is the later one, which, by putting it together out of the emendations of ours, he has made his own Gospel, and a novel one too. (Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 3, 348-349.)
Not only are modern divisions and denominations heretical in light of the doctrine of Jesus, but also in their comparative lateness in origin. Truth precedes error. We must recognize the original, apostolic faith before detecting a counterfeit. Until we fully grasp the apostolic faith, we will never be able to recognize the apostolic Church or identify counterfeits. Concerning counterfeits, Irenaeus had this to say:
Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. One far superior to me has well said, in reference to this point, “A clever imitation in glass casts contempt, as it were, on that precious jewel the emerald (which is most highly esteemed by some), unless it come under the eye of one able to test and expose the counterfeit. Or, again, what inexperienced person can with ease detect the presence of brass when it has been mixed up with silver?” Lest, therefore, through my neglect, some should be carried off, even as sheep are by wolves, while they perceive not the true character of these men,—because they outwardly are covered with sheep’s clothing (against whom the Lord has enjoined us to be on our guard), and because their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different,—I have deemed it my duty . . . to unfold to thee, my friend, these portentous and profound mysteries, which do not fall within the range of every intellect, because all have not sufficiently purged their brains. (Irenaeus, Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, 315)
In his day, the early Christian Irenaeus exposed the false teachings of a heretical Christian sect called the Gnostics. This group spoke with Christian-sounding language and even used the name of Jesus, but they were preaching another gospel entirely. If there is in existence today an apostolic Church, it will be teaching and practicing the apostolic faith contained in the Scriptures from the beginning. But those who teach or practice something different are heretics, even though they call themselves Christians, call Jesus “Lord” and place their confidence in the Scriptures.
There is only one true faith once delivered unto the saints. There is one kingdom of God. It is made up of those who follow the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The doctrine of Christ is very simple to understand. Many millions of people (within many thousands of denominations) will reject the clear and simple words of Jesus Christ, not because His words were too difficult to understand, but because His words were too costly to obey. The faith once delivered is not merely a piece of information about Jesus to be believed, but also the teachings of Jesus to be obeyed:
Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name (Romans 1:5) . . . but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith (Romans 16:26)
Are you obedient to the faith once delivered unto the saints?