The Historical Need for Theology: A Precedent Established

This article is posting #2 in my series on historical theology. If you want to learn more about that series, click here.

Church History

An Era of Persecution Establishes the Need:

Having become the emperor of Rome, Nero made for him a name of fear among the Christians. He was known for his brutality towards those followers of Christ and under him persecution became a way of life. When Rome burned under his leadership, the people were naturally upset and began to blame Nero himself for the fire. As rumors circulated about the cause of the fire and Nero’s involvement, he quickly passed the blame off to the Christians. This served two purposes. First it took the focus off of him and second it placed more pressure on the Christians that Nero so desired to dispel Rome of. During this time rumors and untruths began to circulate with greater frequency, to the point that it stirred up immense hatred against Christians. The falsehood continued and it set the stage for the need for Christian defense to the pagans of the world.

John Patmos
A depiction of the apostle John exiled to Patmos

An Era Without Apostles Establishes the Need:

The need for a Christian defense was further accentuated about 30 years later, towards the end of the first century. In roughly AD 90, a pivotal point occurred in Christian theology. It was during this time, exiled to Patmos the apostle John died (although we are not sure exactly what date John died, we know that it was in the latter part of the AD 90’s). This provides for a key moment in Christian history. John was the last of the eyewitnesses to the events surrounding the life of Jesus Christ. When doctrinal disputes arose, it was no longer possible to gain insight directly from an apostle.

Although there was not a ‘formal canon’ established at this time, the teachings and writings had been continually preserved and taught. The writings were available during this time, however, churches and individuals did not have access to all of the writings. Therefore, there was need for collaboration and discussion.

Furthermore, the situation and context began to evolve. It is often said that the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. This truth functioned just as much then as it does now. And with this evolution of cultures Christian theology emerged as discipline of Christianity. While there had been a need to defend Christian thinking from those persecutors of the early days, two shifts began to take place that made theology an elemental part of Christian living.

  • Changing contexts and situations: The times were changing. New situations were occurring. This forced people into a place in which they needed to discuss, interpret and apply the teachings of Christ and the apostles to those new situations.
  • The rise of cults and false teachings surfaced more prevalently. They began to contradict and counter the claims of Christ, the apostles, the apostolic fathers, and Christians. A time of greater defense took root in which every believer, not just the figureheads, needed to soundly proclaim the true teachings. This required an understanding of the true teachings as well.

An Era of Modernity Establishes the Need:

It is fascinating that we can look back to the events of 1,900 years ago and see parallels between the two eras and understand how events of that time set up the events for today. The reality is, the issues of the early church are very much the same issues of today. They may be masked and manifested differently, but the root is very much the same. We see this in the following:

  1. Demoralizing Persecution: Persecution continues to be part of the world in which we live. It is common to read about religious persecution, and this persecution is not confined to one geographic region of the world.
  2. Distorted Teaching: It is not just the fact that false teaching exists, but I am certain you will see that the false teachings of today are very much the same false teachings found throughout church history. The names may have been changed to protect the guilty, but the form, function, and foundation remain the same.
  3. Developing Contexts: Contexts and situations continue to change. Therefore, the application of scriptural truth must occur in those contexts and situations. This does not mean we change the teachings of Scripture. A brief example of this would be James 1:2. It is here that James says to consider it pure joy in the face of trials. The meaning of this text is just that. However, the application may change based on whether one is facing an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a relative, or whatever it may be, the trials are to joyfully be seen as opportunities to produce godly character. The meaning of scripture does not change, but we must learn how to apply each lesson and command from God rightly in each of the situations we may face, and those situations constantly vary.

Beginning in the era of the apostles and continuing to today, theology has become a cardinal necessity within the Christian life. It is a high theology that produces a right understanding of a holy God. It is a high theology that produces a right defense of a holy God. It is a high theology that produces a right living of man before a holy God. It is a high theology that produces a right doxology of a holy God.

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