Popular scholarship over the last 20 years or so has captured public attention by focusing on marginal or doctrinally suspect groups within early Christianity. Such scholars claim that these alternative forms of faith were just as authentic as early "orthodoxy"—and in some cases, perhaps even more so. These "lost Christianities" reveal that the earliest Christian church was not uniform but was rather like a religious kaleidoscope. Some recent books leave the impression that there were no shared definitions upon which most churches agreed. But do esoteric Gnostic texts or lost gospels mean that early Christians shared no common "core" of belief?

Such popular scholarship too often overlooks the fact that a common denominator of belief did exist in what ancient Christians called the "Rule of Faith" (in Latin) or the "Canon of Truth" (in Greek). This was a brief description of what Christians believed about God and his story of salvation. The Rule of Faith was what the church was preaching and teaching even before the various gospels and epistles then circulating became canonized into one "New Testament." Indeed, the way the New Testament was formed is part of the legacy that emerged from this early tradition.

The word delivered to us

The apostles themselves began to develop a norm or model for proclaiming the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Best known is Paul's brief citation of what he calls "tradition" in 1 Corinthians 15:2-8—that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, etc. In Acts 2:33, Peter provides essentially the same points about the Messiah's crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of God, "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy ...

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