“Learn from your mistakes,” the saying goes.
As helpful as that is, “learn from others mistakes” is arguably an even more valuable piece of advice.
This is part of the reason learning about the history of the Church is so important. What has the Church got wrong in the past and how can we learn from it so that we do not repeat the same mistakes?
For instance, we should probably avoid being like Nestorius, about whom Holcomb records several mistakes (to understate the matter):
Nestorius proceeded to burn down a chapel belonging to members of the Arian heresy. A great deal of the city also burned as a result of the fire, which earned Nestorius the nickname “Torchie.” (k.598)
When he could not answer the questions of some monks during one of his sermons, he invited them to come to his house the following day to discuss the matter further. When the monks arrived, however, they were beaten by Nestorius’s guards. In a short time, Nestorius had made an impressive number of enemies, although he had enough friends among the nobility to ensure his continued reign as patriarch. (k.602)
In an unfortunate blunder, Nestorius said that he refused to worship a God who was a baby of two or three months old. (k.679)
So, yes, we should learn about the pyromaniac, mafia-boss, Christmas-hating archbishop about what not to do.
Secondarily, however, we can also learn a great deal from the things that the Church got right. How the Church dealt with the spread of heresies. How the Church helped the illiterate learn the basics of the Christian faith in a memorable manner. How the Church valued the Scriptures. And much more.
Such is the two-sided benefit of Know the Creeds and Councils. A worthy read and an insightful book.
So, to give you a taste of Know the Creeds and Councils, and to encourage you to read it for yourself, here are 15 of my favourite quotes from the book.
(rather than page numbers, as this book was read on kindle, the kindle location number is given e.g. k.1043)
It is important to remember that catechisms are not meant to be an end in themselves. They are to lead to belief, practice, and love for God. As such, the counterparts to catechisms are confessions. Put most simply, catechisms teach in order that we may confess and believe. (k.259)
The story of the councils is one in which the complexity and ambiguity of Scripture is defended time after time against oversimplifications that would have lost something crucial to the faith. (k.307)
Church historian Philip Schaff notes that “as the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue [10 Commandments] the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of Creeds.” (k.369)
Perhaps more than any other profession of faith, the Apostles’ Creed has expressed the essentials of Christianity in a way that Christians of all stripes can rally around. (k.371)
The Nicene Creed is perhaps the most famous and influential creed in the history of the church, because it settled the question of how Christians can worship one God and also claim that this God is three persons. (k.463)
Only the Creator can recreate. Only the Maker can remake. Only God can save us from our sins. (k.551)
When we look on Jesus, we look on God. Without confidence that Jesus is God, united in substance with the Father, we could not be sure that Jesus can speak for God, forgive sins for God, declare righteousness for God, or do anything to make us children of the Father. (k.554)
Because God is able to work through human failings as well as in spite of them, Christianity does not need to rely on a whitewashed version of history. (k.705)
“Without the grace of God, we can do no good thing.” (The Council of Carthage (418)) (k.1308)
The fact that Christians often fight with one another and have even launched wars against one another is not lost on the outside world, and our lack of unity certainly hurts our witness. (k.1589)
The number of unevangelized “is a standing rebuke to us and to the whole Church.” (Lausanne Covenant 9) (k.2345)
John Stott [states] that although dialogue with other faiths is important, the kind of dialogue that Scripture commends is respectful listening and understanding in the effort to persuade others to come to Christ. (k.2363)
Even the finer points of Christian theology come out in our worship and lives. (k.2424)
Confessions are not primarily about doctrine and theology; they are ultimately about worship. (k.2441)
Learning about creeds, confessions, catechisms, and councils is important so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past or exhibit our natural tendency for, as C. S. Lewis dubs it, “chronological snobbery.” (k.2451)