History and Tradition
What Kind of Church Is This?
Perhaps you have thought to yourself, “I pass by churches everyday in Berkeley and Oakland; they all seem to be different, but I am not sure why. How do I know which one to go to?” To make some sense of it all, it is necessary to briefly and simply traverse the landscape of church history.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ marked the founding of the church in Jerusalem in 30 AD, and the church immediately began to spread throughout the Roman Empire into the Middle East, southern Europe, and northern Africa. The most early, simple, clear, concise, shorthand summary statement of fundamental Christian beliefs about God, humanity, and salvation is the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended to the dead.
On the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
For centuries, the church enjoyed profound unity while diversifying as it moved into different cultural contexts. Indeed, the three major branches of the Church today - Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant - grew out of a united church grounded in the Apostle’s Creed and the seven ecumenical (or church wide) councils that convened all over the known world to discuss official church business and theology: Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680), Nicea II (787). Sadly, further ecumenical councils never materialized due to the widening split between Eastern, Greek-speaking churches and Western Latin-speaking churches, a split that was rendered official in 1054 and has not yet been healed. The Eastern movement came to be called the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Western movement came to be called the Roman Catholic Church.
Sadly, during the Middle Ages, much of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe lost touch with the Scriptures, with Jesus, and with the mission of the church to enrich the world with God’s grace and peace. This led to another split in the church in the 1500s known as the Protestant Reformation, as many Roman Catholic Christians protested false teachings in the church and sought to reform, renew, and revive the church.
Though four distinct branches of the Protestant Church emerged - Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist - the Protestant movement held several cardinal views in common, namely, that Scripture is authoritative and that salvation through Jesus Christ is a gracious gift of God and comes by faith alone. The reformers also insisted that every Christian is a priest, meaning that 1) all people have the potential to relate to God directly through Jesus Christ as opposed to a human priest, and 2) all people should have personal access to the Scriptures.
Maybe you are wondering, “So why isn’t there one, unified Protestant Church like the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church? And what is up with so many confusing denominations or groups of churches?” Sadly, the Protestant Church is not unified and an adverse byproduct of the Protestant Reformation was the further splintering of the church into denominations, such as Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist.
On the one hand, we must admit that this has been the result of human pride - a deep-seated personal proclivity to establish our identity by marginalizing the beliefs and practices of others. Yet, much of that fragmentation has also come about as a result of many men and women who have endeavored to protect the peace and purity of the church by remaining faithful to the Scriptures, to Jesus, and to the church’s mission to enrich the world with God’s grace and peace. Thus, while we grieve the division, we also celebrate the diversity. We should simultaneously push towards unity and understanding, while appreciating the unique emphases of truth and mission that each denomination can bring a particular community or culture. In this regard, denominations are like facets of a diamond, the whole of which is beautiful in its brilliance and illuminative power.
So what does all of this have to do with Christ Church? In general, we trace our theological roots back to the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds, while the last two thousand years of church history profoundly impact our priorities, government, practice, and mission. In particular, we identify with the Presbyterian tradition, which provides us with a system of representational government and accountability; and we trace our theological roots back to the Reformed branch of Protestantism, the contours of which are cogently outlined in the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Westminster Standards (1646).