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Comparative Theology, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

2- One Faith and Sound Doctrine

 

Theology is the discourse about God, blessed be His Name. Only those who have known God, and their disciples, are able to speak about Him.

Theology needs accuracy of expression and interpretation, and knowledge of the reliable sources believed in by all Christians. We, as a traditional and conservative Church, maintain the Apostolic Faith that was once entrusted to us by the saints (Jude 1-3). We do not introduce any innovations in religion, nor do we move an ancient boundary marker set up by our forefathers (Prov.22: 28).

The faith of the Church is "one faith" (Eph.4: 5). The Church reminds us every day of this one faith, in a reading we pray in Matins from chapter four of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. This one faith is the faith of every member of the Church. Whoever did not believe was isolated by the Church and forbidden to mix with others lest he corrupt their faith. Therefore, our teacher St. John the Evangelist says: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2John. 10, 11).

The basic source of the one faith is the Holy Bible. The other sources are the sayings of the saints, the authenticated creeds of the holy councils, and what was recorded in the

Church books, especially the ritual books. All these are in accord with the Holy Bible and are called as a whole 'Church Tradition'.

The criterion by which we validate the accuracy of Tradition is the important condition that it complies with the Holy Bible. Our teacher St. Paul the Apostle says: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal.1: 8). He also says: "As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Gal.1: 9).

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صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: من لوحة فسيفساء قديمة (موزاييك) تصور وجه المسيح

That was why, in the Apostolic era and thereafter, during her early stages, the Church was extremely circumspect to safeguard the teaching and thus safeguard the faith. For this reason, St. Paul the Apostle says to his disciple St. Titus the Bishop of Crete: "But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine" (Titus 2: 1). This sound doctrine was commanded to the first bishop fathers directly by the Apostles, and then from the bishops to other generations through honest teaching. Thus the sound doctrine was handed down from one generation to the next. St. Paul the Apostle says to his disciple Bishop Timothy: "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2Tim.2: 2) and "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith" (2Tim.1: 13).

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Teaching Is the Task of the Clergy

Teaching was the task of the Apostles and then of their disciples the bishops, priests and deacons. It was never the work of the laity. The Lord Jesus Christ entrusted the task of teaching to the Apostles when He said to them: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising 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" (Matt. 28:19,20) and "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark.16: 15). He did not say this to others.

The Apostles considered preaching, teaching, ministry of the word and entrusting the faith to others, their main task, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. On the occasion of ordaining the seven deacons, St. Peter the Apostle said: "...but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6: 4) and he said about the Lord: "...He commanded us to preach to the people" (Acts 10:42). St. Paul the Apostle said about the Gospel: "...to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles" (2Tim. 1: 11). Thus this Apostle lived preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:31).

St. Paul the Apostle entrusted the task of teaching and preaching to his disciples the bishops. He said to his disciple St. Timothy: "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2Tim.4: 2). And to his disciple Bishop Titus, he said: "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15).

The task of teaching was entrusted to bishops, then to priests and clergymen in general, as we will mention in detail in due course, since the Law is sought from the mouth of the clergyman.

Holy councils of bishops were formed and had the authority to legislate laws and canons in the holy Church. The replies of many of the bishops on religious affairs were considered sacred canons recognised by the Universal Church. A vivid example of this is what occurred during the visit of Pope Timothy Alexandrus, the 22nd Pope of Constantinople, to the Ecumenical Council held in 381 A. D. All his replies were considered Church canons. (See Volume 14 of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers series).

As for the laity, they were always in the position of learners. The clergymen became teachers not only because they preached from the Church pulpit but also because of them being spiritual counsellors in confessions and the like.

Faith and doctrine were the task of the Church, represented by her councils and bishops, and were interpreted by the clergymen to the people. Preachers are not entitled to teach their own opinions on the subjects of faith and doctrine but they must teach what is recorded in the Church doctrine entrusted to them. For if the freedom is given to every person to spread his own opinions, we will have differing dogmas and we cannot call this the Church doctrine.

Man has freedom of belief but he does not have the freedom to teach according to his own thoughts because heresies sprang from the different schools of teaching.

When Luther started to teach according to his own thoughts and was followed by Calvin, Zwingli and others, a new schism occurred in the Church. As time passed, many contradicting dogmas were formed, and what the Church knew as "one faith" began to fade away.

Everyone is free in his belief. But the freedom of belief might divert and turn into heresies and heterodoxies that are exterior to the one faith of the Church. The Church, who has been alert over the faith to maintain it, does not allow this to happen nor does she give the authority of teaching to everyone, but examines the sayings of the teachers against the faith entrusted to the saints. Thus the saying of St. Paul the Apostle (Gal. 1:9) remains a fixed criterion.

Sometimes the reason for an error in faith or teaching is due to mixing with different dogmas, or being influenced by them and their teachers, or by being disciples of such teachers or their writings. Sometimes the reason for an error in faith is due to one's sticking to one's own opinion, neither accepting any change nor obeying the Church. Most probably the reason behind this is pride in the heart convincing the person that he is right and whoever objects to his opinion is wrong, and that he understands what no-one else does.

Throughout her history, the Church has been cautious to safeguard the teaching from distortion. Just one wrong teaching of one ex-priest such as Arius, caused two popes, namely, Pope Peter the Seal of the Martyrs and Pope Alexandrus, to intervene. A council was held in Alexandria attended by a hundred bishops from Alexandria and Libya and another council was held at Nicea in 325 A.D. attended by 318 bishops from all over the world. All this was caused by one priest's error in teaching. There was a danger of his teaching spreading and nobody said: "Leave the matter alone; there is freedom of belief"!

The first schism in the Church occurred in the middle of the fifth century, in 451 AD, due to the different teachings on the Nature of Christ. Another schism occurred in the 11th century between the Roman Catholics and the Byzantine Orthodox due to the different teachings on the procession of the Holy Spirit. A third major schism occurred in the 15th century caused by Luther, the establisher of Protestantism. Different dogmas sprang up afterwards within Protestantism.

Hence arises the necessity of presenting a comparative theology to compare the various beliefs attributed to Christianity, to study the points of differences, and to reply to every teaching that does not conform to the doctrine of the Church.

In this book, we are attempting to expound the main differences in belief which exist between Orthodoxy and Protestantism, to discuss them in the light of the Holy Bible and pray to God to unify our belief because. Especially that our main call with regard to Christian Unity we call for nothing less than "Unity of faith".

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