The rule of faith: right belief, practice and worship

This post continues an exploration of Deep Church Rising by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry. For other posts in the series, click a number: 12, 3, 56789.

Last time we looked at Walker and Parry's plea that the church would return to its "apostolic tradition" in order to mend the "third great schism" that plagues much of the church. This tradition, sometimes also called "the rule of faith" has three key elements: right belief, right practice and right worship. In this post, we'll look briefly at each one.


According to the Walker and Parry, rather than merely holding to right propositions, right belief is... a dimmer switch on a light. There is indeed an on and an off mode but the on mode comes in a wide range of degrees of brightness. As the man with the epileptic son said to Jesus, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24) (p. 65). 
Anselm, Arch-Bishop of Canterbury
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
According to Bishop Anselm (d. 1109), rather than a one-time event, right belief involves a "life-long journey" guided by faith that is directed toward the primary object and source of our belief:
I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand (p. 65).
Note this comment from Walker and Parry concerning the Christ-centered, relational nature of right belief:
The heart of the faith [another term for the apostolic tradition] is a living relationship with a living God, revealed in Christ. Faith in Jesus is, first and foremost, an existential commitment to and trust in Jesus; "belief in..." and not simply "belief that.." (p. 70). 


Right belief then leads to right practice (action). Believing that God is triune, is a fundamental truth of the apostolic tradition. But merely assenting to this truth falls far short of the rule of faith. Our calling as Christ-followers is, to "live into" that truth--to live daily in accordance with the truth that, by the will of the Father, in union with Christ and by the power of the Spirit, we truly are included in the tri-personal communion of the Trinity. That belief, grounded in faith, leads to profound life transformation.


Right belief and right practice then form a God-ward directed "posture of the self that ...manifests as prayer and praise" (p. 66). This right worship, in accord with the apostolic tradition, is thoroughly gospel-focused---its emphasizes the story of Jesus: his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This sort of worship is about a common commitment to a common Lord. It flows from a center in Jesus. A prime example is the Lord's Supper (communion) which is a sharing with Jesus in the common meal of the Body of Christ (see p. 69).

The rule of faith: a "virtuous spiral"

There three elements of the rule of faith (the apostolic tradition) form a three-fold "virtuous spiral in which we grow toward the knowledge of God in Christ as our belief, worship, and [practice] inter-act and we are conformed closer and closer to the image of Christ" (p. 67). Denial of any of the key (essential) elements of the tradition threatens the health of the church. Note, for example, 1 John 4:1-3, which addresses denial of the core belief that Jesus is fully human, as well as fully divine.

A focus on the rule of faith takes us to the ancient Nicene Creed, which has "served as the formal distillation of the heart of the faith catholic [universal] since the fourth and fifth centuries" (p. 71). The Nicene Creed is Christ-centered with a structure that is organized "around the persons of the Father, Son and Spirit as they are revealed in the biblical narrative of the good news" (p. 72). This Trinitarian, gospel-focused structure is not imposed on Scripture, but flows from it (see, for example, the Trinitarian structure of our Lord's description of baptism in Matthew 28:18-20).
Irenaeus  (woodcut)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Irenaeus (d. c. 202), emphasized the Trinitarian structure of the rule of faith, by defining its three articles as God the Father, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit, noting that the Father comes to creation through his Son and in his Spirit; and creation, in turn, comes to the Father through the Son and in the Spirit (p. 74). This rule of faith derives from what Christ taught his apostles, who passed it to the next generation, and so on, down the centuries. Note Walker and Parry's comment:
What is impossible to miss is that the early churches from Gaul to Egypt shared a common core of beliefs that represented the very heart of Christian belief. Variety in expression of that core was permitted--we even find diverse presentations of the rule within works by a single author...but the basic elements were fixed (p. 76).
From the beginning, the church's belief, practice and worship had a Trinitarian shape and a gospel focus. To say it was "gospel-focused" is to say that it emphasized the story of Jesus. Next time we'll learn more about that story and its prominence in the rule of faith.