The Church – The Pillar And Ground Of The Truth
We often hear the observation that those who accept the Bible as the Word of God frequently differ from one other in their interpretations so . . . “what is anyone to believe?” It is true that we do not all agree about everything, and that that accounts in large measure for the rise of the various denominations and groupings. How are we going to decide which of the approaches to the Christian faith is correct? Which has the best claim to being truth?
The problem is not altogether as bewildering as some would have us think. All those churches which hold unqualifiedly to the historic Christian faith as the truth are congregations which could make the common confession stated in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth . . .” It’s an ancient concise summary of certain fundamentals of the Christian faith, all of which are obviously taught in the Bible. That outlines Christian truth; the preacher and the church which rejects such doctrines as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, and so on, forfeits its claim to the name Christian.
Maybe you’ve said, “If the churches can’t agree on every point, then I’m not going to join any of them.” I plead with you not to make too much of minor differences among Bible-believing Christians who affirm basic truths. If you really love trunk and branch truth, don’t allow disagreements about leaf and twig truths get in the way of your sitting in the midst of an ordinary, limping, staggering congregation of sinners saved by grace. There will be problems in that assembly as there also are in Christian families and Christian organizations. There is no escape from differences of opinion until we get to heaven. The name of a religious group where there is total unity is a cult.
If we refuse to join any church because “the churches don’t agree on every point,” then the Puritan, William Gurnall, says that we are “as foolish as the man who refused to eat his midday meal until all the clocks in the city struck twelve at exactly the same time.” Think of it: twelve o’clock arrives, and various clocks start chiming all over town, but they’re a few seconds apart from each other. They don’t chime in perfect unison. Is that a good reason to deny that it’s noon or to refuse to eat your midday meal? Likewise, many good churches may not agree exactly on all points, but if they are sound on the basic truths, we will benefit from whatever Bible-based, Christ-honouring church we join, and we’d be foolish to say we’re waiting for all churches to be perfectly the same. Let’s be sure to join the community of truth, the forces that are united under the leadership of Jesus Christ.
Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the church into the truth until the end of time. It goes without saying that this promise has been kept. Consequently there runs through the history of the Christian church a stream of orthodoxy, a line of truth. In the days of the apostles the church stood on the solid foundation of the truth. Almost at once error crept into the church. You see it in the letter to the Galatians, false teachers quickly infiltrated that congregation. Their errors began to prevail, and so the long battle begins which has lasted for 2,000 years. The Saviour warned us it would happen, wolves disguised as sheep would ravage the flock of Christ, but the great Shepherd and Head of the church at the right hand of God, mindful of his promise, would be sending one man after another, and equipping him to discern and defend the truth, expose error and summon the church back again to the Bible. These men were filled with the Spirit of truth, and the church would give heed to them. There is a new reformation and revival, but then the years go by and once again error creeps in; a tide of unbelief using God-words begins to prevail. Again the great heavenly Shepherd sees his flock being led astray so he prepares another man. He fills him with the Spirit of truth, with vision, initiative, bags of guts, wisdom, and energy. Again the church gives heed to his message and returns to the truth of the Bible.
Such has been the history of the Christian church from the beginning to this day, and thus no doubt the course of its history will continue until Jesus comes again. The truth is expressed in all the great historic creeds of Christendom, the 39 Articles of the Church of England, the Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and such monumental expressions of the faith as the Westminster Confession, the Savoy Confession and also the 1689 London Confession of Faith which is the basis of what we preach and believe in our own Aberystwyth congregation. My Cornish friend Trevor Rogers had an interview to be headmaster of a Church of England school. He is a Baptist and during the interview he was asked about his faith. “I believe in all the 39 Articles except three, I think,” he said. The interviewing vicar chortled, “I believe in six of them,” he said and thought it was a great joke. “I was more of an Anglican than he was,” Trevor said to me.
Let us suppose that every reader is agreed on this definition of what is truth in the light of the Bible. Does it follow that we are all Christians? No! It follows that we are orthodox. But orthodoxy is not synonymous with Christianity. Orthodoxy is indeed essential to Christianity, but it does not constitute the very essence of Christianity. What the bones are to the human body that orthodoxy is to Christianity. Imagine a body without bones. Is it really a body? Hardly. It is just Mr. Blobby, a lump of flesh, not Mr. Christian. So Christianity without orthodoxy is not really Christianity. On the other hand a body consisting solely of bones is orthodoxy without Christianity. There is such a thing as the orthodoxy of demons. James tells us that they believe that there is but one God. About that they are absolutely right. But he adds that they tremble; there is no rejoicing that God is. For all our orthodoxy you and I might conceivably be demons trembling on the brink of hell.
What then constitutes one as a Christian? Not merely to know about the truth, but to know the truth of the Bible and to know him who once said, “I am the truth.” Not just to know some, or for that matter many things about God, but to know God personally. We have to be able to say with the psalmist of old: “I love the Lord.”
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