Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, July 30, 2005

DOCTRINE (Part 3) - The Essentials

[Edit, 13 August 2005: I am indebted to Matt Slick( http://www.carm.org/doctrine/essentials.htm ) for much of this argument. I will state one MAJOR reservation I have, however. Slick believes that one can be a universalist and still be Christian - in other words, you can believe everyone will be saved. I STRONGLY disagree - a person who thinks everyone will be saved does not understand the full severity of God's wrath against sinners, and thus cannot fully comprehend his / her own fallenness.

Slick, by the way, is not a universalist - he merely says universalists can be Christian, because he believes that the doctrine of Jesus as the "only way" is not essential. I disagree - a person who is a universalist believes (in essence) that there are other ways than Christ, and this is an implicit denial of Christ's Lordship and His death on behalf of sinners. Slick's error is serious - it risks giving false assurance to those who do not follow Christ.

A solid discussion of this issue may be found at Carla Rolfe's site, Reflections of the Times, where I first noticed mention of Slick's error. Slick's materials are generally solid and very useful, but as with any teacher (including myself!), I urge that Christians exercise discernment when using his materials.]

As I wrote previously, the Bible is full of doctrine. And all of what the Bible teaches is important and relevant. There is no such thing as unimportant doctrine. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to write to the Church, and He would not have done this for no reason. Every teaching and all theology found in the Bible matters.

That said, we are imperfect, fallible human beings – even the Spirit-filled members of the Church. As Paul said, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away." Until we join Christ after this life, we will not fully be able to resolve all of our differences. Disagreement on Scriptural matters is inevitable, so what can be done about this?

The first thing we have to remember is that it is our Lord’s will that we in the Church be united:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." (John 17:20-23)

God’s design for the Church is that we be united. The fact that we are divided into hundreds of quarreling denominations should be a matter of great sadness and shame to us all.

Make no mistake – sin is the root cause of division in the Church; sin in the lives and hearts of its members. Personality conflicts, refusal to heed correction and Biblical teaching, pride in our own cleverness, and our inability to put one another first all feed into the denominational problem.

So we must all, as Christians, humbly seek God’s forgiveness for the divisions in the Church, and seek His guidance and wisdom in addressing our problems with one another. We must pray for humility, to be willing to accept where we are wrong, and for discernment, that we would know the truth. We MUST strive for unity in the Church – unity of purpose, of teaching and doctrine, and of fellowship.

The second thing we must remember is this: We are at war. War means that the enemy is actively seeking to divide and destroy us. He will use any tool he can to do so. And so we must be aware that while we strive for unity, we must do so on God’s terms, or our efforts will be in vain. We must not settle for unity for its own sake. Unity must be based on truth.

Like in marriage, our unity must reflect the nature of God’s truth. Yes, we are called to love one another, and we must love everyone. But love is not a sufficient basis for unity! If our foundation for unity is simply a desire to be together, and our effort to show love, it will fall short of God’s standard.

I heard it said once that church unity is like marriage in that, like love, if it is not based on truth, is adultery. Our unity must be based on the truth of the Word of God – nothing less will do.

Now, as Christians, we recognize that in this life, we may never fully resolve our differences in interpreting the Bible. In Romans 14, Paul recognizes that differences will arise among true Christians, and identifies the cause: weakness of faith. In other words, spiritual maturity and strength varies from person to person, and some Christians will be earnestly mistaken. Paul exhorts us to tolerate minor differences of opinion.

Therefore, if we are to do so and retain our unity as a Church, and our identity as Christians, it is vital that we know which doctrines are non-negotiable. All the Bible’s teachings are important and true; certain teachings are so vital, however, that without them our faith falls. There are certain beliefs that are essential, without which a person cannot be considered a Christian.
In my view, the essentials of the Christian faith are as follows:

1). There is only one God.

God has made this so abundantly clear throughout Scripture that to deny it is to deny God’s Word. "You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me." (Isaiah 43:10)

2). God is a Trinity – One God in Three Persons.

The Trinity is a difficult doctrine to comprehend – probably beyond our full comprehension. I will study the Trinity and its importance in greater detail another time. The Bible is abundantly clear, however, about the facts that make up the Trinity:

a). There is only one God (as stated above).
b). There are three Persons called God: the Father (Philippians 1:2), the Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, Colossians 2:9) and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4).
c). These three Persons are distinct in that they enjoy relationship with one another, speak to one another, and love one another (John 17:1-5, 26, Romans 8:26, John 14:16-17).
d). The three Persons are eternal (John 1:1, Micah 5:1-2, Hebrews 9:14). The Persons thus cannot be temporary, or merely offices, or roles, or manifestations – they are an eternal and inseparable fact of God’s nature.

God is a Trinity. This is fundamental to His nature, and to an understanding of Christian salvation. If God is not Triune, Jesus cannot mediate, the Spirit cannot intercede, and the Father could not punish the Son for sin. So, to deny the Trinity is to deny Christianity, and the Church has recognized this officially since the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century. This does not mean we have to fully understand it – this is probably impossible – but we but acknowledge and accept it.

3). Jesus Christ is fully God.

This is discussed above, as implicit to the Trinity.

4). Jesus Christ is fully man.

This is crucial to our salvation. Christ had to become flesh, a human being, in order to pay for sin committed by human beings (Romans 5:15-19) and to be a mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).

5). Sinlessness of Christ.

Christians are only counted righteous in God’s eyes because Christ’s righteousness is credited to their account (Romans 5:12-21). If Christ was not sinless, as the Bible says He was (1 Peter 2:22) then there is no human righteousness available to us, and we are all lost.

6). Christ’s death on the Cross as a substitutionary sacrifice.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Christ died, suffering the wrath of God against sin that rightfully should have been borne by us. For this reason, Paul boasted in the Crucifixion: "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14) If Christ was not crucified, God’s wrath against us has not been satisfied, and we are lost.

7). Christ’s resurrection.

Paul put it best: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

In short, Christ’s resurrection is God’s guarantee that Christians will have eternal life. Without that, we have no hope whatsoever, and Christianity is pointless.

8). Salvation by grace alone through faith alone – not works!

The Apostle Paul was so dedicated to this doctrine, he wrote the whole letter of Galatians refuting salvation earned by human actions, and Paul is so clear about this matter that at its beginning, he said that anyone who denied this doctrine was "anathema" – cut off from the Church! (Galatians 1:6-9)

…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified… I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:16, 21)

If we have to earn our salvation by our actions, or add to Christ’s work, then we "nullify" Christ’s work. Salvation HAS to be by grace (the undeserved mercy and favour of God) through faith (our trust in Christ’s work for us) because in and of ourselves, we are powerless to save ourselves!

9). Christ is the only way to salvation.

Jesus said this Himself (John 14:6) and Peter later confirmed it (Acts 4:12). It’s self-evident – if there was another way to be saved, Christ didn’t have to die, and His sacrifice was wasted.

To these nine, I will add that all these doctrines are rooted in Scripture. Therefore, it is implied that we cannot deny Scripture, the Holy Bible, as the final authority of the Christian faith and still hold these beliefs.

As a Christian, I can call any person who believes these things my brother in Christ. We may disagree on other things – the proper method of baptism, for instance, or what kind of music to use in church. But we both have the same Lord and Saviour.

If a person denies ANY of these doctrines, I cannot call them Christian, and cannot have Christian fellowship with them. A Mormon cannot be my brother in Christ, for he denies the first point (that there is only one God). A Jehovah’s Witness cannot be my sister in Christ, for she denies that He is fully God. A Oneness Pentecostal cannot be called my brother in Christ, because he denies the Trinity. Many liberal "Christian" scholars cannot be considered believers, because they deny the resurrection. I must, will, and do love them as fellow bearers of God’s image, but they are among the lost and so are targets for evangelism, not fellow believers.

God has drawn these "lines in the sand" and explained them in the Bible. These are not our own rules, they are His. And these must be the fundamental basis of unity.


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