Friday, January 11, 2008

Defining the Church - Defining a Christian Pt 2

Before I begin, let me say at the outset that this will not be -- at least for now -- the kind of treatment that I wanted to give this subject. My schedule for the past week or more has been absolutely insane, and it will probably remain so for a while. But we'll proceed and tie up loose ends down the road.

In part one, we reviewed the definitions of saving faith, a true church, and the true Gospel as revealed. In this post, I want to say more about how a true Gospel saves, and a false Gospel damns. But first, a bit more about defining the church.

In arriving at our definitions, the Bible is our most important source and final authority. In many cases, specific chapters and verses can be cited in making definitive statements about doctrine i.e. 1 Corinthians 15 and defining the Gospel. Yet in addition to Scripture, there are other sources that are helpful, provided it is recognized that these other sources are extra-biblical and do not carry the authority of the Bible.

It is very helpful to study the history of the church and how the historic creeds of the church were developed. It is helpful to study a bit on how the canon of Scripture came to be. Personally, I find the creeds fascinating because they were the first real attempts to set down in a user-friendly nutshell what the essence of biblical Christianity is. In my view, the most important creeds are the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Westminster Confession. They help shoot down a common argument thrown at Christianity, namely that there are so many "divisions" in Christendom and that somehow destroys the credibility of the church.

In truth, when you look at the creeds, they contain core truths that are agreed by the majority of Christian confessions. The differences that remain typically do not affect salvific issues, with the exceptions of Roman Catholicism and similar denominations that try to mix works with the Gospel. That indeed is a serious error. However, the creeds highlight core doctrinal truths that all must agree on to be considered genuinely Christian. And that is where we run into trouble with pseudo-Christian cults, the Johnny-come-latelies on the scene who try to redefine biblical Christianity. I like the way the Apostle John puts it:

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 9-11).

Now, when John says not to receive false teachers into your house, he is not talking about witnessing to cultists. In John's day, itinerant teachers would travel around and take lodging with local believers. John did not want the church aiding and abetting false teachers who did not "bring this teaching" set forth by the Lord Jesus and His apostles.

Most notable in John's words are that "anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God." Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other cults do not abide in the teaching of Christ, argue though they may. There is 2,000 years of Christian history against them and a host of evidence to the contrary of their claims.

As we stated before, 1 Corinthians 15 is the only place in the New Testament where the Gospel is defined. In his letter to the church at Galatia, the Apostle Paul gave a very solemn warning . . .

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different Gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the Gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9)!

This is serious business, folks. Paul was so deadly serious on this issue that he repeated it twice for stress. Those who bring any Gospel contrary to that taught and revealed by Jesus and His apostles are to be accursed. When you couple that with the warning of the Apostle John that anyone not abiding in the teaching of the Apostles does not have God, it should be clear enough. The Gospel is of paramount importance. But there are also other core doctrinal truths that are salvific in nature. The Lord Jesus said this in His High Priestly Prayer . . .

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).

Note the logic necessitated in that passage. If you don't know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom that only true God sent, then you don't have eternal life either. Knowing that true God involves believing what He has revealed about Himself through His Word. Again, it should be clear enough.

However, for the millions deceived and lost in cults, it isn't clear enough. And that is the work of Christian apologetics, guided by the Holy Spirit and the light of God's Word. We are commanded in Jude . . .

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).

We are further warned by the Apostle Peter . . .

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Saying things like this is not popular in an age of political correctness and grossly misnamed "tolerance." But eternal destinies are at stake. The Lord does not give us smorgasbord options on dealing with truth. He commands us to stand, and stand we must.

Note to commenters who intend to argue with me: Please keep your comments as concise as possible, remembering that I have limited time. No Tolstoy novels. Stay on topic and preferably one issue at a time in logical order. I won't hesitate to use the delete key or close comments if things get out of hand.


pastorbrianculver said...

Good morning! I have my links on mormonism posted today. let me know if you find the commments on that one post, Have a great day!

SolaMeanie said...

Hi, Brian..

FYI, my email has been down for much of the day. Apparently our provider zapped something they shouldn't have zapped. So if you've tried to email me, that's why I haven't responded.