One of the problems constantly confronting the Christian Church is how it ought to defend its true faith in the presence of heresy and false interpretations. The problem is as keen and sharp today as it has ever been in history. The theological confusion of the twentieth century is beyond description. Many old divisions of Christendom are still with us, but so are the many cults that have subsequently emerged and grown into sizable memberships. The inroads that religious liberalism has made into the very heart of the great denominations is still a grim fact. Existential philosophies are being taught by some clever and learned men who have been making an impact upon Christendom. And neo-orthodoxy, no longer a single movement, has divided into a cluster of related theologies. In view of such confusion and interplay in church and denominational life, the question of strategy faces every Christian who wishes to maintain the orthodox interpretation of the Christian faith.
Among orthodox people themselves there is no common agreement as to what this strategy should be. Views vary from those who think evangelism and an evangelistic emphasis is the solution to those who demand a rigorous doctrinal or ecclesiastical purism. However, in view of the present doctrinal and ecclesiastical distress, it would be good to remind ourselves that in the final analysis it is God himself who maintains his people in faith and not they themselves. “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). If any nation should have perished (spiritually, politically, or physically) it should have been Israel. Yet Israel survived through centuries and through impossible conditions. The reason she survived is that the eternal God was her stay and her support. Equally instructive are Christ’s words to Peter (Matt. 16:18) that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. Whatever is the meaning of the expression “the gates of hell” the intent is the same: The Christian Church shall prevail in spite of the strongest opposition. The Lord of the Church defends her and maintains her. Not for a minute must Christians believe that the existence of the Church and her orthodoxy rests solely upon Christians; it is the responsibility of the God of the sons of Jacob, and the Lord of the Church. No anxious neurotic behavior over protecting the Church and her orthodoxy is in keeping with a sound view of the Church and her destiny in the care of God.
But in its creaturely existence, the Church is called upon to speak to the issue of strategy. As a matter of common Christian concern and discussion we suggest that the center point in rallying Christian people, the point of offense and defense, and the point of leverage and assault is the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Christ And Scripture
In the days of Calvin the religious fanatics were claiming revelations independent of sacred Scripture. Calvin replied to these men that there was an image of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and any claim to the work of the Spirit must correspond to this image (Institutes, Book I, Chap. 9). In that the revelations of the fanatics did not conform to the image of the Spirit, they were not prompted by the Holy Spirit but by a devilish spirit.
The same relationship holds between Jesus Christ and sacred Scripture. In fact, there is a unique relationship between Scripture and Jesus Christ for Scripture is the summation of revelation as word and Jesus Christ is the summation of revelation as person. But these are not two revelations. The sum of the revelation as person is the subject matter supreme of the sum of revelation as word; and the sum of revelation as word is the divine instrument for introducing men to the revelation as person.
Therefore, we draw two important conclusions. The cultist who has a formal faith in Scripture as the Word of God does not hold this faith in orthodoxy for he holds it without its supreme content, Jesus Christ. And conversely, Churches and Councils that believe in Jesus Christ as divine Lord and Savior and who are not bound to the Scriptural picture of Jesus Christ also have no claim to orthodoxy for they allow men to have a doctrine of Christ not bound to sacred Scripture.
The Faith And The Lord
A most important passage in this connection is Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” Most exegetes believe that in this verse “Jesus Christ” stands for the entire Christian faith. Thus the auctor of Hebrews is affirming the finality of the Christian faith. Its truth is the same in the past, present, and future. And how remarkable it is that he sums up the content of the Christian religion with these two words: Jesus Christ! As the mutual combination of the person and work of Christ is understood in this verse, let Jesus then be the hallmark of orthodoxy, its center, its essence, the point where all Christians converge and all heresies diverge. This Christ is not of men’s speculation but the One who corresponds to the image painted of him in the New Testament.
The hallmark was the official stamp of the Goldsmith’s Company of London. Its mark upon silver and gold wares attested to their purity. By the same manner, the eternal Father has stamped upon the Christian faith, according to Hebrews 13:8, the sign of divine purity: Jesus Christ.
It is very clear that the piety of the New Testament is a Christ-centered piety. Galatians 2:20 (“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith [fulness] of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me”), and Philippians 3:10 (“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death”) are at the very center of New Testament personal piety. And there is that remarkable verse at the end of I Corinthians: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (16:22). These verses call for a complete personal dedication to Jesus Christ by every Christian. No faithfulness to a moral code or dedication to a Christian institution can substitute for personal, loyal devotion to Jesus Christ. To defend the person and work of Christ, without a genuine personal dedication to him, is an evil thing. Theology without personal religion is devilish; and therefore, he who would be a defender of the faith must first be in daily personal communion with his Lord.
It is not a difficult matter to show that the biblical revelation finds its center in Jesus Christ. Our Lord, speaking of Moses said, “he wrote of me” (John 5:46); and when He gave his marvelous postresurrection lesson in the Scriptures he began with Moses and all the prophets and “expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Peter states that the Holy Spirit which inspired the apostles is the same Spirit of Christ which inspired the prophets (1 Pet. 1:11–12). The auctor of Hebrews sums up the content of the New Testament as God speaking by his Son (Heb. 1:2). He who reads Scripture without coming to Jesus Christ has not stepped into the inner side of sacred Scripture (2 Tim. 3:15).
The Pneumatology of the New Testament is a Christ-centered doctrine. The Holy Spirit is readily called the Spirit of Christ, the other helper (John 14:16) who thus stands side by side with Jesus Christ. He shall not speak of himself, but he shall speak of Christ and glorify the Savior (John 16:13–14). And when the Holy Spirit prompts the human heart with a profound inspiration, the heart says, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3).
When we turn to the doctrine of God in the New Testament we discover it too is centered in Christ our Lord. No man knows the Father unless he is introduced to Him by the Son (Matt. 11:27). When the Father illumines the human heart, it is with a knowledge of Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 16:17; Gal. 1:16). He who sees Christ sees the Father (John 12:45) for He is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4), and in Jesus Christ are hid all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Col. 2:2–3). He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person (Heb. 1:3). Therefore, we have the remarkable expression in the New Testament—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. No belief-in-God-in-general is tolerable within the boundaries of the New Testament doctrine of God.
The doctrine of the Church is equally a Christ-centered doctrine. Christ is the founder and builder of the Church (Matt. 16:16 f.). He is the Good Shepherd who gathers the flock of God and leads it (John 10:1 ff.); he is the Rock upon which the Church is built (1 Pet. 2:6), the head of the body which is the Church (Col. 1:18), and the husband and head of the Church (Eph. 5:23). The Church is not a religious society, nor ethical society, nor simply the moral conscience of the state. It is a supernatural society summoned into existence by the call of God and in the name of Jesus Christ.
Paradoxical as it may appear, the New Testament doctrine of sin has a Christological orientation (John 16:7–11). The Divine Barrister (as it is permissible to translate parakletos; in Kittel’s Wörterbuch we have Fürsprecher) shall convict (another legal term) the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The cardinal sin is not to believe in the Saviour. Proof of the lack of human righteousness as contrasted with the perfection of Christ’s righteousness is that Christ could go directly to the presence of God; and the prince of this world, who rules the unregenerate, is judged and condemned in the cross of Christ.
The Great Divide
It is highly instructive to note that when the apostle wishes to set out the final dividing line between the spirit of God and the spirit of antichrist, between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error (plane, wandering), he locates it in the Incarnation (1 John 4:1–7). The prophet who affirms that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh speaks from the Spirit of God; and the prophet who denies the Incarnation speaks from the spirit of error and antichrist. This is a remarkable passage for it is one of those places in Scripture where a line is decisively drawn, and we do well to note carefully when Scripture does draw such a line.
Jesus Christ, of the prophetic anticipation of the prophets and their Old Testament, and of the direct witness of the apostles and their New Testament, is the essence of the Christian faith, and therefore the hallmark of orthodoxy. The basic test for purity of theological metal is whether there is devotion to his wonderful Person, loyalty to the apostolic doctrines summed up by his Name, spiritual and heartfelt desire to “follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21), and constancy in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9).
Bernard Ramm is Director of Graduate Studies in Religion at Baylor University. He holds the A.B. from University of Washington, B.D. from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ph.D. from University of Southern California, and has studied at University of Basel. This fall he moves to his new position at California Baptist Theological Seminary.
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