Quill and writing

The contemporary Church is D – Divided

This indictment requires some careful thought.  Let me explain.  For about a thousand years, until the Great Schism – 1054AD, the Church was formally united notwithstanding many controversies/heresies which arose (e.g. Donatism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism, Nestorianism & Marcionism, to name but a few).  Those controversies were recognised as an attack on the Church’s unity and so gave rise to various councils (e.g. Jerusalem – Acts 15) and confessions (e.g. Chalcedon – AD 451) which sought to establish what was formally (i.e. officially) true.  On one famous occasion the great majority of Church leaders collectively withstood a single dissenting voice.  Athanasius stood his ground when challenged that the whole world was against him declaring, ‘Athanasius contra mundem!’ The issue back then was the divinity of Christ.  In recognition of Athanasius’ precision in formulating true (Biblical) doctrine the Churches began rehearsing credal statements, e.g. “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.” (Nicean Creed)

Why was formal unity important?  Because, simply, God is one.  Truth is necessarily a unit because there is but ONE God.  Truth corresponds to what God Himself comprehends.  And, although human (i.e. creaturely) knowledge can only ever, at best, be an analogue of God’s knowledge as Creator, yet metaphysically there can only be one version of ‘Truth’.  We must remember Christ’s prayer: ‘that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me’ (Jn 17:21-23).

Thus the one true, living God has manifested Himself perfectly in (i) Christ and (ii) in the Scriptures.  Few quibble with the first of these but alas, many scholars hold to a low view of Scripture and so settle for a compromised view of the latter.  The psalmist declared, ‘I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word above all Your Name’ (Ps 138:2).  Scripture is the foundation of our epistemology – i.e. how we know.  We confidently hear the Father’s voice speaking to us (Jn 10:4) in its pages as the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (Jn 16:13).  The ultimate authority for Christians is not a humanistic brotherhood of men – e.g. the Vatican, Papacy, or some other ecclesiastical magisterium – but rather God Himself speaking to us authoritatively from the Scriptures.  Hence the great clarion call of the Reformation – SOLA SCRIPTURA!  Moreover, the Scriptures are self-attesting.  They need no other (higher) sanction than themselves.  And here’s the point: therefore, we can infer that there will be no contradictions found within Scripture for God’s united, harmonious and perfect mind is expressed within them. 

Scriptural Perspicuity

Let’s restate that conclusion clearly, there cannot exist two different alternative interpretations of God’s Word!  Go ahead, read that last sentence again and again until it sinks in! Alas, many today think that the prevalence of multiple different expressions (i.e. interpretations) of Biblical teaching signifies that God has not made His mind clear and that the Scriptures are inherently without perspicuity.  But this is not so.  For the greater part of the past two thousand years the objectivity of religious truth has been taken for granted.  Only relatively recently have pluralism and relativism gained a measure of unwarranted acceptance.  Within academia, Postmodernism today rules the discourse.  Accordingly, every reading of any/every text is necessarily a misreading.  Alas, the same sort of woolly thinking has crept into the Churches and its theological training colleges.  It is common today to hear folk say ‘it’s true for you, but not true for me’.  But like mathematical truth (e.g. 2+2 = 4) theological truth is universal, absolute & objective!  God has given us a perfect instantiation of His mind in Scripture (see Ps 12:6).  So, when rightly divided (2Tim 2:15), it is internally harmonious and consistent with itself.  Again, by way of conclusion: no part of Scripture may contradict any other part of Scripture (see 2Cor 1:18). 

But it’s very tempting to think otherwise!  Doing so allows Christians to maintain fellowship with those who arrive at a spectrum of convictions on a host of doctrines. [Several of my dear (Christian) friends will not countenance a careful study of eschatology because they are aware that various evangelical leaders have come to a range of different opinions – premillennial, amillenial & postmillennial, etc.]  But such thinking is carnal and betrays the high calling of St Paul in 1Corinthians to avoid sectarianism and divisions by following men (see 2:5-16; 3:3-4).  Rather, we are to heed Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian Church – i.e. ‘to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.’ 

In verses 11-12 of that same chapter, Paul explains that Jesus would accomplish this formal unity down through time through various gifted individuals (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers & evangelists) who, by God’s superintending providence would ‘edify the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting’ (4:12-15).  This accounts then for great doctrinal formulations embraced by large constituencies of protestants over centuries such as the Apostles’ Creed (4th century) Belgic Confession (1561); the Savoy Declaration (1658); the Westminster Confession (1646) &tc. 

None of these were crafted as final absolute expressions of orthodoxy but contained an acknowledgment that they were at best provisional pending further light & improvement by future generations of faithful scholars.  A supplementary refrain of the reformers was ‘semper reformata’ (always reforming).  Summarising: authentic Christianity aspires for principled ecumenism and laments the prevailing status quo of factious sectarianism.