One Bible - Many Churches
Does it matter what we believe?

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Bible teaching
The great doctrines of the Christian faith are based upon facts. Deny the facts and you falsify the doctrine. Deny the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and he becomes the son of Joseph and not the Son of God: he is made a man of his time and no more. Deny the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and it strikes at the very foundation of the faith and makes Christ’s apostles false witnesses, and leaves the dead in their graves for ever. Deny the fact that Christ worked true miracles and he is robbed of his authority and real status, because he said that the miracles were signs of his divinity. In the end the seeker for the truth has to show a spirit of independence and look carefully at the teaching of the Bible itself rather than accept conclusions second hand.

 

One of the first things the New Testament emphasises is that doctrine can be defined. Sometimes today it is said that the Christian faith cannot be stated in propositions and that it is something mystical which cannot be analysed. If that be true, here is a strange thing – the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Galatians marvels that some of them had turned away from the truth and had departed from the Gospel to another. The point to notice is this: how can it be said that somebody has departed from something if that something cannot be defined? Surely the teaching of the New Testament is that there is a definable objective standard by which judgements can be made. Now if the Lord God has gone to great care to reveal the truth about Himself and His purpose it is illogical to behave as though it does not matter, and that people can please themselves about what they believe.

The Old Testament passage alluded to above settles this point clearly:

“On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)

Trembling at the word of God means understanding it, believing it and obeying it. People are not entitled to please themselves if that leads them to be indifferent to what God has revealed. Men and women ought to look carefully and sincerely at their beliefs.

Vital doctrines to be discovered
Those who have responded to the exhortation to look penetratingly at their own religion and measure it by the word of God have often been surprised to discover that things they had believed all their lives were untrue! The writer acknowledges that this was his experience: such a process exposed the false doctrine of the immortality of the soul and its associated ideas concerning the destiny of the soul after death. It brought release from the doctrines of demons and devils and disembodied spirits. Instead it brought to light the real and vital significance of resurrection as the method of survival, at the second coming of Jesus Christ as King of the World. It brought enlightenment and understanding concerning the kingdom of God – a realisation that it is a real kingdom to be established on the earth, in the very place where human kingdoms are crumbling to decay. It opened up the prospect of life eternal, a life not spoilt by sin or by the challenge of disability, a life immortal and wonderful, to be lived with Christ in the kingdom of God.

It also brought the sobering conviction that one of the most solemn commandments of the Lord had never been obeyed: to be baptized. With an understanding of the Bible doctrine about baptism, it became evident that what had previously passed for baptism in the form of christening was quite out of harmony with scriptural teaching and practice. The word of God demonstrated that baptism is an act of obedience, resulting from faith – a voluntary burial in water as a sign of death to the old life, and a rising again from the water to a new life of obedience.

In the days of the infant church many believers were stoned, beaten, starved, hunted, hounded and eventually martyred. They endured all this because they believed that what they had to say was vital. In the words of Peter, “We ought to obey God rather than men”. If it does not matter what we believe or with whom we worship, then they were mistaken in their determination to preach the truth at all costs.

Examples of living faith
It is profitable to observe how the apostles put into practice the principles already outlined about the importance of knowing the truth revealed by God. There is an interesting case in Acts 10 about a man called Cornelius. The record says that he was a devout man and one who feared God with all his house. He prayed to God always and gave generously of his money for the benefit of others. God sent Peter to find this man and his companions and preach to him the truth about Christ and his kingdom. When they had heard and believed they were baptized into the saving name of the Redeemer. Why it is so interesting is that Cornelius was such a good man in every way, fearing God, praying regularly and living faithfully and generously. But notwithstanding all this, he needed to know the truth and respond to it in order to be saved. By today’s standards many people would say he was good enough to start with, but the narrative proves that it did matter what he believed. He needed to know the truth so that he could respond in faith.

There is a significant case in Acts 8 which concerns a man who by today’s standards would be called a Bible reader and a regular churchgoer. He was an Ethiopian, returning to his homeland after worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem. He was sat in his chariot reading from Isaiah 53. An angel directed a believer called Philip to go to the Ethiopian and help him with his understanding of what he was reading. So Philip joined the man in his chariot and explained to him the truth about Jesus Christ. As they proceeded on the journey they came to some water and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized. Philip replied, “If you believe with all your heart, you may”. Once again it is emphasised that faith is essential in the process of conversion.

The third example has to do with Apollos, a man of considerable eloquence, “mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24), said to have been instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in the spirit. But the record makes it quite clear that more was needed. Two disciples, Aquila and Priscilla, took him and “explained to him the way of God more accurately”. It was a matter of vital importance that he understood the way of God more accurately.

So there it is – a devout man who prayed every day and lived a faithful life; a Bible reading man who worshipped God reverently; a man mighty in the scriptures who was fervent in spirit and preached diligently. In every case they needed to be taught the truth. None of these examples gives any support to the idea that religious people can please themselves about what they believe. On the contrary, the evidence is that those who mean business about their religion should take care that their faith is consistent with the teaching of the word of God. Saving faith is faith in that which is true. Any other kind is likely to prove abortive.

‘One Bible – Many Churches …’ Does it matter which one? In the final analysis the answer will depend upon what the questioner is seeking. If the quest is for friendship, or to satisfy a feeling that one ought to worship somewhere – then the answer is No, it probably does not matter. The answer is Yes, however, if the quest is for eternal life, and a form of worship acceptable to God.

DENNIS GILLETT


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