Scripture tells us of Satan that he “abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). He hates the truth and constantly wars against it. While he plays a part, no doubt, in every attack made on truth, in some current attacks his activity is particularly patent. The following are striking examples.
We are told to put much more emphasis than we are doing on Christian conduct, much less on Christian doctrine. The trite saying that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life is still being dinned into our ears.
We are advised to put much more emphasis than we are doing on religious experience, much less on Christian doctrine. It is said that we derive our certainty of Christ’s resurrection, not from the Bible, but from his living within us.
We are urged to put much more emphasis than we are doing on Christian missions, much less on Christian doctrine. To engage in doctrinal controversy while many continue to walk in pagan darkness is said to be highly irresponsible.
We are admonished to put much more emphasis than we are doing on Christian unity, much less on Christian doctrine. Doctrinal differences, it is said, should be shelved in the interest of ecumenism.
In effect the aforesaid counsels are one. Together they ,constitute a concerted depreciation of Christian doctrine.
And it is not at all difficult to show that such depreciation is a truly satanic assault on Christianity itself.
A Distortion of Christianity
Satan often disguises himself as an angel of light. That is one of his favorite modes of operation. Thus he would deceive, if possible, the very elect of God. Therefore he has a way of mingling a little truth, perhaps even much truth, with falsehood. In other words, he opposes Christianity to Christianity. Obviously, he does precisely that in the aforenamed assaults on Christian doctrine.
Who will deny that we ought to emphasize Christian conduct more than we are doing? There is a truly urgent need of warnings against orthodoxism, also known as dead orthodoxy. Church members must be told that, while the Bible teaches salvation by faith, not by works, it nowhere teaches salvation by a faith that does not work. Professing Christians must be reminded of the Pauline expression “faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6) and of James’ dictum: “As the body without the soul is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas. 2:26). There is such a thing as the orthodoxy of demons. Scripture speaks of it in tho words: “Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well. The demons also believe and shudder” (Jas. 2:19). It was the apostle of faith who affirmed: “But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13).
Who will deny that we ought to emphasize Christian experience more than we are doing? Regeneration is an experience, albeit a subconscious one; and today’s members of Christ’s church have as much need. as had Nicodemus of being told that only he who is born of water and the Spirit can enter the kingdom of God (John 3;5). Conversion is an experience, and it is by no means superfluous to remind children of the covenant, as well as the unchurched, that this experience is essential for salvation. No man is a Christian who has not the experience of the indwelling Christ. Paul tells us; “If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” ( Rom. 8:9). Communion with God is man’s highest good in this life as well as in the life to come.
Who will deny that we ought to emphasize Christian missions more than we are doing? There are congregations which spend much more money for an edifice in which they and their children may worship comfortably and esthetically, and presumably in spirit and truth, for a few hours a week than for the evangelization of a world steeped in sin and squalor. Few of our young people give serious thought to the question whether perhaps God is calling them to the ministry of the Word and the sacraments, still fewer to the possibility that it may be their God-assigned duty to dedicate their lives to the bringing of the gospel to those who have no hope and are without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). Many who call themselves Christians seldom, if indeed ever, witness for the Saviour to their unsaved next-door neighbors. Right along millions of human beings are being plunged into eternity without ever having heard the only name by which sinners must be saved, and some of us stand, rather sit, idly by. To be sure, in comparison with past centuries this is the age of Christian missions, but even now the church by and large gives far too little heed to the King’s clarion call: “Go ye, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19), and far too often grieves the Holy Spirit, whose descent upon the church at Pentecost rendered it a witnessing church.
And who win deny that we ought to emphasize Christian unity more than we are doing? Too many of us to all practical intents and purposes regard their denomination as the totality of the Christian church. In exercising “the communion of saints” we restrict ourselves to the members of “our church.” We do little more than lip-service to the Scriptural teaching that all true believers in Christ, regardless of their race, color, social status, or even ecclesiastical affiliation, constitute the one body of Christ, and that each member of that body is in sacred duty bound, as well as privileged, to seek the welfare of all its members. Too often the church as an organization is disrupted by the founding of a new denomination for insignificant reasons. Jesus’ prayer “that they all may be one” (John 17:21) we are prone to regard as an expression of high idealism, forgetting that we must strive diligently for its realization.
All that is undeniable. And yet, who has the right to stress these necessary matters at the expense of Christian doctrine, and hence to the detriment, the neglect, or even the denial, of the truth? The answer is self-evident. To do that is to subscribe to the vicious principle that the end justifies the means. It amounts to playing up Christianity against Christianity. It constitutes an assault on Christianity in the name of Christianity. It adds up to a grave distortion of the Christian religion. And that is far worse than absurd. It is the very work of the devil.
The Destruction of Christianity
The satanic character of present-day disparagement of Christian doctrine becomes even more manifest in another way. It looks like the belittling of one aspect of Christianity in the interest of other aspects of Christianity. On the face of it, that is what it is. However, on closer scrutiny it proves to be an assault on the whole of Christianity, those aspects which it seemingly extols included. It would not merely distort the Christian religion; it is an attempt, both crafty and concerted, actually to destroy it.
Christian doctrine and Christian conduct are inseparable and interdependent. To use a somewhat hackneyed metaphor, they are the two sides of one coin. Jesus said: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:36). He was speaking of freedom from sin and said in effect: “The truth will make you good.” Clearly, the good life is rooted in the truth. The Apostle John described the Christian life as a walking in the truth (III John 3,4). The truth is to be done as well as believed, believed as well as done. The Westminster divines confessed: “Truth is unto goodness.” Jesus also said: “If any man will do his (God’s) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17 ). Only he who wills to lead the Christian life is able to recognize the truth. It follows that he who undermines either Christian doctrine or Christian conduct is undermining both.
To emphasize Christian experience so as to belittle Christian doctrine is worse than precarious. In the process numerous doctrines essential to Christianity arc sure to be lost for the simple reason that they cannot be experienced. Obviously, that holds of the creation of the universe, and, many mystics to the contrary notwithstanding, it holds also of the incarnation of the Son of God. Additional examples could easily be cited. Is not Christian truth a check, an indispensable check, on the validity of religious experience? For but one instance, the Bible tells us unmistakably that those who claim for themselves sinless perfection in this life are badly mistaken. “In many things we all stumble” (Jas. 3:2). And did not Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher and Albrecht Benjamin Ritschl by the exaltation of subjective experience above objective revelation father a Modernism which is not Christianity but another, hence a false, religion?
That the pursuit of Christian missions is dependent on the maintenance of sound doctrine is clear as broad daylight. Only if the Christian church holds to such truths as the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, the substitutionary atonement, and salvation by grace through faith, will it have a gospel to proclaim. It was no accident that the greatest missionary the church has ever had was also its greatest teacher and most ardent defender of doctrine. It was in the interest of the message of missions that Paul fulminated: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8). There are churches today which have substituted “a different gospel, which is not another gospel” (Gal. 1:6, 7) for the evangel that Paul proclaimed. No wonder that there are missionaries who substitute civilization for salvation; tractors, television and toothbrushes for the cross. The church which today disparages Christian doctrine will tomorrow have no gospel to declare.
It is just as clear that Christian doctrine and true ecumenism stand and fall together. Christian unity is unity in the faith. In his high-priestly prayer Jesus petitioned the Father for the unity, not of all men that name the name of Christ, nor of all groups of men that denominate themselves a church of Christ, but of those only who truly believe in the Christ of Scripture; and he prayed that they might be sanctified “through the truth” (John 17:19,20). Paul taught that those who constitute the one body of Christ have “one faith” (Eph. 4:4,5), and he described the church universal as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). The foremost mark of the true church, in distinction from the false church, is the preaching of “the pure doctrine of the gospel” (Belgic Confession, XXIX).
The conclusion is inescapable that an assault on Christian doctrine is an assault on Christian conduct, on Christian experience, on Christian missions, on Christian unity. Inevitably it is an assault on the Christian religion in its entirety.
How necessary and how urgent it is for the Christian church to be on its guard against the great Deceiver! Even while sanctimoniously embellishing the church’s superstructure he is doing his utmost to demolish the church’s foundation. Full well does he know that, if the foundation is destroyed, the whole building, superstructure and all, can only topple into ruins.
Let the church stand fast on the finn foundation of Christian doctrine and withal never cease building zealously on that foundation! Then the church will truly be the church. Otherwise it is sure to degenerate into a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9).