PAPER NO. 16
THE HISTORIC CHRISTIAN FAITH
The Holy Spirit Guides the Church into All Truth
Part I: Introduction: Authority and Insight
- Authority in teaching is based on insight into the Word of God, the Logos, which is Truth (John 17:17).
- Authority is rational, not personal; it begins with Foundation, with basic things about God and man and good and evil that are clear to reason.
- Authority based on insight has power to understand the good (man’s chief end—eternal life) and the means to the good through the moral law; it is not based on mere might.
- The insight of authority is historically cumulative, not individual; it is not set aside or decreased, but transmitted and increased through every generation. This insight in the Church is the Historic Christian Faith.
- Historical Foundation of Christianity presupposes Theological Foundation from Scripture and Philosophical Foundation from general revelation (GR). If there is agreement on what is more basic there can be agreement on what comes after.
Part II: The Spirit and the Truth
- Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all Truth in order to accomplish its mission (John 16:13).
- The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
- The Church is to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
- The Church is to witness unto Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit which came at Pentecost (Acts 1:8).
- The Church is to make disciples of all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20).
- The Church is to sanctify its members and bring them to maturity and to the unity of the faith through the Truth (John 17:17; Ephesians 4:11-16).
- The Church is to take thoughts captive raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4).
- The Church is to complete its mission to fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9).
- The Holy Spirit works to bring the Truth into focus (Acts 15:28) and to bring the Truth into the hearts of persons by regeneration (John 3:3) and by sanctification (John 17:17).
- The Holy Spirit brings the Truth into focus (Acts 15):
- through the pastor-teachers (the ordinary, regular, continuing, post-apostolic authority in the Church),
- in response to challenges (from the faulty worldviews of converts),
- after much discussion,
- coming to agreement summed up in Creeds (understood by good and necessary consequences),
- which agreement is delivered unto the churches for the unity of the faith.
- There is a process in coming to the Truth:
- The Truth is by a deliberative process, not from one but from many, not accretion by tradition without challenge and much discussion, not without agreement made known to the Church.
- What enters apart from these conditions is not part of Historic Christianity. What departs from the unity of the faith is not part of Historic Christianity.
- The process is continuing until the Church’s mission is completed.
- The progress of the unity of the faith in the history of the Church is the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.
- Insight based on deliberation is cumulative:
- Historic Christianity makes explicit the teaching of Scripture and its practice in liturgy and cannot be used to set aside Truth from either general revelation or from Scripture, which is more basic.
- There have been several Councils in the history of the Church. Not everything in Councils has been subject to much discussion, but some things may have been assumed.
- Historic Christianity (HC) continues to respond to challenges raised up against the knowledge of God.
- Later Confessions cannot set aside what has been agreed upon in HC without addressing prior deliberation. HC includes more than the seven early ecumenical councils.
Part III: The First Council at Jerusalem: Sacrament and Salvation
- The first Church Council at Jerusalem (A.D. 51) dealt with the question of sacrament and salvation: Is circumcision necessary for salvation? Against the teaching that you must be circumcised and obey the law to be saved, the Council answered: “We gave no such command” (Acts 15:24).
- A sacrament is a sign of reality:
- Circumcision is an outward sign of an inward reality, of a new heart, of regeneration. The reality of circumcision is of the heart, not the flesh (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29).
- Baptism in the New Testament, like circumcision in the Old Testament, signifies regeneration. It is possible to have the sign without the reality and to have the reality without the sign.
- Jesus called for the reality: unless you are born again you cannot be saved, that is, enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:3-5).
- Mistaking sign for reality blinds one to the need for the reality of regeneration.
- Gentiles who believed and who were without circumcision and without baptism had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and so were saved. So neither the sign of circumcision nor baptism were necessary for salvation (Acts 10:43-48; 15:6-11).
- Sacraments are ordinary parts of instruction in the faith and of covenant renewal. Yet the sign is not necessary for the reality signified. So neither is the sign of the Passover or the Lord’s Supper necessary for entering the Kingdom of God.
- The error of literalism:
- Hebraic literalism, not distinguishing sign and reality, led to ceremonial legalism and has been a major stumbling block to faith past and present.
- Unbelief concerning sign and reality can range from ignorance in Nicodemus (John 3:10), to the error of Saul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:1-9), to those who would pervert the Gospel (Galatians 1:7), to Peter’s dissimulation (Galatians 2:11-13).
- The First Council of Jerusalem rejected the insistence that sacraments are necessary for salvation.
- The Historic Christian Faith affirms this teaching.
Part IV: The Apostles’ Creed
- The Apostles’ Creed (ca. A.D. 180) summarizes the Church’s response to the challenge to the truth from the Greek worldview of epistemological gnosticism (vs. cGR), metaphysical dualism (both matter and spirit are eternal), and ethical dualism (separating the soul from the hindrances of the body).
- Against metaphysical dualism the Church affirms God as Creator of heaven and earth. God in the flesh (the Incarnation) is real, not apparent, and bodily existence continues forever (in the resurrection).
- Far from being (the source of) evil or a distraction or a matter of indifference, the world as created is good and reveals God.
- Lifelong withdrawal from the affairs of this life through celibacy and monasticism (except for a limited time and for a specified purpose) is uncalled for, not a higher calling.
- The life of mystical contemplation consummated in a disembodied beatific vision is a dualist conceit, not part of man’s calling to fill the earth with the knowledge of God through the work of dominion, consummated in the resurrection of the body.
Part V: The Nicene Creed: The Trinity
- At Nicea (A.D. 325) the Church summarized its understanding that God is one over and against misunderstanding which has survived in several forms through history (Arianism, Socinianism, Deism, Unitarianism, Judaism and Islam).
- What is one is a unity and unity is a unity of diversity. God the Most High is a unity of the highest reality, that of Persons.
- “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son” (WCF 2.3).
- Prior to the doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of God and the unity and diversity (the simplicity) in the divine nature: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth (SCQ 4). The doctrine of God assumes the doctrine of being and the doctrine of the eternal. It is clear to reason from GR that there must be something eternal and only some (God the Creator) is eternal.
- The doctrine of the Trinity begins with the doctrine of the Father and the Son, co-eternal with the Father, the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person (Hebrews 1:3). The Son reveals God and is the Word of God: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
- God reveals himself in his works of creation and providence. Man cannot know God as God knows himself. To man, as creature, the Triune God in himself is incomprehensible, and as revealed is inexhaustible. The mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed in the great acts of creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
- The depth of personhood in the Trinity is revealed in man the image of God, created in knowledge, holiness and righteousness, and in Christ the new head of mankind as Prophet, Priest and King. Man is called to the unity of the Trinity in Christ’s prayer: that they all may be one, as we are one, that the world may believe you sent me (John 17:21).
Part VI: The Council of Carthage: The Canon of the New Testament Scripture
- At the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) the Church identified all the books and only the books that constitute the Scripture of the New Testament, the Word of God written, the rule of faith and life for all Christians.
- The canon of the Old Testament was received by testimony of the Church under the Old Testament.
The canon of the New Testament was received by testimony of the Church under the New Testament.
- Scripture in every age must be spoken in the name of God (consistent with cGR and with any prior SR). Scripture must be accompanied by a sign (what is spoken comes to pass—Deuteronomy 18:22). Scripture has been received by the testimony of the Church.
- Scripture, as redemptive revelation, is given only by God, and being given by God is kept pure and entire by God in every age, so that nothing is to be added to it or taken away from it, contrary to all contradictory claims.
- Scripture in the OT testifies to the person and work of Christ, the Redeemer to come. The NT records the accomplishment of redemption in the coming of Christ and its application in the Church by apostolic witness. Scripture, as redemptive revelation, is therefore complete.
Part VII: The Council of Chalcedon: Christ is God and Man
- At the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) the Church affirmed the doctrine of Christ as fully God and fully man. In the Incarnation “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion” (WCF 8.2).
- The doctrine of Christ as God and man affects every aspect of understanding the person and work of Christ as creator of all things, upholder of all things, redeemer of all things and heir of all things (Hebrews 1:1-3).
- He is the eternal Son of God, the Logos who was in the beginning, who was with God and is God, and who makes God known (John 1:1).
- He is the new head of humanity, the second Adam in the place of Adam, who came to undo what Adam did (as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world) and to do what Adam failed to do (to rule over all—to exercise dominion—to make God known) (Isaiah 11:1-9).
- He is God the Son incarnate (born of the Virgin Mary); He was sinless (though tempted in all points as man); He was crucified for our sins (vicarious atonement); He was raised from the dead (in his righteousness and for our justification); He ascended into heaven and rules with all authority, sending the Holy Spirit to apply redemption accomplished; He will come again (to raise the dead and to judge all mankind by his Word).
- He is the only mediator between God and man; He is the head of the Church, his body; He is Prophet, Priest and King over the Church; He will rule until all things are subdued unto him (1 Corinthians 15:25); He is the seed of the woman who will destroy the kingdom of darkness; He will demolish every pretension raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5; Revelation 19:11-21).
- He is the Word of God who makes God known in every way; He will complete the work of dominion by making disciples of all nations; He will bring mankind from the Garden of Eden to the City of God; He will glorify God (fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea); His kingdom will last forever; He is the Alpha and the Omega (the Beginning and the End), the fullness of God who fills everything in every way (Revelation 1:8, 22:18; Ephesians 1:23).
Part VIII: The Council of Orange: Sin and Salvation
- At the Council of Orange (A.D. 529) the Church affirmed the doctrine of sin (man is fallen in Adam) and salvation (man is saved by grace) in response to Pelagian and semi-Pelagian error.
- The Church affirmed the distinction of liberty and ability in the four-fold state of man: (1) before the Fall it was possible to sin; (2) after the Fall it is not possible not to sin; (3) after regeneration it is possible not to sin; (4) in man’s glorified state it is not possible to sin. While ability changes, liberty (doing what I want) does not change.
- Grace is given by God, sovereignly, as he wills. Grace is not dependent on man’s willing, but by grace man is made willing.
- Grace does not operate against human nature or apart from human nature, but by grace human nature is changed by regeneration (signified) in baptism.
- All acts by which we are saved—whether we “believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask or knock”—are by grace, the gift of God, not of ourselves, so that no man can boast.
Part IX: The Westminster Assembly: The Doxological Focus on the Glory of God
- The Reformation (1517-1648) attempted to restore the Church to the Historic Christian Faith based upon the historically cumulative insight of earlier Church Councils. It specifically responded to the challenges of sacramentalism and synergism addressed in the Councils of Jerusalem and Orange.
- The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) built upon earlier Creeds of the Reformation: Augsburg (Lutheran); Thirty-Nine Articles (Anglican); Belgic (French); Helvetic (Swiss); Heidelberg (German); Dort (Dutch). It is the last and most conscious and consistent Creed of the Reformation and of Church History.
- The Westminster Standards (WCF and its Catechisms) affirm the clarity of GR and the inexcusability of unbelief (WCF 1.1), the use of reason (the light of nature and good and necessary consequences) to understand GR and SR (1.1, 1.6), the doxological focus on the knowledge of the glory of God (SCQ 1, 101; WCF 4.1, 5.1), divine sovereignty in creation–fall–redemption, and the law of God for all of life.
- Reformation soteriology has been summed up in the ordo salutis—the order of the application of redemption: effectual calling (regeneration), conversion (repentance and faith), justification (based on Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone), adoption (having all the privileges of children of God), sanctification (being made holy through knowing the truth), glorification (the removal of all sin at death and the removal of death by the resurrection of the body).
- In response to the challenge of Arminian semi-Pelagianism at Dort, WCF affirmed (from Dort) the doctrines of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints.
- The spirit of the theology of the Reformation has been summed up in the affirmation of the Five Solas: Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Solus Christus (by Christ alone), Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone).
- Uncritically held assumptions remain in the Church and have been the source of divisions in the Church which have scandalized the world. The Church must acknowledge the nature of the spiritual warfare between belief and unbelief present at every level, enter into the process of much discussion by which the Holy Spirit leads the Church into all truth, and take every thought captive raised up against the knowledge of God from unbelief, both in the Church and in the world.
Part X: Response to Ongoing Challenges
- The modern era (1650–1950) has been a challenge to the Church in several areas. The post-modern period (1950–present) has intensified that challenge.
- The Church’s fideism has been challenged by the world’s skepticism seen in the discourse of faith vs. reason and science vs. religion. The Church must affirm the clarity of GR and show the nature of faith vs. fideism and skepticism.
- The Church’s other-worldliness has been challenged by secular this-worldliness. The Church must affirm the doctrine of eternal life (in the knowledge of God through the work of dominion) and spiritual death (meaninglessness, boredom and guilt present and inherent in sin) vs. a merely future view of heaven and hell.
- The Church has been challenged in the area of imposing religion in public life. The Church must affirm that human beings as rational beings require reason for human life and that what is clear to reason from GR, which is equally accessible to all, is the basis of public life.
- The Church has been challenged in its claim to exclusivism and universalism (only through Christ are all to be saved) by rising global consciousness. There are other exclusivist and triumphalist faiths as well as simultaneous calls to universal tolerance and inclusivism. The Church must affirm the universality of sin and spiritual death, the universality of the curse (as God’s call back from sin) and the promise (Christ in the place of Adam) for all mankind, from the beginning of history.