In the situation now developing it is becoming increasingly clear that what matters most is not whether one is a Protestant or an Anglican or a Roman Catholic but whether one is a Christian. It is also becoming increasingly clear that to be a member of a denomination does not guarantee that one is a Christian in the New Testament understanding (the only authentic understanding) of this.
Protestantism is now in a state of chaos. In many quarters sentimentalism, secularism, humanitarianism, and even anti-trinitarianism have supplanted the genuine Christianity of the New Testament. Every view, from wooden literalism to the wildest liberalism, is accorded a place. The old heresies are being installed as the new orthodoxies. Prominent churchmen and theologians confidently assure us that God is in some way identical with man, that the world is a closed naturalistic system, and that the first and great commandment is to love one’s neighbor.
Anglican officialdom seems intent on turning Anglicanism into an episcopal sect that in effect unchurches the denominations lacking the much vaunted “historic succession” of bishops; at the same time Anglican officialdom is itself unchurched by Roman Catholic officialdom, to whom it blithely pays lip service and visits but who persistently reject the reality and validity of Anglican orders. Where is the sense in all this?
The rapid growth, supported by official encouragement, of the cult of Mary, with the consequence that the figure of Christ is receding more and more into the background, indicates that Roman Catholicism is in danger of becoming a religion of Mary rather than of Christ. Rome is still notorious for its superstitions, especially in connection with the relics and the miracles of its saints. All this is remote from the Christianity of the New Testament. And Rome also has its share of exotic theological liberals!
One does not willingly paint so gloomy a scene. But it is always wise to be realistic. Refusal to face unwelcome facts is no service to Christianity, any more than is the mania for making the Church an open house for every kind of unbelief. Zeal for God’s house has not ceased to be a mark of those who would faithfully follow Christ. But the picture is not completely dark; God always has his “seven thousand” who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Though there are in the churches very many who “hate to be reformed and who cast God’s words behind them” (see Ps. 50:17, Prayer Book Version), God keeps alight the flame of his truth through his faithful remnant, whom he graciously preserves from generation to generation. It is this remnant that ever forms the core of genuine Christianity in the world. And let no one complain that this is the language of arrogance: far from it, for all is owed to the free grace of God in Christ Jesus, and nothing whatsoever to the work and merit of man.
Defining The Essentials
Is it possible, then, to define genuine Christianity? Definition, it is true, carries with it the dangers of acknowledgment that is merely formal and external (“the devils also believe!”); but this risk must be taken, for to leave essentials undefined is to engender a fog under cover of which only chaos can ensue. Indeed, it must be insisted that authentic Christianity has received binding definition by Christ himself (our Saviour and God and our ultimate authority) in the teaching given both through his own lips and through his apostles under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration—that is, in the New Testament, in which this teaching is recorded for us.
If we were asked to summarize the main lines of genuine Christianity as set forth in the New Testament, we should say that it involves unfeigned belief in the absolute supremacy and sovereignty of Almighty God as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge of the whole world; in the creaturely finiteness, fallenness, and sinfulness of all mankind, and man’s inability to procure, in whole or in part, his own salvation; in the eternal existence and deity of Christ, the Son of God; in his incarnation by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem; in the complete and final sufficiency of his sacrificial death on the Cross where he suffered, the Righteous for the unrighteous, as the only atonement and satisfaction for the sins of the world; in his actual resurrection from the dead in a glorified body and his actual ascension into heaven in that same body; in the reality of the power of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, poured out on mankind on the Day of Pentecost; in the necessity for the Holy Spirit’s dynamic, transforming activity in the heart (understood as the innermost focus of man’s being) if the miracle of the new birth through the grace of God in Christ Jesus is to be experienced; in the moral responsibility of the regenerate man to walk, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the law of God; in the hope of Christ’s coming again at the end of this age to judge both the living and the dead and to bring in, as the consummation of the redemption he has procured for us, the new heavens and the new earth, freed forever from all defilement and imperfection and filled with his glory; and, meanwhile, in the authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture in all matters of faith, worship, and conduct, as the Word of God written for our instruction in the way of eternal life.
This list may seem formidable to some, but in fact its parts form a coherent whole. As a charter of original and consistent Christianity, it affords a yardstick whereby we may judge in this post-Christian world whether or not a system or a creed is genuinely Christian. This does not mean that a person may not have a very simple saving faith in Christ, like a young child; it does mean that through the inner working of the Holy Spirit in heart and mind such a person will before long come into the inheritance and comprehension of this faith.
The emphasis, further, is not on the formal acceptance of a catalogue of dogmas, which by itself would be sterile and meaningless, but on the experience of the incontestable witness of the Holy Spirit, who writes these truths in the heart and makes them a vital reality in everyday life.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
But what of the “Protestant-Catholic dialogue” with which this issue of Christianity Today is concerned? It is, of course, a good thing for people to be able to talk to one another and to seek by means of frank and charitable discussion to come to a better understanding of the various positions held. Today, however, we hear altogether too much of this word “dialogue”: everyone is expected to listen receptively to everyone else, and no one must say anything so positive as to offend another person; every group has its own particular “insight” to contribute, and room must be found for the “insights” of all, however much they may contradict each other. This is a good way to produce a unity of chaos, and it is rapidly increasing the incoherence of Christendom in these mid-sixties. The souls of men are at stake. What communion can there be between supernatural religion and antisupernaturalism? between theism and humanism? between truth and error?
Therefore I, for one, submitting to the standard of God’s Word (what the early Church called the “canon,” or measuring-rod, of Holy Scripture), will not seek to minimize or smooth over the errors of Rome—or, for that matter, the errors of Protestantism. My witness must be, however, not merely one of negative denunciation of error but rather one of positive proclamation of scriptural truth. For to declare the truth is to expose the error that contradicts or is incompatible with it.
There are indications that many are becoming heartily sick of the shallow trivialities and uncertainties that in all too many Protestant churches are substituted for the sure and glorious verities of the Christian Gospel. These husks can never satisfy the hunger of the soul. People long for bread. Again, there are indications of a deeply felt reaction among Roman Catholics against the arid formalism and denial of personal assurance that characterize the papal system. The quest for merit on the ground of one’s own acts or those of some other creature is sterile and leads to despair. How hopeful is the new movement now spreading in Roman Catholic circles for the systematic study of Holy Scripture!
Pseudo-Christianity is making great strides in the Church today; yet at the same time, and for that very reason, many are finding their way to the realization of what genuine Christianity, the dynamic Christianity of the Acts of the Apostles, really is, and, by the grace of God, they are taking their stand with Christ’s “seven thousand.” Dissatisfied with forms of religion that deny the power of the Holy Spirit, they are seeking and finding the dynamic of the Risen Saviour that transforms and gives meaning and assurance and victory to the whole of existence. These are the people, Protestants and Roman Catholics, who must seek each other out and who, eschewing the inconclusive ambiguities of the type of “dialogue” that has become fashionable, must stand together and if necessary suffer together “for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9).
I venture to suggest that in this developing situation Anglicanism has much to offer. The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (in whose service I have ministered for many years) is a treasure of the devotion of the historic Church, biblical, evangelical, and memorable because of its superb language. Free as it is from the idiosyncrasy of the individualist, it could dispel the liturgical poverty of so much non-Anglican Protestantism; and, purged as it is from the errors of Rome, it could be a beacon-light to those who today are again feeling their way toward the reform of faith and worship in accordance with the Word of God. This book (however much it may be susceptible of improvement) could well be a rallying point for those who desire to promote the cause of genuine Christianity in our day.
Be that as it may, the call is for those who wish to be loyal to the New Testament pattern of doctrine and morality to seek each other out so that with singleness of purpose they may bear witness to the authentic faith. For Roman Catholics this will involve courage to break through the barrier of the anathemas of Trent. For Anglicans it will mean a penitent repudiation of the strange arrogance that has prejudiced their attitude towards fellow Christians who are not Anglicans. For all it will require an obedient openness to the reforming light of God’s Word, a willingness to follow wherever the Master leads by his Spirit, and a renunciation of the quest for respectability that is throttling the life out of so many churches today.
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