“Right Doctrine For Right Living” series: (post #5)
There are certain doctrinal teachings that are absolutely fundamental to authentic Christianity. Stating the matter bluntly, if you don’t believe these doctrines you can’t be a Christian. The hard part, however, is deciding upon an exact list of what those doctrines are. If you don’t think coming up with such a list is hard, try doing it yourself.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the so-called “higher criticism” that was most closely associated with Germany and had already discredited and demoted the Bible enough to decimate Christianity over much of Europe began to make its way into America’s colleges, universities, seminaries, and pulpits. The supposed goal of this “higher criticism” was to apply a cold, strictly scholarly, historical approach to studying the Bible in order to get at the original context and meaning of each passage. While on the surface this goal seemed commendable, the problem with “higher criticism” was that the men who were driving the movement were for the most part atheists who did not believe in anything supernatural, including the supernatural revelation of scripture. To them, the Bible was little more than a dead literary corpse whose history merely needed to be clinically dissected, antiseptically analyzed, and neatly categorized. They certainly saw nothing of God about it.
In response to the looming threat of “higher criticism,” various groups of Christians in America set themselves to the task of stopping the movement in its tracks. The group that made the most impact in doing this was a group of 64 Christian authors, a veritable “who’s who” of leading theologians and ministers, who wrote a set of ninety essays that attempted to set forth a list of doctrines that were fundamental to the Christian faith. Between 1910 and 1915, these essays were published quarterly in twelve volumes by a publishing company in Chicago, Illinois, and hundreds of thousands of copies were mailed free of charge to ministers, missionaries, seminary professors, and many other Christian workers. The project was funded by Lyman Stewart, the founder of Union Oil, who was a devout Presbyterian. A couple of years after all the volumes were published, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles (Biola), which was founded by Stewart, republished the essays into a popular four-volume set entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.
The end result of the whole project was that certain “fundamental” doctrines were presented as being indisputable for the Christian faith. Unfortunately, because the essays weren’t originally written or published in a systematic order, compiling a numbered list of these doctrines proves problematic. This explains why various lists of these “fundamentals” don’t always match up perfectly. Basically, however, the essays proclaimed the importance of the following doctrines:
- the virgin birth of Christ
- the deity (divinity) of Christ
- the reality of the miracles of Christ
- the substitutionary death, literal burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ
- the atonement of sins through the shed blood of Christ
- the visible, bodily return of Christ
- the inerrancy of the whole Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, by means of the verbal, plenary (full), divine inspiration of scripture
You’ll notice that there is nothing on this list about the color of the carpet in a church. There is also nothing there about how often The Lord’s Supper (Communion) should be observed. Neither is there anything about:
- whether or not a church should hold Sunday evening services
- whether or not a church should buy a new church bus/van
- how often a church’s business meetings should be held
- what Bible translation the pastor should use
- how much salary the pastor should make
- what youth programs the church should offer
- how much money the church should give to missions
- how many deacons the church should have
- what type of Christian songs (traditional or contemporary) the church should sing
- whether the church should have a choir leader or a praise-and-worship band
What I’m trying to get you to understand is that everything that goes on in our churches doesn’t fall under the heading of “doctrine.” Admittedly, “doctrine” can be a subjective type of thing, but we at least have a basic framework for it set down in scripture. You see, whatever role The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth played in keeping “higher criticism” from undercutting the support beams of Christianity in America, those essays didn’t actually create or formulate Christian doctrine. All they did was lift that doctrine from the pages of the Bible and expound upon it.
I want you to keep this in mind as we head for the next post, which will be the last one in this series. That post will be entitled “The Separation Over Wrong Doctrine.” Yes, if a Christian’s church situation or denominational situation becomes egregious enough in terms of doctrine, God would have that Christian to separate himself or herself from that situation. The Bible makes no bones about that. With that said, though, we must do our best to keep clear lines of distinction between what is doctrinal grounds for separation and what isn’t. After all, the denial of Christ’s virgin birth is one thing but the order of service as printed in the church bulletin is another. And while I’m sure that most of us understand this, I did want to offer a word on the subject before I move us into a post about separating over wrong doctrine. This post, I trust, has accomplished that task.