Knowing What We Believe
Recent years have seen an explosion in what Christians believe. The early church had its share of different views, like the Gnostics. Gnostics had a diverse set of beliefs. It is a teaching based on the idea of gnosis, which in Greek means knowledge. Gnosticism thus relies on personal religious experience as its primary authority. Early “Christian” Gnostics adopted their own versions of authoritative Scriptures, such as those found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.
In our time the church still has problems with different views. Some of you will perhaps remember the Church of England had a debate on whether it believed in hell, not that long ago. Some people would argue that the ecumenical movement, the idea of Christians working together across the denominational divide, has, in many cases, weakened the church, as we now are not able to speak out about things that we disagree on. It is interesting that in the 18th century, at the time of the great revival in England, the denominations were very divided but very clear on what they believed – and revival came to them all.
I think the general principal is, we need to be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3 vs 15). This is impossible to do unless we have a clear understanding ourselves about what we believe.
Having a doctrine that we believe in will put us at odds with modern thinking. Today, people describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious; a statement that can mean many things but, in particular, I think it means that truth varies with individuals and their circumstances. So many people want a Christian funeral, who have had no relationship with Christ, because they want to believe in life after death. Today’s culture seems to value the act of belief rather than any real object of belief. “Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact,” states pragmatist and philosopher William James in “The Will to Believe.”
However, this is wrong and I believe obviously so; belief will not create fact. Truth is independent of belief. No matter how hard I may try, believing something will not make it true.
Belief is only as good as the object in which we put our trust. The Bible emphasises the fact that it is vital what one believes and that it has eternal consequences (John 8 vs 24 and John 3 vs 36). The Bible stresses that Christian faith is believing in Jesus as the object of our belief. What is emphasised is not so much the one trusting, but rather the one trusted. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The church will always be divided about some things but should be united about what are the essentials of the faith. I think the Evangelical Alliance’s statement of faith, which is at the heart of this article, is as good a list as any. Many Christians from different denominations can, and have, signed up to this .
It does matter what we believe. If we believe that salvation and forgiveness can only be found in Jesus, if we love our relatives and our neighbours and believe that they are eternally lost without Jesus, then we will be very committed to sharing our faith with them.
We believe in…
1. The one true God who lives eternally in three persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
2. The love, grace and sovereignty of God in creating, sustaining, ruling, redeeming and judging the world.
3. The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.
4. The dignity of all people, made male and female in God’s image to love, be holy and care for creation, yet corrupted by sin, which incurs divine wrath and judgement.
5. The incarnation of God’s eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ — born of the virgin Mary; truly divine and truly human, yet without sin.
6. The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross: dying in our place, paying the price of sin and defeating evil, so reconciling us with God.
7. The bodily resurrection of Christ, the first fruits of our resurrection; his ascension to the Father, and his reign and mediation as the only Saviour of the world.
8. The justification of sinners solely by the grace of God through faith in Christ.
9. The ministry of God the Holy Spirit, who leads us to repentance, unites us with Christ through new birth, empowers our discipleship and enables our witness.
10. The Church, the body of Christ both local and universal, the priesthood of all believers — given life by the Spirit and endowed with the Spirit’s gifts to worship God and proclaim the gospel, promoting justice and love.
11. The personal and visible return of Jesus Christ to fulfil the purposes of God, who will raise all people to judgement, bring eternal life to the redeemed and eternal condemnation to the lost, and establish a new heaven and new earth.