Thursday, December 21, 2006

war and peace

One of the things we looked at during the recent south-east team days was the early days of some of the earliest statements of faith. This was during our second session on church history, which took us into the days of Constantine and Athanasius, two charecters interesting in their own ways. Athanasius could certainly become a hero of mine, as i find out more about him.

These early statements of faith were formed by way of response to a growing number of heresies in the early church. On the one hand this heresy was probably sadly to be expected. The Christian message about God stepping into human space time history and being killed and then rising again is, literally, incredible. And as the church grew quicker than teachers could be trained people started to re model aspects of the Christian faith, particulaly with regard to either the humanity or divinity of Christ. Both clearly serious problems. And so the earliest statements of faith, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed were drawn up by way of defending historic, Biblical Christianity from attack and heresy.

Which brings us to Athansius. He spent most of his life after the institution of the Council of Nicaea defending it. He was outcast by most of the church who didn't accept the creed, and spent day after day, month after month, year after year, being worn down by his enemies for the sake of Gospel truth. I wonder if there are men like that around today, who would hold their lives cheaply for the sake of truth. I wonder how many would stick at it for two years, five years, ten years, before giving up. The thing that fascinates me and inspires me the most about this period of church division is how much of it seems, on the face of it at least, to be a question of semantics. Two words were in question and opposition to eachother were 'homoousious' meaning of the same substance, and homoiousious meaning of similar substance. Just to confuse the issue there was a third word 'homoios' meaning of like substance that was also thrown into the mix. Athanasius spent this time of his life fighting to defend the Biblical teaching that the Son was of the same substance as the Father, not of simialar or like substance, the same. Imagine if that debate was going on today, how many liberalists would complain about the debate, probably saying that the debate was only over a single letter, and 'wouldn't it be better if we all just tried to get along'. It is never better to try and 'get along' with a teaching that clearly denies the teaching of the Bible. Never. We must love the people but utterly, utterly reject their teaching.

Schaeffer says that if we are not fighting the battles of our generation we are no good as a soldier of Christ. That is to say that if people were still fighting the battles today that were won in the last generation then they are wasting their time. It seems to me that the battles that will need fighting by my generation come from inside and outside the church. Postmodern attacks on the authority and reliability of scripture from outside, and liberal attacks on penal substitution from inside. I will shamelessly quote Mark Driscoll on both these counts. He says that 'the Bible, the 66 books is the first hill to die on'. That is we must also contend and fight for the truth of the Bible. For what the Bible teaches about ourselves. Always contend and never contextualise here. ' the best part of the Bible', is another one of my favourites of his. And he's right. We, who were once vessels of wrath are now children of God. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because He soaked up all the wrath of God on the cross. It's all gone. If the wrath of God was not satisfied in the death of His Son on the cross, where and when will it be satisfied. Unless you worship a less-than-holy 'god' who doesn't love justice. Who isn't just. Thats no sort of God at all. Increasingly the western church is becoming a wrathless church, both in teaching and in worship, but the problem exists in the church, not in God.

All of which brings us back to statements of faith. (actually i'm not sure it does, but lets pretend). The problems CU's in Exeter and Birmingham are facing are down to their insistence that their leaders and teachers sign the Doctinal Basis, a statement of faith. I'll make no pretence here of impartiality. I love the DB and what it stands for. I'd happily sign it every day if i needed to. But isn't it just a bit divisive and exclusive? Well, yes and no. It is exclusive in that it excludes people who don't want to stand by the historic evangelical truths. Is it divisive? Not a bit of it. It's neccesary to protect the integrity and vision of CUs across the country. Signing the DB is a matter for rejoicing. Rejoicing in the great truth of the God is who holy, who loves us and who gave Himself for us. Who made a way back to Himself without compromising either Him or us. It's wonderful to be able to write my name at the bottom of that statement, and i thank God that i can.

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