Whenever a Protestant confesses that Jesus is Lord; that He is both fully man and fully God, the only begotten Son of the Father; that God is a Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one substance, he is confessing the orthodox catholic faith!
It may seem ironic, but a new Reformation is needed among Protestants today. God looks for a the coming of a new Martin Luther, who will nail his ninety-five theses to the front door of your church. This is your invitation to be that reformer.
Today’s evangelical Christian knows very little about how the Scriptures were written nor about how the canon came into existence. The modern believer’s understanding of the Bible depends on solely on his freedom to interpret Scripture. The modern Christian often believes that faith is an individual matter. Yet 2 Peter 1:20 says: “no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation.”
An infallible book is only useful if you have an infallible interpreter. The Protestant Reformers agreed that every individual believer ought to have a working knowledge of Scripture. Yet who decides what the Bible means? Who gives the correct interpretation of Scripture? If not the pope, then why you?
Modern evangelicalism upholds the idea that each man is free to explore for himself (with the leading of the Holy Spirit) all the Truth contained in God’s Word, and not to be bound by any “meaningless creeds” or “denominational confessions.”
Of course the slogan, “No creed but Christ,” is an oxymoron and an impossibility, since this statement is a creed in itself. What evangelicals and fundamentalists of the past 100 years hoped to avoid was the dead orthodoxy which had led to theological liberalism in the late 1800s. But a creed is only meaningless and dead when the faith of the person who confesses it is so individualistic and independent from the Body of Christ that the words can be recited with no sense of awe, no inner conviction that this is what the Church has believed for 2000 years. Where we find dead orthodoxy, it is not the creed that is dead, but the faith of the person reciting it.
The question is not the sincere faith of the person reciting the creed, but whether or not this is the faith of Christ and the Church. Modern Christianity assumes the absolute autonomy of the individual and his inalienable right to interpret the Bible for himself.
Modern evangelicalism is a “church” that has built its foundation on the sand. It has promoted an individualistic Christianity that must be reinvented every generation. In some Christian circles, we hear of a “new move of God” every two years.
The evangelical spurns “tradition” as that which leads to spiritual death. Yet the Bible speaks of “the faith that was delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3); “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15); and we are warned, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
When we hold to this faith, we hold not to our own personal convictions, but to the orthodox catholic faith; the faith based on tradition which preceded and will outlast the material universe. As we reclaim our spiritual ancestors, we will have face the fact that today’s individualistic faith was foreign to most of the Church. Historical disconnectedness is a phenomenon which has become widespread only in this century. We must do more than make a scholarly rediscovery of the historic faith; but we must experience the actual recovery of the faith. There is a great difference between simply rediscovering Church history and in genuinely becoming an heir of the Father — a living part of Christ’s Bride.
Church history is not a mere listing of names, places and dates, but it is the life of the Holy Spirit in God’s family. The Church has the same claim on our lives as Christians as the Gospel itself — and not simply our local church — but what the universal Church has taught throughout the ages. The change will come when we stop asking whether we agree with Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian, Irenaeus; and ask instead: “Do the Church Fathers agree with us?” Instead of trying to judge and decide whether we can agree with the historic Church, we should begin to ask the historic Church to judge and evaluate us!
Although we may profess belief in the Trinity, do we really understand what we mean when we say, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit: Three in One”? The Trinity is rarely even mentioned in evangelical churches with the notable exception of baptisms. If every reference to the Trinity were removed from our choruses and hymns, who would notice? How often do we ponder the question, “How can Jesus be God and at the same time a different person from the Father?”
God is not an individual who claims the right to have His existence recognized. God does not seek to be proven true by the Church. God exists and He testifies of Himself. The Father eternally begets His Son and the Holy Spirit is breathed forth by the Father and the Son into the Church eternally. The Church testifies of God by our unbroken communion with God and the unconditional love He displays through us.
The Scriptures declare that, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). This describes more than an attribute of God, but defines His being. This “love” we speak of is God himself. It is the communion of the Trinity that makes all things be and without which nothing can exist.
The Church, the Bride of Christ, is bound together by the love of God himself. Our communion with God is a reflection of His being. The Church declares not simply that God exists and that He created us, but that He lives in and among us. We do not simply declare the way of salvation; but we profess to hold the keys to eternal life (Matt. 16:19).
In stark contrast, individualism has become the ultimate concern of the 20th century evangelical Church. The modern idea is that the individual stands alone before God in terms of salvation without any reference to the faith of the historic Church. God becomes an individual endowed with a host of imagined attributes. This idea of Christianity is a house built on the sand and must be shaken to its foundation and destroyed.
When we discover the Trinity, we also discover the true nature of man. Man was originally created in the image of God as a person, not an individual. Man’s rebellion against God is found in his claim to be autonomous and individualistic. Man chose to be an individual and in doing so chose death and not life; the curse and not the blessing (Deut. 30:19). Sin is not just a dark spot on man’s record, but an act of spiritual suicide. Sin is not merely individual acts of disobedience to God, but nothing less than the total denial of love and therefore of life itself. The individualistic world that springs from self-containment and isolation is hell. Thus the Church Fathers understood evil as being the absence of good; just as darkness is the absence of light.
Hell is not an escape from the reality that God exists. In hell, the damned will be faced with the torment of God’s eternal presence, from which they can never escape. God is truth, life and love itself. The Triune God exists as the opposite of individual autonomy, which is the absence of truth, life and love. The existence of a human autonomy is only a temporary illusion of man’s depraved mind. In the judgment, the wicked will have no place to hide. The love of God is also the fire of hell. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken let us let us worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28,29).
The Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, Chalcedonian and other councilar statements about the nature of the Triune Godhead, the person of Jesus Christ, and the nature of man, threaten the existence of individual autonomy. They speak with authority of a faith that is not subject to individual opinion. The patristic creeds speak of non-negotiable Truths not subject to revision. The content of these creeds is a threat to the continued existence of individualistic Christianity.
The only possibility for the unity of the Church lies with our understanding of the life of the Trinity. The Church Fathers expounded on this biblical doctrine. The Trinity is not three individuals in association with one another; it is three Persons in holy communion in the Godhead. Even so, the Church is not individuals in association with one another, it is persons in communion with each other in God. The difference between the two is the difference between life and death, heaven and hell.
This is why the Church Fathers taught, “Salvation is not found outside the Church.” The Church we speak of is not your local church or a human institution, but the ecclesia, those called out of the world’s Babel of individualism and human autonomy. The Church are those called out of an illusory existence of self-rule into a universal Body which rules under the authority of Almighty God.
The entire structure of the Church is an image of this Trinitarian way of existence. The Church’s government, ministries, sacraments, evangelism, etc. must express the way that God exists.
The orthodox standard of the Trinity is the very Truth. The absolute sovereignty of the individual; the freedom of the individual to choose God; and the intellectual ability of the individual to discern Truth stand in opposition to the standard of orthodoxy maintained by the universal Church.
In a theological democracy, each individual’s point of view is just as valid as the next, even if that view is utterly heretical in view of the standard of orthodox Christianity. In a church which maintains the sovereignty of the individual, members are accepted or rejected by the church body on the mutual consensus of the group or its leadership. Membership in the Church is not judged by the criteria of orthodox belief, nor by the receiving of the sacraments of baptism and communion. Some churches do not even have membership requirements beyond attendance. The creeds and confessions of the faith are considered non-binding. Pastors and elders are accepted into their positions by the congregation or other leaders, by other criteria in addition to, or even without reference to their qualifications and calling. If a contingent within the local church decides that they disagree with other members or leaders, they may move across town to join another church or set-up their own. Everyone is “free” as autonomous individuals to do as they please.
This is not the Church that Christ said would overcome the gates of hell.
The evangelical Church in the 19th century was created to put up a defense against liberal apostasy. In refuting “dead orthodoxy” they did away with all creeds and confessions, believing that the strict adherence to a creed would negate the freedom of the individual to interpret Scripture. They believed that Scripture was inerrant, but in doing away with the standard of historic orthodoxy, what the Church has said about Scripture, they opened the door to private interpretation.
Liberal theologians, since the 19th century (those groups who believe that Christian faith, doctrine, and morals are subject to “change with the times”) have made allowances for the ordination of homosexuals and lesbians as ministers; for teaching on the “feminine gender” of God; and for the possibility of reincarnation, abortion, artificial insemination, divorce, and a slew of other abominations.
Yet the “conservative” evangelical Church is only ten or twenty years away from this same apostasy. Even in conservative evangelical churches, there are those members who tolerate all of the above, but keep their opinions to themselves. They are only a short time away from making the decision to come fully out of the closet with their individualistic beliefs with a theology which proof texts each abomination in twisted succession. “Conservative” evangelicals have tolerated the woman Jezebel and are only a few years away from licensing and ordaining her as a minister.
Evangelicals profess a belief in the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and other doctrines of biblical orthodoxy. But this is merely a facade of the true Church — a superficial structure built on a sandy foundation of subjectivity and individualism. Every one of the Protestant denominations founded at the time of the Reformation have already been swept away by the storm of liberalism. They are hardly recognizable as being Christian. The same thing will happen to every evangelical denomination, no matter how “conservative” they may seem today.
Is there a way to avoid this? Yes, there is! By embracing a universal Body which claims to be nothing less than the Church; by embracing the biblical orthodoxy of the historic catholic faith.
Once we have been baptized and have received communion, we have entered the Church. We have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and united to what the Church Fathers and other saints throughout the centuries have confessed. We have received “the faith once delivered to the saints” by God himself.
This is the Church that wrote the Bible; the Church that received the canon of the Bible; and the Church that formulated essential statements about Truth in the form of the early creeds. This is the Church that is the object of the unceasing prayer of the holy Trinity, “that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You … that they may be one, even as We are one (John 17:21,22). The Trinity is the life of the Church; the Church is the very reason why God became man. Authority is invested in the Church, but there is no tyranny or threat to man because the Church reflects the truth of man’s existence. The Church is only a threat to those who prefer autonomy of self existence to the Truth.
This Church will endure until the end. This Body will preserve the apostolic Faith without error until the return of the Lord. The Lord himself promised us: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church” and “Lo, I am with you always even until the end of the world.” Jesus’ prayer for His disciples was that they might be one even as the Trinity is One. This unity with God is only possible within the Church that Christ himself founded.