Crossfunction: July 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Getting it right

Hi, Ian!

You wrote,

hi John,
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I'm not a student of theology and am not able to interpret why you feel that what is written here is evidence of apostolic authority. This directive seems kind of harsh and the date suggests it is the word of men

The Creed of the Council of Toledo, A.D. 400, 447: (14)
"The rule of the Catholic faith against all heresies...
12. If anyone either believes that any scriptures, except those which the Catholic Church has received, ought to be held in authority or venerates them, let him be anathema."

We all believe in the same new testament and it changed everything, so why then is there this strife, why does the Holy Spirit dwell in people of all denominations, how does someone like Heidi Baker do miracles, by the glory of God which is working though her. Her ministry is non-denominational. I suggest that it's not what church you go to, that's not it at all, but how you well you follow Jesus's instructions about humbling yourself that Christ dwells in you, Ep 3:17 I started my walk with God just over a year ago and am a bit disappointed that more believer's aren't tuned into what God says we can do, Mark 16 : 17 & 18 or John 14: 13 & 14 according to the word, we should really be able to make a big difference. We need more of the kind of teaching about what we can do if we get it right [emphasis added]

-Ian K., letter of June 24, 2010 (reprinted with permission)

Ian, congratulations to You for just recently starting to walk with God!  That's wonderful and exciting, and with God's grace You'll continue to grow in faith, hope and love, persevering to the end. 

You're right to say that the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of Christians in many denominations. But there's more to it.  If we want to gain everything the Spirit has to offer, we need to cooperate.  If God offers us many of His gifts through the ministry of the Church He founded, can we expect to receive them all if we are not united to His Church? You can't be truly united to Jesus without being united to His Church. Pride might try to seduce us into doing it all on our own, but don't be fooled! Jesus knew what He was doing when He founded His Church, and it's for our blessing.

If You had to go on a dangerous combat mission You would want to be trained, equipped, and accompanied by the best military officers.  You'd want to survive Your mission.  You'd want to have every possible advantage, and You'd want to get it right.

The Christian life is no less important!  It's dangerous because we still have defects and easily fall into sin.  Living by faith does not mean "winging it" without the many helps the Holy Spirit provides through the Church.  Does God provide graces and assistance to Christians who belong to many denominations?  Certainly.  But does He provide ALL His assistance in this manner?  No.

Living by faith is both a spiritual and a practical matter.  We must trust God, but we must trust Him enough to do what He says and unite ourselves to His Church.  There we find the 'big guns' of the spiritual life: the Sacraments which Jesus instituted, fellowship, apostolic teaching, and many other blessings too.  It simply makes sense to equip ourselves with the best that God offers us. It's not enough just to do good works. We need to be securely founded on the truth which Jesus entrusted to the apostles.

This is how we can really get it right.

Now, a response to Your quotation from the Council of Toledo... You raise two objections against it.

  • First: You say it sounds "harsh", but I say it's merely an uncompromising statement about which writings belong in the Bible. It's very similar to Paul's statement to the Galatians to safeguard the preaching they had received from apostolic sources:

    "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed."
    Galatians 1:8 RSV

    Is Paul's statement harsh? Perhaps. But we should be more concerned with whether it's true, and whether it applies to us. There are lots of statements in Scripture which may seem a little harsh. The apostles sometimes used pretty tough talk, and Christians today probably need a bit of that, just like in the first century. Shouldn't the Church proclaim the truth with whatever words best fit the situation?
  • Second: You imply that since the Creed of the Council of Toledo occurred in the fifth century A.D. that therefore its teachings are "the word of men".

    I dealt with this issue in my previous letter, and I don't want to waste Your time by repeating my explanation in detail. But in a nutshell, Scripture teaches clearly that the apostles' legitimate successors today have the same authority to teach that the apostles had in the first century. When they do so they are not teaching the "words of men" but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we reject them we reject Christ.

You said You're "not a student of theology", and didn't respond to my biblical defense of the importance of the Church. But You're a Christian now, and Christians have to be committed to following the Gospel truth wherever it leads. Call it theology if You want, but it's really just the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And Scripture shows that if we want the fullness of that Gospel truth, our best option is faithful unity with the apostles and their successors.  

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter."
2 Thessalonians 2:15 RSV

Arguing that we don't need the apostles or Church -"the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15)- is like telling God that we don't need exactly what He has revealed we do need.

The truth about this is too important to gloss over. As a Christian You have a right to know the truth, and a duty to respond to it.

Ian, good talking with You! I hope You'll write back with Your thoughts.

John Robin.