THE importance of defining truth
One of the characteristics of the humanistic society in which we live, is that individuals possess so-called “human rights” – certain entitlements given to all of mankind, irrespective of status, nationality, or culture. And these inevitably include the “right” for all to believe in whatever system of worship they so desire – or none at all – according to the dictates of their own conscience, provided that by so doing they do not interfere with others, who similarly exercise their “right”. So it is that to criticize the “faith” of another group is greatly frowned upon, and those who insist upon a particular set of ideas as being Absolute Truth, claiming that all other ideas are not Truth, are condemned outright as “arrogant”, lacking in love and humility.
The consequence of this “liberal” spirit of mutual acceptance, is that we are surrounded by a plethora of Churches and Denominations, each with their particular dogmas, styles, and practices, yet each becoming increasingly more tolerant of each other’s existence, and more “open-minded” about each other’s beliefs. So it is, that we hear so much about “Christian Unity”, or ecumenicalism, the doctrine that so long as love prevails, other differences of conviction are secondary – that therefore churches, and indeed all religious groups might ultimately join together despite their doctrinal differences, under the common love for mankind, and for God.
This spirit of tolerance and mutual respect for one another’s “views”, as a means of effecting and preserving a form of peaceful unity based on compromise, is becoming increasingly common – even amongst those who should know better. There are those who teach that we should be more open and loving towards those who bring in new ideas, or “different perspectives” on certain matters of doctrine or practice. Similarly, there are those who question the need for the BASF (the “Statement of the Doctrines forming the Christadelphian basis of Fellowship”), claiming it is “too restrictive”, and excludes those whose interpretations of Scripture may differ from ours. And who are we to say, “we are right, and they are wrong”? What arrogance for us to insist that everyone must accept our “views” in order to have Salvation! So it is, that those who insist on the importance of maintaining the old values of beliefs and practice are branded “extreme”, or “hardline”, being described as “unloving”, and “unChristlike”, or as one member put it, not having the humility to accept that perhaps they are wrong. But what is the Divine Testimony? If we consider such to be “unChristlike”, let us consider in all humility what Christ himself taught.
In his prayer of John 17, the Lord speaks of the ideal unity of those who would be his followers: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine … keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are … I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world … sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jno 17:9,11,14,17). From these words, we are instructed that the disciples are able to “be one”, because of their separation. “They are not of the world”, rather they are “hated” by the world, for which their Lord, significantly, offered no prayer. By the very nature of things, there can be no amity between them and it, for “the friendship of the world is enmity with God … whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas 4:4). So it is then, that those who would have us accept and respect beliefs and ideals emanating from, and believed by “the world”, unwittingly compromise a key element of the disciples’ unity – their separation – and place themselves in grave danger of being enemies of God. Whilst they might speak much about unity and peace, it is a unity without union of mind and belief – a peace not founded upon the mutual appreciation and acceptance of the ways of Almighty God but based upon embracing worldly ideals. This “unity” is not a holy union of disciples with their Father and His Son, but a union with the vanities of the world – and this is not true unity, or true fellowship.
TRUTH AS A BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP
It is vital for us to appreciate that the Oneness in fellowship which true disciples experience and for which their Lord prayed, is something more than mere sociability, or “getting on” with each other – it is a oneness which mirrors that unity subsisting between the Son and his Father: “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us …” (verse 21). And by its very definition, this oneness can only be experienced by the forsaking of “the world”: for “all that is in the world … is not of the Father” (1Jno 2:16), rather being “enmity” with Him. This being so, the basis of separation is not merely determined by the whim of human philosophy, but by the Father Himself. It is the sanctifying power of His Word, understood, believed, and acted upon: “Sanctify them through thy truth: Thy word is truth”.
There is then, such a thing as “Absolute Truth”: the “Word” of the Most High God “is Truth”. And anything which deviates from its teachings is therefore by definition, not “truth”, but “false”. Not “a different perspective”, or “another viewpoint”, but a blurred focus, leading to blindness. “To the law and testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is 8:20) – and in the absence of light, no “viewpoint” can be obtained – nothing can be seen! Therefore teachers who “speak not according to this word”, which our Lord calls “truth”, are not simply presenting a “new perspective” – apostolically, being void of light they are “destitute of the Truth” (1Tim 6:5) and are, in the terms of Christ, “blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Mat 15:14). And this is the point – it is only the revealed light of Truth that saves. Those who teach things which cannot be seen in this light, can only stumble and lead their followers into the darkness of the grave.
The enlightening Word of Truth then, is the basis both for the disciple’s separation, and their fellowship. Ultimately, “our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1Jno 1:3). And this being so, any constraints or restrictions placed upon that fellowship, and to whom else it might be extended is, not of our making, but the Father’s. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:18) and of His own Will He has ordained that the light of His Glory seen shining through that Word (2Cor 4:4,6) defines the parameters of Fellowship. So, the Apostle declared, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jno 1:7).
Walking together “in the light”, therefore, is the Scriptural definition of fellowship. This being so, those who are not “in the light”, having “no light in them” do not experience fellowship, even though they may consider themselves to be walking together in mutual acceptance of each other’s ideals. But likewise, those who suppose themselves to be “in the light”, if they do not walk together with others of like-mind are also excluded from the fellowship of God. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1Jno 2:9). Belief, and practice, then are the essential elements of fellowship – to “receive with meekness” the word of salvation (Jas 1:21), but also to implement it, that we might learn to reflect that union which subsists between the Father and Son, in walking and working together in the servitude of the Truth.
THE NARROW WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE
The “way” along which enlightened believers walk together is styled by the Lord Jesus, the “narrow way”: “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat 7:14). Christ’s true disciples, being those who are heirs of the life to come, are comprised not of the swinish multitudes, wallowing in the mire (2Pet 2:22) of their own philosophies and superstitions, as they wander blindly and aimlessly along the broad way of death, but are those who seek to walk within the “narrow” confines of the Truth, being sanctified by The Word, and looking steadfastly towards the glory which they will inherit. They do not have different “opinions” and “views” over fundamental doctrines, for they “walk” together in the shining brightness of the glorious Gospel, and “can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
It may be that the majority of men scorn the narrowness of “the way”, which contrasts greatly with their own liberal philosophies (2 Pet 2:19), condemning the travellers as “uncharitable”, and “exclusionist” – but the narrowness is not of our making, and the criticism is therefore unjustified. If it were the case that it was simply “our view” that certain beliefs are true, then there would be a case to answer, for why should “our view” of what is true be any better than the “views” of the next man? But that is far from being the case. We do not determine what is true or false, the Great Creator does, “thy word is truth”. Doubtless, if it had so pleased the Eternal Creator to give life to the ignorant many, He would have ordained a “broad” way, unregulated by the restrictiveness of doctrines and principles. But He has not chosen so to do, and our part is to accept His Word, and walk in His Way, for “his way is perfect: the Word of Yahweh is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him” (Ps 18:30).
THE NEED FOR THE TRUTH TO BE DEFINED
Despite the pantheon of names and denominations in the world’s Christendom then, there is but only one Word of “truth”, and only one “way” to life. This is so designed by the Creator of all mankind not to accommodate the ignorant masses, but to be “narrow”, so that only the few “sanctified” believers, who choose to separate themselves to become One with the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28), might walk along it in faith and fellowship. But how can the disciples’ unity and distinctiveness from “the world” be maintained? How can they ensure that new members – or even their own selves (Acts 20:30) do not import into the “apostles fellowship” worldly ideals, standards, and beliefs? It is evident that in order to provide the basis for separation, and fellowship, it is absolutely vital that there be a set of clearly defined beliefs and practices, to which all members must subscribe. It has been argued that for us to simply say that we believe the Bible is enough, for after all, it is that Word which is the basis of fellowship as we have seen. But this will just not do, for many of the religious groups around us say this also, yet upon scrutiny, their beliefs and doctrines do not originate from the Oracles of God, but the conceits of the flesh. They do not hold or believe the Truth that saves, preferring rather to embrace and believe in the alleged Immortality of the Soul, the Personal Devil and the Doctrine of the Trinity – to name but a few of their superstitions. There is then, a need for true believers to define from the Word certain principles of Truth, which then form the basis of their fellowship – certain doctrines which the Scriptures reveal to be of fundamental importance. So, Brother Roberts wrote:
“It is necessary to have the truth defined. It is not enough for an applicant (for baptism or fellowship) to say he believes the Bible or the testimony of the apostles. Multitudes would profess belief in this form who we know are ignorant or unbelieving of the Truth and therefore unqualified for union with the brethren of Christ. The question for applicants is, do they believe what the Scriptures teach? To test this, the teaching requires definition. This definition agreed to forms the basis of fellowship among believers, whether expressed in spoken or written words” (The Ecclesial Guide).
THE BIRMINGHAM AMENDED STATEMENT OF FAITH
The essential principles of the “law and testimony” which form the basis of the fellowship of Christ’s servants in these last days are accurately and succinctly described by the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF). By comparing it with the Word of Truth, we can demonstrate how what it teaches are indeed fundamental doctrines of Scripture. But before we can do this, we must firstly recognize not simply the importance of having such a Statement, but also the authority it must have in the running of Ecclesias.
It is sometimes argued that whilst the BASF can be used as a set of general guidelines, because it is a humanly written document it should not be treated as being more important than any other human writing. So it is reasoned that if an individual disagrees with a particular aspect of it, because it was produced by man, they are only disagreeing with man’s words, and therefore their standing before God remains unaffected. Further, the BASF only being a summary of what a particular religious group has agreed to accept as their views on what doctrines are true, or not true, rather than disfellowship one who cannot accept a particular part, we should show mercy, and humility, accepting that their viewpoint might be as valid as ours. We should respect their deep love they have for God, and the great respect they might have from other brethren and sisters, and who are we to refuse to break bread with them?
But this argument is one of the most dangerous sorts. It is very easy to accept on face value, for it fits in very comfortably with the philosophy of today’s generation, of mutual acceptance and toleration – and it also contains certain elements of truth, which makes it seem all the more plausible. But those truths are mere half-truths, and the expression of them in this form smuggles in with them certain assumptions which are full falsehoods. For instance, it is true to say that the BASF was compiled by man, as it is not a Divinely Inspired document. But it is not true to say that it is comprised of man’s words, and is therefore man’s opinion of what is true. Rather, it is solidly based on God’s Words, and what God reveals as Truth.
To give one example: Clause 17 states “That the gospel consists of ‘the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’. – Acts 8:12; 19:8,10,20; 28:30,31”. Now, the document as a whole is uninspired – but are these man’s words? Only partly, for the majority of this clause is a direct quotation from Scripture – God’s Words. And the references which follow give the scriptures from which this clause was derived. This is the pattern with each clause of the BASF – a statement is made, summarizing Scripture Teaching (although not always a specific quotation from one Bible passage), and appended to each clause are references to those passages from which the teaching was derived. This being the case, it is clearly wrong to regard the BASF as being nothing but a humanly contrived document. The concepts and principles it describes were not devised by man, but by God. And even the very wording used to define those principles is largely derived from Scripture. The real issue therefore, is not whether a particular individual agrees with the BASF as a man-made document, but whether or not they agree with the Divine Truths which that document describes, culled from the foundation of Scripture.
The BASF then, although not directly written by the Hand of God, as were the Holy Scriptures, is authoritative – absolutely so. It is not simply a summary of what a particular religious group has chosen to accept, rather it is in essence a summary of the first principles of belief and conduct as taught in Scripture, which it is incumbent upon all who would be “brethren in Christ” (Col 1:2) to believe. Any who reject the BASF, in any aspect of it’s teaching, are therefore denying the fundamental teachings of Scripture enshrined within it. So, it speaks with authority – no less than the authority of Scripture itself, for the Revealed Word is its foundation, a fact which elevates it above the whim of human philosophy, giving it the position of being an authoritative statement of what the Eternal God would have us believe. And its role in these last days is vital, for as a Statement of Bible principles, it provides both a test for fellowship, and an important safeguard against the Truth-nullifying doctrines of the heathen.