It is both useful and necessary for us regularly to examine the basis of our faith and to ensure that it rests securely on the authority of the Word of God. In a short series of articles the author will try to cover some of the doctrines that he believes are fundamental.
The topics included
In introducing this set of topics it is worth looking back a little. In 1909 a project was started that led to the publication of a twelve volume series that "set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith". This was later, under the final editorship of R A Torrey, printed in a four volume edition that contained in total ninety chapters. This has been often referred to since then as an important statement of key doctrines. While a range of topics was covered, especial prominence was given to the accuracy and inerrancy of the Bible. It is not surprising then that the Oxford Dictionary definition of "fundamentalism" is, "The strict maintenance of traditional orthodox religious beliefs or doctrines; especially belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of Protestant Christianity". Today "fundamentalist" is used in a broader sense of those who strongly adhere to almost any religion or philosophy and, since it is used of those who engage in terrorism, it has become a term of abuse applied as equally to those who abhor violence as to those who espouse it. A series of articles on "The Fundamentals" could therefore readily be misrepresented. So far as the dictionary is concerned there is little difference between "fundamentals" and "foundations" and so the latter is the title adopted here.
What are the key issues?
What topics should be included? Ask ten different believers and one will probably get ten different answers though with quite a degree of overlap. Clearly the authority to be accorded to Scripture is key to all else. If the Bible is the sole basis for doctrine and belief then all other issues can be brought to its light to be tested. If some other reference point also has authority, then Scripture itself will not be enough. For example, the Roman Catholic position is that their church and its head, the Pope, have authority to be set alongside the Bible. That the Pope in some circumstances can be believed to be infallible is sufficient evidence that the Bible no longer has the final say so far as the Roman system is concerned. It is no surprise then that the outcome is departure, major and minor, from the teachings of Scripture. The worship of Mary falls into that category. It is not Biblical.
Similarly, those whose view of Scripture is that it is only a human document and is not fully authoritative and accurate are able to reject any part of the Bible that is inconvenient to them. Scripture can be dismissed if it does not meet with contemporary standards of behaviour. Hence the difficulties between Anglicans on issues such as homosexuality and women "priests". The Bible does not have the last word so far as many of the combatants are concerned. But if Scripture is fallible in some part then is there any part that can be trusted?
One topic to be addressed, therefore, is the authority of Scripture. If this is established then it leads on to a consideration of what the Bible has to say about God, about Man, and about Salvation and its consequences.
It is easy to see why the books referred to above ran to ninety chapters! This series will be rather shorter, and so some topics that could be covered will be omitted, others will be included but given briefer treatment than some might wish. If the articles stimulate strengthened faith and a deeper interest in some of "the things which are most surely believed among us" then it will be a worthwhile exercise.
Can we really know God?
Before proceeding to consider the authority of Scripture there is an aspect of our knowledge of God that should be dealt with. Put simply as a question it is, "Can we know God?". It has been argued that even if there is a God He is unknowable. Certainly a God who is so much at the human level that He can be readily known and understood by man sounds less than awe-inspiring. On the other hand, a God able to be the Creator of the Universe is so obviously altogether different from man that it is unlikely that we can, with our limited abilities comprehend Him. Where does one begin in thinking this through?
One can start with the fact that the Universe exists! Quite apart from Scripture we can all see that there is "something" and not "nothing". Despite the protestations of some philosophers, the inescapable conclusion from simple observation and logic is that since the Universe "is" and is not eternal the evidence that it is "winding down" is compelling - then something (or someone) beyond it "caused" it. Looking at the Universe suggests that the Cause of it all has to be of great energy and power but says little more. This does accord with Scripture where Psalm 19.1-6 and Romans 1.20 both note that something of Gods glory can be known by man by considering Creation. Logic and reason get stuck at that point and cannot go further in learning about God. Revelation is needed.
If we cannot reason our way to Him then we are dependent on Him revealing Himself to us. This is the Christian position. What logic can deduce is that it is not surprising that the Author of the Universe might wish to communicate with His creatures.
Now Christians are not alone in claiming that God has revealed Himself. For us the Bible is "Gods word written" and is the record of His revelation of Himself at various times and by various means, most importantly in His Son the Lord Jesus (Heb 1.1,2). It is of great importance to be clear that what we claim is that it is "the" Word. Other books that seek to be recognised as coming from God we do not accept as having any legitimacy. Again, the Bible itself demands this. For example, in the Old Testament we find the challenge in Isaiah 8.20 to a rebellious people: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them". And in the New the Lord Jesus is recorded as saying, "It is written", as being final in argument when tempted by Satan (Mt 4.4,7,10). In relation to the New Testament documents we find Peter with his high regard for Scripture, demonstrated in 2 Peter 1.21, ranking Pauls letters with "the other scriptures" in 2 Peter 3.16. So much so is this the case that he states that those who distort them do so to their own destruction.
Having written on the topic of the authority of the Bible in this magazine some time ago (January March, 1999), I will only here state that in the accuracy of its recorded history, in the fulfilment of prophecy, and in the remarkable harmony found between authors from different times and circumstances, there is more than adequate testimony that its ultimate author is God Himself. The position taken in these studies is that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God".
What do we need to know?
If the authority of Scripture is absolutely foundational if we are to know God, then what key issues follow from a study of the Word and should be dealt with in this series? If observing the Universe gives some idea of the Power of God, then the Bible amplifies this and it is a subject to be studied. However, more important in many respects than an understanding of His Power is an appreciation of His Holiness. It establishes His moral character and controls our relationship to Him and with Him. Topics to be added to these Attributes of God (His Holiness and His Power) should include the Person of Christ, the Fall of Man, the Death of Christ as our substitute and sacrifice, Salvation by Faith, the New Birth, and the Church, the body of Christ.
The Lord Jesus spoke of the wise man and his house. It was built on a good foundation, namely, His words heard and obeyed (Mt 7.24,25). A mental grasp of the truths of the Word of God without some practical outcome is of little value. Understanding His Power and Godhead from a study of Creation should lead to worship (though it does not always do so according to Romans 1.21). When we become children of God by faith and so are conscious of His Holiness, this leads to the challenge to be holy as He is (1 Pet 1.15,16).
These articles are intended not only to be reminders of foundational truths but also to be spurs to Godly behaviour.
To be continued.