Cled E. Wallace
The strident clamor of discordant voices in religious matters makes a mockery of the prayer of Jesus that His disciples stand united on the teaching of the apostles. The purpose of that unity, as stated by Jesus, is that the world may believe (John 17:20-21). The prevailing discord is an effective handicap to faith, the result of which is widespread unbelief.
The unity that Jesus prayed for and the early church achieved was a unity of faith. “There is one faith” (Eph. 4:5). This unity demands that men believe the same thing on the same evidence. “Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10 ASV).
Obviously, the things to be believed must be crystal clear, and the evidence to support it must have the same character. There is no room in the picture for dreamer, visionary or speculator. Such have always darkened the clear sky of faith with the clouds and shadows of their opinions. They are apostles of confusion. The practical difference in the nature of faith and opinion, with the tremendous consequences involved, is plainly vivid when unity of faith is properly defined.
What men must believe, they can and must understand. Facts are stated and evidence is presented. An understanding and full acceptance of the case as stated mark the boundaries of faith. Since the call to faith is as universal as the need of it, and that takes in the Greeks and Barbarians, the wise and the foolish, the basis of faith must be streamlined. The man of faith travels light. He cannot ascend the heights to which faith inspires weighted down with the equipages the opinionated would lay upon him and stack around him. Faith stops in religion where revelation stops. Opinion takes off where revelation ceases or has ever been and leads the unwary and the curious into snipe hunts of doubt, and oftener utter folly.
Illustrations are abundant in the very texts that demand faith. It is well to begin with faith in God. “…for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him” (Heb. 11:6 ASV). The evidence of the being of God is far from meager. It is uniform and cumulative. The Almighty Being, “who is and was and who is to come,” the Eternal God, has declared Himself in the sacred writings, and His works are not only there manifest, but also throughout the world of nature. Nature corroborates what the scriptures declare. The evidence is full and satisfactory to establish what men must believe.
What they must believe, they can understand. Faith is in God, His being, and His revealed character. When men with haughty intellects take off from the solid ground of faith to soar into heights they do not have wings for, or to sound depths they are unqualified to fathom, the man of faith will stay where the footing is solid. In religion the realm of speculation and opinion is endless and profitless. It is even worse than profitless, for the path of the speculator in religion is strewn with the wrecks of faith he has caused and endless wranglings he has engendered.
Controversy through the centuries over the questions of Deity have raged far beyond the facts which are stated in the scriptures as the basis of universal faith. Men have been burned at the stake because they could not subscribe to a theory. The mysteries we cannot understand even by searching are the very things that are not revealed, and also the very things that some ambitious men with itching curiosity are most anxious to pry into. “The secret things” belong to God; “the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children” (Deut. 29:29).
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Rom. 11:33-36 ASV).
Let us understand what the Book says about God and believe it, and in that faith abide.
The builders of faith must exercise restraint and stick to essentials. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). “And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2 ASV). Divine demonstrations of power showed God’s approval of Paul, and he addressed prospective believers with direct evidence unadorned with “persuasive words of wisdom.”
No man can be truly edified by the endless maze of theories which men, both Catholic and Protestant, have spun about Jesus the Christ. They settle down like a fog on the path of faith. “These are written that ye may believe” (John 20:20-21). What are written? The inspired words of the birth, life, teaching, and works of Jesus. Men can understand and believe the facts as presented. Believe what? “That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” He is declared to be just that, and clear evidence is presented to prove it, and the man who cannot believe it is either too perverse or too shallow to be impressed by facts. It is certainly no reflection on the Son or the evidence which supports Him that He is not universally accepted.
Unity of faith demands that men accept what the scriptures say about Jesus and eschew opinions that men have expressed about Him. Inspired preachers and writers were strong on facts, which incidentally are both easier to understand and believe than the involved type of reasoning by which men seek to establish their theories. For instance, Paul preached that Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures, was buried, and rose again from the dead according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The testimony was simple, direct, and appealing. Many speculations have been spun around these facts which are both confusing and incredible. It is far better to accept the fact of “the atonement” and not become involved in futile efforts to understand its unrevealed mysteries. Blessings come to all through simple faith in the fact.
It is absurd to charge religious strife over such matters to the inability of men to “understand alike” what the Bible teaches. The modernist does not reject the sacrificial character of the death of Christ and the fact of His resurrection because he cannot understand it, but simply because he does not believe it. It is foolishness to him as it was to many intellectual pagans in the first century, and on similar grounds. The theorist who accepts it is not satisfied to know that it works. Like the little boy with his father’s watch, he wants to open it and take it apart to see how it works, a task he is not capable of, and confusion results.
So-called “systematic theology,” coloured and flavoured according to the individual notions of who happens to be the theologian, expressed in various creeds, has through the centuries furnished the munitions for party conflict and continues to do so. Even a sectarian effort to attain “union”—which is not unity—requires that creeds be largely ignored. Ignoring the creeds is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. Unity demands faith, and faith rests on revelation, not speculation (Rom. 10:17). This is the broad, solid basis for unity.
Division has always been caused by the introduction of foreign elements into the faith and practice of the church. “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). It is not a popular text with religious agitators who have a playful imagination.
Think what a “streamlined religion” faith furnishes. There is in it no agitation about hereditary total depravity of the sinner, direct operation in conversion, but that a simple acceptance of the gospel brings the sinner into a state of reconciliation. All such constitute the body of Christ, the church (Eph. 1:22-23); and when they continue steadfastly “in the apostles’ doctrine,” (Acts 2:42) there can be no occasion for parties and creeds to express their peculiarities.
The peculiarities of Christians are common and according to faith, not opinion. Faith, too, is entirely sufficient to put the innovator out of business and purify the worship of the church by eliminating all unauthorized practices such as instrumental music and the burning of incense. The solid basis of unity in religion is the “simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3 ASV).