Word Magazine December 1964 Page 6-7
CHRIST and TRUTH
By John Boojamra
The most important aspect of Christianity is truth. The central fact of the Christian faith is that of the Resurrection, and St. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (I COR. 15:14). Thus, our faith has its source in, and is dependent upon, an historical fact. The only valid and honest reason to believe in Christianity’s claim is that we have experienced the reality of God and believe that the fullness of his revelation is to be found within the Christian faith. The Church is firmly convinced that God has and continues to reveal his truth to and through her and that this truth is absolutely necessary for salvation. The New Testament and the Church’s history both attest to this belief.
Since the sixteenth century a large segment of Christianity has come to the belief, at least implied, that the truth of the Church has been lost and cannot be known. From this comes the idea that it does not matter what you believe as long as you lead a good life and are sincere in the beliefs you hold. This group of Christians on the whole also maintains that all that is necessary for salvation is to confess Jesus Christ as Savior. It does not matter, however, what or how you believe in him. Most Protestant Christians freely quote from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans that all that is needed for salvation is a belief in Jesus Christ, but they ignore the fact that throughout the epistles Paul is passionately concerned not only about belief in Jesus Christ, but more importantly about right belief in him.
If we look at the accounts of the Book of Acts, the Epistles of Paul, and the history of the early Church, we will find that all record an un-equivocal belief in and defense of the truth which God had delivered into the Church. We must realize that in an “ecumenical age” we can gain nothing by compromising this truth for a meaningless unity among various disagreeing Christian bodies. We must love our brothers in Christ; the essence of love is charity and charity demands honesty. Honesty must be the hallmark of any ecumenical encounter. Love can bind us to other, non-Orthodox Christians, but it can never make a heresy disappear. Christ is the Church and because of this an untruth can have no place in her.
Our Lord was very much concerned about the Church and truth. Before his Ascension he promised to the apostles and the Church the necessary guidance to accomplish their mission. “I have yet many things to say to you, but you could not bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth . . .” (JOHN 16:13). He assures the Church of this guidance: “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth. . .” (JOHN 14:16-17). How could it be otherwise? The Church is an extension of the Incarnation, with Christ as its head and the Holy Spirit as its guide. It cannot despite the sin and frailty of its human members fall into error. It is clear from history that individual members of the Church — even Patriarchs and Popes — have fallen into error and sin.
This firm conviction that the Holy Spirit was promised by the Lord to his Church and the confidence engendered by this is illustrated in the Book of Acts. In the second chapter the community of Jesus’ followers is established as the Church with the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit living in the Christian community is what makes it the Church. Christ’s promise and its fulfillment in the Book of Acts is reflected in the accounts of the first council at Jerusalem (ACTS 15). The Church’s faith in the guidance of our Lord is expressed in the phrase which closed the council and sealed the decision — “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . . .” The problem dealt with involved a matter of faith and practice and concerned the circumcision of Gentiles who joined the Christian community.
The only safe approach to, and means of living in communion with, God is in Christ, whose person was perfectly human and perfectly divine. Because of this we can understand why Paul was so emphatic in his condemnation of false teachers and teachings. Living in a pluralistic society we would tend to consider such condemnations as narrow-minded, uncharitable, and even fanatical. With the same attitude we look upon all beliefs, no matter how divergent, as different roads to the same unknown God. It is, however, probably more true that these disagreeing “roads” lead away from God to the degree that they contain falsehoods. In the light of this it is easier to understand Paul’s “narrow-mindedness.” Christ has been established by God, the Father, as a bridge to himself. An untrue view of Christ actually means that the Bridge — Christ — to the Father is in some way weakened or even destroyed. Paul was, as is the Church that it does, convinced that in Christ he possessed the truth. The fact that many religions claim to be true does not make them so, neither do these conflicting claims to the possession of truth invalidate the principle of objective truth or Christ-promised infallibility. It has been suggested that our acceptance of all beliefs, even those which contradict our own, as being of equal value has its roots in an inner uncertainty and indifference. Perhaps the main problem of present day Christianity is not so much atheism or secularism as it is the indifference of those who call themselves Christians, yet never realize the full implication or application of their faith in Christ.
St. Paul was concerned not only with faith in Jesus Christ but also with right belief in him. What Jesus Christ is is just as important as that he is; this is clear from St. Paul’s Epistles. With respect to our Lord an untruth is wrong because it is a falsehood and because a theological falsehood threatens salvation.
With a consideration of the Arian heresy of the early fourth century we can see how a theological untruth can virtually destroy salvation. The heresy was finally condemned at the Ecumenical Council of A.D. 325. The followers of Arius maintained that Christ was a mere creature of God; he had a beginning in time and was inferior to God. In the words of St. Athanasius, “God became man that we might be made god.” (in On the Incarnation). If it is to be possible for us to be made like God (theosis) then Christ the Savior must be fully man and fully God — perfectly and unconfusedly. Only God could restore and save man and if Christ were to accomplish this act of restoration he must be fully God. Only if he is fully man, as we are, can we participate in his Resurrection. A bridge is established between God and man by the Incarnate Christ, who is both.
Heresies, untruths, and attitudes which encourage indifference undermine some vital points involved in salvation. For St. Paul and the early Church Fathers it is only in Christ that the bond to the Father us complete, safe, and certain. For this reason Paul is emphatic in his exhortations to the truth. He considers the Christian community as one being united in correct faith and love. The community although being characterized by love goes beyond love. The Church is the community of Christ and as such St. Paul says to the Church at Corinth, “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (I COR. 1:10). He further emphasizes the fact that the Christian Church must be united in a common faith when he writes, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” He continues and explains this plea by asking that all Christians acquire the mind of Christ — thinking and seeing life as our Lord would. In all of these statements he maintains that the Church is one because Christ is one, and the Church must possess the mind of Christ and be united in a common faith.
St. Paul warns Christians not to be swayed by every wind of doctrine, but rather to “maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” (I COR. l0:2b). He again underscores the necessity of true belief about Christ when he says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel . . . there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ . . . If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (GAL. 1:6-9). Obviously St. Paul in using this strong language is firmly convinced that true belief is absolutely necessary for membership in the Church.
It is difficult to understand, reflecting on the New Testament, how certain so-called Bible Christians can claim that their only authority is the Bible and yet care nothing about right belief and freely admit that their doctrines are not superior to those of other Christian bodies. Perhaps one of the greatest offenses against the New Testament is the idea of personal interpretation of scripture and acceptance of doctrine. St. Peter clearly condemns this when he writes, “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation . . . . “ (II PETER 1:20) People tend to understand what is simple and the danger here is that personal interpretation leads to a simplification of the faith. If there is a Protestant psychology, it may be referred to as one based on the insistence on simplicity in faith and worship. The purpose of this simplicity is to bring Christianity within the range of the most ordinary mentality, the least common denominator. This psychology appeals to the simple Gospel which is contrasted with the elaborate system of theology in the Orthodox Church. The point here is that Christianity cannot be reduced to its simplest aspects and still remain Christianity. Christianity is not simple. It, like our Lord, is a paradox. As C. S. Lewis points out Christianity is true because it is not simple. The simple religions are the ones that are made up. We cannot compete in simplicity with these religions because we are committed to facts. Anyone can be simple if he has no facts to worry about. We should be careful not to subordinate truth to convenience. If we make the acceptance of a doctrine dependent upon our own ability to understand it then we are limiting revelation by subjecting it to our own feeble mental and spiritual capacity. St. Paul warned against moving in this direction: “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings. . .” (II TIM. 4:3). The great sin implied here is pride — believing not what is objectively true (i.e., what is of God), but rather what appeals to or agrees with our own predispositions.
Christ promised that we Christians would know the truth and knowing and responding to it will make us free. True freedom for the Christian is not of the political or economic variety, but rather of the spiritual. Freedom is freedom from death and its consequence sin. St. Paul writes about this new Christian freedom: “because of false brethren . . . who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage — to them we did not yield submission . . . that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” (GAL. 2:4-5). The bondage to which Paul refers is that of the slavery to death. He speaks of false teachers subverting true doctrine and by doing this putting the Christian under the bondage of death and Satan. Untruth and heresy set up a barrier between man and God and so makes salvation almost impossible to attain.
In the light of the above discussion and Christ’s promise to guide his Church with the Holy Spirit we can see that the Church of Christ by its nature must be infallible. Any claim, such as is implied in Protestantism, that the early Church fell into heresy and apostasy is clearly anti-scriptural and unhistorical.