What Must a Christian Believe?

One of the debates that circulates around Christian church circles has to do with what that core body of information happens to be to which all Christians must assent. There are many who would say that the Apostles’ Creed stands as the most basic test of the Christian faith. Yet, I think that we would all agree that there are essentials to the faith that the Apostles’ Creed does not cover: the inspiration of Scripture, the dual nature of Christ, that we are justified by Grace through faith alone, etc… Further, most Mormons that I have interacted with will claim to affirm the Apostles’ Creed, though arguably there are differences by way of definition. So, while the Apostles’ Creed clearly provides a starting point, it is by no means able to stand on its own.

The Heidelberg Catechism addresses this very question prior to launching into a long exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. Question 22 asks: “What then must a Christian believe?” The answer is: “All that is promised to us in the Gospel, which are taught in summary in the articles of the universal Christian faith.” In other words, the Apostles’ Creed is at best a summary that needs clarification, thus questions 23-58 provide that clarification within the Heidelberg Catechism.

But what does it mean when it says, “All that is promised to us in the Gospel”? To answer that question, we must first address the question of what the Gospel is. Certainly, we use the word to refer to a variety of things. Our Bibles contain four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that are explicitly referred to as “Gospels.” Further, when we speak to others about the “Gospel,” what we usually mean is explaining the basis of the Christian faith — man is a sinner in need of redeeming (and cannot redeem himself); Jesus, who had no sin and is the Son of God, came and died a substitutionary death for all who believe; so, repent and believe and you can share in this eternal promise…

Yet, on the most basic level, the word “Gospel” means “good news.” And where can this good news be found? It can only be found in the Bible. What is the good news? The good news is that though man is rebellious and fallen from the beginning, God had ordained a plan to redeem an elect people for himself through faith in His Son, Jesus. Where is that found? In the Bible. It is found in all of the Bible. The Old Testament lays the foundation for and prefigures the work of Christ in the New Testament, and the New Testament makes little sense unless rooted firmly in the Old. It is one complete book that contains and records the complete revelation of God. It is indispensable to the Christian faith…all of it. And thus, Heidelberg states unambiguously that we must believe all of the promises contained in he Gospel.

I think that it is high time, as a church, that we make a commitment to the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy the test of orthodoxy. Of course, that leaves a lot of people that we know, love, and care about in the cold. Then again, did Jesus not say that it is those who keep his commandments that love him (John 14:21)? Did Jesus not say that all authority in heaven and on earth is his (Matthew 28:18)? Does Moses not say that this Word was our very life (Deuteronomy 32:47) and that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3)? Every word… And does not Peter point out that all things that pertain to life and godliness come to us through the knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:3)? And how shall we have knowledge of God apart from embracing the Scriptures? Without the Scriptures we could know nothing about the God we worship. And since men are not qualified to give counsel to God (Romans 11:33-36), of which part of Scripture can man say to God, “I do not need this”? No, it is all breathed out by God to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

So, what am I suggesting? I am suggesting that the test of orthodoxy be that the Scriptures are inspired by God in the original manuscripts (every word and letter — what is called “plenary inspiration”) and are thus inerrant (without error and without the possibility of error in what they teach) and are infallible (they will not fail the one who puts their trust in them). It is a commitment to the whole counsel of God that we must look to and our friends in the community who might believe otherwise may very well not be Christians as they are not being Christian as the Bible so presents.

Does this mean that we shut out as heretics everyone who disagrees with us? No. There are certainly areas of disagreement that take place within the orthodox church, areas where believers with a commitment to inerrancy have honest disagreements. Further, there may very well be some genuine believers who are being deluded into error by the false churches they attend. While in the first case, we can discuss and debate and not break fellowship, in the second case, we evangelize, we make an apologetic, and we try and sway those friends attending bad churches to seek out a church that upholds the Bible. It is by this manner that we add light and clarity to the muddled mess of our watered-down and politically correct church environment.

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