'That word above all earthly powers...'
Ultimate Realities 3: Positive Helps
- Bob Horn (1933-2005) was General Secretary of UCCF. View all resources by Bob Horn
Truth is crucial for us: at least it should be, since God went to so much trouble, over so many centuries, to give us so much of it. He obviously thinks it is vital. It is astonishing that he so much wants to talk to us. We are used to a Bible, but we are not so familiar with a doctrinal basis.
A doctrinal basis is a statement of core Christian truth, a typical expression of beliefs that stand in the main line of corporate Christian confessions down the centuries. Such a statement has a positive but limited use. Positive, in that it highlights the main truths that God has revealed, so that we may know that truth and find freedom in following it; limited, in that it does not cover all the truths in the Bible and does not itself draw out the consequences of its truths for everyday living and thinking. All down the centuries, in times of evangelistic advance or theological controversy, such summaries or confessions of Christian belief have been needed to clarify the truth. This basis is to be received and understood today in the light of the basic creeds and historic confessions of the Christian church.
If you are a Christian student leader, you may never have seen any doctrinal statement before you were approached about taking responsibility in your student group. The same may apply if you are coming into responsibilities in a church which has a doctrinal or confessional statement Such a basis may seem a little strange, with what, at first reading, may look like technical jargon. If we feel like that, we can remember two things.
First, gaining understanding is not like picking fruit; it does not just drop into our hands. This is why Paul told Timothy:
‘Reflect on what I am saying, the Lord will give you insight into all this’ (2 Timothy 2:7). The Lord gives insight as we work hard to reflect on his truth. No inspiration without perspiration.
Second, we are in good company If you are a new, young leader in your student group, you know that there are thousands like you around the UK and the world who are coming to grips with these truths. And beyond them, this has been the task and joy of Christians all down the centuries.
The Basis has an important preamble on which two comments should be made. One is that it sets out fundamental truths, not the total truths, of Christianity. It is not a comprehensive, all-inclusive, statement of revealed truth. All it claims is that the basic truths include those stated here.
The other is that it seeks to represent the truths of Christianity pure and straight, not any denominational or sectional version of them. It therefore does not touch on those matters that distinguish some of Christianity’s sub-groupings from each other — issues, for example, such as the mode of baptism, millennial views, attitudes to spiritual gifts or to church structures.
We turn now to look at the various areas of truth, as set out in our confession.
The UCCF Doctrinal Basis
The basis of the Fellowship shall be the fundamental truths of Christianity, as revealed in Holy Scripture, including:
(a) There is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
(b) God is sovereign in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgment
(c) The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.
(d) Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
(e) The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, is fully God; he was born of a virgin; his humanity is real and sinless; he died on the cross, was raised bodily from death and is now reigning over heaven and earth.
(f) Sinful human beings are redeemed from the guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of their representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between them and God.
(g) Those who believe in Christ are pardoned all their sins and accepted in God’s sight only because of the righteousness of Christ credited to them; this justification is God’s act of undeserved mercy received solely by trust in him and not by their own efforts.
(h) The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners, enabling them to turn to God from their sin and to trust in Jesus Christ.
(i) The Holy Spirit lives in all those he has regenerated. He makes them increasingly Christlike in character and behaviour and gives them power for their witness in the world.
(I) The one holy universal truth is the Body of Christ, to which all true believers belong.
(k) The Lord Jesus Christ will return in person, to judge everyone, to execute God’s just condemnation on those who have not repented and to receive the redeemed to eternal glory
The Basis covers four major areas of truth:
1. God and his Word;
2. Human need and God’s rescue;
3. God’s work for us and in us; and
4. Christ’s people and Christ’s return.
The approach in this book rests on the persuasion that the Doctrinal Basis helps. That word focuses on the fact that the truths in the Basis do at least five things:
1. They highlight the truths that God has revealed, the core convictions that unite God’s people.
2. They explain the realities of life to us and give us a realistic worldview.
3. They liberate our minds to follow God’s thoughts, delivering them from our personal or group preferences and society’s false standards.
4. They protect us from error and digression.
5. They send us out to live and witness for Christ, equipped with a clear message for a needy world.
First, therefore, the Basis tells us the core of what God has revealed. Then the other four elements show how this revelation affects our lives.
Positive and negative
Four of these five helps are clearly positive. Highlighting the central truths is like shining a light into a dark place (2 Peter 1:19). Getting the controller’s explanation of what is going on in the world is stabilizing in an otherwise unsettling world. Finding freedom to open our minds and explore what is true is a great stimulus, totally different from wrestling with human speculations. And being sent out by the one who is truth and has all authority gives profound significance to our whole mission. What could be more worthwhile than to be thinking his thoughts after him and living our lives for him?
The other element, protection from error, may sound negative — but is no more so than when we try to protect our health from physical infection. Truth leads to sound health, untruth to weakness or worse. Jesus said that the Pharisees were blind guides, following merely human tradition and thus making the Word of God void (Matthew 23:16; Mark 7:13). Paul warned about ‘a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all’ (Galatians 1:6—9). Error is life-threatening, not merely an alternative set of ideas. And there is no reason to suppose that there is less error around today than in New Testament times. To benefit from the wholesome intent of God’s truth it is always necessary to ‘keep watch and to be on our guard’, as Paul urged the Ephesians (Acts 20:28—31).
A basis that is securely rooted in Scripture can help to preserve a church or a student group from error on the central truths. But even that is with the aim of being positively committed to ‘God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up ...‘ (Acts 20:32).
Such bases have sometimes been used negatively, in a ghetto mentality, merely to mark out a group’s identity and keep out trespassers. That is not the aim here. At the same time, it is beyond doubt that Jesus, Paul and other New Testament writers all stressed truth and warned about the danger of error.
So all five verses of the Basis do, in fact, have a positive aim. Such a basis does not endorse an insecure, defensive, enclave mentality. It expresses the truths that we are to take to our hearts and pass on to those around us. The Bible itself, necessarily, has aspects that seem negative as it talks of condemnation, lostness and judgment; but it speaks of those in order to point to the positives — the offer of forgiveness, the transformation of life, the hope of heaven.
It is similar with the Doctrinal Basis. it is not a stick with which to beat dissenters into line. To the extent that it reflects the Word of God, it is a signpost not merely to correct belief, but to life. Because of this, such a basis can be a great help to Christian Union leaders, helping them to check that the focus is on the gospel and to feed the CU members with God’s nourishment.
1. What is the value of having a doctrinal statement of our beliefs? Would it not be sufficient just to ‘follow Christ’ or ‘believe the Bible’?
2. What difference could such a doctrinal statement make to a Christian Union? In what situations might a basis become particularly important?
3. From what dangers can these truths protect us?