3 Questions Answered Well by an Old Brit

David Burchard Doctrine Leave a Comment

1. What is a true Christian?

2. What is a true Church?

3. What happens when Christians prioritize the audience and respect of the world?

1. What is a Christian?

Upon the asking of such a question, one could turn to a German liberal, such as Schleiermacher, for guidance, finding his answer pointing to an individual’s feeling, experience, and devotion that the said individual considers to be Christian. One could turn to a Catholic and be told about the life giving sacrament of baptism and one’s receiving of grace in connection to the Roman “church”. Or one could heed Iain Murray’s sound, tried and true advice. “We turn first to Scripture” (Evangelicalism Divided, 151). God’s Word is our guard and guide. God’s Word is trustworthy and sure. God’s Word has all the answers we need when it comes to questions of what we are to believe and how we are to live.

Murray does well to identify the Biblical answer. “To become a Christian is to experience the power of Christ in the forgiveness of sin and in the receiving of a new life. It is a change accomplished by God and altogether apart from human effort or deserving, for the very faith which is the instrument in uniting the sinner to Christ is itself a gift (Ephesians 2:8)” (Evangelicalism, 152). Murray continues, “While obedience and love result from the gift of faith, these graces follow rather than contribute anything to our acceptance with God. It is Christ’s finished work alone which secures forever the believer’s status of righteousness and of ‘no condemnation’” (Evangelicalism, 152). This is the Biblical answer to the question.

The plight of man is universally ominous. God, Creator of everyone and everything, has made us for his glory; but we have with unbelieving, idolatrous hearts gone our own way, living for our own glory instead. The punishment for such unbelief from the One, True, Righteous, Perfect, Holy and Good Creator is death. All who are in sin must and do die. All are spiritually dead; and all must physically die and face his furious wrath forever in eternal torment. And so Jesus in John 3 makes clear that to be a Christian, a dead-in-their-sin person must be born again. Jesus makes clear to Nicodemus that the Christian is a recipient of Divine rescue, who has been regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit, brought out of death and into new life secured for him by Christ’s own substitutionary life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Having been given spiritual life by the Spirit, the Christian is instantaneously given the necessary gifts of repentance, a true recognition and renunciation of sin, and faith in the one true gospel of Jesus Christ. While there are many pretenders, there is only one gospel by which man can be saved. This gracious giving of life and faith in the gospel by the Spirit comes through the preached/read/heard Scripture, which necessarily must be received as true and authoritative to receive what it says. He who denies the trustworthiness, the veracity, the authority of the Scripture, continues on in his vain-glory and idolatry.

What does this mean? It means that if you deny penal substitutionary atonement, you are not a Christian. It means that if you believe that you are saved by Jesus plus infant baptism and absolution that comes from a priest, you are not a Christian. It means that if you deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus, you are not a Christian. It means that if you deny the eternality and divinity of Christ, you are not a Christian. It means that if you deny human sinfulness, you are not a Christian. It means that if you refuse to obey Jesus as Lord, you are not a Christian. And it means that if you reject the Bible, you reject its Author.

2. What is the church?

As the true nature of a Christian is to be discerned according to the Scriptural testimony, so is the nature of the true church. “The ‘church’ is the assembly of the ‘called’, ‘the saints’, ‘the faithful brethren’, those delivered ‘from this present evil age’, ‘the household of faith’, ‘the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven’” (273). The church is an assembly of Christians, the regenerate, who have covenanted with one another to regularly gather for the right preaching of the gospel and the right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The true brick house is composed of true bricks. Any other building material results in a false brick house. “It is patently clear that New Testament church members were meant to be true believers and separate from the world” (280). And the reader here must take strong warning: To be relaxed about regenerate church membership is to give the citadel to the enemy. A church that is not clear on “What is a Christian?”, and that does not hold its membership to that standard through clear gospel preaching, clear ordinance administration, and corrective discipline, will inevitably be a false church. Horatius Bonar was right. “Fellowship between faith and unbelief must, sooner or later, be fatal to the former” (305).

3. What happens when Christians prioritize the audience and respect of the world?

They sacrifice truth, disdaining, denying, or diminishing it. Murray shows this clear as day in the biographical accounts of Schleiermacher, Billy Graham, and Packer. Schleiermacher looks to make Christianity and its message appealing to the Rationalist, so he changes it, teaching that “Christianity” is of the sense, not Scripture; example, not Savior. Is not the pragmatism and emotionalism of so many churches in America today of the same insidious family tree? We ask, “What works?” instead of, “What is true?” We ask, “How does this make me feel?” instead of, “What is God’s will?” Graham, the hero of so many Southern Baptists, attempts to win the friendship of liberals and Anglo-Catholics in England, and so invites them to speak at his crusades, sends “decision-makers” to them for follow up, calls them “brother”, and eventually contends that one need not declare that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved, a patently false gospel. Packer chooses to not be exclusive and tight in who he is willing to affirm as a true Christian within the “Anglican Church” in the 1960s and 1970s, and then is willing to affirm Roman Catholics as brothers with whom he can evangelize in the infamous ECT. When will we finally believe James? “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Christians cannot have it both ways. We must choose friendship with the world, the rationalists, the atheists, the naturalists, the liberals, the Muslims, etc., or faithfulness to God. Ministers must lead the way in this. These sad examples bring up two pertinent sub-questions.

When is it safe for pastors to move past the basics, the fundamentals? Never. Satan wants a minister to be bored with the most beautiful. He wants the minister to think his congregation beyond the fundamentals. And he is always after the destruction of God’s people and the distortion of God’s truth. We must teach in season and out on “What is a Christian?” and “What is a church?” to our people.

Why does it matter who an aspiring minister marries? Graham’s life shows a reality that comes up repeatedly in the pages of Scripture. One’s wife simply cannot be neutral. She will either aid you in your adherence to the truth, or she will pull you away. She will either help stoke your affections for the Almighty, or drip lukewarm water into your life. A man is always responsible for his own faithfulness, but he ought not think himself so strong as to not be affected by a foolish decision on who to marry.

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