In looking at Know the Creeds and Councils so far, we have canvassed some seventeen centuries, with our most recent stop being the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646. But the final section shifts to events of the 1960s and 70s, taking us from the medieval times of the reformation to the decades earmarked, at least in the West, as the most progressive of the 20th century. So my pointing out just how different our world has become between these two eras makes for quite a ‘thank you Captain Obvious’ moment. The difference is so stark, that in reading chapters twelve and thirteen of Know the Creeds and Councils, a reversal of goals for church councils becomes obvious. The early church needed clarity on key doctrines, leading to distinction and separation between Christian groups. While the modern church found itself so denominationally divided that highlighting common ground was necessary to express the church of God as a united body in the world.
Justin S. Holcomb’s summary of ‘Vatican II’ and modern Protestant confessions ‘the Lausanne Covenant’ and ‘the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy’ shows the motivator behind developing greater unity. In the 1960s and 70s, and still now in the 21st century, we are in an era where, for our priority to be evangelism, unity must be on the agenda. Holcomb articulates that, from Vatican II, non-Catholics “can learn from the council's urging for Christians to be the church in the world in a relevant and faithful way.”
The Lausanne Covenant and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy went on to exhort Protestants towards a similar goal. Compared to their early church or reformation counterparts, these modern confessions were concerned not only with sound and rigorous doctrine, but also with exposing common beliefs between Christians, on which believers could unite.
Holcomb sums this up, “Just as new dilemmas had prompted the ancient Christians to define their beliefs more sharply, the fresh challenges presented by a well-connected, technologically advanced world have led Christians of all stripes to seek doctrinal unity to address the challenges posed by the modern world. Two of these challenges include biblical criticism and world evangelism.”
This principle is important for understanding the climate that we as the church are in. Hosts of people in the modern world have big questions to ask about God, the Bible and life in the world. Yet even more than this, there are the millions of people around the world to whom Jesus, the gospel, and even the concept of God, are complete unknowns. So now is not the time for debating doctrine with the prospect of division or separation. Now is a time for expressing certainty of the Bible’s contents and reliability so as to show Jesus to the world clearly, not through separation that leads to confusion.
It is worth noting that the pursuit of unity through the Lausanne Covenant was not sought at the expense of sound doctrine, but rather through sound doctrine. Holcomb writes, “By returning to the fundamentals of the faith – the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, the centrality, uniqueness and necessity of Jesus Christ for salvation, and the purposes of God in history and at the end of history – Lausanne encourages the contemporary church to be rooted in scripture and insists, against many trends, that sound doctrine is the basis of sound evangelism.”
I’m not convinced that we always see evangelism as being this tied up with sound doctrine. Yet what are we presenting to people and encouraging them to believe, if not the true and sound gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone as presented in the Bible? Without trust that the inspired word of God is our only means for sharing the gospel with people, our evangelism can only be hollow.
But praise God that he has given us a clear and inerrant word by which we and others can know him! The world is confused about God, with a jaded view of the church. So let us be people who seek to stand united on the sound and fundamental doctrines of our faith, representing Christ to the world in a real and relevant way.
About this month's contributor, Lauren Mahaffey
I’ve been a Sydney girl all of my life and have just moved from the leafy 'burbs of Northern Sydney to the narrow streets and terraces of Newtown.
I grew up being taught about Jesus from a young age, and while I always thought there was a God and that the God of the Bible seemed to be Him, it was in my early years of high school that I truly understood the Gospel and put my trust in Jesus. In 2014 I started studying at Moore Theological College. I’m also serving with the team at MTS as the Communications Officer (aka the kid with the Twitter password) and am part of the community at Summer Hill Church.
I spent three years studying media and writing at Macquarie Uni before I started an MTS apprenticeship at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford. It’s a great gift to have access to the Bible and know God through it, and I love poring over it to soak up what it reveals about God and His plan for us in Jesus Christ. I also love reading novels and quirky short stories, and in recent times I’ve come to really appreciate the availability of good Christian books and their value in helping us understand the scriptures.
As well as this I love cooking, watching The Office (US, of course!), sewing, going out to see bands, and generally exploring the Inner West!