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Monday, October 17, 2011

The Testimony of Church History

I stated recently that it is beyond my comprehension how it is that people can claim that the Church got it wrong all this time and now, here at the end of the 20th or into the 21st century, we finally figured it out. These things aren't matters of archaeology or the like. "We always figured that Mt. Sinai was here, but modern archaeology indicates that it's likely over there." No, not that kind of stuff. I'm talking about doctrine, important matters, issues of the faith. If it turned out, for instance, that Friday was not the day that Christ was crucified, it wouldn't have any major impact on Christianity. If, on the other hand, the Church has always believed that homosexual behavior is a sin in God's eyes and, lo and behold, we find out today that this just isn't the case, well now, that would have major implications.

The claim I've made is the claim Christ made. "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). Of course I don't think (nor does anyone I've ever heard or read) this means that the Holy Spirit will reveal all possible knowledge. (Someone complained "They didn't use modern medical practices" suggesting that this was "truth" that the Holy Spirit failed to impart.) I'm basing my view on the claim that the Holy Spirit would lead His people into true doctrine, the truth regarding the counsel of God. The position I've taken is that if it took 2,000 years for the Holy Spirit to get across the truth that ____ (where the blank may be that homosexual behavior is perfectly acceptable to God under certain circumstances or that the Bible was never intended to be understood at face value or that churches aren't supposed to be anything at all like they are today or that the Trinity is a false concept created by Constantine or whatever other conspiracy concept might be floating around) is the case, then the Holy Spirit is a poor communicator and a general failure in His role as truth teller.

The argument I've gotten on this is standard. "How can you say that? The Church has always made mistakes/always had disagreements. What makes this any different?" This misses the point in two areas. First, the claim of Christ is not that the Church would be infallible. This is obvious, as most of the New Testament is written to counter errors popping up in the Church. Jesus and the Apostles all warned of weeds in the wheat, false teachers, and divisions in the Church. That they would exist was a given. So to tell me "The Church has always made mistakes" doesn't counter the claim that the Holy Spirit would lead His people into all truth.

The other area of problem here is a misunderstanding of my claim. I am not arguing that the Church has always been right. What I am arguing is that the Holy Spirit has always imparted the truth. In the days of Elijah, God told the prophet that He had retained a remnant (1 Kings 19:18). It was a small number; 7,000 who had not bowed to Baal. This is my understanding. From Christ through today there has always been genuine Christianity with orthodox doctrine. Sometimes it was obvious; sometimes it was not. But it always has been ... if we are to believe Jesus's claim that the Spirit would lead His people into all truth. If I cannot trace my beliefs back through Church history, I would argue that my beliefs are suspect. I don't base this on my skills of interpretation or wise thinking, but on the reliability of the Holy Spirit.

The objection that there has always been disagreement in the Church doesn't help here. I understand (I disagree, but I understand) when people say, "Well, they couldn't come to an agreement on Predestination in the past, so why should I now?" But note that a position on the topic has been held from the beginning. This is not the same thing as saying that the idea is new or the Church was always wrong. Interestingly, the things that are most hotly contested today are not issues of dissent in Church history. No one questioned from the beginning of the Church (and before) that marriage was the union of a man and a woman, but today there are those who have figured out that the Church has always been wrong on that score and really it's just a mutual commitment for love. (Funny ... I don't even see the demand of "love" in biblical marriages. I see it as commanded of Christian husbands, but not as the main point of marriage.) The Church has always held that homosexual behavior is a sin, without any disagreement, but today we're assured that the Church has always been wrong on this issue. The Church has universally held to the inerrancy of Scripture from its earliest days, but today wiser heads have prevailed. These have never been questions in Church history or, if they have, were settled long ago, but some today are arguing (without saying it and even denying they're arguing it) that the Holy Spirit has failed to bring out the truth until now.

Yes, the Church has made mistakes. No doubt. Yes, there have been disagreements and divisions. Without question. Indeed, these things were promised in Scripture. And they happened. But if genuine Christianity cannot be traced from its beginning to today or if, in fact, it has taken the Spirit of God 2,000 some odd years to get across simple truths like these, we will need to question the efficacy and reliability of the Spirit, the Bible, and of Christ who made the claim. As for me, I will continue to question anyone who claims to come up with a new doctrine or hold to some vast conspiracy theory regarding the Church. If God is not big enough to superintend His Word or His Body, He's not a big enough God to worship.