Dr. S.C. Ylvisaker
1940 Synod Convention Essay
1. Fundamental is defined as anything that serves as the foundation or basis of a system of belief, as a truth, law, or principle; it is a primary and necessary truth. In conformity with this definition, Scripture says clearly: “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11). This is borne out also by many examples. When the Jailer at Philippi cried: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), Paul answered simply: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Of the Ethiopian eunuch we read (Acts 8) that Philip “preached unto him Jesus”; and when he was to be baptized, his confession was no more involved: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” John the Baptist summarizes his testimony in the remarkable words: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Joh. 1). Peter’s confession in behalf of the disciples is equally simple: “We believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (Joh. 6:69). This confession is repeated in Matt. 16:16; and, simple as it is, this confession has the full blessing, for Jesus says: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:17–18). In his first epistle John (5:1) reduces the content of saving faith to these simple terms: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” and that even in the face of serious dissensions in the church there in Asia Minor.
2. We may rightly infer from this that there is a certain essential to which our Christian faith may be reduced, and beyond which that reduction can not go. That essential is always Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus the Saviour. There is much comfort in this, for even in the case of the deepest theologian Christian faith is essentially a very simple thing. In our personal attitude toward Christ, in our prayers and devotions, our reaching out for Him and His daily companionship, His love and grace, it is the sense of childlike trust that predominates. And if our study of the dogmatic system of theology leads us away from this simplicity of faith and this childlike trust as the great essential, it has not served its real purpose. In our prayers and devotions and in our daily companionship with Christ, we are not thinking in terms of an involved set of doctrines. It is the One Great Presence, Christ, Who is the sum and substance of all our longings and hopes and aspirations. Thus, too, in the case of our children. We believe confidently that they in baptism receive a living faith in Christ as their Redeemer from sin, death and hell. It is the true Christ, with all His gifts and benefits. As a child when it is born is a child of those certain parents in the full sense of the term, even though it is not in any way conscious of this relation or of the possessions it owns as a result of this relation; so a child that is baptized is immediately received into full rights and privileges with the most well-informed child of God, even though he may be quite unaware of the high station into which he is born. And such an infant child owns God as his Father and Christ as his Saviour as surely and in as great measure of blessedness as the deepest theologian. For it is faith, not knowledge, which lays hold of God’s saving grace in Christ. This same comfort is there for a pastor who so often must be satisfied with a very meager amount of knowledge on the part of even longtime members of his congregation. Who are we to begin requiring a full knowledge of the whole body of Christian doctrine before we can consider a man a Christian, when Christ Himself has accepted as a full and complete confession the brief statements quoted above, nay, has even accepted the same as the rock foundation upon which He has promised to build that Church which all hell can nat overthrow?
3. When the question of “fundamentals” is raised and we are asked which and how many those teachings are which belong to the foundation of faith and upon which a church must build if it is to be called Christian, the answer of Scripture remains simple: “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” And the promise is that he who in faith has accepted Christ, has no half-Christ or quarter-Christ, but he has the whole Christ with His every blessing and gift and is a full heir of heaven. And this blessing is not as for some future ownership, as if he must be instructed better; it is present and real with the first advent of faith. Where Christ enters in and lives in the heart, He leaves nothing behind; He is there with His full truth, life, grace, love, strength, armor. In this sense Christ can not be divided, and we must continually be on our guard against any such attempt in our thinking, believing and teaching. The foundation, i.e. the fundamental, is Christ.
4. The normal development in the case of a child is this that he is privileged to grow up under the parental roof, associate with his parents, go in and out in their home as a member of the household, experience their loving care and protection, and above all learn to know his parents more and more intimately. Already as an infant the child has a way of recognizing his parents, particularly his mother; and that first attitude of trust is seen to be able to differentiate between the mother and others who may be at hand. For want of a better designation we call this aptitude on the part of the child “knowledge,” though we hardly dare to call it a conscious thing. As the child becomes older and the associations in the home continue, the feeling of trust and confidence continues, and knowledge grows day by day, that knowledge which is able to recognize the parents, distinguish clearly between these and other persons even to the point of description, until finally the first elements of knowledge have become a strong and conscious thing which can not be deceived.
5. God deals similarly in the case of those who are accepted into the “adoption of children” by faith in Christ. The normal thing is this that such a new-born child of God will continue on to live in this new relation, associate more and more intimately with his heavenly Father, enjoy the good things at His hand, love, grace, care and protection, his whole blessed inheritance as a child of God. And thus it will be his divine privilege to know this Father better day by day and year by year, recognize Him and distinguish Him from every other pretended and deceiving fatherhood. And since faith lays hold of Christ as its great content, it will be the Christian’s divine prerogative that the roots of faith grow deeper and deeper in the soil of the heart, and that knowledge of that Saviour increases as the years pass and the association with this Saviour becomes more and more intimate. Jesus Himself speaks of a weak faith, and the Scriptures grant that there is a faith which is capable of receiving only the milk as contrasted with the meat of doctrine. But the Scriptures do not distinguish as if the one kind of faith owns more of salvation or forgiveness or grace or love, in short of Christ, than the other. Where ‘there is childlike trust in Christ as the Redeemer, there salvation is complete and the promise of heaven is sure. My child is no less my child when an infant than when it has become an adult, even though the recognition and knowledge in one case is vastly different from that of the other.
6. Even this increased knowledge is essentially a simple thing, having as its main and central content Christ, His person and work. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Joh. 17:3). The knowledge of Christ is that knowledge which distinguishes Christianity from every other religion, every true confession and creed from every false confession and creed. In other words, in the matter of objective faith as well as in subjective faith, it is well that we keep in mind that this faith is a simple thing, and though we may under certain circumstances be obliged to use many words to describe this faith of ours, it is no more involved in the one case than in the other. As an objective description of our Christian faith we would not dare to say that the added words of the Apostle’s Creed or of the Augsburg Confession or the whole Book of Concord make our confessions any more perfect either in form or in content than the simple statement of Peter by which he and the whole church were called blessed. That confession serves to identify us as Christians before God and men, and it becomes the banner and standard about which the saints of God have rallied and shall continue to rally till the end of time. To come back to the subject of this paper: the rock upon which the church builds as a foundation, the fundamental in the real sense of the term, is Christ and the simple confession of His most glorious name. The most detailed and carefully worded creed has not served as it should, if it has become a series of disconnected statements, diverting our attention from this point to that, in endless confusion. It is striking and altogether characteristic, when Paul speaks of his ministry among the Ephesians, that he says: “Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20). He describes the ministry which he has received of the Lord Jesus in the words “to testify the gospel of the grace of God,” as “preaching the kingdom of God,” and finally declares : “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified” (I Cor. 1:23), and again: “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2), and signified thereby that the contents of all preaching and teaching and confessing in the church is and must be ONE, and that is Christ. This confession is and must remain essentially simple.
7. Why then has the confession become so seemingly involved and intricate? Why are there apparently so many separate doctrines which must be maintained in order that it may be called pure and true? If one is the foundation-stone of the faith of the individual as well as of the faith of the church. and one thing alone is fundamental, why do we speak of fundamentals, as if the foundation-stones were many, among which we must select some, calling these fundamental and others nonfundamental, i.e., not fundamental or belonging to the foundation? This is what confuses so many, though the matter continues to remain quite simple. A tree is essentially one, though it has many leaves and branches. A diamond is still one, though it has many faces and shows many beauties. A man is still one, though he has many limbs or characteristics or abilities or talents. God is One, though it requires many words to describe His nature and attributes, His beauty, His relation toward us, etc. Thus Christ, the foundation of our faith, and of the Church, is one, though there may be many doctrines concerning Him, by which His person and natures, His attributes, His work and saving grace are described and defined.
8. The necessity for, and importance of, the many doctrines are twofold:
a) that we may learn to know Him better for what He is. For it is one thing to own something, though that ownership may be ever so real; and it is another to learn to appreciate its worth by a more intimate knowledge and understanding. Scripture tells us that it is one of the great privileges of Christian faith that we learn to know ever more intimately the one great treasure, Jesus Christ. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (I Cor. 2:9–12). “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:15–35). What this knowledge of Christ means to the Christian is brought out again so beautifully in these words of the same Paul: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14–19). “Nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” — II Tim. 1:12. The Epistle to the Hebrews (6:1–2) exhorts us: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrines of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” — by this indicating that this striving toward the more perfect knowledge of the truths of our faith is an urgent duty of every Christian. And the reason is plain: as it has been promised as our great blessedness and joy in heaven to see our Saviour face to face and know Him as He is, so God has granted His saints here in time to enjoy this foretaste of heaven, that we see His glory as with the eye of faith through the description of this glory in Scripture. Our study of these doctrines contained in Scripture would become so much more profitable for us if we would keep this thought before us at all times. that we through them are privileged to know our Saviour better in His every attribute, purpose and grace.
b) that we having been filled with the knowledge of His person and work may be defended against every temptation to follow a false Christ. Careful study of the Scriptures will show that the doctrines contained there are Christ’s Own, and they are an expression of Himself, describing Him in His natures, person, attributes, work, relation to His heavenly Father, to the Spirit, to His children among men, His church, even His relation to the unbelieving world and the physical world. Thus these teachings of Scripture serve to identify that Christ in Whom we have learned to trust and believe, as if we would say: The Christ in Whom I believe is the one who is described in the Scriptures, the Son of God and the Son of Man, with all those attributes which belong to God (a spirit who is eternal, almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, holy, righteous, merciful and faithful) and those attributes which belong to man, though without sin. H is that Christ Who was promised and foreshadowed of old, being described so carefully that, when He in the fulness of time came, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, He was pointed out, not only by the angels on the fields of Bethlehem and worshipped by the shepherds and the Wise Men, but by John the Baptist saying: Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world! It is that Christ Who lived and walked, preached and taught, suffered and died and rose again, ascended into heaven as all of this has been related in the same Scriptures; Who performed those certain miracles which are listed there; Who spoke and taught those very words and teachings which are recorded there. It is that Christ Who made that very word His Own, not only subscribing to it in its every word, but the One Who lives and breathes there and is the life and content and fulfilment of it; Who is identified with that word so that it can not be separated from Him, nor He from it. It is that Christ Who in and by that word reaches down to man, tells the glad tidings of His coming, His work of salvation, and invites man to the free grace and love which He offers there. It is that Christ Who calls Himself and Who is the Life, the Light, the Bread of Life, the Resurrection, the Good Shepherd, the Water of Life, the Alpha and Omega, the great Amen.
By all of this and more, Christ is identified as that one Christ Who is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto the Father by Him. As such He is the one foundation of the church and of faith. From the beginning it has become necessary to describe Him ever more carefully in order that men might not be deceived by false Christs and false opinions which would lead away from Him. We sense this at once in the Apostolic Creed, where, as it were in opposition to every false confession, and in order to identify their Christ apart from every false saviour who was being proclaimed already at that time, the early church made sure and said: I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, etc.; i.e. in that Jesus Christ Who is described in the following words of the creed. When the divinity of Christ was attacked, the church found it necessary in the Nicene Creed to add more specific description of the Christ in Whom it believed to distinguish Him from the false Christ who was not really God. The Church of the Reformation made sure again in the Augsburg Confession that the true Christ remained as the foundation rock of the Church, and that, by making clear statements regarding justification by grace without the works of the law and other doctrines which were being corrupted and denied, as if they challenged the enemies of Christ who dared to replace His word with another word, His teaching with another teaching, His beauty with another beauty, His love and grace and work with another love and grace and work which was man’s and not Christ’s. And today the true church of God continues on in the same spirit to search the Scriptures daily to make sure that the one true foundation, laid by God Himself, still stands. There is one comfort and source of strength which we must have, the same which Paul held before the church at Ephesus: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:18–22). If an individual or a church comes to us today and says: My Christ teaches that little children should not be baptized, we must say as before God and men: that is not the true Christ, for that Christ Who is the foundation of the church and of our Christian faith has once and for all declared: Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not. Thus the teachings of Christ serve to identify Him and distinguish Him from every false foundation, of which Jesus says: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon the house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24:29).
9. The implications of all of this should be clear. This is not the place to show in detail that or how Christ has identified Himself with all doctrines contained in Scriptures, with all facts of history, geography and so forth which are mentioned there, and with every word written there as being His very Own. But if we have learned to recognize this, then it is not for us to decide that one doctrine may be removed or changed and another disregarded as being unimportant; for it is He Who has said with the heavenly authority which belongs only to Him: “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded.” Who are we to question one word which He has made His Own, when He has said: “The Scriptures can not be broken”? Who of us, dependent as we are on His every promise, can afford to dispense with but one of those precious truths which He has found it necessary to make a part of the foundation of the church? The words are clear: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16–17). “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:18–19). The Lord gives us no choice between believing this and not believing that, when He says to the disciples: “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). He warns against every straying from that word when He says: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). Paul is serious in this warning: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). What John says of his book may well be made the superscription for the whole Bible: “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Joh. 20:31). Who will say, then, that the Bible contains too much, some of which may be looked upon as unessential as a foundation for our faith and the faith of the church? The closing words of the last book of the Bible make us tremble: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18–19). On this background we realize with what earnestness Peter pens these words of his second epistle: “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and can not see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yes, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me. Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in the old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter, chapter 1). Then follows the warning against the false prophets, denying the Lord that bought them. It is the word of God in its every teaching, with no admixture of human reason or human choosing between this doctrine and that, which will save the individual and the church against losing the true foundation, Jesus Christ, and substituting for Him a foundation which will be washed away with the sands of time.
10. The implications are these that we, as individuals and as a church, need the whole foundation of truth which God has given us in Scripture, since Christ has identified Himself with all of this. Whatever Christ has given us in Scripture belongs to Him as the foundation stone; and if we become confused and are made to think that not all of this is needed, the Saviour Himself knows better and has mercifully preserved it all for us and will preserve it unto the end of time as He has said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Today we may be living a very tranquil life of faith, and we are satisfied to say: I believe in Jesus Christ. Tomorrow we may be assailed by a storm from this direction or that, and who knows then where the strain will be felt most severely? Thus, too, in the life of the church. It fares well with the simple confession: I believe in Jesus Christ. But tomorrow it may be the doctrine of predestination with its sure comfort which as a single soldier may have to brave the force of the whole battle, and in the end become the distinguishing banner “Which separates between the true and the false foundation, the true and the false Christ. At the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of Justification by Faith had to feel the strain, today it may be the doctrine of creation in six days, the doctrine of the antichrist, the doctrine made clear by one single passage (II Tim 2:19): “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (against the dream that there is a visible side of the invisible church), and so on almost indefinitely, which as exposed parts of the one foundation must be strong to withstand the inroads of rationalism, of unionism, or other error which would eventually overthrow the whole Gospel of Christ. When Christ says: “Search the Scriptures,” He does not mean to say that He will be found there in some obscure corner after an almost hopeless search, as one would search for the pebble in a heap. He means to say that such a search will discover Him as the living content of every page, the life-giving breath of every word and every teaching or truth recorded there. Who will say, then, that it does not all belong to the fundamental?
11. The distinction that some make, that a doctrine must be looked upon as non-fundamental because it is possible to have a saving faith without a knowledge of this certain doctrine, is at best confusing. We have sought to make this clear above, where we discussed the point that faith in Christ is all-inclusive, even though the person who owns that faith may not have a full knowledge. It is his privilege and even duty to search the Scriptures that he may learn to know better and ever better that foundation which is Christ, that by a mature faith he may be enabled to use the full strength and comfort which that faith possesses. The distinction, however, becomes a sinful one and subtly dangerous if it is maintained that some teachings of Scripture are of such nature that we may hold divergent views regarding them, for this will inevitably lead to indifference with regard to them, and eventually to open denial. What Christ has given to the individual or to the Church is all priceless, for it is blood-bought, and it is stained by the tears, hallowed by the prayers and labors, and sealed with the heroic death of the saints of God. It is all that incorruptible seed of the Word of God sent by God to save the souls of men.
12. But it is said that we in some things can not be certain that this is the doctrine of Christ and therefore a part of the foundation which is Christ. We may admit that there are many references in Scripture which we do not understand, because we have not sufficient knowledge; there are many passages, prophetic and otherwise, which we can not interpret with certainty because our understanding is limited and God would keep us humble, awaiting the time when He sees that His church needs these particular truths; there are theological problems, so-called, involving questions which simply are not answered in Scripture, and where we are at liberty to use our own best judgment on the basis of logical reasoning or scientific study. But all of this leaves small comfort to those who in pride or wilfulness refuse to accept those teachings which are clearly revealed. Where the Word of God has spoken, whether it be in a doctrine which to us seems important and fundamental, or unimportant and non-fundamental, it will ever be a matter of fundamental importance whether we trust in Christ or not, and whether we in faith are willing to accept His Word of Truth or not. That with which Christ has identified Himself must be and will be a part of the Rock Foundation upon which our faith and our confession must be built. Woe to him who dares to say of any teaching of Scripture, however insignificant it may seem: Here at least I may have my own opinion, here it makes no difference if I do not follow Christ, here Christians remain Christians though human reason or convenience or a better living or friends point in another direction, where the one assurance Christ has given is this: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (Joh. 10:27–30). Are we who have tasted that the Lord is good ready or willing to follow another shepherd at any point on the way?
13. But surely there are sincere Christians in other denominations, even though that denomination does not have the truth iii all points? Can we not after all, — nay, must we not, — accept all those into the household of faith who in all sincerity confess with us: I believe in Jesus Christ? Again we may readily admit that there are many in other denominations who do not know the confession of their own church, and who are not aware of the denial of the truth of which some of these denominations are guilty. By that same unmerited mercy through which they have come to faith, they have been preserved in the true faith by the means of grace which remain in their hands and through which the Spirit operates effectively where and when it pleases Him. Where God finds that true faith in Christ, there is a member of the one true church of Christ, no matter what his outward affiliations may be. We do not now speak of the dangers and temptations of these connections, nor of his duty and responsibility also in this regard. Jesus Himself says: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (Joh. 10:16). But this, too, stands: “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (II Tim. 2:19). As for us who can not know the heart, there is only one recourse, and we judge, not by a part of such a man’s confession, or a part of the confession of a church denomination, but by the whole. One may say: I believe in Jesus Christ and follow this confession with that obedience of faith which accepts His every word and teaching and shepherding. Another may, with seemingly the same earnestness, say: I believe in Jesus Christ, but in the same breath reject much of what he says. Reduced to a simple formula, it would read thus: I believe in Jesus Christ, but not the one who says that infants should be baptized, or the one who forgives sins freely, or the one who makes it necessary to sever connections with the secret lodge, or the one who claims that His very body and blood are given in the sacrament of the altar. I do not believe in that Christ Who was born of a virgin, or the one who predestinated some unto the adoption of sons and eternal life. Thus they have laid another foundation than that is laid, which is the Jesus Christ Who is described by, and identified with, every word of Scripture. Of such, God has said with words that can not be changed or misunderstood: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17–18). And again: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (II Cor. 6:14–18). It is a part of our faith in Christ and of our building on Him as the foundation as individuals and as a church, that we in faith heed His warning voice: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees”; for this is a part of that armor with which God clothes His believers and by which they are kept safe on Him as the foundation of faith. He who despises that armor does so to his own hurt. By heeding this warning, a believer and a church are doing their God-given duty toward him who has learned to build on another foundation than Christ, for he is thus awakened to the seriousness of his error and may still turn from his wayward course. And let us all pray fervently that God may deliver us from the sin of indifference and unbelief which makes light of any teaching of Christ, and that we, as individuals and as a Synod, may rather be found as ready watchmen on the walls of Zion, quick to detect and prepared by the Sword of the Spirit to ward off every attempt to weaken or destroy that one Rock which has become the chief cornerstone of the church of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.