Geo. O. Lillegard
1945 Synod Convention Essay
“This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:29)
Jesus of Nazareth had fed the five thousand men, besides women and children, in the wilderness with five loaves and two small fishes. He had thus proved his ability to solve the age-old economic problems of men, as well as to heal their diseases and drive out evil spirits. In their enthusiasm for this great prophet, the people wanted to “take Jesus by force and make him a king.” But he “departed again into a mountain himself alone”; and the next day, when He spoke to the people, it was to upbraid them for seeking Him only because they “did eat and were filled.” He had come for a greater and higher purpose than to remedy their earthly ills: “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you; for him hath God the Father sealed.” (John 6:27)
The Jews apparently accepted this rebuke. For they said: “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Indeed, they wanted to labor for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, not only for the bread with which to fill their stomachs. Let Jesus tell them how they should do the works of God, and they would gladly do them!
But when Jesus answered: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent,” they demanded a sign, murmured at him because he made life and salvation solely dependent upon faith in him, and even many of his disciples “from that time went back and walked no more with him.” They wanted to work out their own salvation by their own good deeds. They would not hear of it, that they needed only to believe in Jesus in order to work the works of God. They understood, indeed, that He claimed to be God Himself come to earth to give life to men as a free gift, but they would not accept Him or believe in Him as such. Christ’s words were plain enough in any case: “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (v. 51)
Jesus also made it plain that even this matter of believing in him was not a good work which man could perform either wholly or in part by his own strength and of his own will: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” (John 6:44–45). And again Jesus says: “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” (v. 65)
Life and salvation, then, are to be gained only by faith in Jesus; and even this faith is the gift of God to us. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8–9). Our works are utterly excluded. We cannot please God nor do anything at all to win His favor by any works of our own. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6). And “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17). God’s word is the means by which faith is wrought in our hearts. It is the divine seed, planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which engenders the spiritual life in us. (I Peter 1:23). It is the “sincere milk” which nourishes that spiritual life and makes us fitted to be the heirs of heaven. (I Peter 2:2)
Doctrine Is Life
Thus we can say that Christian doctrine, the Word of God, is itself Christian life. It is not only the root and origin of all true Christian life, but the very essence of that life, so that without God’s Word in the heart there is no true spiritual life either. Jesus says: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63). We can distinguish between doctrine and life, as when we include under “doctrine” everything that we believe and teach, and under “life” everything that we are and do. But it is what we believe that determines what we do, so that in actual practice we cannot divorce the two from each other or set them in opposition to each other. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” (Prov. 23:7) — this is good psychology as well as Bible teaching. As Jesus says: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” (Matt. 15:19). It is a man’s thoughts, his dreams and aspirations, his principles and beliefs,in one word, his faith, — that determines what he is and does.
There is nothing more plainly and emphatically taught in the Bible than this. Yet there is nothing that men dispute or disregard more frequently, even many of those whom we must accord the Christian name. It is the fashion in most church circles to set doctrine and life over against one another, as if they belonged in different categories, totally unconnected with one another. In my China days, I was told continually, by Lutherans as well as by others: “It does not make much difference what you believe, just so you live a Christian life.” This was the basis for the universal unionism among the missionaries, which brought Lutherans together with all sorts of church denominations, from the most Modernistic to the most fanatical and “sværmersk.” The assumption was, of course, that every missionary led a Christian life, so what if he did deny doctrines we as Lutherans confess and hold dear? He would surely get to heaven anyway, perhaps more easily than a narrow-minded, “buttoned-up,” dogma,bound Lutheran who thought he knew everything and assumed that “everyone was out of step except himself!”
“Not doctrine, but life” is the slogan also in large and growing areas of the church in our country. It has captured all the larger Reformed denominations and has strong advocates in many Lutheran bodies, not least the Norwegian. An aggressive propaganda is being carried on today to unite all Protestant churches on this basis. The urge to “do bigger things for God,” to make more effective use of our resources in all the different fields of Christian work, is also back of the current drive to bring all Lutherans together so that they will cooperate at least “in externals.” Let some minor points of doctrine go if necessary, but get together and work together! Then those doctrinal differences will soon seem unimportant and will lose the power to keep fellow-Christians apart. Such is the plea that is made and that is being heeded by all too many Lutherans in these war days when so many evil things are done and excused in the name of “the war emergency.”
The Federal Council of Churches, with which the United Lutheran Church also is affiliated, is the spearhead for this movement among Protestants today. It apparently has the backing of the Rockefeller millions now, just as the ill-fated “Inter-Church World Movement” had during and after the first World War. It seems that wars bring out all that is evil and false in the hearts of men and tend to break down the barriers and restraints that God and men have set up to save society from corruption. And this is true in the churches as well as in the world in general. The last war and its disintegrating influence played a large part in putting across the Lutheran Mergers in 1917, which marked the defection of the greater part of the old Norwegian Synod from the conservative camp of American Lutherans and the submergence of whatever conservative Lutheranism there was in the bodies now forming the United Lutheran Church. The present war threatens to carry this evil work still farther, in Lutheran as well as Reformed churches. In the latter, the demoralizing, anti-Christian influence of Modernism, Socialism and unionism is becoming ever more evident. Consider, for example, the following excerpts from an address, entitled “The Christian Church, What of Its Future?”, by Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., delivered first during World War I, and again on January 31st, 1945, before the Protestant Council of the City of New York. This Council, according to its own statement, “was formed to promote the coordination of different religious and welfare activities in New York-and earnestly desires a continually closer relationship with the Catholic and Jewish faiths in the belief that the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man spread across all sectarian divisions.”
“Deeds, Not Creeds”
Mr. Rockefeller says: “Not many weeks or months had elapsed after this World War began before there was presented to our vision a picture so horrible it hardly seemed that it could be true. It appeared that hell had broken loose and that millions of evil spirits had become incarnate in human form and were going about the earth committing atrocities and acts of cruelty beyond belief. In the face of this awful picture it is not strange that we should ask ourselves: ‘Has Christianity failed?’
“But there is another picture which the war has painted. In it we see millions of men and women who are exemplifying in their daily lives, in the most commonplace fashion, unselfishness, generosity, loyalty, self-sacrifice and other characteristics and qualities which command the admiration of the world. Unconsciously these people are reflecting Christ’s spirit. Whether they know it or not, their inspiration comes from the God of all good deeds. Yet many of them have no church affiliations, for too often the church seems to them quite apart from their lives, an institution which has little contact with, or understanding of, their problems, since theirs is fundamentally a religion of deeds, not of creeds; expressed in life, not in words. “In the presence of this great host of noble men and women, who, generally, have not come from the church, although directly or indirectly all have been more or less influenced by it; who, many of them, have faced death, have lived a life far worse than death, have sacrificed their all, we ask, ‘What of the future of the Christian Church?’ Will these people, after the experience through which they have passed, find in the church generally as it exists today the recognition, the association, the guidance and the inspiration which they need and have a right to expect? Regretfully we must answer ‘No.’ For the church has learned too little to speak their language, to think in terms of their environment, to meet their needs.
“If this be true, one of two things is inevitable. Either this unorganized spiritual force which is silently dominating millions of lives will not be conserved, or the church must have a new birth if it is to meet this marvellous opportunity and great human need.”
According to this, the Christian Church as we have known it hitherto has been a failure; for it has not met the needs of the many people who stayed aloof from the church because their religion was one “of deeds, not of creeds.” We are reminded of the Jews who “walked no more with Jesus,” because He insisted upon their believing in Him instead of asking them to do some good deeds, and who eventually crucified Jesus because He “made Himself the Son of God.” But Mr. Rockefeller says, in effect, that it was a mistake for Jesus to build His church on the foundation which Peter expressed in the words: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69; Matt. 16:16). He would have the church be “born again” so that it would include Christ-denying Jews, Mary-worshipping Catholics, and all other “noble men and women” under one roof.
Mr. Rockefeller’s Creed
He says: “Let us picture, for a moment, this reborn church. It would be the Church of the Living God. Its terms of admission would be love for God, as He is revealed in Christ and His living spirit, and the vital translation of that love into a Christlike life.” (Note that there is nothing here about the love of God for man as revealed in Christ Jesus, nor about faith in Christ, but only about man’s love for God.) “Its atmosphere would be one of warmth, freedom and joy, so sympathetically and distinctly manifest as to attract and win into its fellowship all those who are striving to live useful and worthy lives. It would pronounce ordinance, ritual, creed, all nonessential for admission into the Kingdom of God or His Church. A life, not a would be the test. Its object would be to promote applied religion, not theoretical religion. As its first concern it would encourage Christian living seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. It would be the church of all the people, of everyone who is fighting sin and trying to establish righteousness; the church of the rich and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, the high and the low — a true democracy.”
Having thus formulated a creed for this reborn, “creedless” church, Mr. Rockefeller exclaims: “Would that I had the power to bring to your minds the vision as it unfolds before me! I see all denominational emphasis set aside. I see cooperation, not competition. In the large cities I see great religious centers-inspiring their members to participation in all community matters. In smaller places, I see one or two strong churches, uniting the Christian life of the town; — I see the church, through its members, moulding the thought of the world and leading in all great movements. I see it literally establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. Shall some such vision as this be realized? Upon the answer to that depends in large measure the future of the Christian Church.”
Mr. Rockefeller then argues that the Church must become such as he envisions it, if it is to resist successfully the forces of evil and “establish spiritual righteousness in the world.” He says further: “Let ordinance, creed, ritual, form, Biblical interpretation, theology, all be used to enrich worship, and to bring the believer into a fuller understanding of Him Whom we worship, as each individual or separate church may find them helpful toward that end. But God forbid that they should be allowed to cause divisions among the followers of Christ or be set up as barriers at the door of any branch of the Church of the Living God. If the various divisions of the church as it is organized today catch the vision, have the breadth, the tolerance, the courage, and, setting aside all nonessentials, all barriers, will stand upon the bedrock principles of God’s love and Christ’s living spirit, ‘not satisfied,’ as Donald Hankey has said, ‘until the church is the church of all good men and women, until all good thoughts and deeds are laid at the feet of the Lord of all good life,’ the Church of the Living God will come into being, ushering in a new era of Christian unity. What an opportunity! What a privilege! What a duty! In God’s name I ask, does anyone dare let it pass?”
Mr. Rockefeller closed his address this year with the following: “On February 3, 1943, the cargo transport Dorchester was torpedoed at 1:15 A.M. and sank within twenty-five minutes in iceberg waters, ninety miles from Greenland. As the ship went down, four Chaplains — one a Catholic, one a Jew, two Protestants — were on the deck encouraging the men and passing out life belts. When there were no life belts left, they took off their own and gave them away. These chaplains were last seen standing arm in arm praying. As they went to their death, united in the service of their common Lord, so let us, the living members of the great religious faiths they represent, go forward, shoulder to shoulder, as a united army, fighting evil, establishing righteousness, brothers in service, sons of the one God and Father of us all!”
An Anti-Christian Creed Examined
It ought to be a work of supererogation to point out the anti,Christian character of these Rockefeller vaporings to. any group of Christians, at least to any called Lutheran. But unfortunately all experience shows that such ideas have to be attacked continually if we are not to be influenced by them. For they represent “the religion of the natural man” and seem highly reasonable to the carnal mind. They are, furthermore, supported by a scientifically worked out propaganda, backed by apparently unlimited financial resources such as those of the Rockefeller interests. And the American people as a whole seem to be peculiarly susceptible to propaganda, even some of the crudest type, like the atrocity propaganda in World War I. The fact is that many of the unBiblical expressions and ideas found in Mr. Rockefeller’s address have crept into Lutheran writings, even in the more conservative circles. Through their connection with the United Lutheran Church in the National Lutheran Council, all Lutherans outside of the Synodical Conference are, in reality, in fellowship with the Federal Council which advocates these heretical teachings. We shall, then, examine this “creed of the future church” in the light of Bible teaching on the chief points at issue.
Has Christianity failed because it has not saved the world from war, poverty and other social evils? No, Christ never promised us a world that would be free from such evils, nor did He tell His disciples to go out into the world to change it as a whole into the kingdom of God on earth. He told them plainly: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” (John 16:33). “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18–19). He commissioned His disciples to preach the Gospel of salvation by faith in Him as the Redeemer of sinners to all the world, but warned them that proportionately few of the people who heard their would accept it in faith. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” real task was not to make the world a better place for men to live in, but to prepare men for a better world. They were to save men out of this evil world, “as a brand plucked out of the fire.” (Zech. 3:2). The Kingdom of God will never be established here on earth, so long as this sin,cursed world stands, except as an invisible kingdom of grace, which “cometh not with observation.” Our Lord Jesus says, as if in direct answer to Mr. Rockefeller’s vision: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20–21).
As a result of the preaching of the Gospel, there are indeed many bene’ fits accruing to the world in general in this life. But these are “by-products” of the Christian teaching rather than its real end and aim. And as soon as Christians begin to shift the emphasis in their work from preaching the saving word to doing good to their suffering and unfortunate fellow-men in the world, they lose not only the glory of saving sinners for God’s heaven, but also those good fruits in the social sphere which are the by-product of their evangelizing work. And they themselves will soon, if they do not repent, drift into the soul-destroying idea that it makes no difference what they believe, if only they do what is right and are active in good works.
Instead of praising “the great host of noble men and women” who have “a religion of deeds, not creeds,” and who reject Him as their Savior, our Lord Jesus says to them: “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. — He that is of God heareth God’s words; ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” (John 8:43–46). Again he says to just such Jews as the Federal Council of Churches today would welcome into “a closer relationship:” “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. — Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him two-fold more the child of hell than yourselves. — Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocricy and iniquity. — Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:13,15,27,28,33).
The creed of this “reborn Church of the Living God” is simply the creed of all anti-Christian and heathen religions, revamped so as to give it a Christian veneer, — and not too much of that! We find it stated by such as do not pretend to be Christians at all in exactly the same language as that used by Mr. Rockefeller and the Federal Council of Churches, who do pretend to be Christians and even claim to represent practically the whole of American Protestantism. Compare, for example, the following statements from a Unitarian tract with those quoted above from Mr. Rockefeller’s address:
“They (the founders of Masonry) recommended ‘A universal creed, on the plan of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind,’ one that would include good men of all forms of religion, all nationalities, all stations in life . The inadequacy of the dogmatic and ceremonial forms of religion is being more clearly shown every day. That is why I say a new compact is needed, and it should be so formulated that the good people of all lands, races and forms of religion can unite upon it. As conditions now are, earnest men are anxiously inquiring: ‘What must the church do to be saved?’ — ‘This war has set the kingdom of God back one hundred years. Civilization stands condemned. The kingdom of Christ will never be brought about by segregated sectarianism. — But we are sure to have segregated sectarianism just so long as there is insistence upon dogmas and ceremonials as tests of fellowship and conditions of salvation.’ — Looking at the world as it is today begets the conviction that there must be a better way than the one which the majority has been following. That better way-consists in the reverent practical recognition of the Infinite from whom we all proceed as universal father, and that necessary corollary, the universal brotherhood of Man, and then in building upon the foundation a super-structure of reverence, temperance, fortitude, and justice which will insure a nobler type of manhood and a better society. The liberal churches-have championed and advocated the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of Man, immortality, and salvation by character, and these are the very principles for which nearly all the great fraternities stand.” (“The Relation of the Liberal Churches and the Fraternal Orders,” by Elijah Alfred Coil.)
Remember that the Unitarian Church exists as a protest against the teaching that Christ Jesus is God; and that the fraternities referred to likewise deny Christ and accept the essentially heathen notion that a man is saved by his works, not by faith, or that “character determines destiny.” This last month at the annual convocation of the Unitarian Divinity School of Harvard University, Mr. Hu Shih, a Chinese philosopher, who described himself as an “unreconstructed heathen,” gave the annual Ingersoll address on “The Immortality of the Soul.” His heathen ideas were quite acceptable to his Unitarian and Modernist audience. It is thus nothing else than Unitarianism and a denial of the most elementary Christian truths to set deeds over against creeds and to make the essential thing in Christianity a life of loving service, regardless of whether one believes in Jesus as the Savior of the world or not.
The Bible Way of Salvation
The whole Bible is, in fact, from beginning to end a protest against the error that man, since the Fall, is able to be and do good in the sight of God, or to earn his way to life and salvation. The prophets and the apostles with one voice declare: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Ps. 14:1–3; 36:1; Rom. 3:10,12,18). It was just because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21) that God sent His Son into the world “to redeem them that were under the law.” (Gal. 4:5). This he did by “being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13), when He suffered the shameful death of the cross. There was no other way for God to salvage anything out of the wreck which Satan and the sin of man had made of the world. Now men must believe the Gospel concerning this Savior, they must accept Jesus as their Redeemer whose blood has atoned for all their sins, before anything that they think, say or do can please God. They have to be born again, become new creatures, by the work of the Holy Spirit, before there can be any talk of their producing good deeds that will be acceptable to God. Those who think to win God’s favor by their own self·chosen works of worship, self-sacrifice or service must hear such words as these: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord. — When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations. — When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood.” (Is. 1:11–15.) There is only one thing required for entrance into the kingdom of God: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3 :28). “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). And so Jesus could welcome sinners, even such as never had a chance to do good works, like the thief on the cross, as soon as they confessed faith in Him as the promised Messiah and Redeemer of the world. “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
Is There a “Dead Orthodoxy?”
It is true, there are many that mouth this slogan, “not creeds, but deeds,” who do not mean to exclude creeds entirely, but want only to avoid what they call “a dead orthodoxy,” a “faith without works,” a Christianity of the head and not of the heart. And we must grant that there is such a thing as having a correct knowledge of Bible doctrine and giving it intellectual assent without having a living faith in that doctrine. Cf. James 2:14–26. There are people in orthodox churches, sad to say, who confess with their mouth that Christ is the Lord, but who do not believe in Him in their heart. There are many, too, of whom we must say that their faith is not as living and active a power in their lives as it should be; they are and remain weak Christians, with the old Adam in their nature not always drowned and made to die with its sins and evil lusts by a daily contrition and repentance as it should be. There may even be those who insist upon their right to live in sin, or who excuse their sins, because they believe in Christ Jesus as the Savior of sinners. The error of such people, however, does not consist in this that they emphasize doctrine at the expense of life, but in this that they do not possess the true, orthodox doctrine and faith in the first place. For it is a part of true orthodoxy that it requires Christian life and conduct from all who confess Jesus. A “dead orthodoxy” is not orthodox at all; orthodoxy means simply “straight doctrine”; in order to be a truly orthodox believer one must have the new life of the Spirit which bears its fruits in every good thing. There can be no true faith in Christ which does not go together with love for Him. And love is the fulfilling of the law.
Therefore. St. Peter says of those whom God has given the Holy Ghost, that he “purifies their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). And to such he says: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (I Peter 1:22). St. Paul calls the “words of our Lord Jesus Christ wholesome words — the doctrine which is according to godliness” (I Tim. 6:3). And he says: “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11). Everything in the Bible, in brief, is written, that “ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). Faith in the true doctrine of Christ, then, gives life, a life which is so closely united with the life of Christ ,that St. Paul can say: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Therefore any departure from the true doctrine strikes a deadly blow at the living bond between Christ and His disciples, so that John tells us: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.” (II John 9:10).
Those who declaim against “doctrine” in favor of “life” are often such as do not follow the Bible teachings with regard to life and conduct either, zealous though they claim to be for the law of God. Like the Pharisees, they would burden the Christian Church today with just such “traditions” and “ordinances” as Christ condemned so severely. “All their works they do for to be seen of men; — for a pretence they make long prayer; — they pay tithe — and omit the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith; — outwardly they appear righteous unto men, but within they are full of hypocricy and iniquity” (Matt. 23). They say: “Touch not; taste not; handle not,” forbidding the use of wine, even coffee and tea, tobacco, etc.; they pass a multitude of “blue laws,” if they can, forcing the Old Testament Sabbath laws upon those whom Christ has made free; they enjoin fasting and celibacy and perpetual poverty, as in the Catholic Church, and a multitude of rules regarding prayers and vows and masses which have no basis whatever in Scripture. And all this they do in the face of such strong admonitions as those in St. Paul’s epistles to the Galatians and the Colossians: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. — Why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, — after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh” (Col. 2:16–17; 20:23). Jesus vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines men” (Matt. 15:9).
There are, however, those among the “deeds, not creeds” advocates who are mistaken chiefly as to the relation between doctrine and life. They think of “doctrine” as something merely intellectual, the assent of the head to a theoretical statement or proposition, and include under “life” everything that could be called “heart Christianity,” i.e. a sincere faith in Jesus manifested by a daily repentance for sin and a daily renewal in sanctification and holiness.
The Bible Definition of “Doctrine”
But the Word of God quite another definition of doctrine than this. Christian doctrine is a statement of what the Word of God teaches, either in words quoted directly from the Bible, or summarizing in other words what the Bible teaches in clear language. It is used continually as a synonym for the Word of God itself. (Cf. John 7:17, Acts 2:42, Rom. 6:17; 16:17; II John 9, etc.) In order to appropriate this Bible teaching, we must use our intellect or mind. The anti-intellectual propaganda in certain church circles, which decries the study of Christian doctrine and even all theological learning, and which wants to make the Christian faith merely into something that stirs the emotions while leaving a man’s mind utterly confused as to what God’s word teaches, is but another phase of the “deeds, not creeds” religion. In reality there is no such thing as true Christian faith without a proper understanding of the fundamental Bible teachings.
This does not put the Christian faith beyond the reach of the dull-witted and unlearned. For it is just the greatest marvel of the Christian Gospel that it can so readily be appropriated by the little child, the dull of mind, and “the foolish of this world,” while at the same time it contains mysteries and deep things which defy the most persistent efforts of the keenest minds to and analyze them. Thus Jesus says: “I thank thee, O Father, thou hast hid these from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matt. 11:25). “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:15). And St. Paul says: “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Cor. 1:27–29).
But this does not mean that we are to be satisfied with remaining children in knowledge all our ignorant of the treasures of Bible knowledge and proud of our ignorance. We shall rather seek to learn ever more and more about the mysteries of God. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews upbraids those who “have need that one teach them again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat. For everyone that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe” (5:12–13). And St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal” (I Cor. 3:1–3).
The Value of Knowledge
Hence we must say of those who think it unnecessary to apply their intellects to the study of the Word of God, just so they have a true faith in their hearts, that they are yet carnal, “unskilful in the word of righteousness.” They should find “their delight in the law of the Lord.” They should like to “meditate in that law both day and night” (Ps. 1:2). They should “desire to be tilled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, — increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9; 10). For the fact of the matter is that it is only by an ever deepening knowledge and understanding of God’s Word that we can grow in the Christian virtues and develop a God-pleasing, Christian life. The Psalmist says: “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). The divine word, “learned by heart” and kept in the heart, is the one guarantee against sin, our sword against the devil, the world, and our own flesh. That word is the “food for our souls,” which alone can nourish the spiritual life in us; it is “the light on our way” which alone can teach us and show us the way we should walk. Jesus tells us: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. — If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:3, 7).
Actually, then, all this seemingly pious talk about Christian life as over against a merely intellectual or “dead” Christian knowledge stems from confused thinking and ignorance of the Bible. Christian knowledge and Christian life go together. There is no such thing as living a Christian life unless one first has learned what it means to be a Christian and what God expects of His children. Jesus says: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:16–17). “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32). Human language could not make it plainer that Christian doctrine is the source of all true Christian life, the soil in which it grows, the “sine qua non,” the necessary condition, without which no work of man can be called good in the sight of God.
Doctrine is a Divine Power
It is not strange that Christian doctrine should be described in this way when we remember that the Word of God is a power, a life-giving, miracle-working force. By his word, God created all things and supports them to this day. His Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). “The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Therefore it not only interests the mind but also stirs the heart and changes the will, so that it makes those who by nature are dead to every spiritual interest and impulse, and who are rebels against God, into Spirit-filled, reborn children of God, who serve him with willing hearts. Paul says: “The Holy Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 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, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:15–17). The Bible not only contains full directions as to how a Christian should be and act, so that “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein” (Is. 35:8), but it also gives the strength and ability to do that which it commands. For in and by His Word God gives His Holy Spirit to men. And “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14), who “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). The same Christ who “redeemed us from all iniquity” is also the one who “purifies unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). And He tells us: “I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The fact that the Bible contains so many admonitions to the Christians to bring forth fruits meet for repentance does not mean that God expects us to produce these fruits by our own efforts. But it is by means of those very admonitions that the Holy Spirit works in us the will to do what God commands. “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). It is “the God of peace” who is to “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever” (Heb. 13:20–21). And God does His work in us by means of His Word and Sacraments, the Means of Grace. He has provided for everything that concerns our Christian life, so that Paul can even say: “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
“Were They Saved by Their Works?”
There have been a multitude of stories coming out of this war like that of the four chaplains, told by Mr. Rockefeller. When I first came to China as a missionary, I discussed the question of “prayer-fellowship” with the then Mission Secretary of the Norwegian Synod, and he used an imaginary case like that of those chaplains to show that we can pray together with anyone who believes in God, and just naturally would do so under such circumstances. Those who refuse to think the matter through will accept such statements as correct, although cases have also been reported in the Press of where those in danger prayed “each to his own God in his own way.” The fact remains that the four chaplains were by no means “united in the service of their common Lord.” The Jew did not confess Jesus Christ at all but would say that he “deserved to die because he made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). The Catholic, no doubt, prayed to “the Blessed .Mother Mary” and trusted in her merits and intercession rather than in Christ’s alone. What the Protestant chaplains believed we do not know. Since the majority of Protestant ministers today are Modernists, at least one of the two was most likely a Modernist who denied every fundamental of the Apostles’ Creed and would have subscribed wholeheartedly to Mr. Rockefeller’s creed. If the other was a conservative Bible Christian, he alone could be said to be serving the one Lord of the true Christian Church. They might stand and hold hands as they went to meet their Judge, drawn together by their common danger. But there could be no true spiritual fellowship between them, either in their prayers or 1n their hearts even then. And the Lord has not left us without clear light as to how he would judge these men at the Last Day. Their noble deeds, their self-sacrificing spirit, praiseworthy though they may be in comparison with the selfishness of so many people, would not save them if they lacked that divine charity, or love, which is the fruit of a true faith in Jesus, and of which Paul says: “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Cor. 13:3).
Let us, then, never forget these words of Christ: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” It is after Paul has established this as the teaching of all the Scriptures that he says to his fellow-believers: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2). And it is by believing this that we can “walk in the Spirit,” so that we will flee “the works of the flesh, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like”; and will bring forth “the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” For “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:19–24).