I have no aversion to new things. In my lifetime, microwave ovens, personal computers, cell phones, and a list of other innovations have made life easier. I am glad for that. However, when it comes to religion and morality I am firmly opposed to innovation. Christianity is an ancient faith. It was founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and is expressed authoritatively and finally by apostles and prophets in the Holy Scriptures.
The history of the Christian church and of doctrine is really not a history of a changing, evolving religion. Rather it is a history of resistance to novelty. One of my seminary professors insightfully observed, “In the history of doctrine, truth is assumed until it is challenged.” Statements or confessions of the Christian faith were written to confront and correct innovations – departures from what Christians have believed from the first.
The Trinity is a fundamental Christian doctrine. In the 4th century heretics were denying the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. Error was spreading. Church councils distilled and published doctrinal statements that did not create new concepts. They identified and expressed what the Bible affirmed – that Christ is Divine and that God exists eternally in three Persons.
The Reformation was not a departure, but rather a rediscovery of the Christian truth of justification by faith alone. Sadly, over centuries, the church had become infected with the error of works righteousness. Reformers, such as Martin Luther, basing their beliefs on “sola scriptura” (the Bible alone), declared and defended what Paul and the other apostles preached – that salvation is by the grace of God through faith, and not of works.
The Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a battle over what Christians have always believed – the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Fundamentalists did not invent this doctrine. They declared and defended it against the assault of rationalists who attacked the integrity of the Bible and thus departed from “the faith once delivered to the saints.”
The Christian faith continues to be challenged in our day.
Recently, the United Methodist Church held a denominational gathering in which representatives voted by only the slimmest majority to preserve the position Christians have always held regarding marriage. Pressure from an increasingly licentious culture has led many professing Christian denominations and churches to abandon traditional Christian views on marriage and morality. Many are now approving and advocating what Christians have always understood to be debauchery.
A little over a decade ago Ashley Baptist Church changed its statement of faith. Amending bylaws is one thing, but should not a doctrinal statement be timeless and unchanging? In a sense, yes. However, in changing our faith statement, we did not embrace some doctrinal novelty. We simply expressed in a concise affirmation what this church – and all Christians – already always believed about marriage and morality. It was assumed to be true, but then it was challenged. We believe that the Bible teaches that marriage as designed by God is an exclusive, lifelong, covenantal relationship between a man and a woman. We also believe that any sexual activity outside of a biblically defined marriage is sinful.
What is taking place in our culture, in government, and, most tragically, in many churches and denominations regarding marriage and morality is directly contrary Christian belief and behavior. And just like the apostles, patriarchs, Reformers, and Fundamentalists who went before us, we will be faithful to declare and to defend “the faith once delivered to the saints.”