Fundamentalism and the Gospel
Michael Browne, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
'Fundamentalism' in current religious terminology, means belief in the bible as the inerrant word of God. It is belief in the factual historical record of the sacred scriptures, the inspiration, and so incontrovertible truth, of its doctrines submission to which is therefore required by God and the duty of all men. In the easy-going days of ecumenical compromise in which we live, these beliefs are increasingly challenged and criticized by liberal churchmen who stigmatize those who do believe them, and ridicule their strong views of scripture.
Fundamentalism focuses most sharply in the gospel truths as the Christian faith: those truths which proclaim salvation from divine wrath and judgement by the grace of God as its source, the blood of Christ as the procuring cause, and faith as the principle on which it is received. In the face therefore of such criticism, we who do believe them and glory in them as God's revelation and the salvation of our souls, do well to examine again the fundamentals of our faith and the gospel we preach. What then are those truths and principles absolutely fundamental to the gospel message, and apart from which there is no valid Christian gospel?
The fundamental doctrine of the Christian gospel involves the truth about God, Christ and Man:
GOD His reality and holiness.
CHRIST His sinlessness and sacrifice.
MAN His sinfulness and need for repentance and faith.
GOD-His Reality and Holiness
(a) His Reality. The first truth of divine inspiration is the reality and existence of a creator God. 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth', Gen. 1. 1. He is the Source of all being, all life, of everything which has its existence within the universe. He is the Creator of man, 'And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul', Gen. 2. 7. Man thus has a duty and obligation toward God as his Creator.
God is also a communicating God. He has not hidden Himself in remote and transcencient obscurity, but has revealed Himself to His creation. The creation which His wisdom and power brought into being, argues His intention of using it as a stage to display His glories and excellencies for the admiration, praise, and adoration of His rational creatures. But He not only manifests His power and godhead through His natural creation, He also communicates Himself and His will to man by revelation. One of the greatest examples of this is His word to Moses on Mount Sinai, 'And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought those out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods beside me'. Here He is speaking, communicating, with man. As the communicating God He is therefore 'the living God', Psa. 84. 2; Matt. 16. 16, and His life is that of spiritual being as Christ explained, 'God is Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth', John 4. 24. God as Spirit therefore is present throughout the whole of His creation observing the affairs of His creatures, and none can hide from His all-seeing eye, 'Am 1 a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord', Jer. 23. 23-24. Paul taught that God, 'is not far from every one of us, for in him we live, and move, and have our being', Acts 17. 27-28. This is the God with whom we have to do. A God who knows us through and through. He is the God of reality, the God who is there, the God who is accessible, the God in whom we must believe if we are ever to be saved, 'But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him', Heb. 11. 6.
(b) His Holiness. God is infinitely pure and holy. 'Holy/ holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory', Isa. 6. 3. His holiness makes Him absolutely distinct from, and exalted far above, all His creatures. In this Isaiah passage where the prophet has his vision of the throne of God, 'fire' is the emblem of God's holiness, and expresses the consuming nature and power of the divine purity. It is a holiness that excludes all sin and moral evil and makes it impossible for man in his sin (as portrayed by the prophet's predicament) to stand in the awesome presence of unappeased holiness. In the New Testament His holiness is taught in such passages as 1 John 1. 5, 'God is light, and in him is no darkness at all'. A consideration of God's holiness will lead us to a threefold conclusion:
There is a fearful distance between this Holy God and sinful man, Isa. 59. 2.
Man may only aproach God through the merits of Another, and Jesus Christ has made such access possible by His blood sacrifice, Heb. 10, 19. Thus in the truth of God's holiness lies the reason and necessity for Christ's sacrifice: what His holiness demanded His love provided, and so we read, 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life', John 3. 16.
We should approach God with deep reverence and awe, remember ing His burning holiness and exalted majesty, 'let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire', Heb. 12. 28-29. Thus a correct view of God's holiness leads to a proper view of sinful self, Isa. 6. 5-7; Luke 5. 8.
No man can be saved who does not accept this teaching concerning God, His reality and holiness. It is the first fundamental truth of the gospel.
CHRIST-His Sinlessness and Sacrifice
His Sinlessness.When the angel Gabriel announced the conception and birth of Jesus Christ to His mother Mary, he said, 'that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God', Luke 1. 35. His conception by the power of the Holy Spirit and birth through the virgin womb, made indisputable His impeccability. He was 'that holy thing' and utterly sinless in His human nature at birth. He was clean. He was pure. The only Man who ever walked upon the earth without sin. The only Man of woman born who never felt its inner power, because His nature was untainted and holy. The consistent testimony of the apostles is to the sinless perfection of Christ all through His life. The apostle John said, 'in Him is no sin', 1 John 3. 5. The apostle Peter testified of Him, 'Who did no sin', 1 Pet. 2. 22. The apostle Paul described Him as One, 'who knew no sin', 2 Cor. 5. 21. Sinless beyond argument; sinless in nature, sinless in act and thought. He was incapable, by inherent perfection, of sin whatsoever. His purity therefore is fundamental to His mission of salvation. Only a sinless Saviour can offer Himself as a sacrifice for guilty, sinful men, Heb. 7. 26-27. The teaching of a sinless Saviour is absolutely fundamental to the Christian gospel.
His Sacrifice.The sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ has reference to the death which He died. The death of Christ upon Golgotha's cross was pre-eminently a sacrifice, 'Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree', 1 Pet. 2. 24 (also Isa. 53. 5). His death was not simply an example of meekness enduring unjust punishment, it was a death that endured the curse of God on behalf of sinful men who had transgressed God's holy law. That death was also a ransom, it was the price He paid when He suffered under God's wrath against sin to deliver man from the consequences of his transgression, and make possible the salvation of all who would receive Him as their Saviour. 'For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all', 1 Tim. 2. 5-6. His death is also seen as a reconciliation, the means by which the gulf between a holy God and sinful man has been finally bridged, and bridged to the satisfaction of God's justice and the praise of His grace. 'For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God', 1 Pet. 3. 18. His just and holy life, with infinite value in it, offered on behalf of unrighteous man, has brought the guilty and estranged sinner home to the heart of God. It is the blood of Christ that is the seal and sign of His great sacrifice, for shed blood is the incontrovertible evidence of a life which has been given, 'and the blood of Jesus Christ his (God's) Son cleanseth us from all sin', 1 John 1. 7. 'Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot', 1 Pet. 1. 18-19. The preaching of the blood sacrifice of Christ is another absolute, fundamental to a proper declaration of the Christian Gospel.
(c) His Resurrection. Indissolubly linked with the death of Christ is the fact of His physical resurrection. 'Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures', 1 Cor. 15. 3-4. His resurrection on the third day 'by the glory of the Father' (God's glory being thus openly and triumphantly associated with it), was the public attestation and assurance of God's acceptance of His sacrifice. 'Jesus our Lord who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for (because of) our justification', Rom. 4. 24-25, rv. His resurrection is proof positive that all who believe in Him are justified, and that we have an ever-living Saviour as the Object of our faith! Here is another great foundation doctrine of the gospel of the blessed God, for 'if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. . . . But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept', 1 Cor. 15.
MAN-His Sinfulness and Need for Repentance and Faith
(a) His Sinnership. It is one of the most observable, and so irrefutable, facts of life that sin is universally present within human society. Wherever we are, and wherever we may go upon the face of the earth, sin, in every aspect of its ugly nature, is in evidence. That man is a sinner, condemned by his own conscience and the group consciousness of society, is a grim reality, and this is recognized in the word of God, 'For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not', Eccles. 7. 20. And scripture further teaches that ultimately all sin is an offence against God. David in penitential prayer to God, says, 'Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight', Psa. 51. 4. The sin of David and the sin of every man today, may be traced up to its polluted source in the disobedience of our first parent Adam in paradise. His sin was against the commandment of God, Gen. 2. 17, and our sin today is still a disobedience and rebellion against that same Creator God. When Adam sinned, he sinned as the father and representative head of all his race, and his sin therefore affected all his descendants. Sin's effects were carried like a poisoned stream from Adam all down through the following generations of mankind polluting and ruining the race, until today, we are all, without exception, not only sinners by our inherited nature, but sinners by practice and choice. But not only were the effects of Adam's sin transmitted to his descendants, his guilt too was imputed to them, and his judgement is their judgement also! This is what Paul meant when he taught, 'Wherefore as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned', Rom. 5. 12. rv. As a sinner man is subject to the judgement of God, the same judgement Adam was subject to, and that judgement being death, Rom. 6. 23, man must pay the penalty. His plight is therefore hopeless and desperate unless another steps in to settle his account with God. This is the point to which a man must come if he is ever to be saved; he must see his sinnership before God, confess his guilt and need, and cry in desperation of soul, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner', Luke 18. 13.
(b) His Need for Repentance and Faith. There are many who desire the comfort of knowing the forgiveness and pardon of God, but they want it on their own terms. They want the forgiveness of sins it is true, but at the same time are unwilling to forsake the continuing pleasures of sin! The plain, fundamental, truth of the gospel, is that God has made repentance a necessary element in conversion. It is the explicit command of the Creator God, who, 'now commendeth all men everywhere to repent', Acts 17. 30. It was an integral part of the preaching of the apostle Paul, 'testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ'.
Repentance is that attitude of mind and heart that recognizes sin for what it is, an offence and affront to God, and turning from it, willingly receives God's remedy in the gift of life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Repentance has been described as, 'A change of mind, leading to a change of affections, and manifesting itself in a change of actions'. It is a turning from sin unto God and His service. Repentance is not itself salvation, neither are we forgiven because we repent, but it is a necessary condition of heart before we can sincerely and truly receive Christ as Saviour. There is no salvation, that is, apart from a prior work of repentance in the soul. But true repentance never exists apart from faith, and once the soul repents toward God, its vision is filled with Christ, and believing on Him as a present and personal Saviour, receives the foregiveness of sins.
To the question. What then is saving faith? Charles Spurgeon used to reply that there were three basic elements in saving faith. Firstly, a knowledge of and assent to the truth that God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the sinner's Substitute, that He suffered in our place and stead, satisfied God's justice, and finished the work of salvation in the shedding of His blood, lsa. 53. 5-6, and to agree with all our hearts to this way of salvation. Secondly, self-renunciation of any hope or merit of being saved by works of our own doing, Tit. 3. 5. Thirdly, appropriation or personal trust in Christ. First comes assent to the truth; then acceptance of that truth for yourself; and then a simple trusting of yourself wholly on Christ as a Substitute. The essence of faith is trust, reliance, dependence, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved', Acts 16. 31.
These, and none other, are the truths and principles absolutely fundamental to the message of the Christian gospel, and apart from which there can be no valid gospel. We are living through days of apostasy when many are falling away from the faith, 1 Tim. 4. 1, and, 'having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof, 2 Tim. 3. 5. From these we turn away! Our ambition on the other hand is to cleave more and more to the word of God, and find our highest wisdom in following, with tenacity and courage, Paul's great exhortation to Timothy, 'Hold fast the pattern of sound words which thou has heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee guard through the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us', 2 Tim. 1. 13-14, rv. Maranatha! Amen.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael is in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, where he serves as an elder. He worked as a missionary in Hong Kong for thirteen years and since 1972 has had an itinerant Bible teaching and gospel ministry labouring in many parts of the world.