Christianity is now presented in so many forms that it will be necessary for us at the outset to define exactly what we mean by the term. Briefly, it is the religion of the Bible, that is, of the inspired, inerrant Word of God; it is the faith which was once delivered to the saints, the doctrines of which have been carefully delineated and systematised in The Westminster Confession of Faith. With every statement in that document substantiated by Scripture proofs, it provides, together with the other Westminster documents, a comprehensive statement of what is embraced in true Christianity. They constitute “a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us” and, accordingly, all our office-bearers are required to subscribe to them at their ordination, when they solemnly vow to maintain, assert and defend all that is contained in them, without any reservation whatever.
It has long since been discovered that Satan is never more dangerous than when he approaches as an angel of light. It was so in Eden, at the beginning, and it has remained so throughout the Church’s history. It was in that guise that he came hard on the heels of Paul and was able to bewitch so many in the churches of Galatia who turned away from the truth. By means of “false apostles” he attempted to pervert the gospel of Christ among them and succeeded to such an extent that Paul was found marvelling at the spectacle of the Galatians being so soon removed “unto another gospel: which is not another”. In this context Paul’s denunciation stands on record and will, for all time, testify to the uniqueness of that gospel which he had preached among them in its purest form – that gospel which he had received, not from any human source, but “by the revelation of Jesus Christ”. “There be some that trouble you”, he wrote, “and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” That Paul’s Christianity is what is summarily presented in the Westminster Standards is undeniable; it is what we have therefore vowed to maintain, assert and defend.
Having defined what we understand by the term Christianity, an attempt will now be made to demonstrate its uniqueness or exclusiveness, in that it cannot be other than intolerant of all false religions, some of which may indeed claim kinship to Christianity in one way or another. Our position is that Christianity – as already defined – is the true religion and all others are but cunningly devised fables. If, in our day, this is asserted loudly enough to attract attention in the press, the one responsible for doing so will be immediately branded as bigoted, racist or even anti-Christian. There is a grain of truth in every religion, it is said. But that does not in itself validate it.
The description of the doctrine of the Church of Rome as “wheat laced with arsenic” is attributed to Rabbi Duncan and we know that a little arsenic absorbed by the body over a long period of time will lead to death as surely as if a massive dose was administered at the outset. Or as Thornwell, in denouncing the false Christianity of Rome, expresses it: “The question is not whether Rome teaches truth enough to save the soul, but whether she teaches error enough to damn the soul . . . not whether she fails to profess something that ought to be professed in order to salvation, but whether she professes something that cannot be professed in consistency with salvation”. The same principle is embraced in the question: “Can one be saved believing what Rome affirms about Jesus Christ, while also believing what Rome denies about the gospel of Jesus Christ?”
These quotations, in their contexts, refer to Roman Catholicism, but they may be regarded as equally applicable to all false religions. In many circles, Christianity is now reduced to the status of a tradition. Such is the prevailing darkness that at a recent conference on Religious Education in Schools, which I attended in Edinburgh, the professor of Religious Education at Birmingham University expressed the view that it was not permissible to teach, in this present age, that Jesus Christ was the Lord, only that He was Lord. Christianity, he maintained was but one of three Abrahamic traditions – the others being Islam and Judaism! When his views were called into question, he declared himself a solid Christian and vigorously defended himself, apparently unable to see that his views of Christ were incompatible with that profession.
The heresy that all religions are equally valid is, of course, widespread. The criterion is not so much what we believe as our sincerity in believing it and, if we are to fall in line with current religious thinking, we are required to acknowledge other religions as only setting out different ways of worshipping the same God. This leaven is found in the Church of Scotland, the majority of whose Assembly not so long ago came to the conclusion that there are other ways of approaching God besides that prescribed by Christianity. The adoption of such a view must surely lead to the conclusion that all missionary activity is unnecessary and should be dispensed with. It even negates the great commission, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”.
Our position then is that Christianity is exclusive in the sense that it is totally intolerant of all other religions, and repudiates all so-called faiths that teach and practise what is opposed to, or plainly comes short of, its supreme and subordinate standards as already defined. That incomparable compendium of theology, The Shorter Catechism, states: “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man”. It further uncompromisingly asserts that the Old and New Testaments constitute the only rule to direct us if we are to answer the end of our creation, which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.
Scripture alone was the watchword of the Reformers, and it was the faithful application of that rule which led to their discarding all that was erroneous in doctrine and practice. “To the law and to the testimony,” they said, “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” This reforming process, which the Puritans carried forward, led eventually to the calling of the Westminster Assembly and the production of the documents which, as already noted, present the Christian faith in its most comprehensive and purest form. “The supreme judge,” the Confession states, “by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”
1. The first section of a paper given at the 2002 Theological Conference.
This article is part 1 of a series