By Robert Anderson
THE Bible or the Church? To the "Catholic" the antithesis here implied will seem not only fanciful but false. For, he will tell us, "Christ did not write a book; but He founded a Church, and it is to the Church that we owe the Bible." If this means that the Church on earth was established by the Lord's personal ministry the statement displays strange ignorance and error. "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel," He declared with reference to the limitations of His earthly ministry. It was vicariously, by the ministry of the Spirit, and by human agency, that He founded the Church. And by that same ministry and through similar agency He wrote the Book. "When the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all truth," was His word to the Apostles gathered round Him at the Last Supper; and He added, "He shall glorify Me, for He shall take of mine and shall show it unto you."' The Scriptures of the New Testament are one result of the fulfilment of that promise.
But while the Church soon lapsed from its high position of purity and privilege, the Bible remains unchanged. Not only is it unaffected by the apostasy of the Church, but its authority and its value are all the greater just because of that apostasy. In the days of pristine purity and power the Church might possibly have been a trustworthy guide. But in view of its actual history and its present condition the effrontery of the claims now made for it is amazing. Said one of the greatest of the Fathers, in face of the incipient apostasy of sixteen centuries ago, "there can be no refuge for Christians wishing to know the true faith, but the Divine Scriptures." With what emphasis may these words be re-peated to-day!
But the " Catholic" will reply, It is the Church that has given us "the Divine Scriptures". Let us investigate this. The Jew was the divinely appointed custodian of the Hebrew Scriptures. And, moreover, they bear the imprimatur of our Divine Lord, given with such fulness and definiteness, that we need no human testimony to accredit them. "A transparent fallacy" will be the "Catholic's" rejoinder; for while the Lord's testimony to the Hebrew Scriptures is admittedly conclusive, we are dependent on the Apostolic writings for the records of His teaching. And therefore, as the Church bears to the New Testament the position which Israel held to the Old, its authority is supreme in regard to the Bible as a whole."
Now, in the first place, while the Scripture declares expressly that the "oracles of God" were entrusted to the Jew, it contains no similar declaration on behalf of the Church. And, recognising this, the Reformers rightly claimed no higher place for the Church than that of being "a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ." But, secondly, even if this "Catholic" position were tenable, it would in no way support the figment that "we owe the Bible to the Church." Not more absurd would be the assertion that it is to the Trustees of the British Museum that we owe the ancient inscriptions entrusted to their care.
All these pretensions, moreover, depend upon a wholly false conception of the Church. The Church on earth was designed to be the whole congregation of Christian people, and not a governing authority set over them. As the Lord so plainly taught, it was to be, not even the sheepfold, but the flock; whereas, according to the popular belief, it is not the flock at all, but the sheepfold plus the shepherds and the sheep-dogs!
(Footnote - "Not one fold, but one flock; no one exclusive enclosure of an outward Church." Alford on John x. r6. "One fold" is the Vulgate perversion of the Lord's words, reproduced in our own Authorised Version.)
There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the Professing Church was designed to be a great ecclesiastical corporation, such as "the Catholic Church" became under the patronage of the Christianised Pagan Emperors. In pristine and brighter days, when the Disciples were characterised by moral purity and spiritual power, they were scattered everywhere by persecution. But while this precluded the maintenance of any ecclesiastical curia to deal with questions of doctrine or discipline, it led to the spread of Christianity in the world, and the great mission of the Church on earth was thus fulfilled. The Church has given us the Bible! It would be as reasonable to maintain that the Corinthian Church gave us the Corinthian Epistles, or that we owe the Book of the Revelation to the seven Churches in Asia. In the old dispensation "the Church in the Wilderness" was not "the oracle of God." Neither was it the giver of the "living oracles," but only the recipient of them. And so it was with the Pentecostal Church. God who spoke in times past to the fathers has in these last days spoken to us.' The Scriptures were given to the Church - not through the Church. Indeed the figment that an ecclesiastical corporation could be "the oracle of God" appears grotesquely false to all whose thoughts upon this subject are formed upon Scripture. In no single instance recorded in either Old Testament or New has God ever given a revelation save through individual men chosen by Him to that end. If an exception were possible it would be found in the record of the Jerusalem Council of Acts xv. But it was by the light of Holy Scripture that the Apostles and Elders decided the questions upon which that Council adjudicated.
But, it will be objected, was it not the Church that settled the Canon of the New Testament? True it is that the genuineness and authenticity of these sacred writings were guaranteed by competent authority; but the question here involved was entirely one of evidence, and not of inspiration in any sense whatever.
And lastly, appeal is made to the Lord's words, "He that receiveth you receiveth Me,"' and again, "He that heareth you, heareth me." But these sayings were addressed, the one to His Apostles, and the other to the missionaries whom He accredited to the Jewish cities in the days of His earthly ministry. Rome, however, not only misapplies them to the Church which was founded by the Apostles after the Ascension, but profanely appropriates them to the apostasy of Christendom.
All this is so plain upon the open page of Scripture that it is idle to discuss the question whether, supposing the professing Church originally held the position which Rome would assign to it, that position could still be claimed for it to-day. The true Church, the Body of Christ, can never fail; but here we are dealing with the Church in its outward and earthly aspect In the days of the ministry, "the Jewish Church " was an apostasy It had killed the prophets, and it was about. to crucify the Son of God. And though as to its calling and responsibilities it was Divine, our Lord emphatically designated lt "the world" in His words recorded in John xv. 19-24, and kindred passages. And surely these are among the things that are "written for our learning." Though the professing Church of Christendom is as regards its calling and responsibilities the Church of God on earth, all who are spiritually enlightened recognise that it is in fact a specially insidious and dangerous phase of "the world."
What then should be our attitude toward it ? In "using the world" we are not to use it, unduly,' but with intelligent discrimination. If in such a matter we appeal to the teaching of the Reformers it is oniy because we believe their teaching was in accordance with Scripture. And here we have abundant guidance. We have, first, the Lord's plain warnings to His disciples respecting their relations with "the Jewish Church." Secondly, we have the Apostolic writings of the Epistles. And finally we have the Lord's last words in the Book of the Revelation, which deals explicitly with the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves as, we near the close of this "Christian dispensation."
We cannot recover lost privileges and blessing by denying facts and taking our stand upon the historic continuity of the Church. But we can in this way, set up again the awful "entail" of guilt, which the Reformers sought to break. For while the martyred prophets of "the Jewish Church" were reckoned by tens, or possibly by hundreds, "the Christian Church," in its evil history, has murdered untold myriads of the saints of God. And their blood cries aloud for vengeance; for while grace is boundless in the case of the individual sinner, God never forgives a "corporation."'
(Footnote - When we evangelise heathen races our first effort is to give them the Scriptures in their own language. And a beginning is made by translating some selected book of the New Testament. But can we conceive a proposal that the Apocalypse should be chosen for this purpose! Why then was it that Wyciiffe began his great task by placing this very Book in the hands of the people of this country? The answer is not doubtful. It was because "the Church" placed its ban upon the circulation of the Bible, and it was necessary to destroy the superstitious belief in the Church before the Bible could get a hearing.)
Apart from the testimony of Scripture, the light of reason, if unclouded by superstition, would, suffice to teach us that God would never own the apostasy of Christendom as His Church. But the teaching of Scripture is full and clear. Not until an election from the earthly people is manifested as "the Bride" is the Professing Church of this dispensation openly branded as "the Harlot." And then the command will take effect, "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partaker of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." Meanwhile, the Epistles to the Seven Churches - words, be it remembered, that come to us from the lips of the Lord Himself- are given for our present guidance. Our duty is not to separate ourselves from "the Professing Church," but to keep ourselves clear of the evil that abounds in it. And this is precisely the position which was taken by the Reformers.
But we who thus stand for the Bible are accused of Bibliolatry. If we charged those who bring this taunt with making an idol of the Church, they would plead that they reverence and obey the Church because of Him who speaks to them in and through it. But this is precisely our position respecting the Book. We reverence and obey it because of Him whose Word it is, and of whom it speaks. It is not the Bible that we worship, but the Christ of the Bible. And if you filch the Bible from us, or disparage its authority, you rob us of Christ.
And this brings us to the vital issue which this controversy too often obscures. That a Christian is one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ may seem to be a mere platitude, but it is really a truth which needs to be asserted with sustained emphasis. That Christ must have the first place is a statement which is not only inadequate but deceptive. The Divine religion of Judaism was given to lead men to Christ. Its rites and ordinances were like the sign-posts we set up to guide the wayfarer. Christianity is the realisation and fulfilment of that religion. And if we are to use words with strict accuracy, Christianity is not a religion at all, but a revelation and a faith. The Jew had a religion; So also has the "Catholic" to-day; and the mere Protestant is in the same category. But the Christian has Christ. The impatience with which most people will dismiss this aphorism only proves what need there is to assert it. It is not that the Lord Jesus Christ should have the first place, but that to the Christian He is "all and in all." .
Though Abraham had a second wife, Sarah enjoyed an unquestioned pre eminence in his homage and love But would any true woman now consent to be a chief wife on such conditions? And yet this parable illustrates the place which "Christian religionists" accord to the Lord Jesus Christ He holds the first place, but "the Church" claims a share of their homage. Or, to change the figure, their "high altar" is dedicated to Him alone, but they have a "Lady Chapel" and a side altar in honour of the Church Once, and only once, is the word "religion" used in Scripture in relation to Christianity And when the assembled Christians first heard the words, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this" with what confidence they must have expected an enumeration of Christian rites in contrast with the Jewish And with what surprise they must have heard the sequel-"to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" These exhortations 'have nothing to do with eccelesiastical ordinances, nor do they relate to Sunday worship or services They concern the ordinary week-day life of the Christian. The words are intended, not to mark a parallel, but to suggest a contrast. As Archbishop Trench remarks, "St. James is claiming for the new dispensation a superiority over the old in that its very consists in acts of mercy, of love, of holiness."'
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets," said the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount; "I am not come to destroy but to fulfil." In this sense alone it is that Christianity has superseded Judaism, namely, by fulfilling it. And a "Christiaic religion" which consists of ordinances in the Jewish sense is essentially anti-Christian. Judaism was the renewal of an earlier revelation. ,Did any sane man, whether savage or civilised, ever evolve from his own brain the thought that if he offended his neighbour the way to appease him would be to make a mess opposite his door by the slaughter of an ox or a sheep? And the man who could imagine that his god would be thus propitiated must suppose his god to be as thorough a lunatic as himself! How, then, can the universality of the practice of sacrifice be explained? Neither reason nor instinct will account for it. It must be due to a tradition common to the whole human race, and such a tradition must have sprung from a primeval revelation. God thus sought to teach the truth that man is a sinner, that the penalty of sin is death, and that therefore pardon is possible only by atonement. When we are dealing with full-grown men we declare our wishes and expect: them to be observed. But we teach our children. by lessons given "line upon line and precept upon precept," repeated day by day. And the Jewish cult was the divine "kindergarten" of religion. The daily sacrifices, and every part of that ritual, testified to the fact of sift and the truth of redemption. "All that were looking for the redemption" is the beautiful and apt description of those who knew the spiritual meaning of the cult. And while the redemption was then a hope, it is now a reality. For in Christ "we have redemption."' Not in religion, but in Himself, and not through ordinances, but "through His blood." Of course the "blood" is a figurative expression, but the figure is neither poetical nor pagan. The Jewish ritual supplies the grammar of the language in which Christian truth is given us in the New Testament; and the blood points to the death of Christ on Calvary as the fulfilment of all which that ritual prefigured. But Christianity is more than this. It is not a mere "plan of salvation" for men, it reveals God. Christ is called the Word of God just because He is the expression of what God is- "the effulgence of His glory and the very image of His substance."' Hence the Lord could say, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." Therefore it is that to the Christian, Christ is "all and in all."
And the underlying controversy here is not of Protestant against "Catholic." The questions involved concern that deeper problem of human nature which has been discussed in these pages. No one who is versed in Patristic literature will traverse Harnack's statement that in the full development of the Church of the Fathers, when the purifying and testing influence of persecution had ceased, "Christ as a person was forgotten. For the natural propensities of the human heart were then free to work unchecked. Christianity became merged In "the Christian religion," and the Lord Jesus Christ was overshadowed by the great organisation which claimed the proud title of the "Holy Catholic Church."
"In the years of transition from the ancient to the modern world, when all civilised society seemed to be disintegrated, the confederation of the Christian Churches, by the very fact of its existence upon the old imperial lines, was not only the most powerful, but the only powerful organisation in the civilised world. It was so vast and so powerful, that it seemed to be, and there were few to question its being, the visible realisation of that Kingdom of God which our Lord Himself had preached - of that 'Church' which He had purchased with His own blood.
This confederation was the 'city of God'; this and no other, was the 'body of Christ'; this and no other, was the 'Holy Catholic Church.'" The Reformers recognised the evil of this. But instead of boldly repudiating it, they had recourse to a feeble compromise; they sought to mask the evil by re-defining "the Holy Catholic Church." Archbishop Whately noticed that the errors of Rome have their roots in human nature, and "human nature" it was that evolved the errors here in question. "The Church " and the crucifix are the outward expression and symbol of them. With Protestants the crucifix generally gives place to the empty cross, but the underlying principle is the same.
A dead Christ -"Jesus" is his familiar designation '-has supplanted the Lord Jesus Christ; and by "the Church" the benefits of His passion are dispensed to the faithful. Originating in the halcyon days of the Fathers, these errors reached their full development in Rome, but the principle they involve may be found in the teaching of our Protestant communities. Even among spiritual Christians, indeed, there are but few who are not in some degree corrupted by them. And while all who accept this false conception of the Church are on a road which logically leads to Rome, those who hold with the Reformers are separated from Rome by a barrier which is impassable.
(Footnote - "The modern familiarity of use of 'the simple name 'Jesus' has little authority in Apostolic usage. . . . So common in the Gospels, it is rare in the Epistles. . . . Whenever it occurs it wiii be found to be distinctive or emphatic."
The quotation is from Bishop Eliicott's note on Eph. iv. 20-" Ye did not so learn Christ . . . as truth is in Jesus." That is, as truth is exemplified in the life He lived as a man on earth. The popular cant phrase, "truth, as it is in Jesus," is intended to connote a system of evangelical doctrine. In all the Episties of Paul there are only eight passages in which "the simple name Jesus" is used (it occurs also eight times in Hebrews); and in every instance some special significance attaches to the use of it.)