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The Creeds and other definitions of what members of the Church are required
to believe are said to be OF FAITH.
Doctrines which are "of faith", that is,
which are regarded as necessary to the Christian faith are called "dogmas".
We now have to explain what we mean
when we say that we accept these doctrines;
why we accept them;
what the use of accepting them is;
and why the Christian Church thinks them so important that we are required to accept them as a condition of membership.
To accept a statement is to believe it to be true.
We ought not to believe the truth of any statement without evidence.
Different kinds of truth require different kinds of evidence.
Mathematical truth requires mathematical evidence.
Scientific truth requires scientific evidence,
which is provided by observation and experiment.
We cannot have this kind of evidence for historical truth
because we cannot prove it by experiment.
Historical evidence is sufficient for historical truth.
Religious truth requires religious evidence.
It cannot be proved by the methods of mathematics or of science,
but as far as it is historical it requires historical evidence.
In Chapter 2 we discussed the evidence for the existence of God.
We found it in the unity of nature,
in the facts of comparative religion,
and in the presence of morality and the conscience of man.
We found it also in history, especially in the history of Israel,
culminating in the life of Jesus Christ and in the results of that life.
And many of us find it also in our personal experience of God's dealings with us,
and in what we have heard and read of His dealings with millions of others.
We use the same kind of evidence for the whole of our Christian beliefs,
as well as for our belief in the existence of God,
which we share with many who are not Christians.
All this evidence is, or at least may be, studied by us
and submitted to the criticism or our reason.
Reason is not perfect or infallible.
It would not be human if it were.
But it is the only means we have of distinguishing between truth and falsehood,
and of organizing into a system what we learn from the various kinds of evidence.
There ought not to be any opposition between reason and authority.
We use "authority" in two senses:
It is the latter with which we are concerned here.
The authority of those whom we can trust is one of our chief sources of evidence for religious truth as for any other kind of truth.
We accept many statements,
some of them most startling,
on the word of scientific experts.
We do the same on the word of religious experts.
We are, of course, free to examine the statements for ourselves if we have the capacity to do so, but in both cases the experts, though not infallible, are more likely to be right than we are.
In the case or religious truth
something more is needed than diligence and intellectual ability.
We cannot know the things of God without His help, and He will not give us His help unless we approach Him in penitence, humility, and reverence.
For this reason it is not enough for the theologian to be learned.
He must also have some experience of the subjects that he has learned.
There are men who have made a profound study of theological beliefs,
but are not themselves worshippers of God,
or who are living in sin, which hinders them from knowing God.
Both Henry VIII and James I were learned in theology,
but their characters were not in accordance with their learning.
Therefore it has brought them neither honour nor credit.
Again, men who have no personal experience of the spiritual life of the Christian fellowship are not competent to judge doctrinal questions.
Spiritual things can only be judged by those who are themselves spiritual (I Cor.2.6-16), and no one can live the spiritual life fully if he is outside the fellowship.
On the other hand, holiness of life does not by itself make a man a theologian.
Still, he who has holiness without learning is more likely to be right than he who has learning without holiness.
The "proof" of the Christian religion is not mathematical proof
or logical proof.
It is cumulative proof.
It is the result of the agreement of many different kinds of evidence,
all of which bring us to the same conclusion.
This is the strongest kind of proof,
for it does not rest on only one line of argument,
but on the agreement of many different lines.
Even if one or two of these lines were unsound or doubtful,
the rest would hold fast.
But all these lines of argument cannot do more than convince the mind that
Christianity is more likely to be true than any other system or world outlook,
including the view that no such system can be known, or that objective truth
does not exist (Agnosticism).
We may be convinced that the Christian religion is true,
but that does not make us Christians.
St. Augustine was intellectually convinced before his conversion,
but his conversion was still necessary.
What is needed is more than intellectual conviction?
It is the conversion of the will.
This is the work of faith, which is the direct gift of God.
It is one thing to be convinced that a set of propositions, such as the Creed, is true.
It is another to be willing to submit one's life to God's direction,
or to surrender everything that one has and is for His sake.
And to be a Christian in the full sense is nothing less than this (Luke 14.26).
For this reason it is impossible to make men Christians by argument alone.
Some medieval theologians, such as Raymond Lull, thought that if they could prove the Christian faith by arguments sufficiently convincing, all non-Christians would be converted. But,
He that complies against his will
Is of the same opinion still.
[Samuel Butler, Hudibras.]
Argument and proof may remove intellectual difficulties,
but they cannot do the work of conversion.
But why is it necessary to accept the Christian doctrinal system in order to be a Christian?
Christians have always insisted that right belief, ORTHODOXY,
Orthodoxy does not mean believing what most people around you believe,
but believing what is true.
It is always important to believe what is true rather than what is false,
for truth is an end in itself.
God Himself is Truth and Goodness.
To believe what is true and to do what is good are of supreme value in themselves, and not merely for the use we can make of them.
(Most writers place Beauty beside Truth and Goodness, but there appear to be good reasons for denying that Beauty has the same ultimate value as the other two.)
All truth is important for its own sake.
The more important the subject with which it deals, the more important it will be.
The truth about God will be of supreme importance;
and if, as Christians (and others) believe, God has revealed Himself to men,
nothing can be more important for any man than that he should accept the truth which God has revealed about Himself.
But not only is Divine truth of supreme importance for its own sake.
It is also of supreme importance because right conduct depends on right belief.
This is a fact which we English people have always been slow to accept because we prefer practice to theory, and action to thought.
For forms and creeds let graceless zealots fight:
He can?t be wrong whose life is in the right,
[Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, 1303.]
is still a very popular notion,
but it contains the fallacy that everyone thinks the same things to be right.
In reality men differ as fundamentally about morals as they do about religion.
All the great religions have their own systems of morality.
Even different forms of Christianity differ in moral emphasis
as much as they differ in dogma. [See p. 23.]
It is true that men sometimes keep their belief in Christian morals when they have ceased to believe Christian doctrine (like the great Victorian agnostics, J. S. Mill, Thomas Huxley, etc.).
But no nation or even family which has given up Christian doctrine will continue permanently to practice Christian morals;
for neither of them is complete without the other, and few if any men can live up to Christian moral standards without the help of the Christian faith and the Christian fellowship.
On the other hand,
right belief that does not show itself in right conduct is worse than useless,
as the Hebrew prophets were always proclaiming.
We do not admire Louis XIV as a model Christian, though he was strictly orthodox by the standards of his age and country, because he was profoundly selfish, conceited, impure, cruel, and without natural affection.
It is because right conduct depends on right belief that the Church requires
her members to be orthodox in belief, and for another reason also.
The Church is a fellowship organized to bring all human beings within its scope,
and no fellowship can work for any purpose without fixed principles.
Even a nation, as we are now beginning to see, cannot carry out any policy without fixed principles.
Therefore the Church must have fixed principles.
So far, I suppose, everyone will agree.
No one suggests that the Church should include, at any rate in her ministry, persons who do not believe in the existence of God, or who hold that there is no difference between morality and immorality!
But what are the fixed principles of the Church to be?
Disagreements on this point are one of the chief causes of the divisions of Christendom.
It is certain that men who disagree about what principles are necessary cannot work together in a fellowship, though they may agree to differ on opinions which, however strongly they may hold them to be true, they do not believe to be necessary.
For instance, it is impossible for those who believe that Baptism is necessary
to salvation, and those who believe that it is not, to work together in one
They may work together for limited objects, but no one can entrust the care of souls to people who will not give those souls what he believes to be necessary.
A doctor and a Christian Scientist might work together for the improvement of housing, but neither could consent to hand over his practice to the other!
Unity of belief on fundamentals or necessary doctrines (dogmas)
is necessary to common fellowship and common action (I Cor.1.10).
The Christian religion, unlike some other religions, is a historic religion,
that is, it cannot be separated from certain historic facts.
If the Buddha had never existed,
the way of salvation ascribed to the Buddha might still be true.
But if there had never been any such person as Jesus of Nazareth,
there could not be any Christian religion.
Moreover, Christianity is the name of a particular movement in history.
If anyone rejects the principles of that movement,
he is entitled to found a new religion if he can;
but he is not entitled to call it Christianity.
Some modern movements that claim the name of Christian
(for instance, Christian Science)
have no right to it because they are based on different principles.
The fundamental principles of Christianity are
the belief that God is Three in One,
that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly Man,
and that He died and rose again to save mankind;
and these three beliefs cannot be separated from one another.
All the other doctrines of Christianity are based upon them.
To deny the other Christian doctrines is to be a mistaken or heretical Christian,
but to deny these is to have no right to the Christian name.
There are two ways in which we may define the word Christian.
There is an internal definition and an external definition.
The internal definition is:
a Christian is one who believes that Jesus Christ is God and Man
(which implies belief in the Trinity and the Atonement).
The external definition is:
a Christian is one who has been made a member of the Christian Society by baptism with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
There are Christians according to the second definition who are not covered by the first definition, such as members of the Society of Friends.
There are Christians according to the second definition who are not covered
by the first definition.
They may be members of the Christian Society (for their disbelief may be secret).
They remain Christians in a sense even if they are excommunicated, or apostate, for they cannot be baptized again;
but they are not Christians in belief.
Anyone who is not covered by either definition is not a Christian.
To call him so is merely playing with words.
Goodness, kindness, even holiness, does not make a man a Christian.
No one is a Christian in the full sense unless he is covered by both definitions,
unless he is both baptized and believes that Jesus Christ is God and Man.