“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” 2 Timothy 3:15

A few months ago, two Sydney ecclesias com-bined to conduct a series of seminars for Indonesian people. All up, eighteen people attended over the three Saturdays, with most of them being present at all sessions. The final session was the crucial one. It was entitled, “One Bible, Many Churches—Does it Matter?” And while this session was presented as politely and carefully as it should be, the conclusion was clear. There is one Gospel, one doctrine, one set of fundamental beliefs that existed when Peter and the apostles conducted that monumental preaching campaign on the day of Pentecost. It is entitled the “apostles’ doctrine”:

“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41,42)

The “apostles’ doctrine” is mentioned first. If you read Acts 2:42 in a literal translation (eg Rother­ham, Marshall) we see it rendered as “the apostles doctrine” and “the fellowship”. What fellowship? Would it not be the fellowship that is derived from sharing the same fundamental beliefs? Doctrinal unity creates a powerful bond of fellowship. With­out it, fellowship leans to superficiality. We also read of “the breaking of bread” that obviously stems from “the fellowship” that is based on “the apostles’ doctrine”. And finally we have “the prayers”. It would seem that these prayers essentially relate to “the breaking of bread” that is a focal point of “the fellowship” that is based on “the apostles’ doctrine”. While it may appear to be labouring the point, this proliferation of definite articles would indicate that the terms employed are precise rather than general in their application. Therefore, the apostles’ doctrine is the starting point. How do we define this?

What stands out for me when reading Acts 2 is not just the wonder of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the power of Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost. Not only is it a majestic piece of speech-making, as he uses the Scriptures to bring the hearts of his listeners to a heightened sense of their role in the death of Jesus Christ and ultimately to a genuine repentance, it is replete with doctrine. Just a quick perusal of the text will ascertain that Peter discusses subjects such as salvation, the foreknowledge of God, resurrection, the promises to David, the nature of Christ, the exaltation of Christ, and the return of Christ. The irony of this observation is that the day of Pentecost is only really considered, by those espous­ing Pentecostal beliefs and practices, as the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out in abundance. The sadness of this is that Pentecostal Christians do not hold to all the doctrines advanced by Peter in Acts 2 and are therefore bereft of “the apostles’ doctrine”.

We chose not to pursue such a complex or confronting path at the Saturday seminars with our Indone­sian friends. Instead, we discussed that most concise Scriptural defini­tion of “the apostles’ doctrine” which is found in Acts 8:12:

“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

This is, as Acts 8:25 confirms, the Gospel. Not surprisingly, Acts 8:12 is not now endorsed as the definition of the Gospel by those who have adopted Pentecostal practice. The promoted alternative, John 3:16, is a wonder­ful verse of Scripture that completely confirms the validity of Acts 8:12. God’s love is overwhelm­ingly omnipresent in “the things concerning the Kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ”. To endorse the Scriptural definition of the Gospel provided by Acts 8:12 is to introduce a doctrinal component. It compels the disciple to understand what the Kingdom of God entails. Where will it be? Who will it involve? When will it be established? It creates a scenario whereby we have to ascertain how we can actually be part of that Kingdom. And that is where the “name of Jesus Christ” dovetails so seamlessly in. The saving work of Christ enables us to live with the hope of being in the Kingdom of God. We have, as it were, the objective (“kingdom of God”) and the means of attaining that objective (“the name of Jesus Christ”). The two components are inseparable and essential. In the overall Divine scheme of things, one cannot exist without the other.

Does Christadelphian doctrine reflect these two elements? The Central Fellowship promotes the Bir­mingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF) as its basis of fellowship. Does the BASF reflect “the things concerning the Kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” or is it a document that, as some affirm, does an injustice to the Scriptures? Quite simply, the BASF really only addresses those two key arms of the Gospel. There is little else that it concerns itself with except to provide foundation material that helps establish the reasons for the Gospel. The following table helps to demonstrate these observations.

Now is not the time to contemplate rewriting the BASF. It more than adequately encapsulates the key elements of the Gospel and has effectively served the brotherhood for over one hundred years.

In returning to reconsider the apostles, it is un­mistakably evident that they never deviated from “the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ”. If anything, what this is telling us is that, when it comes to tolerance, the Gospel is intolerant. Such a statement is not overly palatable in our modern tolerant society. It puts us at odds with the espoused philosophy of twenty-first century Christianity that doctrine is not crucial, as grace will save us anyway. Please note that while this philosophy is espoused it is not universally enacted. It is interesting to observe the diminution of Christian tolerance when the doctrine of the Trin­ity is questioned or the existence of a supernatural devil is opined as an unscriptural concept.

The point needs to be stressed—the Gospel is intolerant. The Apostle Paul plainly declared this when he wrote:

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, 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.” (Galatians 1:6–9)

Unfortunately, even this clear declaration has been called into question. The statement is made that these verses have a limited application as the context relates to Judaism. Therefore, it is affirmed, our intolerance should be limited to the practices characterised by Judaism. This is merely to wrest Scripture. There is no doubt that Paul is talking about the Galatians being removed unto another Gospel that was challenging the true Gospel. To pursue Judaism is to call into question the sav­ing work of Jesus Christ. To pursue Judaism is to declare, “I can be saved by my own works”. It removes us from the grace of God. Paul is ap­plying an all-encompassing principle, that of the intolerance of the Gospel, to a specific problem of his day, the problem of Judaism. Would it have been another fundamental error, it stands to reason that Paul would have applied the same principle in denouncing that error.

“The apostles’ doctrine”, the Gospel that Paul had received as Galatians 1:12 says “by the revela­tion of Jesus Christ”, was being challenged. Paul’s vehemence of expression is unmistakable. He does not say, “It doesn’t matter. As long as you love Jesus and live a good life you will be saved”. There is nothing like that in his sentiments. He uses all the weight of language he can muster in order to stress that the Galatians hold doggedly to the Gospel, “the apostles’ doctrine”, that he had taught them.

Brother Carter expounds as follows on these verses in Galatians:

“The gospel is for men’s salvation, and is a revelation of God’s will. A perversion of the Gospel misrepresents God’s will and takes away knowledge of salvation. A perverter of the Gospel is a destroyer of the true hope—he is one who throws away the key of knowledge and leaves closed the door by which men can enter into the Kingdom of God.

“‘… let him he accursed.’ The sentiments of this statement are altogether out of keeping with the popular spirit today in matters of religion. A man may be permitted a complete absorption in a political theory, but boldness and assertion in setting forth Christian doctrine is frowned upon. The evolutionist can indulge in dogmatic utter­ances and find approval; a similar dogmatism about revealed doctrine is regarded as a mark of narrow mindedness.

“Yet if the gospel is true, an intolerance is inevi­table. If God has spoken, His word must not be contradicted. If God should raise up among men a prophet and ‘put His words into his mouth’ to ‘speak all that God has commanded him’, it is basically right that God should impose the penalty of broken law on the disobedient. ‘It shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him’ (Deuteronomy 18:19).” (The Letter to the Galatians, John Carter, The Christadelphian, 1965, pp33,34)

Fundamental beliefs were obviously very im­portant to the Apostle Paul. They are still essential for salvation. They are still vital in our correct worship of God. To disregard God’s Gospel is to dishonour him; to feel that what He wants us to believe and understand is not important. To be tol­erant of deviant Gospels is to belittle the work and teaching of the Apostle Paul. We are, in fact, pro­claiming that he got it all wrong and really did not need to write such expositional epistles as those to the Romans, Galatians and Corinthians. Why did he delve into such detail on subjects such as the saving work of Christ, the promises to Abraham, and the importance of correctly comprehending the doctrine of the resurrection, if correct doctrine was merely a “nice-to-know” rather than a “must know”? If he had adopted the Gospel of the modern Christian, he could have saved himself a considerable amount of effort by writing, “Do not worry about doctrine. Just love God and you will be saved”.

The current trend is an unfortunate reflection of our “last days” society. Yes, it is good and Scrip­tural to be racially tolerant. There is no place for racial prejudice in our brotherhood. However, other forms of tolerance are unscriptural. Tolerance of homosexuality is unscriptural. Tolerance of ‘open’ relationships is unscriptural. Tolerance of religious viewpoints that do not comply with the true Gospel is also unscriptural.

Sadly, our perceived intolerance of other reli­gion’s ‘Gospels’ was unpalatable to many of our Indonesian seminar attendees. They could not refute the Scriptural evidence. They quickly realised that there is a “narrow way” and that salvation will not be bestowed on all who label themselves as Christian. This “narrow way” is not of our making. It has been instituted by God. It is our privilege to be educated in God’s requirements. This applies to both our understanding of God’s Word and its practical outworking in our lives. It is our obligation to be “wise unto salvation”.