There is a question which will occur to each of us as we go this wilderness way: " Are my church the only ones who've got it right? Are people from other churches really not in fellowship with God and without hope? Aren't we rather arrogant to say 'We've got the Truth'...?" . These questions will plague some of us more than others. But the fact is, we are living in a world which is rapidly breaking down barriers, which is seeking peace and unity at all possible costs. We deal with people who have lived through the twentieth century, and seen the dangers of dogmatism. We have seen millions of people have their lives ruined by being forced to unquestioningly accept misplaced ideals, millions after millions emotionally scarred by megalomaniacs. And so our contemporaries have come to the conclusion: You can't be sure about anything, let's just get on with enjoying life as and where we are, principles are phoney, let's each find the best path we can through this crazy jungle of life.
Our life in 'the Truth' is a total contrast to this. The Lord Jesus is " the (only) way, the truth, the (only way to) life" . God's word is truth (Jn. 17:17). Yet the whole world is looking on at us, screaming, muttering, whispering in our ear: 'But there's no such thing as absolute truth!'. The fact is, the basic doctrines which make up the One Faith are indeed " the truth" . God really did promise Abraham eternal life on earth; He really did explain to him the work of Christ. Christ really will come back to fulfil these promises; those in Christ by baptism really will be raised and share in that eternal age. Sin really is serious, the devil really is within us (rather than outside of us); we really must repent; Christ really was of our nature; He really can grant us forgiveness... As we huddle together at a funeral, with our backs to the wall, as we behold a beloved brother or sister in Christ lowered into the earth, we cling on tight to the wondrous reality of the Truth. Job likewise could look out of the misery of his depression: " I know that my redeemer liveth...he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth...whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold..." . Yet without the intensity of trials like this, we find it hard to hold on to this conviction all the time. This is the challenge of living in the Truth, of framing our daily lives around the implications of our fundamental doctrines.
If there is truth, there must be error. The more tightly we cling on to what we know God's word reveals as Truth, the more we effectively deny the truth of anything else. The teaching of the Father and Son as recorded in the word is fundamentally exclusive. The idea that Christians must be 'inclusive' at all costs is an effective denial of the truth and holiness (separateness) of the Lord God and His Son. There is repeated Biblical emphasis on the need to not only believe Truth, but also to deny error. Our Statement of Faith therefore lists doctrines which we believe and those which we reject. It is meaningless to claim to believe that (e.g.) God is one, and yet refuse to categorically reject the doctrine of a trinity.
We must in some way separate people from the beliefs they hold. We are baptized into the truth of Christ, not our church. Many of my Sunday School contemporaries reasoned: 'O.K. the Truth is true, we can't deny it, but we can't be baptized because we don't like this church. They're old fashioned, divisive, boring...'. We would all agree that their attitude was wrong. They mixed up the doctrines with the people holding them. They rejected the doctrines (in effect), and above all the Lord Jesus Christ, because they rejected the people who held those doctrines, and the people of Christ. Men have ever done the same with natural Israel. Because of the bad behaviour of the Jewish people, many in the 'Christian' church have thrown away the basic tenets of the Jewish faith which are also at the root of true Christianity: the promises to Abraham, belief in one God, Messiah being inferior to God and not eternally pre-existent, the Hope of Israel being the Gentile hope, an eternal Kingdom on earth... thus the Gentile world has failed to separate people from their doctrines. If we say that our church alone 'have the Truth', then we would, in essence, be making the same kind of error. We would be totally associating people with their doctrine. What we should be saying is that the doctrines of the One Faith are the one and only Truth, and anyone who holds them has the Truth. Not all bearing the name of our church likely believe those doctrines. And there could well be groups of isolated believers who believe exactly as we do, without using our name.
We must make this separation between people and doctrine as we look out on the false 'religious' world around us. We cannot judge any man in the sense of condemning him; that is for God, " the judge of all" . Yet we must " judge righteous judgment" in the sense of forming a Biblically-informed opinion. When it comes to doctrine, we can certainly say that there are some doctrines which are vital to understand if we are to enter into covenant relationship with God. There is a set of doctrines which Eph. 4:4-6 calls " the one faith" ; which Rom. 6:17 calls " that form of doctrine" to be believed before baptism; " the form of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13). It is baptism, following a knowledge of this one basic Gospel, which places us in covenant relationship with God. Our sincerity or 'Christian' way of life is irrelevant in terms of entering the covenant. We only enter into Christ by being baptized into Him; it is easy to underestimate the importance of baptism and covenant relationship. The 'religious' world is not in this relationship; the bulk of them are not even baptized, and certainly do not know the true terms of the new covenant.
God's people in the past were the people of Israel. Through baptism and sharing the faith of Abraham, we become spiritual Israel. We are only part of the people of God by reason of our correct faith and baptism. When we see someone who appears so sincere in the fake 'Christian' churches, we must ask, 'Are they in spiritual Israel, or not?'. Under the Old Covenant, it is not revealed to us that God had fellowship with isolated groups of Gentiles who He respected for their sincerity. He fellowshipped only with His people Israel. But in extreme cases of Gentile sincerity and faith, they were guided by Him to join His people Israel- Ruth and Rahab are examples of this. In the New Testament, God beheld the potential spirituality of Cornelius, and guided him to join up with the body of believers.
God desires unity amongst those who are His people. It is for this reason that I, personally, find it hard to believe that in these days of easy communication, God would stop baptized believers who believe our same doctrines, from finding us and uniting with us. There are many cases I know in Africa and Eastern Europe of men and women who had come to understand much of the Truth, and were then guided by God to contact us, and therefore come to full fellowship with the rest of the body. This is one of the reasons why I personally remain sceptical of the suggestion that there are lots of people somewhere 'out there' who believe as we do.
By now many will be drawing a deep breath. 'So, are you effectively saying that yes, we can say that our church are the only ones who've got it right?'. Our basic doctrines are the one and only approach to God, yes. The question of whether our church are the only ones who teach these doctrines is to some degree academic. So what? Let's rejoice that " We have the truth" ! Let's put the emphasis on the word " truth" rather than " we" . If we really believe that we, on a personal level, have the truth, yes the one and only saving truth of Christ, we will appreciate that the world around us is truly in darkness. We will be intensely motivated to go forth and hold up the banner of Truth to them, the true light of the real Christ as He hung on Calvary; to debate and dialogue with those who do not believe the Truth; to go forth as far as we are able and offer this pearl of great price to the whole world. If we have the truth in our hearts, we know where we are going. We have a sense of direction which the world totally lacks. True Christian doctrine is not just another town along the road for us. We have been blessed with the truth of Christ. It's the greatest honour a man could have. We have the greatest thing in the world. Let's not treat it as something ordinary.