So what, really, is the Bible?
How did Greek thinking affect Christian doctrines through history?
So where has this all brought us to now? Countless thousands of denominations, fringe groups and out-and-out cults, all claiming to be custodians of the truth, as revealed to them by their founders and/or the Holy Spirit.
One Lord, one faith, one baptism ... and over 38,000 Christian denominations!
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)
Our current Christian world has enough obstacles to evangelising the World without having to deal with conflicts within. But it is tearing itself apart and the World looks on in sheer puzzlement.
If Christians claim to have the truth, how can they not agree among themselves what this truth is?
We need to get our house in order and to do so we need to get back to basics. Back to the Bible. Not Bible + the traditions of men or Bible + Plato or Bible + Aristotle or Bible + the agendas of man but the pure unadulterated Bible of Jesus and the first Christians.
We then looked at the Jewish Bible interpretation methods used by Jesus and the Jews of his day. We looked in particular how allegory, a consequence of Platonism, had been used to obscure rather than illuminate the truth and how sometimes a plain reading of Holy Scripture was, and still is, all that is needed to help us understand what is in God's heart.
We identified five key battlegrounds, doctrinal areas of conflict that have separated Christians ever since the days of the Church Fathers. We looked at them with two thoughts in mind: what was Jesus' own understanding of this and, if Christians have deviated from this, what has influenced them to do so?
The issue of Creation is a thorny place to start. Perhaps the most visible current battles have been over creationism and evolution, often played out in the view of the wider public. Then there is the issue of Israel and the Jewish people, another hot chestnut, but this one borne out of a lengthy shameful injustice played out in the full span of Church history. Getting personal are the issues of personal salvation and the hugely contentious and ignored doctrine of Hell. Huge battles have been fought there, particularly against the backdrop of the modern climate of ecumenicalism, multiculturalism and tolerance. Finally, to round things off, the debate around the issue of End Times and all that entails.
How the Church lost the Truth. It is my contention that all we need to know about this is demonstrated by the key battles fought over Creation, Israel, personal salvation, Hell and the End Times.
There was a time when the Church had the truth, but that was a brief time when all Christians had was the direct teaching of Jesus and his apostles and the Hebrew Scriptures to back these up. Somehow between that time and this time, much of the truth (but not all of it, otherwise no-one gets saved!) was lost. To find out what has happened is to simply ask ourselves what has happened between then and now to that truth.
Hopefully these articles have given you some pointers towards answering that question. The Church has been infiltrated from without and within. Although most of the damage has been done by the pagan Greek philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and others, we cannot absolve ourselves from responsibility. Much of the truth has also been lost because of what goes on within ourselves. It is down to my much hammered point; agendas.
More next week
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)