Did Christ confine His public teaching to general statements concerning goodness, virtue, and repentance, or did He also definitely teach doctrine? The rallying cry among the popular churches today is, "Back to Christ." Just what does this mean? The Modernist is very sure that it means doing away with all doctrinal teachings, for Christ, he says, was not interested in theology, but only in life. This point might be worth scrutinizing, for much hangs upon it.
Christ was a teacher of repentance, as every true religious teacher must be. Like John the Baptist, He laid the ax at the root of the tree. He exposed sin and hypocrisy, and did not fear to denounce evil wherever found. To the weary and discouraged He spoke gracious words of pardon, and many were the sick, the deaf, the lame, the blind, who received healing and comfort. He assuredly went about doing good, bringing cheer and blessing to all.
But Christ was more than a teacher of the good life, as interpreted by the Modernist. He was emphatically a teacher of doctrine as well. What could be more doctrinal than the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew? It fairly bristles with doctrinal statements. By every fair and recognized method of interpretation, this chapter deals in a very definite way with the subject of Christ's return to this earth. There are many places in the Gospels where Christ speaks of His coming kingdom, and there can be no doubt that He speaks of the kingdom within. Modernists love to quote these passages, and to interpret all texts dealing with the kingdom in the same way; that is, that all references to the kingdom refer to the spiritual kingdom of the heart.
The chapter under survey, however, can have no such application. Christ's coming is here spoken of as lightning that "cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west." Verse 27. This coming is to be after the time when "the sun" shall be "darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven." Verse 29. By no stretch of imagination can this refer to the kingdom within. It has reference to a literal, visible coming in the clouds of heaven. If the New Testament is accepted, the literal second coming of Christ must be accepted. And this glorious doctrine is founded on Christ's own words. It is He who is the author of the doctrine.
Christ is likewise the author of the doctrine of a coming judgment. "The Son of man" shall "sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." Matt. 25:31, 32. The whole chapter is clearly devoted to the doctrinal aspects of the coming kingdom, and to the events connected with the coming of Christ. "Back to Christ" must evidently mean, if properly applied, not only back to a belief in the second advent of the Messiah, but also back to a belief in a judgment to come.
Christ clearly defined man's relationship to the law. To those who thought that He had come to abolish it, He stated: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law." Matt. 5:17. To those who believed (and to those who now believe) that He has nothing to do with the Sabbath, He states that He is Lord of it. Mark 2:28. To John, who thought that Jesus did not need to be baptized, He said: "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." Matt. 3:15. To those who omitted the major matters of the law, but were careful of the minor ones, He stated: "These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." Matt. 23:23. To such as held themselves too good to serve others, He said: "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet." John 13:14.
These references all concern doctrine. No one can read aright the story of the Master's life, and not feel that Jesus was intimately and vitally concerned with theology. He wanted His followers to have correct views of their duties and privileges. He wanted them to have correct views of the future, and what was in store for them. He gave them signs which would disclose to them what was coming, so they would not be dismayed when it should come. He seemed so anxious about this that He even revealed Himself to John on Patmos, to show him "things which must shortly come to pass." Rev. 1:1.
All this shows that Jesus was interested in many things in which some, at least, of His professed followers show no great concern. What, I wonder, would be the experience of Christ should He come to a popular church of today and repeat His sermon on the second coming? Might He not be told that such had no place in the theology of this time, and that He was hopelessly out of date?
Modernism eschews all that has to do with theology. It is not interested in doctrine. It has no profound convictions for which it is willing to sacrifice or suffer. It holds that all beliefs are good, one about as good as another. It fails to understand that what the bony structure is to the body, what the foundation is to a house, theology is to Christianity. Religion without doctrine is as a spineless body or as a house without foundation.
It should not be supposed, however, that a formulation of doctrine is merely an intellectual pursuit without reference to life. On the contrary, doctrine is vitally concerned with life; in fact, it conditions it. What a man is, is ordinarily the product of his thought life, and what powerfully affects his thoughts correspondingly affects him. Let him have a certain idea of God, and that idea will affect his actions, and perhaps his whole life course.
An illustration of this is found in the history of the Inquisition. Many have wondered how it was possible for men who claimed to be Christians to be so entirely devoid of common humanitarian instincts as to torture their fellow creatures with all manner of fiendish inventions. The reason is to be found in their conception of God. The church used to teach, and men used to believe, that God in heaven would take little children "not an ell long" and condemn them to eternal torment, not through any fault of their own, but perhaps because the parents had neglected or refused to have them sprinkled according to the ordinances of the church. And the torment to which they were condemned was not an imaginary one. Souls were in agony day after day, year after year, world without end. Their pains would never end. The flames of hell would ever envelop them. The brain would boil in their heads, the marrow in their bones, the blood in their veins. Their cry for mercy would fall on deaf ears. Their day of mercy past, only misery, agelong and unendurable, awaited them.
Into this picture steps the inquisitor as an angel of mercy. He believes with his whole heart that such punishment as just pictured awaits every heretic. He would save some from such a horrible fate. Can it be done? Perhaps if a person here in this life should taste a little of what might befall him in the hereafter, he would pause and repent. Suppose he did torture a heretic a day or two, or a week or two? It might be hard indeed on the victim, but if he could thus save him from millions of years of torture, would he not be doing a deed of mercy? What if he should roast him over a slow fire? That would at most last an hour or two. And what would that be as against eternity? While it is possible to believe that there were some inquisitors who tortured their victims for the pleasure of seeing them suffer, doubtless the great majority were solicitous for the souls of their victims, and were intent on saving them from a worse fate.
If we now raise the -question: What turned these ordinary human beings into fiends who tortured their fellow creatures with devilish ingenuity, the answer must be: Their conception of God. They were following what they believed to be God's will. They believed that God wanted all men saved, that they had been commanded to "compel them to come in," and that they were doing their best. If they failed in their torture, their God would finish their work. They were working along right lines, for they were imitating God. Nothing seemed clearer to them than that they were engaged in a good work. Their conception of God was the motivating factor of their lives.
Paul's experience is a case in point. He persecuted the church of God. He haled men and women before the judgment seat. He himself testifies: "Many of the saints did I shut up in prison. . . . When they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. . . . I punished them oft; . . being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." "Beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it." Acts 26:10, 11; Gal. 1:13. Perhaps worst of all, he says, "I . . compelled them to blaspheme." But Paul was honest in this. "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." Acts 26:9. "I did it ignorantly in unbelief." 1 Tim. 1:13. With this harmonizes Christ's statement in John 16:2, when He says: "The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service."
We are therefore not compelled to think that all who in times past have persecuted God's people have been evil at heart. Some, perhaps many, simply had a wrong conception of God. They did not know God as He really is. Christ puts it this way: "These things will they do unto you for My name's sake, because they know not Him that sent Me." John 15:21. Note two statements in this passage: They persecute "for My name's sake." Strange delusion! And they do this because "they know not Him that sent Me." How important, then, that we have a right conception of God! If men in the past have been led to persecute because of a faulty knowledge of God, we should beware lest we be led to follow their path by our ignorance of God's nature.
This brings us again to the need of thorough study of the teachings of the Bible. It is our only safety if we wish to avoid wrong doctrine, which leads to wrong living. As Seventh-day Adventists, and especially as teachers and preachers, we neglect such study only at the peril of the soul.
College View, Nebr.