14-5 The Level Of Knowledge Required
Many readers will have been confronted by those in
‘Evangelical’ churches who reason that doctrine is unimportant
for salvation, and that a mere verbal confession that ‘I believe
Jesus Christ is the Son of God’ is the basic pre-requisite for
salvation. Superficially this sounds plausible because of the way conversions
are recorded in the Acts, whilst also appealing to the ideas of ‘love’
and ‘tolerance’ which are the spirit of our age. This study
makes a more detailed analysis of the importance of doctrine.
Why so quick?
There can be no doubt that a quick reading of Acts
gives the impression that many baptisms were carried out with precious
little instruction in the basics of the Gospel, and with only a brief
confession of belief in Christ as God’s Son. Just saying the four
words ‘I believe in Christ’ is obviously meaningless as
a way to salvation - and the majority of ‘Evangelicals’
will concede that there must be some other knowledge or appreciation
in the mind of the person saying those words for them to be meaningful.
This point should not be hard to establish. It is difficult, then, to
argue that the passages which record confessions of faith in Christ
as the Son of God prove that saying those words is all that is needed.
It is almost common sense that just saying a brief sentence, regardless
of one’s other feelings and beliefs, cannot put a man on the road
to salvation. The following points may be helpful in explaining these
apparently quick conversions:
The record in Acts - as in much of Scripture
- is necessarily highly condensed. It makes an interesting exercise
to read out loud some of the speeches recorded in Acts and note the
time it takes to do so; it is fairly certain that they would have taken
much longer in reality, including much that is not recorded. A few examples:
Paul’s defence in Jerusalem takes
four minutes to read (Acts 22); that before Felix one minute; before
Agrippa four minutes; Peter’s Pentecost address takes only four
minutes; that to Cornelius three minutes; the Lord’s speech after
feeding the 5,000 (Jn. 6) six minutes; the sermon on the mount 18 minutes.
Peter’s preaching in Acts 3:12-26 takes about two minutes to read
out loud; but in reality it was long enough for news about the content
of his preaching to be taken to “the priests, the captain of the
temple and the Sadducees” and for them to come on the scene (Acts
4:1). The content of Paul’s preaching to Ephesus is briefly recorded;
later, the men of the city complained that he had taught “that
they be no gods, which are made with hands” (Acts 19:26); but
this part of his message is not recorded in the brief summary which
describes his preaching “the things concerning the Kingdom of
God…the word of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:8,10). But to preach
God’s Kingdom and the height of the exalted Lord Jesus
involved teaching men to reject the false superstitions of men.
Thus the fact that more lengthy ‘instruction’
of baptism candidates is not mentioned is no proof that it did not happen.
An argument from silence is very dubious in this case.
There is reason to believe that the mass
baptism of Jews in Jerusalem at the beginning of Christianity was a
special case. When Peter appeals for them to repent and be baptised,
the crowds, he said, had already heard the preaching of Jesus (Acts
3:20). He was asking them to accept in practice a message they had earlier
heard. There is no evidence that such methods and volume of baptisms
were performed later in the first century. If conversions had continued
at that scale then the whole of Jerusalem would have been Christian
within a few years. These people being Jews it would have meant they
had a fair knowledge of the Old Testament and the ways of God. The depth
of the Letter to the Hebrews and Peter’s letters show that their
readership were capable of grasping the many Old Testament allusions
they make. It is staggering that, in Hebrews, Melchizedek is described
as the milk of the word. The writer laments that he could not go into
more detail about him because of their spiritual immaturity (Heb. 5:11,12).
That indicates their level of knowledge at the time of their conversion,
as Paul charges them with not having grown much since that time. It
seems that those letters were primarily written to the Jerusalem ecclesia,
most of whom would have been baptised in the early days recorded at
the beginning of Acts.
We hope to show that preaching the name
of Christ and confessing that as described in Acts was equivalent to
understanding quite a detailed body of doctrine.
It would appear from 1 Cor. 1:17 that
Paul (and other apostles?) operated in harness with an effective team
of follow-up instructors and baptisers, so that he only spent a relatively
short time in each place where he preached.
1 Cor. 15:24-28 presents our only solid
information about the events at the end of the Millennium, yet these
facts are spoken of by Paul as if they were common and basic knowledge
amongst his readership. Whilst the basic doctrines of the one faith
are all recorded in the Bible, there was probably more teaching of them
in the early church and in their witness to the Gospel than is recorded.
The name of Jesus
The Name of God includes much
teaching about Him and His ways - God’s Names and titles express
His character and purpose. The name of Jesus Christ is also not just
an appellation but a deeper statement of doctrine.
Belief in the name of Jesus is paralleled with being
baptised (Jn. 3:5,18,23). In Rev. 2:13, Jesus parallels “my
name” with “my faith”; preaching ‘the name of
Jesus’ includes preaching the faith of Jesus, not just repeating
His actual Name as if there is something mystical in it as a lexical
item. Gal. 3:26,27 makes faith in Christ inextricably linked with baptism
into him: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
FOR as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.
Further examples of this link between belief and baptism will be found
in Acts 19:4; 10:42 cf. 48; 2:37,38; Lk. 24:47. Apollos “knew”
John’s baptism (Acts 18:25), showing that baptism is not just
an act, but involves knowing certain teaching.
“Philip...preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5) sounds
as if he just said ‘Believe on Jesus’; but “Christ” is defined in Acts
8:12: “When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the
Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised”. Note
that “things” is in the plural; not just a brief statement about Christ;
and to ‘preach Christ’ also included the doctrine of baptism. Jn. 6:40
tells us that it is the will of God “that every one which seeth (understands)
the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life”; while later
Jesus says that “If any man will do (God’s) will, he shall know of the
doctrine” (Jn. 7:17). Thus knowing the doctrine is the same as ‘seeing’
the Son. Christ’s words “Thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied
my name” (Rev. 3:8) also show that the word of Christ is parallel to
his name. Thus believing on Christ is a process of understanding followed
by obedience, rather than a quick verbal confession ‘I believe in Christ’.
This is borne out by Jn. 6:35: “He that cometh to me shall never
hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst”, which equates
believing on Christ with coming to him - showing that belief
is a process.
Preaching “Christ” therefore involved
a series of doctrines. “Christ” is put for the doctrine
about Him (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:8; 2 Jn. 7-12), and for the things of
His Kingdom (Mk. 10:29 cf. Lk. 18:29 and Mt. 16:28 cf. Mk. 9:1). Lk.
9:11 describes Christ preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (cf.
Mt. 4:23), whilst the parallel account in Mk. 6:34 refers to Him teaching
them “many things”. The Gospel includes “many things”
- not just a brief statement about Christ which can be made in a minute.
Thus we read phrases like, “When they had preached the gospel
to that city, and had taught many” (Acts 14:21), equating preaching
and teaching. Such language would be unnecessary if the Gospel was just
a few simple statements. Paul’s preaching at Berea resulted in
the people searching the Scriptures daily (with the synagogue copies
of the Old Testament?) to check what Paul had taught them (Acts 17:11).
The Gospel taught by Paul was therefore based throughout on the Old
Testament, and it was because of the people’s process of Bible
study after hearing him that they believed - “Therefore many of
them believed” (Acts 17:12). When we are dealing with people who
have little knowledge of the Bible and do not often search it daily
after a discussion, it is not surprising that times of instruction are
far longer than in the first century. “Whosoever believeth that
Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 Jn. 5:1) clearly corresponds
with verses like “Of His own will begat He us with the word of
truth” (James 1:18), “Being born again...by the word of
God...the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Pet.
1:23,25). This shows that to believe that Christ is the Son of God is
an epitome of the fact that one has understood the Gospel contained
in the word of God.
The King of the Kingdom
The emphasis on ‘believing in Christ’
becomes more meaningful once it is appreciated that the title ‘Christ’
can be read as synonymous with the Kingdom of Christ in some passages.
Thus our Lord told the Pharisees that they need not go round looking
for Messiah to come, because he was already standing in their midst.
He expresses this in the words “...the Kingdom of God is among
(A.V. mg.) you” (Lk. 17:21), showing that “The Kingdom”
is to be equated with the king of the Kingdom. John’s preaching
that the Kingdom of God was near therefore refers to his heralding of
the manifestation of Christ. The phrase “Kingdom of heaven”
in Mt. 3:2 is rendered by the Diaglott: “The royal majesty of
the heavens”, i.e. Christ. Likewise in Lk. 17:21 “the Kingdom
of God” is “God’s Royal Majesty” in the person
of Jesus Christ. The stone hitting Nebuchadnezzar’s image represents
God’s Kingdom (Dan. 2:44); it is the stone/Kingdom which “shall
break in pieces and destroy all these (other) kingdoms”, showing
that the stone is the Kingdom when it smites the image, as well as after
its destruction. In similar vein Ezekiel’s parable of the vine
describes a “tender one” of its twigs being cropped off
and planted, so that it became a great tree, “and under it shall
dwell all fowl of every wing” (Ez. 17:22,23). This must refer
to Christ, the “tender plant” of Is. 53:2; yet there are
obvious connections with His parable of the mustard seed, in which the
Kingdom of God is likened to a small seed which grew into a great tree,
under which all types of bird came to live. This connection between
the word of the Kingdom and Jesus Himself personally shows that He saw
Himself as the living word of the Kingdom. In the light of this it is
understandable that ‘believing in Christ’ and believing
in the full Gospel of the Kingdom of God are identical.
What is the Gospel?
We now come to discuss in more detail what was considered
essential doctrine amongst first century believers. It must be recognised
that there was a body of doctrine in New Testament times which was roughly
equivalent to our “Statement of Faith”. Another important
factor to bear in mind was the existence of brethren with the gift of
prophecy - ‘forth-telling’ of direct revelation from God
under inspiration. There is reason to believe that with time some of
these inspired utterances were added to this body of doctrine.
A body of doctrine
Paul could say that those at Rome ecclesia at least
had “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered
you” (Rom. 6:17) before their baptism. The Greek for “form”
is the same translated “example” and “pattern”
- as if it referred to a body of teaching that was copied elsewhere.
Paul’s reference to this indicates the importance of a defined
body of teaching to be understood before baptism, and also that it was
not just a few brief statements that were mentioned before baptism.
Some within the ecclesia would have “a form of godliness, but
deny the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5), perhaps suggesting
that they might hold the basic doctrines of the faith but not recognise
the real power of the Truth in their daily lives. Paul could remind
the Galatians that “Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth,
crucified among you” (Gal. 3:1). The Greek for “set forth”
means literally ‘depicted in written words’, as if the initial
instruction of the Galatians had been through some written form of instruction
When defining the doctrine of the resurrection, Paul
could say: “I delivered unto you...that which I also received,
how that Christ died...” (1 Cor. 15:3), showing how he had received
a revelation about these things, and had delivered it to them as doctrine
to be accepted as fundamental. 2 Pet. 2:21,22 falls neatly into place
here: “It had been better for them not to have known the way of
righteousness than...to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto
them. But...the sow that was washed (in baptism) (has returned) to her
wallowing in the mire”. Here “the way” and “the
holy commandment” which were “delivered” to them are
associated with the washing of baptism, as if the way and commandment
were known before baptism. We have shown that there was not just one
command to be understood before baptism; therefore the “commandment”
in the singular may suggest that there was a body of teaching very clearly
defined that had to be understood before baptism. There are several
passages which speak of ‘receiving’ teaching about doctrine
and “the Gospel”: Gal. 1:9,12; Phil. 4:9; Col. 2:6; 1 Thes.
1:6; 2:13; 4:1. This confirms that ‘the Gospel’ was comprised
of a specific body of teachings that had been ‘received’
firstly by the apostles and then by those to whom they preached.
Jude also speaks of “the faith which was once
(for all) delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). “The faith”
is thus parallel to the “form of doctrine” that was delivered
to them before baptism, and it would have been another phrase in the
first century vocabulary which referred to this body of doctrine. Paul’s
exhortation to “hold fast the profession of our faith” (Heb.
10:23) may be alluding back to their public profession of belief in
“the faith” before their baptism. Preserving “the
faithful word” (Tit. 1:9) would have primarily referred to upholding
this ‘Statement of the faith’ which they had originally
been taught. “The common faith” (Tit. 1:4) shows how this
body of doctrine was shared by all believers; there was only “one
faith” (Eph. 4:5). “The faith” and the name of Christ
are connected in Acts 3:16. We have seen that the name of Christ is
another name for the same teaching contained in “the faith”.
Both in matters of practice (1 Tim. 6:10) and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:1)
Paul warned that some would “depart from the faith”. The
first stage in that apostasy would be to say that “the faith”
was impossible to define.
Matters of practice
Matters of practice were also part of this body of
doctrine. “The faith in Christ” included reasoning about
“righteousness, temperance and judgment to come” (Acts 24:24,25).
Paul talks of the instructions about the breaking of bread as he does
of the teaching concerning the resurrection: “I have received
of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (1 Cor. 11:23).
There seem to have been a group of these practical things, which Paul
later extended to include teaching about the place of sisters in the
ecclesia: “Ye...keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.
But I would have you know that...the head of the woman is the man....”
(1 Cor. 11:2,3). This indicates that the explanation of these things
should be before baptism, and were part of the body of doctrine that
was insisted on in the first century. The Greek for “ordinances”
is also translated “tradition” in 2 Thes. 3:6 and 2:15:
“Withdraw...from every brother that walketh..not after the tradition
which he received of us...stand fast, and hold the traditions which
ye have been taught, whether by (inspired, prophetic) word, or our epistle”.
These show the vital importance of holding on to this body of teaching,
and the need to separate from those who do not obey it: “Holding
fast the faithful word (another description of this same corpus of doctrine)
as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to
exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:9).
We know there were “false prophets” in
the early ecclesias, claiming to have had revelations from God about
doctrine which should be added to the accepted body of teaching. Thus
Paul stresses what are “faithful words” of inspired revelation
of doctrine (Tit. 1:9; 3:8; 2 Tim. 2:11; 1 Tim. 4:9), which are “worthy
of all acceptation” (1 Tim. 1:15; 4:9) - i.e. into the body of
doctrine comprising “the faith”. This is why John warned
not to “Believe...every spirit” who claimed inspiration
(1 Jn. 4:1).
The following are some clear examples of where doctrines
other than a simple ‘belief in Christ’ were taught as part
of the basic Gospel which was to be understood before baptism:
“God shall judge the secrets of men by
Jesus Christ according to my Gospel” (i.e. the one Paul preached; Rom.
2:16). The doctrine of the judgment seat and responsibility is therefore
considered to be a ‘first principle’ - see also Acts 24:25; Heb. 6:1,2.
The idea that circumcision was necessary
for salvation was described by Paul as “another Gospel”
(Gal. 1:6). Thus knowing that we should not keep the Law of Moses, e.g.
the Sabbath, is part of understanding the true Gospel.
“The Gospel of the Kingdom” is not only
about Christ but also about his coming Kingdom; Is. 52:7 (cf. Rom. 10:15)
describes the preacher of the Gospel speaking of the time when it can
be said to Zion “Thy God reigneth”- i.e. in the Kingdom.
The correct understanding of the ‘finer
points’ of Christ’s nature was a matter of fellowship (2
Jn. 7-10); because of this the Gospel involved the “things”,
plural, about Christ (Acts 8:12). Again, just saying we believe in Christ
is not enough.
The importance of the promises about
the Kingdom is a vital part of the Gospel; it was through the promises
that the Gospel was preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8) and Israel (Heb.
4:2). Thus Paul spoke of his preaching about the promises made to David
as “the word of this salvation” (Acts 13:23,26). They were
therefore a vital part of the message of salvation. Thus he says: “We
declare (same word translated ‘preach’ elsewhere) unto you
good tidings (the Gospel) of the promise made unto the fathers”
(Acts 13:32 R.V.). Similarly Rom. 1:1-4: “The Gospel of God...concerning
His Son Jesus Christ, which was made of the seed of David”.
To understand the promises requires a certain knowledge
of the history of Israel. A study of Paul’s preaching at Antioch
in Acts 13 shows him outlining the history of Israel with special emphasis
on the promises, stressing how they were fulfilled in Jesus. His preaching
was thus based on the history of Israel, and was what we might call
‘expositional’, concluding with a warning of the consequences
at the judgment of not responding to the word he was preaching (Acts
13:40,41). The content of our preaching should be similar.
The importance of all this cannot be over-emphasised.
“Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them:
for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee”
(1 Tim. 4:13-16). Lists of important doctrines like those given in Appendix
1 of this book are obviously not inspired, but in the writer’s
opinion it does seem a fair summary of many of the specific items mentioned
in the Bible passages which speak of things which are part of “the
faith”, “the traditions” etc. This study hopefully
has shown that there is a definite need for a body of doctrine which
we all accept and are not slow to affirm our allegiance to. The contents
of this body of doctrine should comprise our instruction of candidates
for baptism, and it is only fair to them to check by way of discussion
before their immersion that they fully understand what they have been
taught. Frequently the believers were encouraged to cling to “the
faith” in times of trouble. “The foundation of God standeth
sure”. Our familiarity with the first principles, with the marvellous
way the full purpose of God holds together, should be an encouragement
to us in itself. Only by our regular preaching or re-studying of these
things will this benefit and deep sense of assurance be ours, so that
like Paul in his hour of darkness and loneliness we can say: “I
have finished my course, I have kept the faith...I know whom I have
believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have
committed unto him (our life, our all) against that day” (2 Tim.
CONFESSING THE LORD JESUS
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth
the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised
him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
The following points need to be made:
To understand the resurrection of Christ
involves a knowledge of Bible teaching about hell and the nature of
Rom. 10:8,9 appear to be parallel with
v.13: “For whosoever shall call upon (himself, Greek) the name
of the Lord shall be saved”. Paul is described as being baptised
and thus calling upon himself the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16); only
baptism gives us entrance into the name of the Lord (Mt. 28:19).
Having stressed the importance of baptism
a few chapters earlier in Romans 6, it is impossible that Paul would
now teach that it was unnecessary for salvation in chapter 10.
Rom. 10:9 is preceded by v.6-8: “Say
not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven...Who shall descend
into the deep?...But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy
mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach”.
“The word of (the) faith” was therefore what had to be confessed,
and is parallel to “the Lord Jesus” in v.9. We have seen
that “the faith” describes the whole body of doctrine which
comprised the Gospel. Paul is quoting from Dt. 30:11-14: “This
commandment which I command thee this day…it is not in heaven...neither
is it beyond the sea (‘the deep’)...but the word is very
nigh unto thee”. He seems to interpret “the word...this
commandment” as referring to Christ. In the same way that if Israel
kept the word they would be blessed (Dt. 30:16), so if the new Israel
believed in the word about Christ they would be saved. Confessing Christ
with the mouth therefore corresponds to assenting to this teaching about
Christ. “If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord”
(Dt. 30:10) is matched in Rom. 10:9: “If thou shalt confess with
thy mouth the Lord Jesus”. This parallel again shows that “the
Lord Jesus” is a title summarising the basic teaching of the word