One Bible - Many Churches
Does it matter what we believe?

THE title of this booklet is partly factual and partly a matter of judgement. One Bible – Many Churches … is surely indisputable. Does it matter what we believe? is open to discussion. It seems sensible to begin where there is likely to be the greatest measure of agreement – that there is one Bible. Surely this is manifestly true. The Bible may be a collection of books but they are brought together into one volume, called ‘the Bible’. Of course there are several versions and many translations – but one Bible, whether the language is eastern or western, ancient or modern. The text is not open to alteration in order to bring it into harmony with this point of view or that. There are hundreds of scholars quick to detect any interference with the book. Thousands of pens are poised ready to condemn any attempt to meddle with the words. The Bible is unique, using the word in its proper sense – there is one Bible. It is true that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches include some additional books which are not recognised by Protestant churches as inspired. But they make little difference to the integrity of the central collection of 66 books.

 

That there are many Churches seems equally self-evident. There are some who say that there are many names but the church is one. This is a verbal device to hide the divisions. The different names do stand for different causes. True, they are alike in some respects but the differences are real enough. There is a difference of teaching between one church and another, and sometimes the difference is very substantial, even fundamental. Then sometimes within the same church there are ideas and practices which contradict each other. In any case the effect speaks for itself – some seeking to find the true church are puzzled and perplexed and forced to cry at last that they cannot make up their mind when faced with so many different churches clustered around one Bible. The problem is intensified by the fact that most of the differing churches claim to have based their teaching on the one Bible. How has this situation arisen?

The development of differences
When the 16th Century Protestant Reformers opposed and subsequently separated from the Church of Rome, their battle cry was “The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible”. Underlying that cry was a theory that if people could read the Bible for themselves they would discover the truth about God and His purpose, would shed their old errors, and consequently would be united by a common faith.

One of the great disappointments of Protestantism has been that the theory did not work. Instead of the unity which its founders expected, it produced in the course of time a diversity of opinion and an increasing number of competing religious communities all claiming in some sense to be founded on the Bible, resulting in the religious chaos in Christendom today. One of the reasons for the modern ecumenical movement is the awareness that the existence of so many different churches is a reproach to Christianity itself. That personal freedom which was an essential feature of the Protestant cause has produced the very things which have weakened it. Supposedly centred on one Bible, the Protestant churches have in the course of the centuries multiplied their differences.

Was the theory wrong – the idea that the teaching of the Bible was all-sufficient and, to people of sense and goodwill, self-evident? The fact that results fell far short of the ideal does not make the theory false. As will be shown later, there were other factors which spoiled and limited the unifying effect of religious truth. The Bible’s claims about itself assert that its teaching is all-inclusive and all-sufficient. It is God speaking to men and women. It proclaims that God has spoken all down the ages by His holy prophets and now at last He has spoken by His own Son Jesus Christ. What has been spoken, by the prophets and by the Son, for us is imprinted on the pages of the Bible. Take away the Bible and, as far as we are concerned, God is silent. Some religious people claim to have seen visions and received special revelations, apart from the Bible, but for the vast majority of men and women there is no sign or signal from heaven. The voice of heaven is heard in the printed sentences of God’s word in the scriptures – and nowhere else.

Consider the testimony of the Bible about its all-sufficiency. Our Lord often rebuked the people of his own day – but never did he rebuke them for reading the scriptures, rather he rebuked them for not acting in accordance with what they read. He said, search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me. But you are not willing to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39,40). To the Sadducees he said about their attitude to resurrection, are mistaken, not knowing the scriptures” (Matthew 22:29), and then went on to say, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus said this was God speaking to the generation of that very day, and because they ignored it they were going astray. CONTINUE ...

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