The Necessity of Doctrinal Standards



Posted at Purely Presbyterian:

By Louis Berkhof - Introduction to Systematic Theology

pp. 23-27

The necessity of dogmas may be argued in various ways. Even the followers of Schleiermacher and Ritschl defend it in spite of their subjectivism, and notwithstanding their mysticism and moralism. Several reasons at once suggest themselves, why Christianity cannot dispense with dogmas [i.e. formally stated doctrinal standards].

1. Scripture represents the truth as essential to Christianity.

The assertion often heard in our day, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life, may have a rather pious sound, and for that very reason seems to appeal to some, but is after all a dangerous falsehood. It has been pointed out repeatedly, and has in recent years again been emphasized by Dr. Machen in his Christianity and Liberalism, that Christianity is a way of life founded on a message. The gospel is the self-revelation of God in Christ, which comes to us in the form of truth. That truth is revealed, not only in the Person and work of Christ, but also in the interpretation of these found in the Bible. And it is only by a proper understanding and a believing acceptance of the message of the gospel, that men are brought to the necessary self-surrender to Christ in faith, and are made partakers of the new life in the Spirit. The reception of that life is not dependent on some purely mystical infusion of grace, nor on the proper ethical conduct of man, but is conditioned by knowledge. “And this is life eternal,” says Jesus, “that they should know thee, the only true God, and Him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” Paul says that God would have “all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” He represents it as one of the grand ideals of the ministry, that all believers may “attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” And Peter says that the divine power “hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue.” Participation in the life of Christianity is everywhere in the New Testament made conditional on faith in Christ as He has revealed Himself, and this naturally includes knowledge of the redemptive facts recorded in Scripture. Christians must have a proper understanding of the significance of these facts; and if they are to unite in faith, must also arrive at some unitary conviction and expression of the truth. Jesus concludes His prayer for His immediate disciples with the words: “Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth,” and then continues: “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one.” The acceptance of the Word of God and spiritual unity go hand in hand. The same remarkable conjunction is found in the word of Paul: “Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”4 The Bible certainly does not create the impression that the Church can safely disregard the truth, as it is revealed in the Word of God. Jesus stressed the truth, Matt. 28:20; John 14:26; 16:1–15; 17:3, 17; and the apostles were very much in earnest about it, Rom. 2:8; 2 Cor. 4:2; Gal. 1:8; 3:1 ff.; Phil. 1:15–18: 2 Thess. 1:10; 2:10, 12, 13; 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:4: 2 Pet. 1:3, 4, 19–21; 1 John 2:20–22; 5:20. They who minimize the significance of the truth, and therefore ignore and neglect it, will finally come to the discovery that they have very little Christianity left.

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