The Legality and Propriety of
Commending the Historic Christian Faith
in the American Public Arena
Defining the Faith
If the “historic Christian faith” is to be commended, it is important to understand just exactly what it is that is being commended, i.e., what exactly is meant by the expression “the historic Christian faith.” Is the “historic Christian faith” as broad as Christendom itself? Is it to be equated with what comes out of the Vatican or what is communicated via modern televangelism? Is it as broad as religion itself? Is it primarily a message about self-esteem or self-fulfillment, or a manifesto on miracle working that we are commending? Are we to commend the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, Rome’s claims to possess both the temporal and spiritual keys of Peter, and of papal infallibility? Are we affirming every cult that appropriates the name “Christian” and every religious expression to which the Roman pontiff (or modern mainline Protestant leaders), gives the nod or embraces? Are we to include all creeds and confessions, and any and everything that claims support from the New Testament though some of those claims may involve another book which purportedly represents the key to understanding the Bible? Are we advocating those movements that claim the right to pick and choose from the writings of the New Testament? Are we to opt for what is commonly perceived in America as the pure, simple religion of Jesus while ignoring or disdaining the writings of Paul? After all, “Christianity” means different things to different people, and who is to say who is right? In America, we respect the right of everyone to express his own opinion.
But there is a serious pitfall that comes with allowing any and every religious expression to qualify as an expression of the “historic Christian faith.” Defining something so broadly is tantamount to refusing to define it at all. After all, we are not commending something that arose out of thin air or that emerged out of man’s democratic impulse. Rather we are defining a movement that arose in history as set forth in a group of primary documents, namely the 27 books of the New Testament. The foundational events associated with this movement purport to have beeen substantiated by the testimony of a core group of eye-witnesses. The writings of the New Testament record these events and provide the authoritative interpretation and application of these events to all nations and for all time.
While all men may not agree as to whether these events actually happened-- the virgin-birth of Christ, the miracles attending that birth, the miracles associated with Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and the miracles associated with the apostles--there is no getting around the fact that these events were regarded by the New Testament writers to have taken place, and constitute the foundational impetus for the movement which we are designating “the historic Christian faith.” Not everyone in the ancient, medieval, or modern world has agreed with the nature or interpretation of these events set forth in the letters of the apostles or with the instructions of the apostles concerning such basic matters as salvation or the nature of Christ, or more practical issues, such as the ordering of families and churches.
Men may not even agree on whether all 27 books ought to be included in the New Testament canon of apostolic writings, or whether the canon should be limited to these 27 books. But, unless they reject the principles of historical research itself, they cannot dispute the general acceptance of these 27 books, and none others, as being apostolic and authoritative for its faith and life by the movement itself. Neither, on the basis of internal evidence, can they dispute the fact that the New Testament documents are written with an expressed consciousness of divine commissioning (1 John 1:1-5; Ephes. 3:8-9).
The New Testament itself documents the fact that its authors wrote with a desire to communicate something that was unparalleled in human history and is imperative for every human being to hear and believe, inasmuch as the eternal God had broken into history at a particular time and place in the person of His Son (Mark 1:14-15; John 3:19; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Cor. 5:14-21; 1 Pet. 1:20). Whether we agree with their message or not, we cannot deny that this was the essence of it (John 1:14; Acts 10:36-43; 1 Cor. 15: 3-7; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Tim. 3:16). Strictly speaking, therefore, the “historic Christian faith” is what Jude, the brother of Jesus, designated “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (3).
This faith, therefore, even as experienced in that slice of human history commonly designated “post-modernity,” is defined by the written testimony of the apostles and their direct associates, having been bound up and “sealed” in the 27 books of the New Testament (John 17:20; 20:31;Acts 2:42; Isaiah 8:16, 20). And because that faith was the fulfillment of what had been prefigured and foretold by Moses and the prophets, the 39 books of the Old Testament which Jesus and the apostles endorsed, and no others, constitute an essential part of that faith’s foundation (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44; 2 Tim. 3:16; Ephes. 2:20; Rom. 15:8; 16:25-26; Acts 13:32-41; 26:22-23; Heb. 1:1-3; 10:1-10; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
The Legality of Commending It
“Commending the historic Christian faith” in our multi-cultural society is considered the expressing of a religious viewpoint. It is frequently alleged that the very act of expressing a religious viewpoint by an American citizen, and particularly a citizen who is an employee of the government, represents the “establishment of religion” and, hence, a violation of the First Amendment. The First Amendment, however, guarantees to all American citizens the right to hold and express a particular religious viewpoint even in the public arena. What purpose would be served by an Amendment that guaranteed freedom of speech, if that speech were restricted to non-religious content? Or what purpose would be served by the First Amendment if freedom of speech were restricted to citizens operating in the private sector of society? If the First Amendment restricted speech to non-religious subjects, or limited religious speech to the private sector, it would, in effect, “prohibit the free exercise of religion”–the very opposite of what it was explicitly designed to do. So long as the voice of dissent, or the expression of alternate viewpoints, is not suppressed in the public arena, the holding and expression of a religious viewpoint is not prohibited–even by citizens who are government employees.
The Propriety of Commending It
“Commending the historic Christian faith” in the public arena is not only legal, it is quite appropriate. Many of the earliest immigrants to America were people of the historic Christian faith whose exercise of religion had been suppressed by a state-sponsored church in England. One of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian clergyman. America’s first educational institutions–Harvard, Yale, and William and Mary-- were established to inculcate the principles of the Christian faith.
Presidents are inducted into their office by raising their right hand and swearing with their other hand placed upon the Holy Bible. Francis Bacon, who is credited with developing the scientific method, wrote, "There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error; first, the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power." Does it not stand to reason that a well-educated American citizen be informed as to the content of the Holy Bible? And if they are to be so informed, is it not imperative that they be accurately informed, i.e., that they are not misinformed by those who would put their own “spin” on the content of the Bible, or who would express or foster disdain for that content, by their manner of speech or lifestyle, so as to prejudice the hearers against it? In our present day the historic Christian faith has been ignored, misrepresented, and maligned. It is appropriate, therefore, that those of us who are prepared for such a task advocate the historic Christian faith in the public arena.
“Commending the historic faith” is not a matter of “selling”; it is simply a matter of “telling.” To “commend” it is simply to clarify it. The historic Christian faith is so universal in its human “fit” that it readily commends itself to those who hear. No honest person involved in the human dilemma--whether young or old, male or female, Jew or Gentile–can dismiss it as irrelevant. No other message in all the world addresses the dilemma depicted by Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth who gazed upon her own soiled, murderous hands and shouted, ”Out, out. . . damned spot!” And what reasonable person can deny that it is more commendable to be hateful or indifferent towards one’s fellow men, or to hold grudges, than it is to love one’s neighbor, to go out of one’s way to lend assistance to the poor and the down-trodden, and to forgive offenses of others?
What responsible citizen can harbor disdain for, or indifference toward, the record that informs us concerning the God of justice, grace and mercy, and claim that he is operating in the best interests of society? To what beneficial purpose would one want to suppress such a message? What would one offer in its place?
What greater teacher than Jesus of Nazareth has ever graced the human scene? The Dutch-Jewish Spinoza’s denial of Jesus’ miracles could not keep him from declaring that, “The eternal wisdom of God . . . has shown itself forth in all things, but chiefly in the mind of man, and most of all in Jesus Christ.” “Christ was sent to teach not only the Jews but the whole human race . . . ,” Spinoza affirmed. Ghandi was so captivated by the Christian ethic, and had such high regard for its social benefit, that he had his followers study Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
What other religious message in the history of the human race resolves the issues with which philosophers have grappled throughout the centuries? What other religious message is rooted in history to such an extent that archeologists can corroborate and trace its documentary record in artifacts? What other Kingdom maintains God’s infinite glory and sovereignty while projecting such a glorious hope for the nations of the world–and this in triumph over evil and evildoers through the sacrificial death and resurrection of God’s Son? What other message can challenge the greatest intellect, comfort the smallest child, and convert the vilest and most hardened criminal? Yes, it is both legal and appropriate that there be an ADVOCATE Enterprise in Ohio.