A Plumb Line for Comparing Faiths
Biblical Christianity. What does that mean? Can you be a Christian and
not be biblical? Are there brands of Christianity that are unbiblical?
And what does it mean to have a plumb line for comparing faiths?
Some defining of terms is definitely in order.
Biblical. Whatever their tradition or denomination, most who
answer to the name of Christian claim in some sense to be biblical. For
this book's purposes, "biblical" means that the Christian believer
searches seriously and carefully for the meaning of the Bible on its own
terms, not changing its meaning to fit the times. Biblical Christians
approach the Bible with reverence and respect, because they believe it is
true and authoritative-that it contains God's very words.
As early as the second century and even late in the first, Christians
saw the need for separating right (true) Christian belief from various
kinds of subtle heresies that began to creep in. Webster defines heresy
as "an opinion held in opposition to the commonly received doctrine
and tending to promote division or dissension." Christianity has
always had its foes, but no enemy has been more dangerous than the
heretics within who have held opinions in opposition to the commonly
received truths on which Christianity was founded. These common
truths are contained in the New Testament, the books and epistles that
came to be recognized as God's inspired-and final-words on what
Christianity really is.
From the gnosticism of the first and second centuries to the liberalism
of the present day, biblical Christians-the Body of Christ-have had
to guard against heresy as well as against being too quick to judge other
Christians with differing viewpoints. Biblical Christianity is like a huge
tent or canopy that covers a myriad of churches, denominations and
groups, all of which have beliefs or interpretations of Scripture they prefer
to emphasize. But what draws all of these groups together are basic
biblical doctrines that center around this plain and simple teaching:
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . he was
buried . he was raised on the third day according to the
Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3,4).
Obviously, there is a lot more to Christianity than what is said in
these two verses, but we find here a plumb line for measuring the difference
between biblical Christianity and other faiths.
Plumb line. A plumb line-a string with a pointed weight on the
end-is still used today by masons to make sure they lay a brick wall
straight and true. In a short little book tucked among the minor
prophets of the Old Testament, God told Amos, "Look, I am setting a
plumb line among my people" (Amos 7:8).
As the Holy Spirit directed Amos's thoughts, the analogy of a
plumb line came to his mind and he referred to this familiar tool to tell
the Israelite people what God wanted them to know-that God would
measure them by His standards, His Word, and no other.
In the same way, God's Word will be the plumb line used in this
book to define the differences between the basic truths on which
Christianity was founded and what other faiths believe. We will explore
the teachings of the Bible on three key points, all contained in capsule
form in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4:
• The person and work of Christ-who He is and what He did
• Mankind's major problem-all of us are sinners in rebellion
against God and in need of a Savior.
• The truth and reliability of the Bible-divine inspiration of
By definition, the backbone of Christianity is Christ. There are two key
issues concerning Jesus Christ: who He is and what He did.
1. Who is He? Only a man? God disguised as a man? Or was
He someone uniquely different?
2. What did He do? Teach us how to live? Die for our sins? Both?
All biblical Christians subscribing to the Nicene Creed agree on
Christ's deity. Following are some of the key questions that people
often raise about Jesus Christ.
Was Jesus really God, or was He a great teacher
and nothing more than that?
While the Bible does not use the exact words "Jesus is God," the biblical
record clearly and frequently teaches that Jesus Christ is, in fact,
God. For example, John 1:1 refers to Christ as the Word (Logos) and
tells us that "in the beginning was the Word . and the Word was
God." John 1:14 testifies that "the Word [God] became flesh and made
his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and
Only, . full of grace and truth."
Of primary importance is what Jesus said about Himself. On several
occasions, He claimed to be equal with God. See, for example, John
10:30: "I and the Father are one." On another occasion Jesus told Philip
and some of the other disciples that because they had seen Him they
had seen the Father (see John 14:9).
In addition, Jesus frequently referred to Himself as God. In John
8:58, Jesus told the Pharisees, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was
born, I am!" The Pharisees, being excellent Bible students, knew that in
Exodus 3:14 God had said to Moses, "This is what you are to say to the
Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.'" The Pharisees knew that Jesus
was claiming to be the God of Israel. They picked up stones and would
have tried to kill Him, but He slipped away.
Jesus also claimed to be God in important conversations with His
own disciples. For example, before being arrested on the night of the
Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, "I am the way and the truth and
the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really
knew me, you would know my Father as well."
Philip then asked, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be
enough for us." Jesus' reply was a clear claim of divinity and equality
with God: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (see John
14:5-9; see also 20:24-29).
In summary, if Jesus Christ was not who He claimed to be (God),
but only a man, then Christianity is a fraud and Jesus would have to be
a liar or a lunatic. As C. S. Lewis said, "He leaves us no other alternative.
He did not intend to."
Did Jesus' virgin birth actually happen?
According to the Bible, the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. People with
an atheistic or naturalistic worldview scoff at this story because they
cannot accept miracles or the supernatural. Other people object to the
doctrine of the virgin birth on the grounds that it is similar to another
legend, like pagan (polytheistic) stories of heroes who were half god,
half man. But there is an enormous difference between the pagan
worldview and the biblical. In all pagan stories of this kind, there is
gross physical cohabitation of a god with a human being. In the
Scripture account, Mary is simply informed, "The Holy Spirit will
come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
There is no suggestion that Jesus is half God and half man.
According to theologian Wayne Grudem, "The virgin birth made
possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person."
Jesus could have descended from heaven as a fully grown man, but that
would have made it very hard for us to see how He could be just as
human as we are. Or, He could have been born of two human parents,
but that would have made it hard for us to see that He was truly God.
Instead, writes Grudem, "God, in His wisdom, ordained a combination
of human and divine influence in the birth of Christ, so that
His full humanity would be evident to us from the fact of His ordinary
human birth from a human mother, and His full deity would be evident
from the fact of His conception in Mary's womb by the powerful
work of the Holy Spirit."
Does the Trinity make three gods?
Even though the Bible never uses the word "trinity," Christians teach
the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the one eternal and living God,
always existing as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy
Spirit. This leads some religions to reject the Trinity on the grounds
that it sounds like Christians worship three gods, not one. It is true
that Deuteronomy 6:4 states, "The Lord our God, the Lord is one."
But it is also true that the Old Testament uses the plural form elohim
for the word "God" 2,346 times. (See, for example, Gen. 1:26; 11:7.)
The New Testament also clearly states that "God is one" (see Gal.
3:20), yet here again is abundant evidence that the unity of God, His
oneness, involves three "persons." For example, as Matthew describes
Jesus' baptism, He speaks of Jesus coming up out of the water, the
heavens opening, the Spirit of God descending like a dove and a voice
from heaven (God the Father) saying, "This is my Son, whom I love"
(see Matt. 3:13-17).
One of the strongest reasons that many critics reject the doctrine
of the Trinity is that it makes Christ co-equal with God the Father. The
Trinity is the particular target of critics in religions like Judaism and
Islam, and in cults such as Unitarianism, Jehovah's Witnesses and
Mormonism. All of these groups reduce Christ to a created being who
is "second-in-command" at best or just another teacher on the same
par with Buddha, Krishna or Moses.
But we have already seen that Jesus frequently referred to Himself
as God. In addition, the rest of the New Testament fully concurs that
the Son, Jesus Christ, is the God-man who was perfectly human and
perfectly divine. He was one person having two distinct and separate
natures. (See, for example, John 1:1-4 and Phil. 2:5-7.)
As for the Holy Spirit, Scripture clearly teaches that He enjoys the
same interrelationship with the Father that Jesus does. In Matthew
28:19, the Holy Spirit is clearly made equal with the Father and the Son
when Jesus commands the disciples to go and teach all nations "baptizing
them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His death and resurrection,
He told them He was going to send a Comforter, whom he
identified as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth who would live with
them and be in them (see John 14:15-26). Also, Jesus' continued activity
after His ascension, through the promised Holy Spirit, is the central
theme of the entire book of Acts.
Despite the many Scripture passages that clearly describe how the
oneness of God includes three Persons-the Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit-the Trinity remains one of the most difficult concepts for
Christians to understand or explain to other people. How three persons
can be one God called the Trinity is a puzzle to natural reasoning. If you
try to see God your creator in natural or creaturelike terms, then you want
to believe He is some kind of infinitely powerful person who is THE
BOSS. If He is such a gigantic, all-powerful person, then how in the world
could He be three big persons or even three smaller persons at once?
However, one question we might ask is, If God is supernatural-beyond
nature-why must He be understood only in natural terms? The biblical
believer accepts the mystery of God's greatness, realizing that the
real point is that God is not the "Big Fella" upstairs. As Wayne
Grudem points out, "The Trinity is a kind of existence far different
from anything we have experienced." We should not be surprised,
then, that in the Trinity there is an element of mystery that defies any
human analysis or understanding, because we are only human and
God is God.
Did Christ actually rise from the dead?
Biblical Christians say He did. The significance of this event in the biblical,
historic Christian faith cannot be overestimated. It is absolutely
nonnegotiable. Biblical Christians claim that by conquering death,
Jesus Christ proved He was God. Furthermore, He ensured that all who
believe in Him will have eternal life (see John 11:25,26), and He lives
today as our mediator (see 1 Tim. 2:5) and our high priest (see Heb.
4:14-16). For Resurrection accounts, see Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:18;
Luke 24:1-42; John 20 and 21.
The doctrine of the Resurrection is the foundation on which
Christianity rests. As Paul wrote, "And if Christ has not been raised,
your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17).
Dr. Wilbur M. Smith, well-known American Bible scholar, comments
in Baker's Dictionary of Theology that the Resurrection doctrine
teaches "the absolute uniqueness and the supernaturalness of the person
of Jesus Christ, and the particular hope which he has brought to
men Remove the truth of resurrection from the New Testament
and its whole doctrinal structure collapses, and hope vanishes."
If the Christian's hope is in a dead Christ who was martyred
because He threatened the existing religious establishment, then the
Christian is in the same boat with the Muslim, the Buddhist and the
follower of Confucius. Mohammed is dead. Buddha is dead. Confucius
is dead. But the Bible affirms that Christ is alive; and because He lives,
the Christian will live also, eternally.
Because the Resurrection falls into the same supernatural category
as the Trinity, many doubt that Christ actually did rise from the
dead. Some theorize that He never really died but that He just passed
out and was awakened later by His disciples. Or possibly the women
went to the wrong tomb and found it empty. Another theory says that
either His friends or His enemies stole the body.
As one Bible scholar has said, none of the "standard" explanations
can account for the total change that occurred in Jesus' followers after
they found the empty tomb. And as for His postresurrection appearances-to
as many as 500 people at a time (see 1 Cor. 15:6)-they were
far more than just a spiritual presence or apparition. Instead, "history,
theology, and experience combine to show that the glorious fact is that
Christ did rise from the dead" (see 1 Cor. 15:20, Phillips).